How To Design a Tiny House Shipping Container: 5 Projects

When people think of how to design a tiny house, they usually think of the traditional tiny-house-on-wheels or a smaller version of a traditional house. But there are many ways you can build a tiny house, both conventional and unconventional.

One of these options is container homes. Recently, old shipping containers have become immensely popular as tiny house models all over the world. So let’s take a step back, and look at some of the best shipping container tiny houses on the market. These ambitious homes may help inspire you on your own tiny house journey.

1. Tiny Home By The River

shipping containers stacked

Based in Washington state, Matt and Peyton are a young couple who built their own tiny house in 2020, out of a 45-foot high shipping container. Not only are they an inspiration for others who yearn for a more minimalist lifestyle, but also for rookie DIYers. That’s right, they built their stunning riverside home with no previous building experience!

All up, the build cost around 20,000USD and took just under a year for the couple to build. This cost includes everything (except for the land), including the shipping container and all of their furniture. Part of the reason their costs were so low is that the couple favored second-hand stores, reclaimed wood, and donated furniture over new items. These are some of the best ways to keep costs low when building a tiny house.

Matt and Peyton found their shipping container by contacting a dealer in their area, who bought containers directly from the ports to sell on to customers. To further lower costs they purchased a used container that had some rust and dents. This was easy enough to fix with a rust converter, a wire wheel to buff off extra rust spots, and lastly a coat of primer and paint.

The couple also took an extra step that is especially useful to know if you’re wondering how to design a tiny house with a shipping container in mind. Every shipping container should have its own serial number. They used this number to see what exactly was shipped in their container, as a container used for chemical shipping could cause health or structural issues in the long run. This is something important to consider when purchasing a used shipping container.

2. Practical Home In Paso Robles

This next couple built their tiny house in Paso Robles, California. Courtney and Riley chose a container home for two good reasons. The first is that they own their own metal fabrication business, so building a home out of a reused metal structure seemed like the perfect fit for them.

The second reason is that they don’t have a desire to move their home, so the typical tiny house on wheels building style didn’t make sense for them. Many people think that the main perk of tiny house living is the transportability of a trailer tiny house, but that isn’t true. Many people have no interest in traveling with their home, and in that case, shipping container homes are a great option.

Courtney and Riley sourced their 40-foot high shipping container from a shipping container yard not far from their home. They purchased a “one-tripper”, a container that had only been used once. Because the container is at least ten feet higher than your typical shipping container, they were able to build a home with full-height ceilings.

With this shipping container, they were able to build a beautiful tiny home together. It cost roughly $25,000 to build all up. Though this isn’t very expensive, they did splurge on some big-ticket items. These included the container itself, an air-conditioning unit, and a full IKEA kitchen. Another big expense was full insulation, an incredibly important component as the Paso Robles climate varies greatly from season to season.

This pair doesn’t feel like they had to compromise because of the small space. Instead, Riley sees their downsizing as a very positive thing. “All the things I use on a daily basis I still have, and all the stuff I don’t need is now gone,” he says. “As long as you’re willing to downsize, it’s perfect.”

3. $15K Tiny Home: The Ultimate Low Budget Container Home

shipping container tiny house

You read that heading right. For just $15,000, British Columbian native Lance returned to his home province to build this stunning tiny home.

After years of working long and arduous hours as a road builder, Lance decided he’d had enough. Manual labor had wreaked havoc on his body and his social life, so he did some research and discovered a way out – a shipping container home. He began to build his home in a breath-taking forest area, on the back of his grandfather’s lakeside property in Victoria.

First, he sourced a 20-foot shipping container. To make it larger he opened the end doors and fixed a roof, wall, and floor beneath it to give him a little more square footage of space. And to maximize the space further he built a small outhouse outside of his container home. This option provided much more space, hence why he has plenty of storage. This home is a great example of how to design a tiny house when you’ve got extra limited floor space.

Similar to Courtney and Riley, Lance also had to consider insulation. Insulation is one of the most important aspects to consider when building with a shipping container. He used mainly spray foam and styrofoam for the insulation, with 3 inches of styrofoam board on the roof, and two inches of spray foam and two inches of styrofoam on the walls.

Lance couldn’t be happier with his shipping container home and is a big proponent of tiny home living. “It’s one of the best transitions I’ve ever made in my life. Tiny home living has really taught me a lot about myself […] It’s really given me space and seclusion to figure out what I want to do in life.”

4. Minimalist Container Home

This large, light, and airy tiny home makes for a fantastic minimalist living space. And what’s more? It only took six weeks to build! The home was constructed out of a 20 by 8-foot shipping container, with 4 to 5 inches of foam insulation to keep the home as temperate as possible.

It is a little smaller than most tiny houses, but it doesn’t feel that way. To make the room seem larger than it normally would, builders Tony and Chris tried to keep as much separation between the living areas as possible. They also utilized several large windows that span the width and even height of the living room area. This brings in plenty of light making it seem even roomier.

The home has plenty of charming touches, including a bar cart and bathroom vanity made out of pallet wood, proving you can make your own DIY furniture that compliments your tiny house and doesn’t break the bank.

This charming container home is an on-the-grid design, with a fully functional bathroom, kitchen, and living room that doubles as a bedroom. It’s also a great catch, costing just $39,000 for a pre-built and fully equipped shipping container tiny home. Those prices are hard to beat, and it shows that you don’t have to go into debt for a pre-built tiny home.

5. Mortgage-Free Canadian Container Home

shipping containers stacked

Another gem from the pine forests of Canada, this tiny home was a true labor of love for its owners. Built out of two different-sized shipping containers, it also has a unique and awe-inspiring design compared to most shipping container tiny homes.

Married couple Jamie and Dave managed to source two 40-foot and 20-foot long shipping containers, with the smaller container stacked on top of the larger. It checks in at 406 square feet! This is a fantastic design because it minimizes the outside space that a tiny house of this size might otherwise take up, and it also allows for a luxurious large deck on the top of the

Originally, Jamie and Dave pursued tiny house living because they wanted to escape the debt hole that they saw so many families falling into. They wanted to own their home without a mortgage that could cripple them financially for decades. They looked into how to design a tiny house, and they liked what they saw.

Unfortunately, they underestimated the overall cost of the build and ran out of money halfway through. They both returned to the 9 to 5 grind, making money to continue funding their home, and returning on Friday, Saturday, and Monday to keep working. It took ten months of this before their home was finally finished.

All in all the total cost of the home came to around $80,000. Though it’s the most expensive entry on this list, it’s not hard to justify the price. With the amount of space the couple has, and with all of the trimmings including a storage pantry and an expansive deck area upstairs.

The loving couple is satisfied with their decision to downsize. “I think it’s exceeded our expectations on a lot of levels,” Jamie said. “It’s introduced us to a healthier and simpler lifestyle where we can have time and energy and resources to do other things that are important to us. I wouldn’t go back and change anything.”

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, these beautiful tiny homes show you why so many people are looking into new variations on tiny home designs. Shipping containers are sturdy, durable, affordable, and can be used to build stylish and customizable homes. If you’re wondering how to design a tiny house out of shipping containers, there is endless inspiration out there.

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