Shipping Container Homes by Steele House and Bigprototype, New York

About Steele House
About Bigprototype

Shipping Container Home in Livingston Manor, New York

Construction process

Containers1 x 20 ft and 2 x 40 ft
Area800 sq ft
LocationLivingston Manor, New York, USA

Two-story container home upstate NY. Features a 20’ container on the first level, used as storage space, and two 8’x40’ containers (640 sq ft) on the top level for the living space, totaling 800 square feet. It has one bedroom and one bathroom.

Tim Steele stood outside a pair of orange shipping containers on a hillside about two hours northwest of New York City. The large metal cargo door swung wide to reveal a small mudroom inside the corrugated walls, and beyond that an expansive living room, kitchen and small bathroom. Several tall windows looked out on the Catskill Mountains, a vista that stretched for miles.

The rooms inside these shipping containers might easily be mistaken for those inside any of the timber-framed homes in the hillside country here. In the kitchen, one wall exposed the bright orange corrugated surface of the Corten steel container, but elsewhere evidence of the structure’s origins was scant.

“You’re constructing something that we associate with the most stable thing in our lives,” said Mr. Steele, founder of Steele House, a firm that designs and builds container structures. “It is why we leave the container exposed — it creates tension between movement and stability.”

This particular container home, in Sullivan County, designed by Bigprototype and Tim Steele Design, belongs to Robyn Volker, 57, and her wife, Anke Irmscher, 54. And the container wasn’t orange when they went with Mr. Steele to pick it out, but as Ms. Volker said, “If you’re going to do this thing, you might as well announce it’s a container.”

Building with shipping containers isn’t exactly new, but until recently it hasn’t been exactly mainstream either. Now, though, it is becoming a lot more popular, as eco-friendly practices begin to influence market trends. Containers are loved by the hip and the practical, artisans and DIY-ers, engineers and construction foremen, as they are both sustainable and affordable. And used 20- or 40-foot containers can be obtained for as little as several hundred dollars apiece, so it’s not surprising that some industry professionals consider them the future of home building.

“More of the population has been educated on sustainability and ecological principles,” said Paul Galvin, the chairman, chief executive and a founder of SG Blocks, a publicly traded company that repurposes maritime-grade cargo shipping containers that can hold as much as 64,000 pounds. Mr. Galvin’s biggest client is the military — which turns those containers into housing, mess halls, computer server storage and commissaries, among other structures — but he believes shipping containers work just as well on a small scale.

“It’s a legitimately green option for the consumer,” he said. “And it’s not going to cost them more; this isn’t a green solution that requires government subsidy.”

In March 2017, his company received commendation from the ICC Evaluation Service, a subsidiary of the international code council that evaluates and certifies building products, for its “quality control process for selecting shipping containers” for use in construction.

Article in NY Times
Article in Upstater

Construction process

2 Bedroom Shipping Container Home in North Branch, NY

Containers2 x 20 ft and 2 x 40 ft
Area1200 sq ft
LocationNorth Branch, NY, USA

Two-story container home featuring a 4’ spread between the containers. The top level has 800 square feet of space, and the lower level has 400 square feet, totaling 1200 square feet of living space. It has 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms.

The upper floor is organized around an open kitchen and a south facing deck overlooking the Catskills. The lower floor is the master suite connected by a spiral stair.

1 Bedroom 2x40 ft Shipping Container Home in Youngsville, NY

Construction process

Containers2 x 40 ft HC
LocationYoungsville, NY, USA

The shipping container house is made with two 40' High Cubes and the program called for open plan living and dining rooms, which are also open to a linear kitchen. There is one bedroom and bathroom with a utility closet containing a washer and dryer. For heat we incorporated a fireplace and electric wall heaters. Other special features include an outdoor mudroom/storage area that also serves as a small woodshed; a cedar lattice exterior on two exposures; and a six foot sliding glass door that opens to the large deck with 12' wide steps to the cut hay field in front of the home.

Construction process


Shipping Container Home in Callicoon Center, NY

The program called for two bedrooms, two baths, kitchen, dining and living area and a large studio space with an inside entrance and a service entrance from the outside. The 1,760 sf house was positioned at the high point of the site capitalizing on the western views and oriented so that the south facing roof could incorporate future solar panels. Four 40' High Cube containers were separated 2 and 2 with the high space in the middle built of conventional wood framing and a truss-roof supported by the containers.

About Steele House

Steele House is the design/build arm of Tim Steele Design with a focus on container based structures. Since 2009 we have designed and built homes in Upstate New York where the industrial look and feel of the containers are a contrast to the natural landscape while reflecting the vernacular of industrial farm buildings. As early innovators in a trend that is growing worldwide, we are currently exploring residential and commercial structures for urban locations as well as producing prototype modular homes based on 1, 2 and 4 containers.

Why build homes with shipping containers?

What is the reason to build a home made from recycled shipping containers instead of a traditionally constructed, low cost “stick-built” house with approximately the same price per square foot? Homes made from shipping containers can be built inexpensively while incorporating significant advantages: they are industrial cool, modular, green, and strong by nature.


Made from Corten steel, each 40’ container holds 64,000 pounds. Although we remove some of the corrugation, we reinforce those areas with structural steel as well as additional internal stud framing. We weld the containers to plates that are cast into the foundation or footings to anchor them. This process makes them far stronger than a traditionally “stick-built” house, which is a great advantage for areas susceptible to high winds and storms.

Durability & Security

As our primary building components, shipping containers are designed to make multiple voyages on the ocean, resisting rust and moisture.

The combination of a Corten steel exterior and a metal roof is far more resistant to the elements than traditional materials often found in “stick-built” houses. If needed, security can be increased by adding sliding corrugated steel panels over the larger openings, such as patio doors and windows.

Container homes are low maintenance, secure and durable, which makes them ideal for second homes as well as primary residences.

Fast Construction & Mobility

Although each project takes careful advance planning, once the foundation is in and the containers are on site, we can have roof trusses installed in two days and a sealed structure within two weeks.

Because the major building components of our homes are within the dimensions of a standard high cube container, we use standard trucking for transportation.


Steel is one of the most commonly recycled materials on the planet, with up to 90% of its content being recyclable. However, when a structure is made from shipping containers, the steel is being 100% upcycled without the energy used to scrap and melt down the material.

Reusing containers as homes helps remove excess containers from shipping yards.

For building a LEED certified home, utilizing cargo containers as the base structure will give a head start on achieving the credits required particularly when combined with other sustainable strategies.

Cool and Beautiful

Clients can easily imagine the interior volume of a space created by containers. This fully engages the potential owner into the design process as they begin to think in terms of connected modules rather than traditional plans.

Once we combine the industrial feel of corrugated steel with other materials such as glass and wood, the houses become dramatic, sophisticated and beautiful. Color is another element that is used to play off the way corrugation catches light.

These boxes have been all over the world yet they are used to create what we perceive as one of the most permanent objects: a home. This paradox of use (movement and permanence) creates a tension and energy that gives these homes a unique presence. In short, they are industrial cool.

How much does it cost to build a shipping container home?

Building sites vary so we quote all construction costs without the utilities, septic, well, and foundation. The average cost for a custom home starts at $250 a square foot depending on finishes.

How long does it take to build a shipping container home?

At this time it takes 7 to 8 months from the time it comes to our shop until the day you move in. As manufacturing processes improve we will reduce that time.

What services do I need on my property to build a container home?

If you are on vacant land you will need well, septic, and electrical service, as well as a foundation on which to set the Steele House.

I heard that formaldehyde is used in the container floors and off gasses when the containers are sealed as a building structure. Is that dangerous?

In fact the container manufacturers discontinued using formaldehyde several years ago as an effort to become more environmentally friendly. They now use Radaleum FHP-60 which is basically a cockroach powder that’s impregnated into the flooring. Radaleum FHP-60 has virtually no vapor pressure, and therefore virtually no fumes. (2,000% less the usual or prior treatment).

We only use containers with Radaleum in the flooring and it is written on the registration plate of each container. If a client insists, we can coat the floor with a polyurethane sealer but experienced builders typically leave the floor as is particularly since there are covered with a sub-floor and flooring material.

If I am in a rural NYS location, how much should I allow for a well, septic and electric on my site?

About $30,000, NOT counting the foundation, but that 30k number can vary depending on topography, labor costs and location of the power pole.

How are shipping container homes insulated?

We use closed-cell spray foam.

How are shipping container homes heated/cooled?

We use a variety of methods. A mini split unit that heats and cools, and we also use electric wall heaters that are inset into the wall, as well as wood stoves.

Where does Steele House build container homes?

Our homes can currently been seen in Upstate NY.

Are your construction plans for sale?

Not at this time. However, on our site we have schematics of some of our designs, with more coming soon!

Does Steele House offer consulting services?

Yes, on a project-by-project basis.

What about zoning?

Though zoning is not an issue in upstate NY, it will depend on the area where you are building. The good news is that container homes are quickly becoming recognized as a legitimate way to build.

Can I finance a Steele House?

Yes but it’s dependent on your local lender. We do not offer financing at this time

Can Steele House take orders for, and build multiple units?


Are your floor plans and/or designs available for review? Do you have a brochure?

No brochure at this time, but we have schematic floor plans available on line… specifically, some of our designs can be seen in the Modular Designs portion of the site.

Can I order my shipping container home “move in ready”?

The only potential turn-key design is the “Escape Pod”

What about water heaters and solar panels?

Of course you can install a standard water heater or an on-demand water heater. Like most roof structures, our metal roof system can accept solar panels. Your Steele House orientation would need to be considered in order to take advantage of the right exposure to the sun.

What is the average install time on site (From container arrival to move in)?

Approximately 5-6 months at this time. However our goal is to shave this time down.

Are there standardized foundation requirements (thickness, size etc.) for a Steele House?

We have used several designs for foundations. In Upstate NY we must have a foundation that is insulated 4 feet below the frost line, however, the type of foundation is ultimately determined by the building location and the particular home configuration. In most cases, there will be attach points allowing the installer to weld the Steele House in place.

Are the designs and containers modifiable and/or expandable outside of the current designs?

Any expansion or modification of our designs will be the responsibility of the owner. Having said that, we have one design that we are developing (the base module, which utilizes two containers) that will have the option to expand to a second floor, effectively doubling the square footage. COMING SOON!

Do you work or ship outside of NYS? (I.E. CA, KY, FLA, VT, MD, CO, LA, ID, Japan, Canada, Puerto Rico, Haiti)

On a case-by-case basis. In each area the plans would need to be stamped by a local architect and/or engineer and the install would need to be supervised by Steele House, and executed by a local contractor.

Do your shipping container homes meet the building requirements or standards in any state?

By design we build to an extremely high standard, however to date the only place where we have been tested is NYS, which has extremely strict building codes. Additionally, each state and city or town will have their own restrictions.

Are the shipping container homes flood and/or hurricane rated in any state?

FEMA will have their own particular requirements for certain flood plain zones, mostly having to do with how high the house is situated above the flood plain. Our homes are naturally more hurricane and tornado resistant than most small structures because of their uni-body steel construction, optional impact-resistant windows, and the fact that they are welded to the foundation.

Do we act as the contractor for the install?

For certain locations, yes. For other locations we will act as consultant and/or client rep.

Are there any issues regarding moisture/condensation in the shipping container home walls with the closed cell insulation?

We have not experienced any problems with moisture or condensation.

What are the maintenance requirements for the finished shipping container homes?

The containers are made of steel, the roofs are standing seam metal, (24-26 gauge steel) and the windows are thermo-pane and usually vinyl. So the maintenance is minimal, i.e. repainting the exterior when needed.

What are the interior/exterior dimensions for each container that you use?

The containers we generally use are 40’ long “high cubes” X 8 feet wide X 9.5 feet tall (with a net interior height of 8’2”). The net wall dimensions are dependent on design. These containers can hold up to 64k pounds. The interior square footage varies with the design and the type of container from 320 square feet, to 640 square feet, to 1,424 square feet.

How do you deal with prior cargo toxic contamination on the containers (the walls and timber floors)?

Typically, there is no way of knowing the life of a container prior us buying it. A few points though, we would not choose a container with a bad or toxic smell, and all of our containers are power washed thoroughly.

Are the plans, drawings, floor plans etc. stamped by an architect, engineer etc?

A local architect and/or engineer (registered in the state of the build) must stamp the plans. We are registered to stamp plans in New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.

Address in Manhatten, New York40 W 57th Street, New York, NY 10019, USA
Phone 1 in Manhatten, New York+1 212 698 0853
Phone 2 in Manhatten, New York+1 917 701 0787
Address in Youngsville, New York13 Sheri Lane Youngsville, NY 12791, USA
Phone in Youngsville, New York+1 845 482 2490
Client Support

About Bigprototype

Bigprototype is a Brooklyn based design and fabrication firm. We are a tactile practice that operates at the intersection of design and building and we believe that occupying this territory enables us to define a new role in our discipline. We were trained as drummers, teachers, sailors, chefs, painters, woodworkers, survivalists, and architects. All of our training influences our work and approach to design.

We exist in a space of opportunity between the conventions of building and design. We believe that all designs change and adapt as they transition from idea to physical reality. Only by staying engaged in the duration of this process and allowing the design intent to adapt to local labor, material, and economic forces, can an idea be most fully realized. Our practice is a living process of learning, testing, and adapting to life in the 21st century.

Address30 Macon Street, Brooklyn, NY 11231, USA
Phone+1 718 855 4455

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2000 sq ft Modular Shipping Container Home, East Hampton, New York

Shipping Container Art Studio, Long Island, New York

650 sqft Shipping Container Home - Three Small Bedrooms in Three Small Containers, New York

Shipping Container Homes by Steele House and Bigprototype, New York