Is building a house with shipping containers for me?


REAL ESTATE MINUTE: With Cyril Nii Ayitey Tetteh

 If you were like me, growing up, my closest contact with shipping containers far away from Tema port was either seeing it at construction sites in their modified form as offices or as fashion boutique shops or as storage facilities.

So, imagine my surprise when I realize the new trend with converting these containers into residential homes; naturally the questions pop up – how amenable will these boxes be in terms of carving out functional spaces; how can you address the inevitable heat and ventilation issues that come with these boxes; wont the design be too flat?

The questions play on your mind and you may decide that until that family member or close friend pull it off, you will rather wait. “it is not for me, at least not yet” is how you may see the picture in your mind’s eye. Well, you aren’t alone, but today we will present you an argument for container homes and just maybe, you may find it compelling. Have an open mind? Then let’s have a go, shall we?


Once upon a time, the need to transport dry goods, refrigerated goods, bulk liquids safely over high seas gave birth to these boxes that not only offered some security but came in standardized sizes such that they could also be easily transported on trucks away from port to final destination.

So, it was all well and good with a lot of shipping containers being produced to facilitate import and export of goods, but there was one problem.

The problem was that once the shipping containers offloaded goods in the destination countries, it didn’t make economic sense to send the container back empty to source supplier as it was actually cheaper for that supplier to obtain a container in their home country.

The result was that a lot of empty containers were left piling up in warehouses and ports. Indeed, a recent documentary on The National Geography Channel estimated the number of unused shipping containers to be approximately over two hundred million.

Use clearly had to be found for all the empty containers so as to cut wastage while also providing an alternative option for home construction at an affordable rate.


The most interesting benefit for a lot of patrons is that container homes can be cheaper or more affordable compared to regularly constructed homes. In Ghana, a few companies that have produced these homes are able to do a decent 2-bedroom sized property for between 20,000 to 30,000 dollars on the average. Other benefits from various studies are as follows:

Durability – Mainly made from galvanized steel, shipping containers are typically stronger than wooden frames and can last for decades requiring minimal amount of maintenance. They are also resistant to mold, fire and termites.

Modular – Reinforced and ready for action, assembled pre-built homes in as few as three days

Portable – Can be converted into homes wherever is most convenient, and then easily transported and assembled at final destination.

Expandable – When building a house with shipping containers homes can be modified or expanded to include new spaces or rooms

Short Construction Time –Construction time onsite can be as little as 7 days to fully weatherproofed condition.


Limitations with space and design –Due to their boxy nature; typically, long and narrow, the container, which though maybe 20 to 40 feet long, may actually end up offering about 8 feet wide and 8 feet high space after insulation and interior walls are added.

Heating, ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVACissues. The core material used in making containers can pose a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning challenge depending on the climate one finds himself in. Containers are made of corrugated metal ‘sheathing’, which means, while cold environments can easily freeze the container home, hot and humid climates can elevate the temperature, resulting in an uncomfortable living space. Thus if during the process of construction, the insulation is not gotten right, the house may become extremely uncomfortable or take up too much energy.


So, after weighing the benefits and challenges with building with containers, if you have made a decision to give it a go, then the below starter pack is your go-to guide, even before you begin the actual construction

Inspect container units carefully

If you are converting a used container into a home, which is usually the case, you will need to inspect them carefully as these used containers may contain traces of pesticides and other chemicals used to protect cargo during transport. You can then decide whether it may be worth investing in removal of these chemicals which may require a complete removal of the container floors or to rather buy a new one completely.

Insulation is key

Containers are made of metal, and metal is an energy conductor. The interior can turn into a furnace hence you will need a solid insulation plan rather than turning to the easier option of relying on ACs which will just dent your pocket. Foam insulation is an option for the walls. Don’t also forget that the roof will need insulation and hence the need to use the right professionals cannot be over emphasized enough.

Hire a contractor

You may think this tip should be a matter of course but studies have shown that a lot of people have bought into the idea that a container is easily convertible into a home and see it as another DIY project. Of all the tips given, if none at all stuck, please let this one stick; hire a contractor who has the experience of building container homes to cut out the headaches and wastage that may arise as a result of you doing it by yourself. You can jump in when it’s time to do the décor, now, that’s a good compromise.

Ladies and gentlemen, there you have your guide to building container homes and you are best placed to answer the question – if container homes are for you. Whatever your answer is, one thing is for sure, in converting containers into homes you aren’t only thinking out of the box, you are building out of a box, literally. 

The writer is the Executive director of Yecham Property Consult

 & Founder of Ghana Green Building Summit.

Email: [email protected]

LinkedIn: Cyril Nii Ayitey Tetteh

YouTube:  Real Estate Minute

Leave a Reply