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  • Large Shipping Containers

It’s not a novel idea constructing a house or accommodation unit from a shipping container: People have done it ever since the shipping container was invented. It is in recent years, however, that this type of construction has gained popularity worldwide and also right here at home.

Owning a home is becoming more difficult with every passing year in Australia, which has nudged us to think outside the box (or inside in this case) to find cheaper building alternatives. Architects are now embracing this new material (the shipping container) and using the technology available to create comfortable living spaces that are affordable for everyone.

Affordable starter homes for young Aussies

Duarte Geraldino in an article published on talked about this issue and how it’s becoming more difficult for young adults to move out of their parents’ homes these days. He attributes this to a combination of high rents and low wages which have left young adults with little option but to stay at home.

It is this growing need for affordable housing, according to Duarte, that has seen architects, developers, and builders turning to cheaper methods of construction.

By using shipping containers for construction, costs can be kept to a minimum providing lower rent living spaces that are customised for twenty-something-year-olds. Concepts such as building basic living quarters that include a kitchen, bathroom, living and dining area, as well as common areas where tenants can hang out provide a low-cost housing solution.

Building these kinds of accommodations using shipping containers helps reduce the cost of construction by as much as half. Because these lowered building costs can be recovered over long periods, rents become very low. And since on average there’re about 700,000 empty shipping containers lying idle in the country, this affordable building material is readily available for projects.

But it’s not only in large-scale developments where cargo containers are useful. They are also becoming popular in smaller applications such as creating the family and single person dwellings. They also provide a simple way of extending your house as you can install a granny flat in your backyard for some extra accommodation space.

Building a house with shipping containers

What do you need to know?

If you’re looking to construct your own uber-cute home using this affordable construction material, then there’re several important decisions you’ll need to make. To provide some insight into this, we spoke with Seattle-based cargo container connoisseur Sean D. Burke of to share his own experience of building with a shipping container. Because as they say; experience is the best teacher.

Although an architect by profession, Sean joined the International Steel Building Units (ISBU) association online to be able to access 3D models as well as gain more information on shipping container construction. The ISBU website is a great resource for anyone looking to build using shipping containers as it provides a wide range of useful information on how to design and build with containers.

One of the most important decisions you will have to make when building with containers, as Sean pointed out, is whether to use new or used sea containers. For his project, he chose to use a “one-trip” container (a term used to describe a container that has only been used for a single trip) over a much older one. He did this due to health concerns and not for structural integrity or aesthetic reasons as even older containers are pretty robust.

“Older containers have a highly toxic pesticide applied to the plywood deck, whereas newer containers have a much safer chemical,” says Sean. Also, newer containers have searchable manifests, which makes it easier to tell if the container has been used to carry any harmful substances before.

Although it might cost a couple of hundred dollars more, the safety benefits you get from buying a newer container are priceless, according to Sean. Luckily, all of Tiger’s containers are guaranteed to be toxic chemical free and safe for use as dwellings.

Sean’s container house is mounted on a trailer to make it more portable, but even if you don’t do so yourself, the sea container is still inherently portable. Make sure to include this in your plans from the beginning if you plan to move around with your house to avoid setbacks he advises.
The last tip Sean had to offer to those looking to build their own home DIY using shipping containers is safety. “The best advice I can give is to take safety precautions very seriously. Not only are there the regular hazards of house construction, but there’s also the challenges of connecting dissimilar metals that require more heavy duty tools, increasing the risks of injury” he says.

Although there weren’t any mishaps during his project (dubbed Bento Box), he insists that safety measures should be strictly adhered to especially when friends and family volunteer to help.

Differences between a Shipping Container House and a Normal House

Container houses differ from traditional houses in the following ways:

  1. Construction costs. As mentioned earlier, constructing a house using cargo containers is significantly cheaper than using traditional materials.
  2. Construction time. Most of the modifications for transforming shipping containers into houses are usually done in a workshop offsite meaning that it’s only the assembling that takes place on site. This reduces construction time significantly. While a normal house can take up to 30 months to build, a shipping container one will take a few days to a couple of weeks to complete.
  3. Building materials. While typical houses use materials such as bricks and timber for outer walls, cargo container homes – as the name indicates – are primarily made with shipping containers.
  4. Building regulations. Regulations used for building with traditional materials are not the same as those for building with shipping containers. They differ greatly depending on your locality, so make sure to check first.
  5. Mobility. Because shipping container houses are an assembly of several containers, they can easily be taken apart and moved to a new location. This is not the case with normal houses.
  6. Assembly. While you can build a normal house using standard construction equipment, you will require specialised equipment to assemble a container house.
  7. Eco-friendliness. Constructing a house using old shipping containers is a way to upcycle an item that would have otherwise gone to waste which helps conserve the environment. Normal houses on the other hand just consume new resources.
  8. Aesthetics. Cargo container houses also differ from normal houses in the way they look. A container house will have an industrial, edgy, modern look while normal houses look more traditional.
  9. Expandability. Container houses are easier to extend than normal houses. All you need to do when you need more space is to buy an additional container, have it modified, and join it to the ones you already have.
  10. Strength. Because of the all-steel construction, container houses are stronger than those made with ordinary materials.

Shipping containers can be easily converted into accommodation for onsite use, for use on long vacations, for emergency situations, or to provide a place for you to live while your house gets renovated.

Tiger containers provide quality cargo containers (both new and used) for building houses. We take care of all the aspects of turning your container into a comfortable dwelling including installing electric wiring, flooring, lighting, windows, doors, air conditioning, plumbing and more.

Read more about our shipping container homes and accommodation >

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