Home Architecture How to design a shipping container home – thinking inside the box

How to design a shipping container home – thinking inside the box

How do we design your shipping container home? We will tell you step by step how to design a tiny house, based on a container. We will look at the requirements, do a creative brainstorm, and show some examples from all over the world.

The requirements

  • beautiful, our container home has to look really good, not necessarily look like a container.
  • cost effective
    • minimize extra building materials
    • don’t cut unnecessary holes
  • reduce impact on environment
  • ease of construction
  • optimal design to reduce heating and cooling needs


After brainstorming the following ideas were developed:

  • roof -> good to add extra roof for shading , due to very sunny climate
    • green roof
    • pergola with plants above roof
    • ventilated roof, a second layer of roof above the container
  • stacking the container. this idea could mean less cost for the foundation, less area needed for the building so a bigger garden, but a higher cost for making stairs. The imprint on the environment will become less. This has to be decided together with the client
  • Using the container doors as security, so a glass wall can be made, that can be closed in the evening or when owner is away. This will save on the usual cost of security bars on the outside of windows.
  • The floor can easily be made with poured concrete, possibly on a layer of insulation material. Attention has to be paid to providing expansion joints to prevent cracking.
  • Creating a roof or overhang between containers to create an outdoor living space, or big veranda
  • Insulation should be provided on the inside walls and ceiling. A natural insulation material is cotton. Is it possible to get raw cotton wool at a good price in Senegal? (or in the region, Ivory Coast, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Liberia or the Gambia?) https://www.appropedia.org/Cotton_insulation

Savannah, USA by Price Street Projects

8 Shipping Containers Turned Into Amazing Houses

Six Oaks in Santa Cruz Mountains, USA by David Fenster of Modulus

8 Shipping Containers Turned Into Amazing Houses

Flagstaff, Arizona by Ecosa Design Studio

8 Shipping Containers Turned Into Amazing Houses
8 Shipping Containers Turned Into Amazing Houses

Stacking as a bridge

Option 1 – Locally made

This is the environmentally friendly and cheap option. Most metal workshops will be able to cut holes in your shipping container. After cutting the hole, they will make windows to your requirement and fit them in the shipping container. The inside can be finished by a carpenter/ mason. It is best to put wooden battens and an insulation material, and then finish the surface with gypsum or wooden board. The floor can be a concrete in-situ poured floor.

Option 2 – Import

Because it is a shipping container home, it is possible to ship it! This means you can order your home, already partially fitted to your needs, and have it delivered to you. There are several companies that offer to do this. The cheapest you will find are Chinese companies that you can easily find on https://www.alibaba.com/ The price starts at around 6800 USD for one 20 feet container with interior fitting. That includes the bathroom, kitchen and lights. It costs about 450 USD per square meter. This means a house consisting of two 40 feet containers (each 30m2) would roughly cost 27 00 USD, excluding shipping.

Shipping cost

These are some rough numbers to use for shipping a container from China to West Africa (prices just for indication – updated 2020)

2800 USD/40ft HC
3890 USD/40ft HC MSK shipping comany

2380 USD/40ft HC MSK shipping comany
2350 USD/40ft HC CMA or COSCO shipping company

2400 USD/40HC

An example of such a company is Hangzhou Xiaoya Prefabricated House Co., Ltd. based in Hangzhou, Mainland China. https://www.alibaba.com/product-detail/Expanbale-container-shop-movable-house-mobile_455375297.html?fullFirstScreen=true

Shipping container dimensions

40’ STD (Standard container) – 12,031mm x 2,352mm x 2,383mm, Door opening 2,343mm width x 2,280mm height
40’HC (one feet taller High Cube container) – 12,031mm x 2,352mm x 2,698mm, Door opening 2,343mm width x 2,585mm height


online references


https://offgridworld.com/irelands-first-shipping-container-home-built-in-3-days-houses-homeless-people/ ( Example project with insulation on the outside in Ireland)

Floor plans



https://backcountrycontainers.com/containers/ (USA, Houstan TX, company that builds containers 40 feet container starting at 60000 USD)

https://www.contemporist.com/hotel-made-from-shipping-containers/ http://dwellcontainers.com/ (Canadian company)

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