Jan 082012

Ok, you’re looking at tiny houses and all the options. You’ve considered this and that but nothing quite seems like it will do the trick. RV’s have a lot of advantages but the poor construction and limited places to keep one are a downside. A boat sounds good but the maintenance issues are not something you want to deal with. And again, where to keep it is a problem, especially if you don’t live near the water. The tiny house designs you’ve seen are ok but a bit pricey. So what else is there?

Suppose you could buy a ready made frame, of about 160 sq. ft or so. Something measuring about 20′ L X 8′ W X 8.5′ high. A ready made frame made of the strongest steel and resistant to rust, mold, and mildew. A frame strong enough to survive hurricane or even tornado force winds. A frame capable of being moved fairly easily to just about any location of your choosing. You could take this frame and design the interior in just about any fashion you desired: tiny house, vacation home, studio, office, the sky is the limit, within the confines of the dimensions. Now suppose you could buy this basic frame for under $2,000. Interested?

Welcome to the new world of Shipping Container Homes. Yup, those big old boxes you see sitting on cargo ships or traveling down the highways towed by big trucks. Those rectangular shipping containers are being repurposed into some of the most innovative and green alternative housing today.

Shipping containers are built to take a beating. They are strong enough to hold tons of cargo. They can be stacked like building blocks 5 units high, some even more. The most common are made from a material called, “Corden Steel”, which is designed to be strong and corrosion resistant. The life span of an average shipping container is measured in decades and there are millions of them out there. The modern shipping container was designed by a trucker in the 1950’s as he was looking to standardize and reduce shipping costs. Containers really took off in the ’70’s and have been the industry standard ever since. It’s only been in the last 6 or 7 years that people have discovered the shipping container could be repurposed into effective, green, low cost housing, and it is a growing enterprise all over the planet.

Shipping containers actually come in two sizes. The 8′ X 20′ mentioned earlier and the larger 8′ X 40′. Some others come with a foot higher ceiling. Because of their stackability, you can attach several containers together in just about any shape to create a larger home if that is your desire. It’s simple to cut holes in the sides for windows, doors, or in some cases, create a drop down wall that doubles as a deck. The interior is a blank canvas ready for just about any design or floor plan a person can come up with. It’s easy to insulate the walls for climate control, the roof can be altered to add in solar panels and rainwater collection, and attachments can be added to tie into sewer, water, or electric, if off the grid ain’t quite doable at your location. The outside can also be dolled up so it doesn’t look like a, well, like a shipping container. As for portability, the shipping container can be transported by truck across the fruited plains quite easily. All you need is a suitable foundation to sit it on. In some cases, say if you were off the beaten path, the container could even be dropped in by helicopter.

In terms of durability, remember what the container was originally designed to do. Carry heavy loads of cargo on a tossing ship through storms, heavy seas, and a salt water environment. Even used containers that have been in service for 20 years are still going to last a long time as housing. The all steel construction means no worries about termites nor mold. It’s going to hold up in a hurricane or tornado, provided it is properly anchored, and if you are in an earthquake prone area, it may get tossed around, but it’s not going to collapse. These are important points to bring up if you are considering a container home and trying to convince a building code department of the merits of container living.

As for purchasing a container, they are all over the place. A quick search on the web will turn up several sources. You might find some as low as $1000 or maybe consider buying a new one for several thousands more. As for the design, if you are a do it yourself type it could make an interesting project. But, if not, there are more and more builders and contractors who are getting into the container home business. Some have units already done and ready for delivery, for waaaaaay less than a conventional house. And, if you are thinking that a container home is just going to be some old boxy looking steel rectangle, take gander at some of these examples below…

The Ecopod…(my favorite)…


Container Homes…


Bark All Terrain Cabin


And there are hundreds more examples where these came from. The versatility, and durability of a container house, coupled with a very low price, makes this an attractive and affordable option for someone looking to have a home. I’m curious to see how it would be accepted here in the Keys, where building codes, narrow minded government officials, and limited space exist. If any of you fritter fans out there have had any experience with container homes or are considering one, drop a comment at the bottom. I would be interested in hearing more on this subject.

Capt. Fritter

Some container resources:

Container Homes Info

Container Home


Cargocontainer Homes

Shipping Container Housing Design

DIY Container Homes

  2 Responses to “Tiny Houses…another option…container living…”

  1. hi cap!
    haven’t been around lately. have catching up with your posts to do. starting with this one.
    it’s wonderful!
    problem? being allowed to place them on a piece of land. here where i live… very limited.
    if you come across somewhere where they are accepted by the mainstream as the wonderful,
    viable source of housing that they are… please post that too!
    okay… on to the other posts.
    a lovely way to spend my afternoon and cuppa!