Thanks to international trade, manufacturers ship products to customers all over the world. Air travel is far too expensive for most products, so they use large cargo ships.
Shipping containers are the steel boxes in which those products are packed, to protect them during the trip.
They’re designed to secure items during long and often difficult sea voyages, so these shipping containers are strong and tough.
They’re made of Cor-Ten steel, designed to withstand corrosion. And it’s corrugated for additional strength.
Most of the containers are 40 feet (12.2 meters) long, though some are 20 feet (6.06 meters) in length.
Both the 20 foot and 40 foot containers are usually 8.5 feet (2.59 meters) high. However, some - the High-Cube designs - are 9.5 feet (2.89 meters) high.
Both lengths are 8 feet (2.43 meters) wide.
They have a door at one end, but the tops, bottoms and other sides are solid steel.
The corner posts are reinforced so these containers can be stacked on top of each other up to four, to fit into the large holds of giant cargo ships.
Because these posts are just in the corners, only containers of the same length can be stacked on top of each other. 40-footers go on top of 40-footers and 20-footers go on top of 20-footers.
There’re an estimated 17 million of these containers in the world.
Many of them are in active use, but others are just stacking up around the globe's seaports.
About 21,000 of these containers reach the United States every day. Because the U.S. has a large trade deficit, not as many containers leave the country, so they’re piling up.
Manufacturers don’t want to pay for the return of empty shipping containers because it's cheaper to just buy new ones.
First, you must have a foundation prepared that meets the requirements of your local conditions - your soil and the building codes.
You want a solid foundation that will keep your home firm and level for as long as you live there.
It must be transported to your land. This is done by an 18-wheel truck. You can place a shipping container on any land the truck can access.
You'll also need a crane to lift the shipping container from the truck to its place on the foundation.
NOTE: This may sound like a lot of effort, but remember that constructing any building larger than a simple shed requires large trucks to haul materials, bulldozers, earthmovers, cranes and other heavy equipment.
And once your new shipping container is on its foundation, your new home is "erect." It can take site-built homes months to reach that stage.
The rest of the work is creating a home interior between the steel walls.
You'll want to include insulation, meeting your local code for your local climate.
Lay the flooring.
Frame the walls and put up the plasterboard. Paint.
Hang the ceiling.
Cut out spaces for the door and windows. Set frames in those spaces, and install the door and your windows.
Install the required plumbing for your running water and sewer hookup.
Wire the container for electricity.
Install such items as kitchen countertops and cabinets, and any storage space.
If you stack a container on top, you'll need to cut into the roof of the bottom one and install steps to the upper level.
Put in a toilet.
Many people add a roof. This can be flat to hold plants.
Others put on a slanted roof to send rain down. An overhang will shelter your door and windows from the bad weather. You can also add gutters and a downspout. And solar panels.
The possibilities are endless.
The best thing to do is discuss your needs and your plans with our architect, who will use the most modern Building Information Modeling software to help design your new home.
The strong steel walls and roof of a shipping container are a ready-made form of shelter.
Unlike stick-built houses, they don't have to be built from scratch using a lot of wood, brick and plaster.
The steel resists fire. And it’s strong enough to hold up against even a category 5 hurricane and earthquakes.
They're more ecological than stick-built homes because they already exist. A 2,000 square foot conventional house creates over 8,000 pounds of construction waste.
Millions of shipping containers already exist, and are simply not being used. They could be melted down to make something else made of steel, but that requires a tremendous amount of energy. And the containers would have to be transported to the recycling site, requiring a lot more energy.
The energy required to convert an existing shipping container into a house is minimal compared to what would be needed to melt it down.
Shipping containers are adaptable. You can stack them to a height of 4 units. You can place them side by side, and create a wide range of combinations depending on how much space you have.
One 40-footer makes for an inexpensive home for one person or a couple living on a small urban lot (or off the grid in the woods).
Stack another 40-footer on top, and you’ve got a 2-story home with room for children or house guests.
You can dream up large, fancy designs to create expansive living areas with a shipping container swimming pool.
Around the world, people are combining shipping containers in creative ways to erect apartment buildings, retail stores, hotels, schools, offices, student dormitories, youth hostels and regular hotels.
One simple container in your backyard could be turned into a vandal and theft-proof tool shed or a secluded home office for a freelancer or other business owner needing private space away from the kids and dogs.
You can start with just one shipping container or just a few flat pack modules, and add to them later when you have children or just wish to spread out further.
Container homes have a lot of advantages over traditional site-built homes, but they can have issues.
Make sure you remove the original plywood floor because this was treated with pesticides to discourage pests.
Although you can combine as many shipping containers as your space and budget will hold, the walls are still 8 feet apart and the ceiling space is limited. Therefore, they don't allow for a huge, expansive look and feel.
On the other hand, you're just a few steps away from the door, so you can go outside any time you wish.
If the weather's bad, you'll feel more safe and comfy inside a container.
You can remove one entire wall to join them together, but you'll need extra steel support.
The ceilings will be somewhat low, so get a Hi-Cube container. That is 9.5 feet tall.
The steel does conduct heat well, so in a hot climate you must have plenty of insulation. You'll need to plan to keep it cooled.
In high humidity, a large difference in temperature between the outside and the inside of your home can result in condensation. That's when drops of water form on the walls, like on the outside of a cold drink in a glass.
Then can be prevented by making sure there's plenty of tightly packed insulation between the outer steel walls and the interior walls. The type and amount of insulation depends on your local climate. Closed cell spray foam glued to the steel walls is good at forming a moisture barrier.
But you may still want a dehumidifier, especially if you're in a humid climate.
You need adequate air ventilation for living comfort.
All shipping containers come with a small, passive air vent. You can get a much larger louvered vent.
For some, the biggest challenge is dealing with local building inspectors who have no experience with container homes.
Today, many homes are being made with steel frames instead of wood. Therefore, they are much stronger than conventional houses.
Some of these steel frame houses are erected on-site like conventional homes. However, this is inefficient.
It’s much more efficient and ecological to manufacture houses using a factory assembly line.
It’s also faster because construction is not delayed by bad weather.
After they’re completed at the factory, each module can be folded for easier transportation. That’s why they’re known as flat packs.
They are transported by truck, and can be delivered anywhere the trucks can reach.
They can be unloaded from the truck with a forklift.
They go onto the foundation, and are then unfolded. They come as a sort of kit, which is put together on the site.
You may need a local contractor to help you set up the flat pack house. That also includes hooking it up to the local utilities and installing appliances, including a toilet.
The prefabricated, modular design makes this set-up much easier and faster than you could build an ordinary stick-built house on site.
Although people sometimes call flat pack houses “container” homes and sometimes call shipping containers "flat packs," they are two separate types of structures.
Both are made of steel. Both must be transported to your home site. Both require only minimal assembly. Both are more economical and ecological than traditional site-built houses.
Both are far more convenient and simple than traditional site-built houses.
True shipping containers were originally manufactured to contain products being shipped from the factory to the retail customer across the ocean.
True flat pack steel homes are manufactured to order in factories to serve as a house. They are shipped as a flat kit which contains all the pieces needed to assemble on site after arrival. They have never been used to transport manufactured goods across the ocean through rough weather. They have never contained anything except the pieces you need to construct your new house.
Therefore, true shipping containers are stronger than flat pack houses because they were constructed to hold and protect the items they contained even through storms and high seas, in the holds of large merchant ships.
Shipping containers are built to protect their contents even as they are stacked on top of each other, and knocked around by other containers when sailing through high waves.
And they had to protect their contents from exposure to corrosive salt water, air and sunlight.
And they’re made from Cor-Ten corrugated, created in the 1930s especially to be both strong and highly resistant to corrosion.
Flat pack steel homes are strong. They resist such wind storms as tornadoes and hurricanes. It would take a powerful earthquake to do more than superficial damage. Because they’re steel, they’re fire-resistant. They’ll go through floods.
Shipping container homes are virtually eternal. They can ride out even a Category 5 hurricane. The steel walls will hold up even if the wind blows a tree down on them.
Both are much tougher and better constructed than manufactured homes. They’re also generally more accepted by local building inspectors and code authorities.
Shipping container homes are close to eternal.
Because they have been used as shipping containers, these steel boxes may have been damaged. Some are corroded with rust. Others have been damaged from the rough use they’ve seen.
Therefore, it’s essential to make sure you either closely inspect any container you buy, or purchase from a company such as To Be Contained who guarantee their containers are undamaged. They grind off the old paint and any rust down to the steel, then apply new coats of heavy-duty marine paint.
The plywood floors of shipping containers have been treated with pesticides to prevent pests from eating the wood. Some of them have been used to transport toxic substances.
Therefore, it’s also essential you remove the original flooring before installing your own. And check for hazardous substances.
Or else use a company such as To Be Contained that removes the original floor so you are never exposed.
Flat pack steel homes are modular by design.
Steel container homes are modular by default. They were designed to stack up each other so they would fill up the hold of a giant cargo ship. They don’t go together at the same level as well, but can do by cutting out walls and welding the containers together.
Flat pack homes are designed to have doors and windows in the appropriate places. Doors and windows must be cut out of a shipping container’s steel walls.
Our architect will help you decide whether you’d prefer one of our flat pack steel homes or a shipping container home.
Traditional site-built homes produce a large amount of waste. According to the National Association of Home Builders, construction of a typical 2,000 square-foot house produces 8,000 pounds of waste. Almost all of it winds up in a landfill.
That's concrete, wood, bricks, plaster, glass, plastic and gypsum (in drywall).
Because flat pack houses are manufactured in factories using standardized processes, the waste is minimal. As much of it as possible is immediately recycled or re-used.
Shipping containers do contain a large quantity of steel, but they already exist. That is, they do NOT consume additional resources because they don't need to be constructed.
Converting the interior of a shipping container into a house does require some energy and resources, but almost nothing compared to a traditional site-built home.
Transporting flat pack and shipping containers to your home site does require some energy, but so does transporting all the rock, concrete, brick, wood and other materials that go into a site-built home.
`Smaller houses are much more energy efficient than modern houses.
With a typical site-built house, you burn up a lot of money to heat the air above your head.
Plus the air that's in the two bedrooms you or you and your spouse are not sleeping in.
Smaller flat pack and shipping container homes conserve energy well as long as they're appropriately insulated.
If you buy an older home, you won't create construction waste. However, older houses often do not have enough insulation and the double glazed windows needed to heat and cool them efficiently. They are more likely to have the high ceilings that make rooms costly to heat in the winter and cool in the summer.
Unless they've been updated with a modern air conditioner, hot water heater and furnace, their HVAC systems will not operate at optimum energy efficient, making your utility bills even higher.
If the house is old enough, it may have galvanized water pipes, which is a layer of zinc over steel.
We now understand that has health risks. The zinc contained impurities, including lead and cadmium. Exposure to lead is dangerous for everyone, and particularly for children. It can damage their brains and cognitive function. It can give anyone fatigue, nausea and headaches.
The answer really depends on what you want to call a tiny house.
For comparison, the standard new American home is now 2,600 square feet. Many go up to 6,000 square feet.
There's no official rule, but most "tiny" houses are under 400 square feet.
Flat pack houses come in modular, prefabricated units of 20 feet in length, and 8 feet in width. That's "tiny" for almost everyone.
Most shipping containers come in the standard 40 feet by 8 feet size. That's 320 square feet. And so are two flat pack 20-foot modules placed together.
Therefore, many flat pack and shipping container homes can be called tiny.
However, many people desire more elbow room. Two 40-foot shipping containers connected to each other are 640-square feet. That's not "tiny," but it's certainly far smaller than the average site-built home.
However, because they're modular, you can create homes with as many 20-foot flat pack units or as many 40-foot shipping containers as you like.
That means you, for example, join and stack ten or even more shipping containers together, creating a house that's even larger than the country's average.
Both flat pack and shipping container homes are very flexible. They can be tiny houses - or mansions. Depending on what you want, of course.
Also, the smallest tiny houses are very mobile. Some are so small they can be easily towed around. Some of them set on wheels. People park and sleep in a new location every night.
Flat pack and shipping container homes are mobile, but they're meant to remain in one place indefinitely. If you decide to move, you can transport them to your new location, but it's a job. You're need a crane and an 18-wheeler to move a shipping container.
People who want to drive around the country can compare a truly tiny, haulable house to a traditional RV.
Flat pack and shipping container homes from To Be Contained should normally remain in one spot.
Our architect will help you figure out how much space you need for yourself and your family.
That's why To Be Contained went into business. We want everybody to experience the economic and ecological benefits of these homes no matter what their mechanical abilities.
Too many people were buying used shipping containers without any idea of how much work it is to convert them into a safe, comfortable residence.
Shipping containers are solid, heavy, tough steel boxes.
The original plywood floor must be removed because it's been treated with potentially harmful pesticides.
A random used shipping container might suffer from lots of rust and corrosion. It could even have holes in the roof or sides. Some shipping containers have had their structural integrity damaged by hard use over the years.
Amateurs don't know how to pick out the best containers, and then remove all rust and old paint. They need to cover the containers with merchant ship paint to prevent future corrosion.
That's just the beginning.
Someone must cut the doors and windows out of the steel walls, without removing so much steel the container's structural integrity is damaged.
The walls and ceilings must be framed, along with the doors and windows.
Insulation goes into the framing. Make certain it's done properly, to comply with your local building codes - and so it will keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
Install your floors, wallboards and ceiling.
Then, there's the electrical wiring and water pipes.
And so on.
It's a major job, and too many people underestimate the work it requires. And they overestimate their ability to perform it.
Even if you're experienced . . . are you really an expert carpenter, welder, electrician AND plumber?
That's why To Be Contained does as much work as possible FOR YOU at the factory, before transporting the flat pack or shipping container to you.
These jobs are performed by experienced teams who are all experts in their separate fields. They not only have the skills, they have the right tools to carry out the job effectively and efficiently. Because they're inside a factory, they're in an environment that's suitable for the work. It's out of the weather.
Obviously, the final adjustments must be performed on the final home site.
Therefore, we do recommend you use a local contractor to help you put your new home together in the final stages.
They can hook up your utilities, install a toilet and make sure you comply with all local building codes.
We make sure our buildings are safe, but we can't know about every local requirement in the United States.
We will work with your local contractor and building inspector to make sure your new home meets all regulations.
Our architect can help you get things going.
It's impossible to give you a flat price because every home is different.
They are prefabricated and modular, and that reduces the price just as Henry Ford made automobiles affordable for average people by inventing the assembly line.
He also said that Model T buyers could have one in any color they desired, as long as they wanted a black one.
That worked well a hundred years ago, but today's home buyer wants individuality and to express their unique qualities as a person.
Here are some general guidelines:
Clearly, the price depends on things which are mostly common sense.
However, your total investment will be significantly less than the equivalent site-build home would be.
You need to discuss the details of what you want with our architects. He can explain everything.
To Be Contained wants to give you the best possible home for the least possible cost.
We advocate people live the lifestyles that are best for them, including minimalism - if that's what you choose.
And how much space you live in is up to you. That is, both flat pack and shipping containers can be combined to create houses as large as conventional homes.
However, it’s true that many people who are interested in flat pack and steel container homes want to make do with less stuff - fewer belongings.
When you live in a 40-foot shipping container, you simply don’t have the storage space to keep things you don’t need or don’t use.
You have to downsize your material possessions whether you want to or not.
Many Americans have made large houses a status symbol. When they go shopping for a house, they buy the largest and more expensive one they can obtain a mortgage for.
They spend around 37% of their take-home pay on their, according to Business Insider.
That's just an average - many people spend more than that 37%.
Although mortgage lenders as not as lax as they were before the 2008 financial crisis, they are still anxious to approve you for a mortgage that’s higher than your ideal comfort zone.
After all, they only make money by approving you. And if you have to work overtime or stop dining out to keep up with your monthly payments, that’s not their problem.
If your friends live in a 6,000 square foot, 4-bedrooms with jacuzzi monster in suburbia, you may assume they’re making more money than you are.
They may actually be house poor.
That means all their spare cash is going to make their monthly mortgage.
Not to mention paying the high electric and gas bills.
Don’t forget the other expenses you have when you own a home. Air conditioners need servicing and replacement. Lawns must be mowed.
According to the real estate website Zillo, Americans pay an average of $9,000 on such incidental repair and maintenance home expenses.
Living in a smaller home doesn’t mean you’re broke.
One well-known personal financial blogger for Millennials adopted a minimalist lifestyle several years ago.
She and her husband spent time driving around the country in an RV. Now they live in a sailboat.
Yet she makes around $100K per month from her blog.
Obviously, they could live almost anywhere they wish.
By refusing to live in a large, site-built traditional house, you save money on your mortgage, lights, gas, property taxes and insurance.
You can use that money to pay off your student loans, credit cards, your car or other debt.
You can use it to travel, dine out more often, or go to concerts and clubs. All the research indicates the trend for young adults is to value paying for experiences rather than additional material things.
You can finally begin investing money.
Obviously, saving money by buying a smaller than average house has many advantages whether you think of yourself as “minimalist” or not.
Yes - with just a few exceptions.
We must deliver your new home to your site. Shipping containers require an 18-wheel truck for delivery and a crane to unload it. Flat packs need a heavy-duty truck and a forklift.
Therefore, we must be able to reach your site. You can be in the country. You can be off the grid. But you must be accessible for delivery.
This also means your site cannot be along a small city alley or surrounded by so many utility wires a crane cannot unload the truck.
All our homes come with the insulation needed to keep you cool and warm throughout the year.
Steel houses are going up all over the world.
Africa, Malaysia, Dubai, Denmark, Mumbai, Wisconsin, Salt Lake City, New Zealand, New York, Indonesia, Ecuador, Colorado, Costa Rica, France, San Antonio Texas, Italy, Flagstaff Arizona, Canada, Long Island . . .
Somebody put a large prefabricated steel structure on top of a high apartment building in Barcelona, Spain.
Creative builders and architects are using shipping containers to construct apartment buildings, student housing, hostels, retail stores, restaurants, hotels and offices.
These may - or may not - the biggest obstacle to your flat pack steel home or shipping container house.
Zoning regulations apply. If you buy or have land which you wish to put a house up, you must make sure it’s zoned for residential use.
Every state has building codes which apply throughout the state.
Cities and municipalities have local codes. You need to look up your local government’s code and requirements.
If you're outside a local town’s jurisdiction, you are probably still governed by your state's regulations.
However, as with all laws, some are enforced more than others.
A lot also depends on who does the enforcing. It could make a big difference whether your local inspector is open to steel homes or hostile.
To Be Contained will work with you to help you comply with all local housing codes. We work within the law, and want you to be safe.
Many areas, especially the most affluent, have a lot of building codes that address the appearance of buildings rather than safety.
The purpose is to impose a certain uniform standard on the entire neighborhood. This may be done by local regulations or by a homeowners association.
By forcing everyone to conform to a certain standard of appearance, they help maintain home values.
For example, not many such places would allow you to paint your house purple.
We can work with you so your pre-constructed steel home meets the requirements, so it fits in with the general aesthetic of the neighborhood.
This could include a certain type of roof, aluminum or stucco siding or other additions to your house’s exterior so it blends it with the other houses around it.
Some building inspectors or municipalities may do that. Trailer parks have a poor reputation, and many urban areas do not allow them.
However, our steel homes are of much higher quality. They’re far safer than manufactured homes.
Also, their appearance can be altered so most people will not even noticed they’re not traditional houses.
If necessary, we advise you to work with a local lawyer experienced in the real estate industry.
A good lawyer should help you by convincing local officials prefabricated steel houses and shipping container homes are not like manufactured homes.
They are better constructed. They will blend in with the neighborhood. And they are safer than traditional houses because they are so fire resistant. They survive earthquakes and wind storms, including Category 5 hurricanes.
We will work with you to obtain all permits you need.
We can't give you a guaranteed time frame because the total time depends on different things - but one thing we can tell you for sure:
The sooner you get started, the sooner you'll move into your new home.
That said, there are several variables that affect the price.
Clearly, the larger and more complicated your house, the longer it will take to build. That might take 90-105 days or so, which includes transportation.
And it can take time for you to get a local building permit. That can take from 1-6 months depending on the efficiency of your local officials.
The key is to get started right away.
The sooner you begin, the sooner you move in.
Prefabricated, modular steel frame homes are meant to remain in one fixed, permanent location.
They are governed by local building codes and regulations.
That year, the government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development took over making the regulations about what people then called mobile homes or trailers.
Since then, they have been designed to remain in one place, not to be moved around. Most people just remained in one spot anyway.
And since then they’ve been officially known as manufactured homes, and the government regulates everything about them.
However, they continue to have a poor reputation in many ways, and many cities ban or severely restrict where they can be placed.
Just as we'll put your shipping container home onto an 18-wheeler and deliver it to your doorstep, you can move it if you choose. That's if your house is just one container, or multiple containers that are not connected to each other.
You'll have to protect appliances, windows and doors in the interior. You’ll have to unbolt it from the foundation and disconnect it from the local utility outlets. You’ll need to hire a crane to lift it onto an 18-wheeler.
But you can move one shipping container onto a truck and take it to a new location.
If you build a large house with shipping containers stacked on top of each other and/or welded together, you cannot move it.
We're not an outlet for the tiny houses that have wheels, or which can be easily placed on a trailer, so it can be hauled behind a car or pickup.
If you want to drive to a new location every day or two, you need a traditional RV, travel trailer or camper.
If you're looking for a safe, ecological and easily affordable alternative to traditional housing, you need to speak with our architect right away . . .
Some people already live in the traditional stick-built home of their dreams.
However, a pre-constructed flat pack steel building or shipping container may help them in other way.
That is some kind of separate structure on your property where somebody lives.
You could put one of our buildings into your backyard or a lot you own and rent it out, either as an Airbnb unit or to a permanent tenant.
Maybe you need a place for somebody in your family such as an adult child or aging parent.
They would have some privacy, but you could keep a close watch on them.
Many people own small plots of land in the country or near a lake. Maybe you spend time on weekends or the summer. A pre-constructed steel house makes a great cabin. While you’re away, it will resist bears and human vandals.
Set up your studio or office so you’re not interrupted at your work.
Maybe you’re a woodworker, mechanic or anyone else who needs a workshop with all your equipment and tools.
They can also be converted into small businesses, such as cafes or shops, but you’d have to make sure you comply with local zoning ordinances.