20-Foot Shipping Container Floor Plan Brainstorm

This is just a little design exploration for how one might finish out a shipping container as a home.  Some of the issues I’m noodling-through are:

  1. Should a side door be cut into the container and how does that make the floor plan more flexible?
  2. Should the bathroom be placed at one end or in the middle?
  3. Should custom built-in beds be fabricated or can standard beds and bunk beds be used just as efficiently?
  4. How many beds can be placed inside a 20-foot shipping container and still have space for a micro kitchen and bathroom?

Not sure where this design exploration is going yet, but I’m having fun thinking about what can fit inside the box.

45 thoughts on “20-Foot Shipping Container Floor Plan Brainstorm

  1. jackie says:

    I have decided to go the shipping cont route. Less worries of fire, better in tornado areas. And very solid. I am laying my plans out now for a 20′. I plan to have the bathroom at one end. And I was originally thinking queen bed at the other end. (Where ever i put the bed, i will have a ton of storage built under it.) But the idea came to me to put the entrance door at one end, because just think how safe your home would be if you traveled and left, you could close those steal doors and lock em and botta boom your gone! I think that is a feature that would be really cool. I’m a creature of comfort, so I would have either a comfy sofa, or two comfy chairs in place of a dining table. And I surely would have to have a washer and dryer, along with one or more closets. You think i can accomplish this? I am sure i can. I will share mine when i get it figured out. thanks for your great work.

    • Rita Parsons says:

      Hi; I own a 40ft shipping container and I know there are lots of opportunities with them, for building. I suggest you read a book on feng shui before you submit to any specific floor plan. Feng Shui is a Chinese concept of placing certain articles in a specific area of your home, to generate good health and prosperity. I only suggest this because we can do so much more for our well being, using their principles. Good luck with your exciting venture!

    • Ryan says:

      Well you still have to worry about fire. Fire can happen in any home or building. I was in the USCG and stationed on Steel hulled ships. Yet we had a few fires. The only good thing about a shipping container is they are less likely to burn down. You could simply gut it and restart fresh.

    • farmlessbarn says:

      Hi! I built an 8×22 tiny house, and I’m selling so that I can also make a container home 🙂 If its just you, maybe a floorplan similar to mines might work. Feel free to check it out: farmlessbarn.blogspot.com The kitchen is along one wall, with the living room attached like a single apt, the bath is “huge” because it doubles as the hallway to the bedroom, and I have a couple lofts, one for storage, one for a second bedroom 🙂 good luck!

  2. Adam says:

    I recommend using real doors (glass for better lighting and making it feel more “open”) because the freight doors aren’t always easy to open.

    We decided when using a queen size bed it should be positioned so one person can climb off the end and one off the side instead of the “inside” person having to crawl over the other.

    Read our blog and you might get some other ideas

  3. Laura Coy says:

    I really enjoy your site! There is always a great project to look at, good information and inspiration! Would you consider writing about my housing project ? I need all the exposure I can get!!

  4. Laura Coy says:

    Definitely considering shipping containers, I like the look…has anyone built a loft into one of these?

    • Michael Janzen says:

      I’ve not seen a loft. But the high cube containers are 9.5 feet tall (exterior). So you might be able to squeeze a short one in there and still have some room to move below it.

  5. frranko says:

    Think “insulation”.

    Without it, this will suck. Walls and floors and ceiling. Unless you bury it at least 2 feet but then you probably still need for condensate buildup. Just some thoughts.

    • Michael Janzen says:

      Insulation is essential. I suspect the best for this would be closed cell spray foam between nailers on the interior walls. There are a lot of ways to do it but this one can really solve the condensation issue.

      • Texas Filly says:

        There are several things that can be utilized for insulation, such as spraying the inside w/radiant barrier prior to using the spray insulation. Top and high side windows can be used (like in a green house) to allow the heat to escape. Staying warm isn’t the biggest issue I see, it’s staying cool! Maybe even putting a cover, like a carport cover, over the top would help? Lots of things can be done… I’m gonna do some more research!! 🙂

          • Vicky says:

            I’ve seen some roofs with soil and plantings on top of container homes. Wouldn’t this reduce the heat inside? I’m not sure how it is done, but seems very eco friendly.

  6. dana pallessen says:

    great to see these images. I found this on pinterest. my in-laws have a storage unit and we told them, they could alter the front appearance with structure to make it look like a house, paint and landscape the other sides. but first they could dig out below-in from the ends, so the soil still supports the unit; and put in place a walled, vented root cellar. they could then cut a hole in the floor inside the storage unit and put in stairs to the cellar. not only would they have a storage for their prepped foods, a possible extra sleeping area, but could also use it as a safe room . if it were mine I would also have an escape tunnel out through the cellar.

  7. Diane Kennedy says:

    I love your brainstorming! We’re noodling around an off the grid cabin in the high desert. We have a Great Dane, so need to figure a space for her into this as well. 🙂 The storage container would be easier to secure when we’re not there. I’d like a work space area that could transform into a table for two. Maybe a pull out table in the design that is 3rd from the bottom. And, reality is, that we’d probably have grown children visiting, so maybe need a 2nd container just as a bunk room with another bath.

  8. Jet Tilton says:

    I also have been thinking about having 2 of these, one for extra storage and beds, and the original for a kitchen, bathroom, etc. Have seen what others have done with these in Europe (apartments where you have many stacked together), as well as homes, just wonder how hard these would be to get a permit for and how would we find someone to do the work?
    Jet in Texas

  9. Shelley Travell says:

    What is the cost range for an empty container and where should I look for one? Any considerations on searching or are they all the same?

  10. academic one says:

    I am a believer of form follows function. So where would this be located, what purpose? for weekends or weeks at a time? Will you spend your days away only to use at night or will it be the base which you return to every few hours? You mention bunk beds. Are they for kids or do you want to maximize the number of adults? Will it be used summer or winter or all year round?

  11. jill says:

    love the ideas. Think about a murphy bed. There’s one with a fold-down table on the cabinet . Build it with a height suitable to your two comfy chairs, that would solve two space issues. A reflective or insulated roof over the container would definitely help block the heat that’s going to be a major issue. These things are basically big ovens in the sun.

    • Vanessa says:

      That’s exactly what I was thinking, Jill! I love the murphy bed idea but I think it should be dual purpose in some way, like having a fold out table underneath for use as a desk or kitchen table & then the extra space could be used for a larger kitchen or just extra storage in general. Personally, what draws me to these the most is that it is such a small space that it kind of forces you to go outside!! I’ve seen several of these that have multiple glass doors in them, to both let in light and open up the space. I love that idea because I love natural light.

  12. eric says:

    i have also thought about use of these for difrent ideas , most optoins i come up with requiers 2 bins placed side by side with a roof built over the 2 with space in between witch could be used as patio area or inclosed for added space , as for insolatoin could be styro added to the outside and use of acrilic stuco could be aplied , i have installed french doors to these containers as well they will fit with space on each side for vents , fold out beds are an optoin to alow for more lounge space during the day hide a bed couch or futong or suspended from cieling , windows and a side door can be cut in . so realy the optoins are prity much what you can imagine with being able to stack these as well you could have multy floors with decks and last i checked the price range was 5k up depending on size you want , a good source for ideas would be mobile homes or RV desinges if you need more optoins to keep it to 1 container . i do like the idea for this cabins or summer camping able to secure for the time your not thier , although power is a need to consider weather soler , propane, or generator of some kind , as well water and sewage needs. so most important is your locatoin what hookups are thier and your needs . so need to have room for mechanical and water storage . so what might work for 1 might not for the next . each 1 has to be redesined for each persons needs and wants , totaly customeized for each person/ locatoin / aplicatoin . can be done

  13. farmlessbarn says:

    1. If you use a side door, you can install patio sliders to open the space up visually.
    2. The bath could double as a hallway between the sleeping area and living space.
    3. Custom beds would probably be better. Maybe add a couple drawers to the underside? A closet rod across the feet? Essentially floating Captain beds 🙂
    4. I say you could get 4 twins in a 7×8 sleeping area, and maybe a pullout couch that doubles as a bed and eat in kitchen? 🙂 You can easily sleep 6 in here…. I have an 8×22 and can easily sleep 8 🙂 Though I would never, lol!

  14. Robert Clarke says:

    Hi Michael,

    Really like the layouts! We’ve recently converted a 30′ unit into a holiday rental space as part of our campsite. We’ve called it a CargoPod™

    We went for bi folds on the side (tricky to keep the wet out) and sliding patio doors in the door end, plus a couple of portholes for the bathroom and bedroom for ventilation and aesthetics.

    We’re planning a second rental space utilising 2 x 30′ units set at right angles and my girlfriend and I are also considering actually building a two story house for us to live in.

    One question I have is what design software are you using for your layouts as it looks really clear and I would like to download / buy the same for our layouts.

    Hope you can help and good luck.

    Robert (UK)

    • Michael Janzen says:

      I use SketchUp for the 3D drawings and render them with a photorealistic plugin called podium. For the floor plans I use something kind of odd… software called omnigraffle which is typically used for web design documentation. I made a tiny house stencil – a file that contains drawn components – that can be dragged and dropped into the floor plans.

  15. Fsudiane says:

    My husband lived in one of these when he was deployed in Kuwait. They even stacked them on top of each other. I made him take pictures of the inside because I just couldn’t picture it, but I can’t find the pictures!

      • Dashya says:

        Many military bases use containers for various housing needs and container housing is extremely common around the world.
        There is one issue with containers and that is you want to be careful to shore up the framing on the openings (windows & doors) – as they have better structural integrity when they are whole and you need to put that added strength back around any openings . A very useful site with tons of info on container housing (pdf books and technical drawings) is http://www.containerhome.info/

        I am personally modeling my container home after this one in San Jose with a couple modifications (I live in the midwest so I am coating the outside with autoclaved aerated concrete for extra insulation and adding a couple solar panels & rain barrels). It is larger and more expensive than a tiny house (but cheaper than a traditional house) but, better suited to my needs. http://www.homedsgn.com/2011/06/16/containers-of-hope-a-40000-home-by-benjamin-garcia-saxe/

  16. Gloria says:

    This is adorable..
    I have one suggestion..
    Head to Afghanistan in the Marines.. and you’ll get all the opportunity you’d like to live out of a shipping container.. also known as an ISO-90… 🙂
    Cheers.
    PS: I didn’t mind it.. and if you make the bed/beds lofts.. you have a ton more room too@

  17. Sandy says:

    I was thinking if you raised the floor in part of it you could make a hideaway bed (even queen sized) that rolled out into a dining area with a fold up table and tucked back under that raised floor. Since you only have about 8 foot to work with you wouldn’t want to be too tall to do that, but if you are my height then your bed would take up even LESS space than a murphy bed. You may have to be creative with plumbing if you wanted the bathroom there, but I think it could be done.

  18. Jack Winchle says:

    I have designed many container houses from singular 20′ & 40′ containers to whole apartment blocks made from containers. If you need help with design and construction methods, please get in contact and id be happy to advise on your DIY project. My email is email hidden; JavaScript is required

  19. Mike NZ says:

    I Love reading you all and looking at your pages.
    I’m helping a project out of the city and I’ve recommended 20′ and 40′ containers to them for both storage and accommodation.

    We can get them for $3-6000 NZD each.
    The intention is to do the work ourselves and with potential groups who will use them.

    They have the space for three containers in a U with a deck and a roof over the deck.
    Collecting rainwater from the roof.

    We’re discussing how many bunks (6-8) would work with a living/study space as winter is wet and cold here and the outside space will be cold.
    A separate shower/toilet unit is envisaged.

    One discussion is insulation, either inside or outside with cladding over it?

    The other is do we make the roof come all over the U envelope or just to the edge of the outside edge of the outside area or the inner courtyard of the U.

    Either way the intention is to collect water off the roof into tanks and have a central fire pit with bench tables for outside area under cover.

    I favour a roof covering all of the containers too, as then that solves the heat in summer issue by creating a space above.

    They are looking at them for temporary access for courses and retreats.

    We are looking at not using the ends but one half of one side facing into the courtyard , with a sliding glass door for light and air.
    So looking at placement of bunks and personal wardrobes at ends?

    Hope this helps
    Mike
    Wellington NZ

  20. Marty says:

    I worked for a company that built shipping containers and not all containers are built alike. One thing to definitely learn is welding. The company I worked for did things on the cheap and basically tack welded them together and they had problems with leaking. Many used containers will be rusted as they’re often at sea exposed to salt water and the floors often rot quickly.
    Be careful what you buy and if at all possible have it lifted up with either a forklift or crain to carefully inspect for hidden damage.
    I can’t emphasize enough just how handy the ability to weld will be. They are after all steel structures.

  21. Randy Ashworth says:

    Love the designs, lived in one in AF for a while. 40 ft shared with another 8ft foot bathroom in the center with two rooms one the ends. Each with a door into your room plus 1 window to each room.

    I might suggest that you try the taller container to allow for ducting in the ceiling and room to lay a new floor with insulation/ or in floor heating.

    I am dreaming about converting some for a home/ shop 56 foot outside multi level. That would give me a 40 foot shop on the first level 🙂 As I said dreaming.

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