Shipping Container Homes, Pools, and 9 Other Amazing Use Cases

Image source: Container King

After binge watching Tiny House Nation, many people declutter their houses and contemplate whether to downsize their homes or not. But there is another fad sweeping the country, shipping containers. Why? Read on.

For some people it is the high cost of living. Cities like Los Angeles and Seattle have such a high cost of living that it is hard to afford a normal house. Other times it is contractors and builders who are simply looking for creative ways to keep costs low. One way or another, enter the shipping container.

But first, you should stop and ask yourself, is it for me? There are a few things you need to know before you build your tiny shipping container home. So, let’s dive into the history, benefits, and a few awesome creative uses of shipping containers.


Malcolm McLean bought his first truck in 1934. Over the course of 20 years, he grew his trucking business to being the 5th largest shipping company in the US. During those years, trucks would load and unload odd sized wooden crates. This caused the work to be cumbersome, slow, and ineffective. And with the different sizes, nothing was standard which made shipping difficult.

Malcolm McLean invented the shipping container in the 1950s to help transport supplies, and in 1956 he patented his idea. His design was to be standard, theft-proof, and multi-dimensional by using truck, train, and ship. His uniform design made loading and unloaded easier and brought the cost of shipping down significantly.

Shortly after developing the shipping container, the military used McLean’s shipping containers to transport supplies to troops and bases during the Vietnam War.

While the main premise for the shipping containers was to transport materials, the military also used the containers as short term housing and emergency shelters as it could be easily and quickly fortified for protection and safety.

In 1987, Philip Clark patented the idea of using one or more shipping containers for a personal housing dwelling. 2 years later, Clark’s license was permitted, and he now holds the patent. However, Europe and Asia first used shipping containers as residential housing and commercial property prior to Philip Clark.


Eco friendly

Recycling materials for housing features and re-purposing the shipping containers themselves saves on the ecological footprint we leave behind. Shipping containers can be created by recycled materials or rather up-cycled as we can reuse the entire shipping container as opposed to breaking it down and creating something else.

One misconception is that homeowners buy used shipping containers for the frame of their house. This isn’t always cost-effective.

To keep the house up to code means sandblasting the entire used container as well as removing the front door. However, using shipping containers, even used, keeps from using other materials like brick and cement.

Shipping containers have a 25–30 year life span. It’s preferable to buy new containers for the framing, but used containers for any features made to the house like an outside patio roof, walls, shelving, etc. Below, the homeowner used the cutouts from his windows to create the outdoor bar.


Over 24 million empty shipping containers lay abandoned around the world. Shipping containers are used between 10–15 years before they are forced into retirement. However, they have a lifespan of 25–30 years, longer if reinforced properly.

With a plethora of shipping containers available for reuse, creating homes and businesses with shipping containers allows for a durable building without a lot of overhead cost. Using alternative construction methods like shipping containers creates unique modern designs with open floor plans.


Shipping containers last 25–30 year without any updating. To last longer, one just needs to reinforce the container and years can be added to its lifespan.

Shipping containers are first and foremost used for transporting cargo throughout all parts of the world. Therefore, containers need to withstand all types of weather climates including tropical storms, deadly winds, and unpredictable thunderstorms.

To ensure the materials transported make it to their designated places, the strongest materials are used to reinforce the containers. The durable materials used are stronger than wood, concrete, and even regular steel buildings. To have a home or mobile office made of shipping containers means you have a stronghold that survives even the harshest of weather.


To purchase a shipping container, it costs between $1,400-$4,000. Included in the purchase is transportation. Usually, the container(s) are delivered to the site and placed side-by-side.

Many shipping container buildings can be less than $100,000. This still seems like a high number for being affordable. A big part of the cost is labor and hiring a licensed contractor. Forgoing a contractor could save money, however, the repercussions is not worth it. Hire a contractor and spend the money, this will make sure the building is up to code and can be insured.

*Most insurance policies will NOT insure if the building is not completed through a licensed contractor, not permitted, and not up to code.

Modular design

When McLean formulated the shipping container, he did it with a modular design in mind. The purpose of the design is to save space when transporting, especially overseas, in order to reduce time and cost.

A similar comparison of shipping containers is Legos. The block shape offers a perfect solution for stacking and transporting.

Building is now easy as “stacking” shipping containers allows for an easy and unique floor plan. Molding 2 shipping containers together is easy and efficient, saving time and energy.

This simple, boxed design can easily be adapted into an array of building types like commercial spaces to storage facilities.


One of the best reasons why most people prefer shipping containers for their buildings is because it has easy mobility and relocation. Building and creating homes through shipping containers can be done off-site and transported to the location.

This kind of mobility creates an instant gratification because once the foundation is laid, the building can be constructed within a couple of days. It also offers an instant gratification as it takes no time to build once the shipping containers are transported to the site.

Unique Uses

1. Homes

One of the most popular uses for shipping containers is personal dwellings. If a homeowner was to remodel or add-on to their existing homes, using materials from shipping containers creates a modern look while keeping costs down.

With easy mobility and module design, using shipping containers as apartment buildings is indispensable. Apartment buildings pop up in lots of cities, creating spacious, easy-to-build rental housing for a growing population.

2. Offices

Renting out office space or building commercial residents can be an expensive endeavor. Using shipping containers offers an affordable alternative to a shared office workspace.

A surprising way to use shipping containers is for co-working spaces. With the internet connecting people globally, working from home is becoming more popular. But remote work can be difficult to stay focused on work or the flip side, turning work off once office hours are over. Having a place to work outside the home makes it easier.

3. Storage

PODS, a moving company, rents 7 ft, 12 ft, and 16 ft containers for people relocating. The containers are made from shipping container materials and offers a secure storage unit for keeping personal items safe. They can even include a custom lock box.

Due to the durability of shipping containers, they can make a great storage unit. Storage facilities can be comprised of just shipping containers. This also makes transporting your valuables easy and affordable.

4. Garage

Most standard homes offer a two-car garage but some places aren’t that lucky. With growing cities, every inch is accounted for and most times garages aren’t considered. Or if you have more than two drivers within your home, you are all fighting for the coveted spots.

Using shipping containers is a great way to have plenty of space for your extra vehicles while keeping them safe from bad weather. Below, a picture of a garage used of shipping containers.

5. Getaways

Buying land on beautiful beaches and mountains can be quite pricey. Adding the cost for building a house can triple the price tag. A luxury most can’t afford, especially for a place that’s a getaway.

Using shipping containers is a cost-effective way of getting the escape you need without the high price tag. With shipping container homes being built then assembled on-site, this brings the cost down from transporting all the materials to your final destination.

6. Pools

Everyone remembers spending hot summers cooling off by the pool, but in areas with severe cold weather a pool can be impractical and costly. Shipping containers can handle the extreme winter storms and erratic temperature changes that most above ground pools can’t survive.

Using shipping containers is a great way to stay cool in the summers without having to pay for damages after the winter. And to stave off the chill, you can use shipping containers as a hot tub, too.

This popular trend first popped up in Canada and is making a sweep throughout its southern neighbors.

7. Restaurants

Restaurants, shopping centers, and small businesses use shipping containers as their home base for doing business.

Outdoor bars and restaurants are popular as you can use the top of the container as a “patio” for patrons to sit and enjoy the wonderful views around them. They also can open one side of the container to have a great indoor/outdoor flow making the space bigger and inviting.

Shops use the shipping containers as great “booths” to sell their wares, especially attractive in tourist areas. Small business like hair salons use shipping containers for the accessibility, leaning on the mobility of shipping containers to take their businesses to their customers as opposed to staying in just one place.

Meeting the customers where they are makes their business more lucrative for their business and shipping containers makes mobility easy for the small business.

8. School

Schools always have a tight budget. With populations growing at an increasingly fast rate, students outgrow the school buildings at a quick pace. This leaves schools over-cramped and underdeveloped.

To help minimize the problem, schools use shipping containers as classrooms, giving teachers a spacious room at a cost-effective rate. The school pictured below in Mexico used shipping containers for their building.

9. Computer server storage

This option is not as popular as the rest, but still a wise choice for businesses and companies dependent on multiple server storage and commissaries. With the rise and fall and rise of digital currency, have a computer server storage is a great way to make extra money housing mining hardware.

Ultimately, shipping containers are great materials to use when thinking of another source for you next building project.

For your next project consider these interesting examples. They are an innovative, out-of-the-box alternative to traditional building materials.

What creative uses have you seen for shipping containers lately?

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