Living in Shipping Containers? 3 Modular Home Benefits

Moving Tips

To get a break from the city life, Robyn Volker and her wife decided they needed a vacation home to smell the fresh air and enjoy nature. After lots of research, they decided living in a shipping container was the perfect experience for weekend getaways.

“Anybody could live in a shipping container,” she said. “It’s a perfectly-comfortable house, and it can be as spacious as you want it to be. We have 800 square feet of living space, and it’s plenty.”

A two-hour drive outside of New York City, their modern home sits in the Catskill Mountains on a quiet six-acre plot. While the house may be considered small, there’s plenty of space to admire the dairy cow neighbors and sit by the stream. Since the shipping container home was created in a distant warehouse, their tranquil space was not disrupted by constant construction.

If you’re considering living in a shipping container, keep reading to see why Volker chose this type of home and to get tips from a recycled home real estate expert.

Container Homes Can Save Time and Money

Since a container home is typically custom-made in a warehouse, the rooms can be built while the foundation is laid and utility connections are made on the property. To save even more time, house hunters can choose a premade, ready-to-go model.

“The longest phase of building a container home is the design phase, which only applies to custom designs,” said Volker. “The building process is very fast. The house can go up in one day.”

Obtaining permits is the biggest hurdle for Stevie Bear’s customers at Make it Modular, a container building company currently helping 700 prospective homebuyers in Austin, Texas.

“In San Antonio I can get a permit in an hour, in Austin it can take weeks,” she said of the Texas towns.

But once cleared for construction, a homebuyer can enjoy their new container in a matter of a few months.

Insider tip: Some cities, like Bakersfield, Calif., have banned living or working in shipping containers, so make sure your area does not have any restrictions before investing.

While customizing a container home isn’t necessarily inexpensive compared to constructing a traditional house (Bear estimates her homes are about 10 to 15 percent cheaper than conventional ones), she said container homeowners’ wallets are spared over time.

“The exterior is typically enamel, so power wash it once or twice or year and you’re done,” she said. “No need to replace rotting wood or siding.”

Reusing Shipping Containers Helps the Environment

In addition to possibly saving paper in your wallet, shipping container homes also spare wood in the forest. There are about 18 million shipping containers in the world, and they – like all hardworking things – must eventually retire.

“We were looking to build something pretty ‘green,’ and container homes appealed to us because they are recycled, durable and beautiful,” said Volkner.

Besides saving shipping containers from landfills and trees from the lumber yard, these homes can also be designed with energy-efficient amenities in mind, said Bear.

“They lend themselves to getting off grid,” she said. “A compositing toilet and solar power can be easily added in the design.”

The walls are typically filled with a spray-in foam insulation that keeps the containers warm or cool depending on the season, which further conserves energy.

“The HVAC savings are great,” Bear said.

Recycled Homes that Stand the Test of Time

Building a home with shipping containers also spares trees over time since the steel structures don’t require the same types of repairs as they age.

Container homes can endure more than a traditional home, whether wildfires in California’s dried-out forests or hurricanes off the coast of Florida.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates at least $1 billion in damages were caused in each of America’s nine weather-related disasters since 1980. Avoiding some of these expensive repairs is just another reason shipping container homes continue to trend across the country, said Bear.

With nearly four-inch-thick, steel walls, she said these homes could withstand 150 mile-an-hour winds from storms and just about anything else that comes.

“You can fire a bazooka shell from a mile away and it’s not going to penetrate that container,” said Bear.

It should be said that Bear has not tested this theory, and we do not advise that you do either.

The Volker’s leave their vacation shipping container home alone during the winter, so they can drain the pipes. When they return in the spring, their house is prepared to provide the couple some well-deserved R&R.

“You can leave these homes for six days or six years and it’s going to be the way you left it,” said Bear.

Photo courtesy of Robyn Volker

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