Container Homes: Do They Really Make Sense?

If you like tiny houses, you’ve probably seen homes made out of shipping containers. It seems like a pretty cool idea. And some of the container homes I’ve seen are works of art. But do container homes really make sense?

Container homes: do they really make sense? Photo of stacks of shipping containers.

I was excited the first time I heard about shipping container homes. I imagined buying a container for a few thousand dollars and moving it out into the woods. Presto! I’d live simple in a stripped down container home.

The Downside Of Container Homes

Recently, I did a little more research on container homes. I found that making a container home is a lot more complicated and expensive than you’d first expect. Here’s a short list of some of things you need to do to make your home livable:

  • Buy the container
  • Move the container
  • Build a foundation
  • Replace the container floor (due to chemicals)
  • Cut walls, doors, and windows
  • Frame the container
  • Wire the container
  • Insulate the container…

It’s a crapload of work, and that’s just a short list. To top it off, most articles I’ve read about container homes highly recommend that you hire a contractor to do it all. In the end, a simple container home will cost $35,000 or more. The elaborate container homes we see on all the cool blogs cost more than $200,000. I fail to see the practicality of it all.  

Why Build Tiny When You Can Buy Small?

Last year, in my article, 5 Reasons The Tiny House Movement Is Doomed To Fail, I questioned the whole tiny house movement. Rather than trying to find practical inroads to the mainstream, the movement seems to be made up of rebels who prefer to evade taxes and building codes.

As cool as some container homes look, a single container is really too small to be practical and will still average $35,000 on the low end. On top of that, you need a piece of land to put your home. This doesn’t make sense to me when there are thousands of low-priced, small homes and condos that already exist.

Either Way, You Live In A Box

I’ve been keeping an eye on the prices of small homes and condominiums for future retirement options. In many Midwestern cities, I could buy a quality 500-700 square foot condominium in a downtown high-rise building for less than half the price of a fancy container home.

I could buy a modern loft in Downtown St. Louis within walking distance of Busch Stadium for less than $100,000. I could watch Cardinal’s Baseball all summer.    

There are thousands of one and two-bedroom homes under 800 square feet starting at less than $25,000 in towns all across America. Still, people want to spend more than twice that much to cut up a container and put in hundreds of hours turning it into a house. I don’t get it.

Let’s Use What We Already Have!

As one who appreciates minimalism and simple living, I think it makes more sense to use homes that already exist. Let’s not waste resources. There are thousands of small homes and condos on the market. With a little research, you’re bound to find one that will fit your price and style.

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  1. Hi there, where can I buy a one and two-bedroom homes under 800 square feet starting at less than $25,000, other than Tulsa? I really do want to know. I have started a house fund for myself, so that this world traveler has a place to live at the end of the day.

    1. Many Midwest towns and cities have inexpensive homes. Under $25,000 might be tough for something in great condition, but it’s possible. But a container home would likely wind up costing as much or more in the long run, especially when you factor in property costs. I used to live in SE Kansas, You can find small houses throughout many parts of KS, OK, MO, for less than 50K.

  2. Thanks for this detailed info. on tiny homes and container homes. Most informative, will pass info on. Another option is a travel trailer. I know some people have lived in one long term (not a mobile home parked on private land or trailer park which is ok for some) it’s usually couples or singles, parked in RV park near a town or city for convenience. A truck or SUV would have to pull it to a park and/ or hire someone with a hitch when you decide to move elsewhere. Retirees also travel to places in them before they find their favorite place to settle down.

  3. My husband IS a contractor/builder and says he will build a container home to live in should I passover before he does. Consider that we only live in 900 sq. feet, now, but he doesn’t even want to have to take care of that! LOL. This is the same man who craved building a camper out of a bus…perhaps even to live in. This gal said no way…It would still look like a bus or, now, a container. Aesthetics are vital to me, even as a minimalist. As long as he has a serviceable bathroom, bed, recliner and Computer, he would be “happy”. Well, don’t guess it will matter to me once I’ve passed on. Mean time…

    1. A well built and designed container home can have a very simple and aesthetic appearance. However, it will likely cost much more than it’s really worth to reach that level.

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