Beginners Guide to Shipping Container House Building in the UK

‘Shipping Container Homes and Housing’ is probably the most popular interest topic for Shipping Containers. However, in the UK we have very few houses made from shipping containers. In this Guide to Shipping Container House Building, we detail some of the pros and cons of building with containers, the most workable ways to make a cost-effective shipping container house. We try and dispel some of the myths and rumours about building with shipping containers, and for anyone starting out on a container home project, or even just considering it we hope this guide will offer some helpful information for any potential home builder.

A bit of background about shipping containers for beginners

It may be obvious to some but in terms of a building medium (or by any terms) shipping containers are very young, or they are a relatively new material. Realistically they have been in wide global use for approx. 50 years, and only in the past 10-15 years have shipping containers been discussed a lot as a building material.

The main benefits for shipping containers, for their size they are cheap and strong. It’s pretty straightforward to install a small stack of 5-8 shipping containers into a site in a single day, and there are approx. 1 million used shipping containers being disposed of annually by shipping lines and leasing companies. Developing a market for the re-purposing of older shipping containers could have a significant environmental impact if say 1-200,000 homes worth of bricks, mortar and other core structural building materials are no longer needed annually.

Shipping Containers have the majority of their strength in the floor, and within the 2 end frames of the shipping container. These end frames take the weight when they are stacked up to 8 or 9 high when loaded.

In the UK we are pretty lucky if you need a shipping container. We’re a relatively small country, surrounded by sea (and container ports) meaning the vast majority of the population are within a few hours’ drive of our nearest container depot. This makes it relatively cheap to buy a shipping container and have it delivered wherever you are in the UK.

Why live in a container home?

Shipping container housing has gained a lot of interest in recent years. there are a number of reasons to consider living in a shipping container home:


If you can build with used shipping containers, you can recycle a commonly used item in the shipping industry that might otherwise go for scrap. It saves a lot of energy being used to recycle steel that could otherwise make a good sturdy home.


5x 40ft Shipping Containers delivered to any site in the UK will come in somewhere anywhere between ÂŁ10k – ÂŁ20k as of 2023, giving you a basic house structure that’s much cheaper than other options, and that can be delivered, installed and put into place in a matter of hours.


More relevant when considering ‘tiny homes’ or units build from a single shipping container. Fed up with your current location? Pick up your home and move it to a new spot for a fraction of the cost of traditionally moving home.

Difficulties with shipping container houses in the UK

Planning Permission

Recently the government has made gestures towards a more approachable planning process, but in the UK, we still have a very onerous planning process. Now (assuming you are not in green belt or similar) we understand that planning team now need to find reasons not to approve a planning application for smaller self-build homes, but if someone on your planning committee has a bee in their bonnet about your plans, life will be very hard for you.

Planning permission concept with imaginary General Urban Plan, cadastral map and notebook

Considering the novelty of the building material used, our general advice is to engage a surveyor or planning export in your area who knows your local planning authority and may have experience in what they can and can’t get by them. If approaching this yourselves we suggest not to volunteer the fact that this is made from shipping containers from the outset, only make this clear when your required to when submitting detailed plans.

Availability of plots of land

Plots of land to build a single house on in the UK are near impossible to find. When they do become available, they are either very expensive or snapped up by a developer or someone who knows the industry. Contracting an agent, surveyor, architect or other industry professional to find you land on a commission basis may be one way to approach this, but we feel having contacts within the industry working for you is much more likely to get results and save a massive amount of your time.

If you are new to the construction industry or buying land for the first time we can only suggest to contract an expert in. Many cheaper plots of land require someone with a large amount of cash to be prepared to take a punt with this pile of cash at very short notice in order to secure the property. If like us, you are new to these areas we can only suggest this is a very big risk to be taking.

Price of land

Container house and office with lawn grass. 3d rendering

Going hand in hand with the availability is the price of land. In the UK the land is a high proportion of the cost of a house versus most other countries in the world. The USA and Australia have a lot more space than us, meaning that on average land prices are much lower. (this is excluding premium city centre land and very build up areas, we’re assuming most self-builders are looking for commuter belt or rural development opportunities) Which may explain in part why container houses are much more popular in these areas when you spend more on land as a proportion of your total house price, it makes it much more of a challenge if looking to build low-cost housing, and there is a much smaller market for high end ‘grand designs’ style houses.

Availability of experienced & skilled labour

Very commonly we see the question on Facebook groups ‘looking for a builder or construction company with experience building with shipping containers’ – we can answer this one for you very easily. there aren’t any (or they are rarer than hen’s teeth)

Building firms generally do not have the experience of building houses with shipping containers as there are near zero houses that have been built from shipping containers.

Container companies have all the experience in the world working with and modifying shipping containers for almost any use. These guys know a shipping container inside out and upside down, but these companies are not experienced building houses, (dealing with planning regs, understanding what  the most recent new build planning regulations are and ensuring what they build meets any government standards for a new home)

As such if looking to embark on a shipping container house our suggestion is that you will want a mix of skills included, even if you want to do the majority of the work yourselves you will likely want to aim to have a mix of skills on your project. this may include:

  • An Architect and Surveyor who can ensure the design is sound and sign off the plans once built. They can also help and advice with the planning process.Logistics, shipping and construction worker on the phone with tablet in shipyard. Transportation engineer on smartphone in delivery, freight and international distribution business in container yard
  • Fabricators for your metalwork, ideally contracted in from a container company or with container experience (specific container experience won’t’ be essential. It won’t be possible in some locations but may be a big advantage if you can find it)
  • Building firms for groundworks, foundations and to install plumbing, electrics and perhaps the finishing work (if self-building you may want to take this on yourselves and there is no reason this can’t be taken on yourselves if you know what you are doing)

Why aren’t major house builders building large scale housing projects from shipping containers?

Put very simply – why bother. Speaking to one contact at a major UK based FTSE 100 building firm that we do business with. They have little interest to switch from bricks and mortar to shipping containers at this time. As things stand, they know their current systems work. Planners and councils know what they will be building, customers know what they will be buying. They can make fair to good margins as they are so why risk switching to shipping containers as a building material when they have a sound and successful business model that is working well for them.

They do note that in certain very built-up locations (e.g. central London) – they have had some sites where it has been an overall benefit to build off site in shipping containers and then position and install these units quickly on site.

I want to build a shipping container house: Where do I start?

The main factors to consider include getting planning permission, identifying suitable land, and ensuring the right house design.

We see significant potential for self-build projects using shipping containers in the UK right now. However, it’s worth noting that there are currently no construction companies in the UK that specialize in this area. While construction firms may be willing to provide quotes, the unfamiliarity with working with new materials might lead them to include a larger contingency in their budgets due to the associated risk factors.

How come my quote for a container house is as expensive as a normal house? I thought shipping container houses were supposed to be cheap!

Put very simply, shipping containers are cheap, but only if you know what you are doing with them.

Most building firms will not have experience with shipping containers. If you ask them for a fixed price quote, they will ensure their risks are covered as best they can. As it’s a new material they won’t have extensive experience with,  your average building firm will not have a lot of experience building with shipping containers and will need to spend more time planning and have a larger risk factor. This is likely to increase any costs on a container home design.

Resources for anyone looking to build a shipping container home in the UK.

Here are some resources that you may find helpful if looking to build a shipping container home in the UK:

Shipping Container Homes Facebook Groups:

There is a sizeable international community group for container homes. These groups have regular updated projects around the work, plans, etc. This can be a great resource.

There is a sizeable international community of shipping container home builders. There are plenty of groups that have regular updates from other project around the world, people sharing plans can be a great resource to help overcome design and building challenges.

There are a number of Facebook groups. Below are the ones we have found more active and relevant, or UK focussed.

TV Shows:

Grand Designs Series 14 episode 4. (Should be available on All 4 in the UK. Try searching online and the full episode will usually pop up)

Watch an architect in Derry build his own grand design from 4x shipping containers for a total budget of ÂŁ130k.

Contact Us offer the UK’s largest online range of shipping containers for sale with a nationwide network of storage and conversion yards and crane equipped delivery vehicles.

If you need a shipping container feel free to browse our online range of shipping containers for sale. You can also call us on freephone 0808 1234 215 any time 9am – 5pm weekdays and our team will be happy to discuss your requirements. Alternatively, you can use our online shipping container quote form or request a telephone callback. In both cases we aim to get back to you within 1-2 working hours (may take longer for more detailed quotes).

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