At Absolute Tiny Houses NZ, we don’t make container homes. We make tiny houses and cabins, and there are some similarities and differences between container homes and cabins worth mentioning.
Both container homes and cabins use the small form factor approach to home building, and both represent a shift away from traditional construction techniques. People have used both to adopt a more minimalistic lifestyle and drastically reduce their living costs.
Shipping container homes, however, tend to have more space than cabins because they are a fixed size. The smallest shipping container home you can have is one container giving you roughly 30m2 living space. It only goes up from there with the ability to bolt on a second, third, or even fourth container to expand your living space. Our largest cabin is the 10.8m x 2.4m self-contained cabin which is a tad smaller than a large shipping container.
Container homes are just what they sound like – houses made from steel shipping containers. When a shipping container reaches the end of its useful life, they can be reclaimed and fit out as a home for a lot cheaper than buying a traditional house.
Because containers are modular, container homes can range anywhere from a modest one container home to multi-story micro-apartment complexes made of hundreds of containers and everything in between. Many people have built some weird and wonderful combinations reminiscent of a Lego masterpiece!
With roughly 14 million out-of-service shipping containers in the world, there is no shortage of supply, and many consider container homes to be recycling-friendly – instead of dumping old containers, they can be given a new lease on life. For many, the solid steel structure has an appeal for sturdiness and longevity. While others appreciate the subversive charm of making a house without all the usual building overheads.
All of these factors made it easy for us to focus on cabins – we are expert cabin builders, we can guarantee the structural integrity, suitability for living, and cleanliness of our cabins. What’s more, cabins are a lot easier to transport than shipping containers, which usually require a crane or industrial hoist just to get off the ground.
Choosing a cabin is a smarter way to join the Tiny House NZ movement and will usually also be a lot cheaper. With the average container home cost hovering around the six-figure mark, not to mention any additional costs that become necessary down the track, you can get started with a cabin for less than $78,000.
Cabins have a number of benefits that make them more desirable than container homes for some people.
With a container home, all you get is the shell. You need to cut out the doors and windows, place internal walls for the bathroom and bedroom, and take care of the plumbing and electrical with modifications to the shell – all of which can use up valuable living space. Additionally, container roofs need extra reinforcement to prevent them from collapsing. A cabin is built from a plan and accommodates all the above features from the start (including non-collapsing roofs). If you’ve chosen a plan you like, you won’t need any modifications to the structure to live there.
While some people find the sturdiness of steel appealing, the truth is that container homes can have lots of structural issues. We’ve already mentioned the need to reinforce the roof. The fact is that the corrugated steel walls of shipping containers play a large part in the structure of the container, so every time you make a cut out for a door or window you are weakening its structural integrity. And while you can add additional containers to expand your living space, doing so requires complicated – and expensive – engineering work such as planning, welding, and steel reinforcements. None of this is any issue when you opt for a cabin, and while you can’t bolt additional cabins together, you only have one cost of building it.
Another aspect of steel is how to insulate it. Properly insulating the interior would waste precious living space, so containers are often sprayed with a thin layer of insulating foam – not the most environmentally friendly process. Cabins are designed to accommodate internal insulation and are a lot more energy efficient as a result.
On a similar topic, the recycling benefit of choosing containers is debatable – most factory-built container homes are built from one-use containers that have only made one trip. They may not have dents or rust which requires panel beating and repair, but the steel in one of these containers could be more effectively recycled into enough steel studs to build 14 normal houses the same size.
Lastly – do you know what was transported in your shipping container’s (more than likely) single trip? Was it hazardous material? Has it been properly decontaminated? Depending on the payload, cleaning procedures can be expensive – and that’s if you can even determine what materials were inside it. Cabins come clean and fresh from our factory so you don’t have to worry about your new home making you ill.