Are Container Homes the Global Solution to Homeownership?

Will lifestyle changes have people looking at new and innovative homes?

The world is facing a massive unemployment problem as COVID-19 impacts both developed and third-world countries. Many jobs may not come back as industries around the world struggle to reinvent themselves and new companies seize the opportunities that were not there 12 months ago. 

Container homes have grown in popularity in many countries due to their affordability and the promotion of and alignment with living a more sustainable, conscious and minimalistic lifestyle. Because of their size, container homes are low maintenance and eco-friendly, given the use of gas and solar power as well as rainwater harvesting. We’ve all experienced big lifestyle changes brought about by the virus, including sheltering at home, curfews, travel restrictions and more. This has led to many people cutting ties with some of the clutter and unhealthy behaviors and life patterns they previously enjoyed.


There are more than 14 million out-of-service shipping containers around the world and some are currently being used to construct residential houses, social housing developments, student accommodations, shopping malls and apartment complexes. The container-home market is dominated by the United States with about 40% market share followed by Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America and Southern Africa, according to a market report by the Business Research Company. Container homes can be fixed or moveable; and every country regulates the construction, zoning and standards of construction, which can be very complex. Regulations can include the type of formation to be used, the square foot requirements of each room, minimum insulation required and the steel framing requirements needed if you are building a second floor. These homes can be built on-site or factory-built which has led to many major players in the market emerging in the last five years, such as Container Homes USA, Shipping Container Homes Australia and Tempohousing in Amsterdam.

From examples like the View Tube in London, Ron Steven House in New Zealand, Redondo Beach Container Home in California to the 1,000-container student village in Amsterdam called Wenckehof—the largest development of its kind in the world—container homes are a growing phenomenon. The cost of container homes ranges from a low of $25,000 up to $300,000. Generally, the cost per square foot is substantially lower than conventional housing.

Market Watch in Australia predicts container homes will have a global compound annual growth of over 6.5% in the next 5 years, but this may well be exceeded in the post COVID-19 world.

Peter Gilmour is REAL Trends chief foreign correspondent and Chairman Emeritus and co-founder of RE/MAX of Southern Africa.