top of page
  • Manchester Cabins

How to Use a Shipping Container to Create a Tiny House

Tiny houses have become increasingly popular in recent years as people choose to downsize, simplify their life and minimise their belongings. Living in a small space comes with its own philosophy and a drive to get more out of life. Tiny homes can offer a mortgage-free, low-cost solution to housing issues and provide you with the freedom to move around.

People have found innovative ways to create tiny homes through their desire to create less waste, whether it be made from scratch or a pre-existing structure, you’re free to do it however you like. Some people choose to make their homes out of shipping containers which can allow for a versatile build, so here’s our guide to converting a shipping container into a tiny home.

How to convert your shipping container

1. Design

First things first you’ll want to come up with a design. Make sure you put a lot of thought into what you want your tiny house to look like, do some research and put together a plan of how it will be laid out. Think about where you’d like your kitchen and bedroom and what living space you plan on having. Windows are also important to consider as you’ll need to let in as much light as possible to avoid the container feeling too small.

Consider what size shipping container you will get, they commonly come in 8 x 20 and 8 x 40. As you’re working with minimal space it’s best to speak to an engineer to ensure your plan is structurally sound and they will be able to make any adjustments for you to create a safe house.

2. Think about planning permission

There are lots of grey areas when building structures in your back garden or on a plot of land, however, if your tiny house is on a trailer it falls under the same laws as a caravan and therefore you don’t need planning permission. If you aren’t planning on putting your shipping container onto a trailer (which many don’t) then you’ll need to look into the legislation in your area.

3. Find your land

Finding somewhere to put your tiny home may be difficult if you don’t already own land but you can often find people willing to rent you a plot so that you can build your home. Once you’ve found where you want to put it, you need to level it and create a foundation and then decide how to raise your home off the ground such as using concrete slabs or steel plates.

Also, take into consideration how the shipping container will get there because if it’s going into your back garden you’ll need to make sure there is appropriate and safe access.

4. Buy your shipping container

You can choose from new or used shipping containers for your home but used ones will be considerably cheaper. It will be worth arranging a viewing of the container before you buy it so you can check it is in good condition and doesn't have too much rust or any bad smells. It may take a little while for the container to be delivered to you so make sure you give yourself plenty of time when you buy it.

The company you buy your container from may be able to handle the positioning but if not, you’ll have to hire a crane, forklift or a company to do the heavy lifting for you.

5. Connect your containers

If you’ve created a design where you intend to join or stack multiple containers, this is when you’ll need to sort this out. Consider the most robust option for you to connect them as they mustn’t separate. You can use clamps, welding or bolts. This will also be a good time to clean your container and check for any rust that may need to be treated and any dents that could use a little attention. Prepare your container to last and ensure it maintains a strong durable shell so that you enjoy your tiny house for a long time.

6. Cut your openings

Next, you need to cut the openings for your doors, windows and vents. Before doing this make sure you have sourced all the doors and windows to put into the openings so you can cut them to the right shape and size. Larger windows will create a bright space with more light whereas smaller windows can look more visually pleasing and save more energy. Create some markings on the container using your design plan so you know exactly where to cut. You may need to get an expert to help you cut the metal correctly and then you can fit the windows properly with no gaps. Finish it up by treating the edges and sealing them to protect the container from the elements.

7. Remove the flooring

Inside the shipping container, you may want to remove the flooring. This is because the floors inside shipping containers are usually treated with harsh chemicals and not something you would like inside your home. If you choose not to remove the floor, add a subfloor to give you an extra barrier against the chemicals.

8. Frame, sheath and insulate

Insulation is paramount to turning an empty metal container into a warm and comfortable house. You’ll want to add framing to the entire container, insert plenty of insulation and then add the internal walls. You can use spray foam or insulating panels to help maintain a good temperature in your tiny home. You could use timber cladding to make the place much more aesthetically pleasing, as well as creating partitions for each space depending on your design plans.

9. Add electrics

Applying electrics and fixtures will be your next step, you can do this yourself or get a professional to help make sure your house will be functional and comfortable.

10. Decorate

Finish off your tiny house with a few coats of paint in order to make the walls moisture-proof and create the right ambiance by picking a great colour. You can choose what extras you’d like to add such as a solar shower, composting toilet or foldable dining table. This is the fun part so enjoy adding your own personal touches all around your new tiny home.

Now you’ll be ready to put in the last few finishing items and move into your tiny home.

Benefits of using a shipping container


By using a shipping container for your tiny home you’ll be reusing the majority of your materials which means you are doing an amazing thing for the planet. Rather than seeking out a brand new shipping container, a used one will reduce the carbon footprint of your house so you can feel much better about your impact on the environment.

Watertight, durable and weather-resistant

Shipping containers are designed to withstand extreme weather, seawater, fire and are almost indestructible so an obvious choice for creating a house that will stand the test of time.


If you were hoping for a little bit more space, then the great thing about shipping containers is that they are meant to be stacked on top of each other. So if you’re creating a tiny house for your family, or you simply want an upstairs compartment, you can stack your containers to produce a more dynamic space.

Takes less time

With an already established structure, a tiny house will take much less time and skill to create.

More Secure

You can relax comfortably knowing that your tiny home will be safe, due to its robust nature it’ll be very difficult for anyone to break into.

Some things to consider

Not as cheap as you’d think

Whereas shipping containers might be cheaper than other options, they may be a little more expensive than you think, you’re probably looking at around £2000 for a 20 x 8 ft container.


While their size makes them road legal on a trailer, 8ft is not a large amount of space and some people may find it quite restrictive.

Steel Storage Containers from Manchester Cabins

Are you looking for steel shipping containers for your storage purposes? Manchester Cabins provide a range of reliable and affordable storage solutions for maximum security. We also provide a range of portable buildings, cabins and toilet blocks for any purpose. Get in touch with us to find out more.

3 views0 comments


bottom of page