The tiny house craze is bringing lots of new builders and innovative designs to the marketplace. One of the most popular is tiny houses built from shipping containers. Container houses, like all designs (traditional or tiny) have their pros and cons. In this article, we’ll look at some of the more significant pros and cons of these innovate little houses.

Photo by JENDRETZKI LLC – (via Houzz)
Pros of Shipping Container Tiny Houses
  • Well Constructed – Shipping containers are designed to be stacked on overseas ships and can withstand tremendous weight and pressure. They are extremely durable and some builders use them as safe rooms inside of traditional structures in areas that are prone to inclement weather like tornadoes. Their rugged durability means that they can be stacked and built on one another with little concern for weight bearing.
  • Ready Made – Because shipping containers are already constructed, it dramatically streamlines the construction process. Shipping containers can be used nearly as-is, you just drop them in place, fit them with doors and window and begin constructing the interior.
  • Inexpensive – Used shipping containers can be purchased in reasonably good shape for a song. Prices depend on size and condition and can run between $500 (in fairly rough shape) and $5000 (in nearly new condition).
  • Versatile – Shipping containers can be used in a variety of ways. You can use them use them as is or bury them under ground. You can get slide out kits, like those found in RVs to expand the functional space of your tiny. You can stack them together, or standing them on end to use them as a stairwell no a multi-floor unit.
  • Portability – A shipping container can be purpose constructed in one location and shipped to another very inexpensively on the back of a flatbed truck. This means that your tiny house can be constructed indoors in a warehouse or hangar and shipped to its final location when complete.
Photo by Carey Dodson – (via Houzz)

Cons of Shipping Container Tiny Houses

  • Configuration – With the exception of slide outs, as previously mentioned, containers are the size and shape you see them. Modifying the size and shape cannot be done (easily or practically without going to pains to ensure the structural integrity of the container. The dimensions of some containers can be quite cramped and require ceilings that are lower than the standard construction found in traditional stick-built houses.
  • The Risk of the Unknown – If you purchase a used shipping container, you can never be entirely sure of what has gone into it previously. This could include toxic materials that may adversely affect air quality. Air quality is critical in small confined spaces like tiny houses, which brings us to the next con…
  • HVAC Placement – Fitting a shipping container with HVAC equipment and ducting can be very challenging to say the least! On the interior space can be limited due to the physical size of the container. Placing HVAC on the outside of the container can impact the integrity of the structure and create potential intrusion issues. Because the exterior of most shipping containers are steel, insulating them can also be a challenge.
  • Zoning Compliance – Many jurisdictions require container homes to meet the same building codes as traditionally constructed houses. This can present a challenge because of the previously mentioned physical constraints of the container itself. Before you buy a shipping container and start putting windows in it, we highly recommend that you check with your local planning and zoning commission to see how stringent they are on container houses.


Shipping Container Design


If you decide to go tiny, a shipping container is a good option. Shipping containers are strong, versatile and can be a great way to get a house built in hurry. They can be configured and decorated to make them as attractive as any structure you may find. But do your homework before you go out and buy a shipping container. We’d love to hear from folks that are currently building or living in a container house, so please leave a comment below. Thanks, and THINK TINY!