Shipping containers are popping up all over the place. We’re seeing these self-supporting structures as shops, as cafes, as offices, extensions and even complete homes! In this artcicle, we'll look at why this modular structure has gained so much popularity and what the true cost of building a container home is likely to be. 

Why build a shipping container home? Back to top

There is an ever-growing focus on space saving and innovation when it comes to building. Television shows like George Clark’s Amazing Spaces certainly fuel this.

Shipping containers are becoming more popular in residential buildings. Most often they are used in new builds or as non-attached additions like sleep-outs, granny flats and offices.

Fitting out a shipping container is not too different to fitting out any building. They can be a high spec or they can be simple.

People often perceive building with containers to be easier or cheaper than traditional building, but it’s not always the case.

Rather the key advantages in using containers are around strength, durability, being transportable, having an existing self-supporting structure to work with, and security (containers can deter thieves).

Daewoo tractor and male worker positioning shipping containers onto building site
Maziar Behrooz Architecture


Containers can be built off-site and delivered. Once consent is approved, the build time is much less than a traditional build, with less tradespeople on-site. The modern design and look of containers are also attractive.

An internal timber frame is erected so that plumbing pipes, electrical wiring and insulation can be installed before walls are put in.

Heating systems, air conditioning and recess lighting can all be added. Container flooring is usually 35mm marine plywood.

It can be polished, or new flooring like carpet or vinyl can be put down on top.

Containers Direct’s Mark Bohan has worked on many residential projects using shipping containers.

Job budgets vary greatly but he says building with containers is generally not as cheap, or as easy, as people often think it will be.

Flatbed trucking transporting an open-side shipping container with glass bi-fold doors
Image courtesy of Containers Direct.


“Depending on your budget, it could be a container for an office with just a door and a window, while other people want to make a statement with their container,” Mark says.

An extension he was involved in used a shipping container to increase the living space of an old, small villa.

A shipping container priced well on this job. The space created was significant to the small size of the house. So overall it worked well.

“Those little old cottages are quite small and it can be expensive to extend them, Mark says.

“The building extension the client was going to do would’ve cost about $100,000. They were looking for a cheaper option and a container is around $40,000.”

Internal timber frame being built in a gutted shipping container
Image courtesy of Containers Direct.


One of the container’s walls was removed so it could join onto the cottage. The other walls were mainly glass and bi-fold doors.

The extension was at the back of the house so the area could be kept private, with outdoor flow.

A new roof was built from the peak of the house to align the container extension with the existing building. The new roof was needed regardless of the type of build.

Aside from the cost, another advantage in using a container for the extension was not having to do so much restoration to the existing building. This would have been needed with a traditional extension.

“The original house has had a lot of issues because of its age and before doing an extension these would have had to be sorted out first,” he says. “It would have been a whole lot of extra work.”

The container was craned in over the cottage.

Three containers, used to build a sleep-out with a glass window wall in the valley of a mountain range
Image courtesy of Containers Direct.


When building with containers, money is saved around foundations. Piles are done in each corner of each container, much less than what is needed for a traditional build.

Containers must comply with the building code of compliance just like any other extension. Consents need to be obtained through council.

Currently Mark finds that there is not much consistency with consents issued.

“Recently we had four consents with council at the one time, three passed and one didn’t,” he says. “Sometimes it’s just not understanding the method of the design.”

Bottom floor of a modern two storey home constructed out of shipping containers
Infiniski Manifesto House by James and Mau. Photo courtesy of Antonio Corcuera


Architectural designer Melissa Burne recently worked on a high-spec one bedroom container home in order to raise funds for the cancer charity Look Good Feel Better. Originally a 40 ft shipping container, the conversion resulted in a fully functioning home including an open plan living area, kitchen, bathroom and walk-in wardrobe.

When asked about the costs involved, Burne says the majority of people would be surprised.

“The project has definitely polarised people”, says Burne. “They think a container conversion is an affordable alternative to a new build, but for a little more you could have a modest, basic home.” 

“We have had people say you can convert a container into a home for around $60,000 but our experience has shown that’s just not the case. To build to comply with The Building Code, you need to be prepared to invest more than $100,000.”

While many of the materials for the project were donated, Burne estimates that it would take $127,000 to reproduce.

Exterior of a royal blue fitted out, non-attached shipping container
An off-the-grid 10m2 container home by IQ containers. Photo courtesy of Hayden Spurdle

How much does a shipping container home extension cost? Back to top

According to renovation specialist Richard Lightfoot, a great deal of work goes into converting shipping containers into council approved, livable spaces. He often receives enquiries from clients who are interested in converting a container into an outdoor space for extended family, or a work area. 

For a shipping container alone you can expect to pay anywhere from $3,000 - $10,000+. On top of that there is council consent to consider. The council regulations surrounding container homes are strict and frequently changing. Consent costs can range from approximately $5,000 - $10,000+. Other considerations include refurbishment costs, which are likely to be $5,000 - $10,000 minimum, and labour costs which can be at least $10,000.

How much will a shipping container sleepout cost? Back to top

Shipping containers are a common consideration for families with growing teenagers, or for those who want to offer extended family their own space. If you are considering converting a shipping container into a sleepout, expect to pay at least $40,000; more if you plan to include a kitchen and/or bathroom. Costs you will need to consider include design, council consent, refurbishment and labour.  


Interior view of a shipping container granny flat, with living area above bed, small kitchenette and wood flooring throughout.

The living area done by IQ containers sits above the sleeping area, with panoramic windows to maximise light and the view. Photo courtesy of Hayden Spurdle

How much can I expect to pay for a container home on a budget? Back to top

Many people turn to container homes as an option to help them live within their means. While some people find the idea of going the DIY route tempting, cutting corners can lead to a lot of long term stress and money. Working with a professional will ensure your home is council code compliant and that it is designed, engineered and built safely. All-inclusive costs for 1-2 bedroom container homes begin at around $150,000. Keep in mind that container homes are modular, so you can always extend your space in the future.

How much will a container home cost on a mid to high-range budget? Back to top

If budgeting isn’t an issue, you can get creative. A wider budget creates room for unique designs, high quality materials and additional space. For a spacious, high quality and innovative container home design and build, expect to pay upward of $400,000.   

As container homes are a specialist area it is important to consult an experienced professional and to not skip corners. For advice on renovating a container home, consult a Refresh Renovations specialist here.


Get in touch

If you have a unique renovation project in mind, we would love to hear from you. Get in touch with a Refresh Renovations specialist to arrange a free consultation and we will help to get your project underway.