Sustainable Design: Creating Container Homes

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Sustainable Design: Creating Container Homes

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Here’s a guide for turning shipping containers into sustainable living homes, their prices and how to buy them:


They’re easy to build into a home. Storage containers easily comply with building codes. Since they’re originally built for transport, they can be easily moved when they need to be. They can withstand practically any extreme weather such as hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes. Standing alone, an ISBU (Intermodal Steel Building Units) can handle 100 mile per hour winds. Securely anchored, it can take winds up to 175 miles per hour. It will never collapse during an earthquake. By far, they make for the safest sustainable living storm shelters.


ISBUs are made of 100 percent Steel, and there are a range of different sizes for them. The popular choice for sustainable living shipping container houses are former sea containers that come in two standard sizes:

  • 20 feet long, 8 feet wide and 8 feet tall, equaling to 160 square feet.
  • 40 feet long, 8 feet wide and 8 feet tall, equaling to 320 square feet.


For a used 20-footer in good condition, the cost can range anywhere from $1,400 to $2,800. A 40 foot shipping container will cost $3,500 to $4,500. Depending on where it is bought, some containers come with building kits and plans for personal customization.

There are also a growing number of manufacturers that are designing prefabricated shipping container houses for $15,000 and up.


Sustainable living shipping container house plans are relatively simple to build. They go up in almost no time at all and are built to last. They are, in fact, storage containers designed to hold up to 57,000 pounds.


There are three types of foundations: a traditional concrete block, a crawl space and a basement. Factors that influence this decision are the overall shipping container home plans and design, water tables, soil type, climate, presence of radon, type of bedrock and the entire shipping container cost.


  • Cutting disk (top left in photo) – very rudimentary, but it works. Expect lots of sparks, shards and shreds of shooting metal flying every which way.
  • Reciprocating saw, also called a “sawzall”(bottom left in photo) – as long as it’s industrial strength, most of these will make it through the entire build without burning out.
  • Plasma cutter(right in photo) – these compress air and electricity to such a degree that they melt the metal as they cut.


Simply applying a closed-cell foam layer to the inside and outside walls of the building will work wonders for insulating against most problems of heat, cold and moisture.

Hot climates, or at least hot summers, might require reflective paint on the outside of the building. A “cool roof” coating helps reflect the sun’s UV rays and prevents too much heat gain.


One advantage of a sustainable living shipping container is that it already comes equipped with super-strength and weather-tight roof and walls. However, the tank was initially designed for storage, and the roof is not the best fixed structure when two or more containers are joined.

In only a matter of hours, a conventional hip roof can be installed by metal straps, welding and clamps. The advantages of this are better water run-off, potential rain harvest, solar heat reflection and extra shade over the doors and windows.


Sustainable living shipping containers already come with ½ inch plywood floor. One thing about this, however, is the hazardous chemicals that the plywood is treated with, such as insecticides, fungicides and preservatives. Many studies conducted on this subject have confirmed that these chemicals are harmful to humans. They are easily transferred to anything touching the floor.


New Generation Builders is a Lakeland, Florida-based company that sells customized, prefabricated storage container homes. They specialize in the smaller 20 foot containers for efficiency and sustainability.

Rhino Cubed is based in Louisville, Kentucky. They have completely decked-out and artistically created shipping container homes for living on or off-the-grid.

Cargotecture is a Seattle, Washington-based company building very affordable prefab storage container homes. They also sell shipping containers with Do-It-Yourself kits for an even cheaper approach.

We’re moving towards a more sustainable living approach to using resources. Many people have taken to reusing existing materials, either from financial restrictions or from conscious choice. Shipping container homes offer sustainable living choices at their best!

Shipping Container Homes are just one of the many ways we can begin to create sustainable homes, and eventually whole neighborhoods. Read on to learn about how other sustainable living communities are positively impacting our world. Join us and be part of our making a difference. The planet you save may be your own!

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