All stainless container house interior, River Walk Brooklyn NY (C) Daniel Friedman Shipping Container Housing
Emergency disaster housing, temporary housing or using shipping containers as permanent housing

  • CONTAINER HOUSING - CONTENTS: Guide to Shipping Container Housing Designs, Uses, Sources, Inspection & Maintenance - Temporary or emergency / disaster housing using shipping containers or other designs. Examples of Shipping Container & Similar Transportable Unit Housing Designs. Container-based Disaster Housing Conversion, Transportation & Installation Costs & Considerations. Shipping container house designs, Tanks & Other Round Structures as a Base for Experimental Design Housing - the Bottle House
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about shipping container housing designs, uses, where to buy shipping containers for conversion to a house, how to convert a shipping container to housing, shipping container house inspection & maintenance

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Shipping container & similar pre-fab housing: this article describes the use of shipping containers & similar structures as a base for design & provision of emergency or disaster housing, temporary structures, or even permanent homes that can be transported, erected, even stacked on-site where housing is needed in both urban and more remote areas.

We include examples of container based housing designs and we list the factors that should be considered in both cost analysis for container based housing and in project set-up & maintenance.

We provide sources for renting or buying shipping containers new or used for housing or storage or office projects, and we list expert resources, books & documents on container housing architecture & design. Page top photo is an example of creative design thinking applied to round and other shaped-containers, in this instance, from Private Passage, a New York City sculpture by Malcolm Cochran.

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Guide to Shipping Container Housing Designs, Uses, Sources, Inspection & Maintenance

Following Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and further-developing a disaster housing plan that New York City has been working on since 2007, FEMA and New York City officials began plans for a project to test disaster housing units, including designs such as using shipping containers that could be stackable to provide higher density housing in urban areas where otherwise space may be limited.

The city will construct a prototype disaster housing set-up testing stacked or multi-story units on a parking lot near the Brooklyn Bridge. [1]

Article Contents

  • CONTAINER HOUSING - CONTENTS: Guide to Shipping Container Housing Designs, Uses, Sources, Inspection & Maintenance - Temporary or emergency / disaster housing using shipping containers or other designs

Examples of Shipping Container & Similar Modular Housing Designs

Shippping container office - Wikipedia 2012

This office built using a shipping container is an example provided by Wikipedia.

Standard shipping container sizes vary by country, age, and intended use. Construction material is usually steel (typically COR-ten steel) though there are also (more expensive) aluminum shipping containers. Generally in the U.S. shipping containers are available in these dimensions: [2]

  • Shipping container Length: 20-ft (6.1 m), 40-ft (12.2 m), 45-ft (13.7 m), 48-ft (14.6 m), and 53-ft (16.2 m)
  • Shipping container Width: 8 ft.
  • Shipping container Height: 9 ft 6 in (2.9 m)
  • Shipping container Weight: typically from 2000 to 3000 kg & up for steel shipping containers

Synonyms for shipping container in shipping use include ISO container, Cargon Container, Conex Box. When used for occupancy or storage, these containers are referred to as Intermodal Steel Building Unit (ISBU) or a GreenCube. [9]

Container-based Disaster Housing Conversion, Transportation & Installation Costs & Considerations

A number of factors combine to determine the suitability of converted shipping containers as temporary disaster housing or for longer term applications, including:

  • Availability of suitable shipping containers of the proper size and in usable condition
  • Transportation costs for the shipping container to the location where it is to be modified / adapted
  • Total costs for modifications to the shipping container, which of course vary by requirements such as heating & cooling needs. The New York Times reported that the estimated cost to convert each 40-ft long shipping container into a movable and perhaps stackable house would range between $50,000. & $80,000. U.S.[1] Adaptation cost may involve extra insulation & cooling where containers are to be used in climates of more extreme cold or hot temperatures. [9]
  • Transportation costs for the container housing to be shipped to its point of use
  • Installation costs for shipping container based disaster housing, including
    • Site work preparation (foundation space level, provision of ground support plates, site properly drained, access roads or walks) including possible site preparation to permit access to the site by container transportation & lifting or placement equipment (crane or fork lift).
    • Safe access stairs & railings, and housing-modified container unit placement, with additional placement costs and access stair costs for stacked units
    • Connections between the container housing and utilities for electricity (including electrical grounding), water supply, wastewater disposal; if needed, provision for onsite heating fuel (heating oil, LP gas, natural gas connections). For some installations there may be both installation time reductions & economies of installation if bathing & toilet facilities can be provided by a number of specialized container units designed for that purpose and shared among housing users. For example SeaBox provides an expandable 10' x 8' stackable shower unit that can be set up in just 20 minutes. [8]
    • Larger dimensioned housing containers may be more costly to transport and stack.
    • For longer term occupancy, additional provisions for design, space, stimulii, or other features may be needed to assure that a particular shipping container-based housing installation minimizes issues with privacy, crowding, and related concerns explored by Hall (1976) and others [14] listed by Brandt (2011) who has compiled a thoughtful analysis of the requirements for a successful longer-term housing facility based on containers. [9]
    • Manufacturers warn of life threatening risks to personnel during lifting & installation of shipping container units & their connection to mechanical & electrical services; in the urgency of a disaster-related event expert supervision may be needed to reduce the risk of hazards to inexperienced personnel
  • Maintenance costs for shipping-container based housing or disaster shelters include
    • Inspection of leveling jacks & adjustment as needed
    • Inspection of electrical & other mechanical systems for safety
    • HVAC maintenance & repair
    • Plumbing system maintenance & repair
    • Inspection for abnormal interior conditions of moisture, mold contamination, leaks

Tanks & Other Round Structures as a Base for Experimental Design Housing - the Bottle House

Bottle container as home, New York City river walk (C) Daniel Friedman

Our photo of a bottle structure as home (left), Private Passage, a sculpture by Malcolm Cochran, illustrates the wide range of experiment and creativity that has attracted architects and other designers to the adaptation of containers, especially shipping containers, but even a wine bottle as ready-made structures that can be converted into a home.

Properly titled Private Passage, this bottle house was the first permanent public sculpture commissioned as part of Hudson River Park. The bottle house or Private Passage is on display in Clinton Cove, along what is popularly referred to as the NYC RIver Walk .

Private Passage is a 30 ' x 8’6” diameter wine bottle resting on its side. The interior along with the portholes form an interpretation of a stateroom derived from photographs of the Queen Mary.

This artwork, not intended as a habitable structure, was created with support from the New York City Percent for Art program administered through the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

This all stainless interior gives a glimpse into an all stainless steel design concept used in a container home on display on the River Walk, NY City.

All stainless container house interior, River Walk Brooklyn NY (C) Daniel Friedman All stainless container house interior, River Walk Brooklyn NY (C) Daniel Friedman Interior of the all stainless steel bottle container home (C) Daniel Friedman

As you will probably agree, this end view of the all-stainless bottle house shows a concept a bit more narrow in width than the more generous 12' x 40' shipping container structure widely used for this approach to emergency, temporary, or even permanent housing.

And unlike the rectangular-modular shape of shipping containers, round tank-containers won't accept stacking for taller structures in more crowded areas.

Sources & Resources for Shipping Container & Similar Modular Housing

  • The Sea Box, supplier of ISO Shipping Containers, SEA BOX, Inc. Corporate Office, 1 SEA BOX Drive, East Riverton, NJ 08077-1910, Tel: 856.303.1101 | Fax: 856.303.1501 E-mail:, Website:
    The company provides containerized housing units in 20 & 40 ft. lengths and designed for a variety of uses other than materials shipping, such as workshops, storage locations, power generating systems, offices, sleeping quarters, interim housing, camps, for commercial, private, & military applications.
  • Interport, supplies new & used shipping containers for rent or sale. Interport Maintenance Co., Inc., 635 Delancy Street, Newark, New Jersey, 07105, Tel (973) 589-2329, Website:
  • Port Container Services, Newcastle (Head Office), 121 Woodstock St, Mayfield 2304 NSW Tel: (02) 4967 1744 Toll Free: 1300 957 70Shipping container supplier for Australia, Tel: 1300 957 709, Email:, Website:
  • Adam Kalkin, Quik Build: Adam Kalkin's ABC of Container Architecture, Bibliotheque McLean (October 2008),ISBN-10: 0955886805, ISBN-13: 978-0955886805
  • Paul Sawyers, Intermodal Shipping Container Small Steel Buildings, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; Second Edition edition (June 26, 2008), ISBN-10: 1438240325, ISBN-13: 978-1438240329
  • Paul Sawyers, Expanded Discussion: of the Method for Converting Shipping Containers into a Habitable Steel Building, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (May 25, 2011), ISBN-10: 1463532113, ISBN-13: 978-1463532116
  • Slawick, H., Bermann, J., Tinney, S. (2010), Container Atlas: A Practical Guide to Container Architecture, Berlin, Die Gestalten Verlag (2010), ASIN: B003ZZQWZE

Watch out: when buying a used shipping container; because a shipping container may have been used to transport illegal drugs or other chemicals or substances that could be harmful it makes sense to have the unit interior inspected, if appropriate, tested, and cleaned before taking further step to convert its use from shipping to a home, office, remote cabin or other structure.

Standards & Codes for Shipping Containers & Containerized Housing

  • C.S.C. (In general, any container used for international transport must have a valid safety approval plate or "CSC plate". CSC is the abbreviation for Container Safety Convention.) Transport Information Service,
  • ISO/TC-104 Shipping Container Standards, available from
  • Lloyds Register of Shipping, Container Certification Scheme, available from Lloyds also provides an extensive document on Container legislation. we-serve/pdfs/container-legislation.pdf
  • T.I.R. (Tasa Interna de Retorno)
  • U.I.C. standardized container dimensions
  • Lifting & placement equipment: standard COTS Intermodal equipment (cranes, forklifts, spreaders, top-lifter, lifting frames etc)


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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Question: prefab housing for the homeless?

 (Mar 8, 2012) Tjibuya Daman said: [by comment box on InspectApedia home page]

I would like to buy prefab housing to use to accommodate homeless people in my country. i am however not sure about how to maintain these houses in the long run


Tjibuya: regarding pre-fab housing maintenance, the requirements will depend on just what you mean by pre-fab. There is significant variation in materials, construction, even site delivery and assembly among types of manufactured housing. Search InspectAPedia for "DEFINITIONS of Mobile Home, Doublewide, Modular, Panelized Construction" to sort these out and then let me know which you are referring to - or describe to me in your own words what you mean by prefab housing and we'll discuss further just what special maintenance concerns may be important.

If by maintenance you refer to building maintenance (as opposed to keeping such a program going) key is choosing materials and construction types that work in the climate and environment involved and that will require little or no building maintenance.

A second maintenance topic that may require more money and energy is the provision of potable water, sanitary toilets, other utilities.

Certainly there is a wide range of options such as

  • purchasing container housing - low cost, often quick to obtain
  • making use of existing buildings, converting them as needed
  • other forms of new construction; for example in Guanjauato, Mexico, the a casita program has been building small concrete block housing for people living in the campo and who previously had only minimal shelter.

But before launching any new program one would want to be guided by people living in the community about housing preferences & needs, land space, legal requiremetns, etc.

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