Small living in a refurbished shipping container

I have a mild obsession with prefab housing, specifically small homes built out of refurbished shipping containers.

Image of Lot-Ek’s MDU (Mobile Dwelling Unit).

Each time we run an article about small homes on the site, I get caught up in a daydream about buying land and creating my shipping container home. It’s fun to think about all of the configuration possibilities, and how I might design my structure.

If you’ve never heard about using recycling shipping containers for home construction, you should definitely check out these videos on YouTube.

If you’re like me, and already dream of shipping container living, check out the resource page from and the ISBU blog. Finally, when your daydreams start to seem reasonable, check out companies like Sea Box and TRS Containers, which are just two of many companies that sell refurbished shipping containers in the U.S.

You also might want to check out the recent CNN article “Shipping containers could be ‘dream’ homes for thousands” that discusses how the containers can be used for inexpensive housing.

Image from the Associated Press.

Now I’m off to do a little more daydreaming …

33 Comments for “Small living in a refurbished shipping container”

  1. posted by Tabitha (From Single to Married) on

    Hmm… I’ve never thought about it, honestly, but I like the idea of having housing for those who may not be able to afford something larger.

  2. posted by hereitcomesagain on

    I love these things. Such a brilliant reuse idea.

  3. posted by Rebecca on

    Me too! We love love love to look at the pre-fab and shipping container housing options. Thanks for posting.

  4. posted by Shalin on

    OMG, OMG, OMG – I love these things. To an engineer they allow limitless possibilities of configuration when you have multiple units. You want a tall foyer, staircase, elevator, firepole – just cut out a hole from a multi-story stack!

    The green aspect is hard to ignore – reuse of a sturdy frame is a great idea. The only issues may be dealing with what your neighbors think – but you can probably get some standoffs and unfinished rock/tile sheets to create a facade that would look modern but not odd or offensive.

    I would looooove to go and build a house with a few others in the DFW area using an open space (and yes, I already have a few designs in mind :))

    The other thing I like these for is as a mobile workshop in the same way PODS can work. Also, perhaps the Tumbleweed Tiny Homes folks can make use of these things as a quick way to set-up a house and/or mobile neighborhood…


  5. posted by DaveW on has a great article on shipping container housing.

    Shipping containers are fantastic, and there’s so many of them available because they are usually cheaper to buy than to ship to a location empty. Many, many, many abandoned containers.

    Hmm… housing crisis solution, anyone?

  6. posted by Fit Bottomed Girls on

    That’s pretty awesome, and the ultimate in recycling. I love the red ones…very chic!

  7. posted by Erin N. on

    It’s like the Boxcar children! I was so jealous of their cool digs…

  8. posted by Sue on

    My friend the developer sent me this response on this topic, FYI. (Sent from Sue @ Unclutterer):


  9. posted by Sue on

    And what he sent is: This is becoming very popular. Shipping containers are very cheap (about $500), easy to deliver (trucks are designed for them) and in a surplus as they come to the US full and often go back to China, Taiwan, etc. empty. The most common size is 48 x 8 (384 square feet) so the price per square foot is about a buck fifty. Check out this site:

    Also, they often count as “temporary” structures so the permitting can be very easy and you don’t have to worry about setbacks. You probably could set one up under the same zoning as a trailer park.

  10. posted by FrugalNYC on

    Wow, what creativity! I’ve heard of living out of a box, but this takes the cake! Talk about simplicity.

  11. posted by Kristen at The Frugal Girl on

    Those are so cool!! I’d never heard of them before.

  12. posted by shaggy on

    I have plans to make a earth sheltered container house also.

  13. posted by another depressed hoarder on

    Sorry for the off-topic, but can anyone tell me why Mrs. Ragan deleted her excellent blog, Psychology of Clutter? Does she have another blog available anywhere? Thank you.

  14. posted by Raj on

    Great post. Does anyone know what kind of zoning-laws these fall under. Can anyone with a plot of land build a house using shipping containers or would the neighborhood association would have a say in it?

  15. posted by Alejandro Cornejo on

    Think outside the box… Live inside the box. I’m an architecture student and i have always been obsesed with minimalist architecture, not only as a style, but also as a philosophy (what got me interested in unclutterer on the first place) i think that architecturally concepts like these or the mch are way more interesting than the tallest, biggest buildings being built in dubai or anywhere else for that matter.

  16. posted by Janice on

    Great idea! here is a company in california that makes some great container buildings and they’re working on a container church in Los Angeles.



  17. posted by Squawkfox on

    My chicken coop is bigger. Seriously. I’d love to see inside to see how big the bed is…and the kitchen? Is there a real stove in there, somewhere? 😀

  18. posted by Another Deb on

    I would love to see this as a vacation cottage, perched in the mountains somewhere. The desert… not so much!

  19. posted by cv on

    I’m sure there are ways to deal with this problem, but I’d worry about having one of these in a warm, sunny climate. Can you imagine living in a metal box on a 90 degree day if it’s not in the shade?

    Other than that, it seems like a really great idea, with lots of design possibilities!

  20. posted by Ned Yeung on

    I tried this before, and almost got arrested for squatting. o_O

  21. posted by anonymous on

    In the novel Snowcrash (1992), Hiro Protagonist lived in one of these.

  22. posted by cindy on

    awesome. i love these also.. tree houses TOO!

  23. posted by Ricky on

    Yay for a whole post about this!

    I would love to see modernly designed neighborhoods with homes made of 3 or 4 of these start popping up instead of the “McMansion” neighborhoods nowadays, and I could easily see these being sold for half the price condos are selling for.

    I would totally move out of my condo into one of those if it was done right.

  24. posted by anonymous on

    Imagine how easy it would be for the bank to repossess one of these.

    Instead of having to evict the occupant, they just show up with a forklift and trailer.

  25. posted by rosie on

    We have quite a lot of shipping containers as homes in the UK now – particularly in cities where it is so easy just to slot one in without disturbing the infrastructure – and some of the designs are just amazing! They can be used for so many different projects and the costs are much less than traditional construction projects which means that I have never heard of one getting repossessed by a bank as there is rarely a need for a mortgage on it!
    As a company we supply schools with classrooms made from shipping containers, we have supplied control rooms to the Fire Brigade and Police Force, extra accommodation for hospital staff in the form of offices and stores – and all because shipping containers do the job with the minimum amount of disturbance and fit within budget. Definitely worth thinking about.

  26. posted by lynn on

    There’s a related article on CNN today:

    “Downsizing to 100 square feet of bliss”

  27. posted by Steven Vance on

    I was researching the price of used shipping containers as a shelter for bike parking.

    They are cheap! About $1600 per shipping container, but the condition will be suspect. About $800 more for a used container that meets shipping standards.

    See this website for quotes and locations. The company will also add doors and windows for their customers.

  28. posted by Kay Sexton on

    I stayed in one of these for a week during a writing residency in the Scottish Highlands – it was warm, beautifully lit with natural light and didn’t seem at all ‘small’.

    I think this could be a profoundly powerful and environmentally friendly way to address the need for sustainable secure housing all around the world.

  29. posted by Static Caravan Owner on

    Kay Sexton, there are already people all around the world living in much smaller places, and in most cases it’s not out of choice.

    I live in a smaller structure (static caravan) and I don’t know what is so profoundly powerful about it, my heating bills are quite substantial when one considers the small place I’m trying very hard to heat.

  30. posted by Eileen on

    Where’s the toilet?

  31. posted by Unclutterer Does Container Living « Container Living on

    […] Unclutterer Does Container Living Jump to Comments […]

  32. posted by O. Berkeley on

    I don’t know. They tried this approach making small living huts for research in the Antarctic, especially out on the frozen sea ice (huts were equipped with a sled for towing. The results were less than successful. They look great, but they don’t work all that well.

  33. posted by isandra haligan on

    we spray Polyurethane foam, it is water proof @ insulation

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