The Complete Guide to Shipping Container Homes in New Zealand

Section 1: Introduction to guide
Section 2: How much do shipping container homes cost?
Section 3: Planning a container home
Section 4: Building a shipping container home
4.1: Container Home Foundations
4.2: Cutting Frames for Doors and Windows
4.3: Insulating a container home
4.4: Roofing a container home
4.5: Connecting utilities
4.6: Flooring
Section 5: Container home designs
5.1: Small Container Homes
5.2: Large Container Homes
5.3: Designer container homes


Section 1: Introduction to Container Homes

Shipping containers homes are becoming an increasingly popular choice in New Zealand due to their extensive list of advantages over traditionally built homes. As an island nation with a booming international trade, New Zealand has an abundance of freight containers, many of which are still in relatively good condition after only a single voyage. This means that containers are readily available and affordable – and are ideal to repurpose into your dream home.
Converting a shipping container into a house is easier than you may think, as they can be easily modified to accommodate a wide range of styles, preferences and budgets. They already have a solid and durable structure, with a roof and flooring, which provides the basic framework. This saves money on materials and saves time on construction. The robust nature of storage containers is well-suited to withstand the full range of weather conditions and climates experienced in New Zealand. Many people also choose to build shipping container homes as recycling materials and the green designs available make them an environmentally friendly option.
Shipping container homes can be customized according to individual needs, preferences and living situations. From cozy, off-the-grid hideaways to stylish beach-front mansions and everything in-between, the design possibilities are endless. This guide will provide you with information, ideas and advice to help you plan and build your dream shipping container home.

Section 2: How Much Do Shipping Container Homes Cost?

Did you know that it is possible to build a recycled shipping container house for under $50,000? The average cost of building a shipping container home varies depending on the history of the container, the size, and the modifications planned. Larger and highly modified homes using brand new containers may cost up to $200,000, although this is still considerably less than building a traditional home. There are several areas where you can easily cut costs – and several areas where investing a little more money for a quality product will save you a lot of money and headaches in the long run.
One of the primary considerations is whether to purchase new or used containers. As expected, the older and more worn a container is, the cheaper it will be. Those in new or almost-new condition can range between $2,000 and $5,000 for 20-foot containers and between $6,000 and $9,000 for 40-foot containers. One-trip containers are often considered the most cost-effective option as they are still in good condition and will not require as much repair work. When buying recycled containers, note that it is preferable to view them in person and always check that they are water tight.
The key to building an affordable shipping container home is thorough planning. Understanding the structure of the container is important to avoid costly mistakes and designs. Alterations can compromise the load-bearing capacity of the walls, which then needs to be compensated for with additional materials. In particular, welding is an expensive and time-consuming process, so reducing the welding required during the planning phase is also an easy way to save money.

Section 3: Planning a Container Home

Shipping container home plans are known for their flexibility, with many arrangements, aesthetic styles and practical solutions to choose from. Before sketching out ideas, it is important to first figure out your budget so you can tailor the design to match. Next, consider the building site. The location is important, but so is the underlying geology. Bear in mind the amount of earthworks that will need to be done, including any retaining, drainage systems, and the preparation required for the foundation. Also, take note of the availability of water and existing electricity and waste-water systems, as these will all need to be incorporated into your design specifications.
Be as creative as you want in the planning stage. Devising the floor plans for container homes is a very similar process to that of a conventional house. How many rooms do you want? How many floors? The main difference is that that the floor designs for shipping container homes are based on the two standard container lengths; 20 feet and 40 feet. Both sizes are 8 feet wide and 8 feet tall, which results in 160 and 320 square feet of floor space respectively. These units can then be stacked on top of each other, placed side by side or modified into any number of different arrangements. You may want a house that can be easily moved, one that can be completely opened up to create an indoor-outdoor flow or one with a deck or central courtyard.
Remember to keep in mind the local building codes and legislation. This will ensure that you do not have to spend additional money later on to get your home compliant and up to standard. Then, once you have received all of the required consents, you are ready to start “The Build”. The next section provides information on this exciting stage and how to see your dream design through to completion.

Section 4: Building a Shipping Container Home

Container Home Foundations

Building a shipping container home is relatively simple. Starting at the bottom, there are three main container home foundations to choose from. The traditional concrete block is a popular choice as it is the easiest and most economical foundation to build. Alternatively, a crawl space can be created by raising the containers off the ground. This is useful if you are in need of extra storage, or when it is not possible to install a concrete block. Finally, a basement is a pragmatic solution for lack of storage space (or for those that want a wine cellar).
The underlying geology is often a major control in this decision. Often, it is the type of bedrock, soil properties, water table, land stability and the likelihood of erosion that dictate what you can and can’t do. Design specifications, budget, and personal preference are also contributing factors.

Cutting Frames For Doors And Windows

The location, size, and shape of container home windows and doors require careful consideration, as they will need to be cut and framed. Expect that most tools will probably need to be replaced or sharpened several times due to the tough nature of the steel used to build freight containers. Either a cutting disc, a reciprocating saw or a plasma cutter can be used to cut through the thick steel. A plasma cutter melts the steel as it cuts, so this is the most efficient and precise tool for this job.
As when using any sharp or hot tools, extreme care must be taken. Employ an experienced, reliable and qualified tradesman to ensure that the construction meets the required building standards and is to your satisfaction.

Insulating a Container Home

Adequate insulation that has been correctly installed is essential to ensure that you have a warm, comfortable and healthy home. Again, there are multiple options available for insulating modular container homes, depending on budget, climate and personal preference. Dry wall is a common addition to the interior of container homes, both as a homely design feature to hide the cold steel and tangle of wiring, as well as for its insulating properties. A layer of closed-cell foam on both inside and outside walls is also a common solution and it is effective at combatting both moisture and temperature issues.
Alternatively, there are ceramic-based paints on the market that are slightly cheaper and do not take up the same large amount of space that is associated with traditional layers of thick insulation. These types of paints have the additional benefit of creating a water-tight seal, preventing moisture buildup, rust, and the growth of mildew and mould. Specially formulated reflective paints can also be applied to the exterior surface. These paints act as a mirror for UV rays, preventing your home from feeling like, well, the inside of a metal box. However, be aware of sub-standard or imitation products, which may not live up to their claims.

Roofing a Container Home

Shipping containers are ideal to convert into a home as they already water-proof with solid walls and a roof. However, you will still need to install a proper roof to ensure adequate drainage and prevent corrosion, especially if you are joining several containers together. The roofing phase of shipping container house construction consists of welding metal plates along the length of the container. Wooden beams can then be fixed onto these plates and trusses screwed in to create the basic structure.
Common roof designs include the traditional hip roof (4 sloping sides), gable roof (2 sloping sides), shed roof (a sloped roof) and the flat roof. Each of these options has pros and cons when it comes to functionality such as withstanding rainfall and high winds and the load-bearing capacity, as well as aesthetics. Remember to consider drainage, ventilation and whether you want to install solar panels or a rain tank as part of the planning process before you start construction.

Connecting  Utilities

Just like a conventional house, the design specifications of your shipping container home should include plans for the structural, electrical and water layouts. Plumbing pipes, electrical wiring, insulation, heating and air conditioning are installed before the walls are erected. This is also the time to connect gas lines if you are planning a gas stove or fireplace.
For electrical plans, take special care in planning the locations of interior and exterior light fittings, sockets and the fuse box. Electrical wiring is usually concealed behind dry wall and beneath the flooring. Shipping container home plumbing is usually limited to several areas; the kitchen, the bathroom and the laundry and drains from a central pipe that connects to the plumbing line beneath the house. These all need to conform to building codes, so it is important to contract reputable and qualified tradesmen to connect these systems.


One way of saving costs is to leave the existing flooring in place. This flooring is typically comprised of ½ or 1-inch marine plywood made from tropical hard wood. However, this type of wood is known for attracting pests and is often treated with pesticides and other toxic chemicals. Information on whether the wood in the container has been treated, when, and with what, can usually be found on the container’s consolidated data plate. If you do choose to keep the original flooring, options for sealing it include a layer of concrete, polyurethane paint or a solvent-free industrial epoxy. If using epoxy, you will need to clean the plywood first with isopropyl alcohol. Warning: sanding the floor is highly dangerous and will release toxic and carcinogenic chemicals into the air.
The safest option is to strip and replace the flooring to create a customised finish and to avoid any potentially hazardous chemicals from the wood seeping into your home. Budget for approximately 5 sheets of plywood for a 20-foot container. Additional flooring options include vinyl, carpet tiles or even bamboo.

Section 5: New Zealand Container Home Designs

Small Container Homes

Small shipping container homes are particularly cosy, affordable, eco-friendly, easy to modify and can be easily transported. Some of the best container homes are based on basic single 20-foot or 40-foot shipping container house plans. There are many clever designs that you can utilise to create your own unique one bedroom shipping container house, unit or batch. Opening up one side with sliding doors or a fold-down patio will extend the living space outdoors and create a more spacious feeling. Innovative open floor living plans and multi-purpose rooms maximise the use of space. Building a loft is also a common option, as they make an ideal sleeping area and can usually accommodate a king-size bed.

Large Container Homes

Large shipping container homes are ideal for a larger family or hosting visitors. These modular units are designed to be stacked on top of one another, so expanding your designs to accommodate multiple bedrooms, bathrooms and spacious living areas is easy. Two story container homes are popular, with many multi-story floor plans available. This creates additional opportunities, such as the design and location of stairwells and whether to incorporate a balcony.
Alternatively, you can increase the square footage by extending horizontally. Common designs include placing two containers side-by-side, in a V-shape or separating them by a central courtyard. Add extra containers to create a larger single square, a U-shaped plan or any combination thereof.

Designer Container Homes

It is worthwhile to consult with experts, especially when planning major alterations such as cutting out large sections of weight-bearing metal or placing the containers on odd angles. Architects and tradesman that are experienced in modern container home designs will help you to transform your creative ideas from paper plans into both a functional and luxury designer container home.
There are a wide variety of shapes and plans depending on how you arrange and connect the containers. Contemporary design ideas include U-shaped, V-shaped, horizontally or vertically crossed and multiple stories at differing levels. It is even possible to attach several containers together at odd angles that may more closely resemble a work of art or a half-completed Jenga tower than a house. You might also consider adding a garage or three, a roof garden or roof-top patio or a central courtyard. The possibilities for shipping container homes are limited only by your imagination.