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Container home: Everything you need to know about this alternative living space


Well, it is exactly what it sounds like, a home made from a shipping container. Yes, the same containers you see on the back of trucks and loaded on to ships.

container home in Malaysia
Hipster to the max. © Rudmer Zwerver/ 123RF

These containers are prefabricated into various living spaces and configured into a complete home-based on your design. No, we’re not asking you to just live in an existing shipping container without any modifications. That would be a nightmare. The concept is of course not novel. We do see cafes, hotels, and restaurants around that are made from containers and we probably have seen some yummy pics of impressive container homes overseas.

But did you know that you can own and live in a container home right here in Malaysia? Yes, it is a viable construction option if you’re looking to build a home. We explore the pros and cons of living in a container home or a cabin home and find out, just exactly what does it cost?

And would you be interested to live in one?

What are the pros of having a container home?

Aching for that cold industrial look? © Aphinan Surasit/ 123RF
  • It’s easier to put together

    Everything is prefabricated and ready to go, so construction time is a lot shorter than traditional homes. It’s basically like playing Lego but on a much larger scale. If you’re looking to construct a home, then a container also provides an interesting ‘wow’ factor.

READ: What is a prefab house and should you buy it?

  • It’s simpler to move around

    There is already existing infrastructure to facilitate moving containers around, so transportation is not an issue. Plus, once they arrive at your site, because of their sturdy shape containers are relatively easy to place on your foundation as well.

  • It’s easier to estimate the cost of construction

    Given that most of the work on container homes are created on a factory floor for a fixed price, it’s a lot easier to estimate the construction cost. The only variables are delivery, site-preparation, foundation setting and utility connections. The one thing to note is that container homes are not always cheaper than traditional ones but for the most part, they are.

  • You can do your bit for the environment (sort of)

    The idea of reusing what is basically a leftover product of the shipping industry may appear appealing to people who are looking to live a more environmentally conscious life. In some ways it is but the reality may vary depending on the approach and company you engage to get this done.

What are the cons of having a container home?

Is it really environmentally friendlier? © Tewin Kijthamrongworakul/ 123RF
  • It cannot be recycled

    Okay, now it sounds like we are contradicting ourselves but hear us out. The idea that living in a container home is a form of recycling would be logical assuming that the containers are worn and used, especially those that are meant to be discarded anyway.

    The truth is that most container homes are made from containers used maybe in just a single trip. These are in better shape and more suitable to be refabricated into container homes. Containers that have been used heavily tend to be damaged and gone a little out of shape, so they may not be suitable for refabricating. Taking a box that probably has a long shipping life out of service just to build a home may not be effective recycling.

  • It has possible structural issues

    The one thing to remember is that containers are not built for us to live in but primarily to transport goods. Naturally, anything that is repurposed for alternate use would need some work. A container is the strongest at its corners, but the roof would always require additional reinforcement. Anywhere you decide to cut a window would also need additional reinforcement. Also, any future renovations may require further engineering and welding to ensure structural integrity.

  • The threat of the unknown

    Given that most refabricated containers have at least been used once in shipping, it’s not possible to confirm what was shipped in the containers. It could be anything from thousands of Pikachu soft toys to hazardous industrial materials. Plus, we don’t know what kind of paint was used for the container. The container manufacturer most likely did not build it for home use and could have used paints containing lead or pesticides.

Honestly, how much does a container home cost? 

Do the numbers add up? © Nataliia Anisimova / 123RF

Opinions are a little split on the affordability of container home because it really depends on the design and configuration you are going for. To estimate ballpark figures, assuming you are purchasing a 2,000 sf piece of land not in a prime location but somewhere a little far off but more affordable, and not going for design and configuration that are jaw-dropping, you will probably have to fork out RM 150,000 – RM 250,000, all in.

That is still significantly more affordable than a lot of houses or condos around the Klang Valley. But once you start angling for larger configurations with more luxurious fittings then you may be looking at a higher price tag. In countries like Canada for example, a 1,400 sf container home could cost up to as much as $393,500! And this doesn’t even include the cost of the land.

Should you consider building and living in a container home or a cabin home? Well, there are things to consider of course. It’s slick, modern and trendy but whether that amounts to practicality from both lifestyle and cost perspectives, that is something that you need to consider. What is certain is that the trend of container homes is warranted based on merits. If manufacturers can figure out how to make the price of setting one up more affordable, who knows? For now, you can just stare at one because it is really quite cool.

Edited by Rebecca Hani Romeli

Disclaimer: The information is provided for general information only. Malaysia Sdn Bhd makes no representations or warranties in relation to the information, including but not limited to any representation or warranty as to the fitness for any particular purpose of the information to the fullest extent permitted by law. While every effort has been made to ensure that the information provided in this article is accurate, reliable, and complete as of the time of writing, the information provided in this article should not be relied upon to make any financial, investment, real estate or legal decisions. Additionally, the information should not substitute advice from a trained professional who can take into account your personal facts and circumstances, and we accept no liability if you use the information to form decisions.

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