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Container homes: What you must know about the biggest little housing fad

Container homes: The pros and cons – and where to start

What are container homes?

They are exactly what they sound like – homes made from the steel shipping containers that you see carrying goods on ships and trains.

Living the "container life" can be a really affordable way to get a roof - or a few roofs - over your head. ISTOCK

If you think outside the box, you can turn your container home into an impressive multi-level dwelling. ISTOCK

The average container makes a small box of a home – much like a tiny home.

However, by using multiple containers and putting them together building blocks, people are creating large and impressive double-storey residences.

What are the advantages of a container home?

Living the "container life" can be a really affordable way to get a roof - or a few roofs - over your head. ISTOCK

Living the “container life” can be a really affordable way to get a roof – or a few roofs – over your head. ISTOCK

One of the most immediate benefits of a container home is the price tag.

They have much lower construction and maintenance costs when compared to building the average home.

Another advantage is the quick turnaround – as many container homes are available as prefabricated modular homes, they can be built in a factory in as little as a few weeks so you can move in sooner.

It's far quicker to assemble a container home than building a traditional house from scratch.

It’s far quicker to assemble a container home than building a traditional house from scratch. ISTOCK

There is also the perception that container homes are a ‘green’ alternative to conventional dwellings, as they are recycling existing materials that would otherwise just pile up as waste.

What are the disadvantages of a container home?

One major downside is that there isn’t much space in the average shipping container, and this limits design choices and makes insulation and plumbing a challenge.

You may also struggle to obtain a building permit, as container homes are still relatively uncommon. You’ll need to check carefully with your local council as to what their regulations are.

The retail industry has also seen the benefit of container dwelling, as the Cashel Street Mall Re:START in Christchurch has shown.

The retail industry has also seen the benefit of container dwelling, as the Cashel Street Mall Re:START in Christchurch has shown.

An additional concern is that you won’t know what the container originally held – was it harmless consumer goods or hazardous industrial materials?

You have to ensure your contractor is dealing with any toxic elements before constructing your building.

Can I get a container home Down Under?

Make sure you check the local rules and regulations around container homes before plonking one down. ISTOCK

Make sure you check the local rules and regulations around container homes before plonking one down. ISTOCK

Certainly! Many people have already constructed container homes in Australia and New Zealand, and demand continues to rise.

Indeed, many companies dedicated to building these homes are now popping up across both countries.

However, make sure you do your research and find a contractor who is experienced in creating these homes – and before you even start thinking about purchasing a container, ensure you are familiar with your local government’s rules regarding living in such a dwelling.

What are tiny homes?

What are tiny homes? The definition of a tiny house is one that is 400 square feet (37 square m) or less in floor area, excluding lofts. If you’re wondering how big that is, the average new home and apartment size in Australia is now at 189.8m2 â€“ so a tiny house is about one-fifth that size. 

What are tiny homes and why do they exist?

The tiny house movement kicked off in the US in the late 2000s as a reaction to an economy that meant many people couldn’t afford to own their own home. Tiny houses made that affordable for many.

How many are there in Australia?

Only some hundreds probably, as legislation around tiny houses is still largely in the pipeline and so many people are hesitant to build a house without knowing the laws around it. However, the shortage of affordable housing in cities like Melbourne and Sydney mean they will almost certainly be a thing in the not-too-distant future.

What are the upsides to tiny homes?

They’re cheap, meaning you can get your own place for a fraction of the cost of a traditional home. They are mobile, meaning you can move to a different location whenever the mood strikes (this of course, also brings its own red tape with it). They’re very green as it’s possible to live off the grid in a tiny house. And they force you to declutter (no need for Marie Kondo in tiny homes).

So what are the downsides?

They may be a way of getting your foot onto the housing ladder but they don’t really offer the same benefits when it comes to selling and moving on. Tiny houses depreciate in value over time, unlike most traditional homes which – over the long term – can be expected to grow in value. Also, most tiny homes are on wheels and this can make some inhabitants feel ‘groundless’ and ‘fragile’.  Because they are not fixed to the ground, they are also susceptible to being stolen. And finally, unless you are extremely ruthless with possessions, it’s very hard for most adults to fit all their possessions into a tiny home. As a result, many tiny home dwellers end up renting storage space as well, which may defeat the purpose of living in a tiny home.

Read more: 8 eco-friendly homes around the world for green gateways

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