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Shipping Container Homes Vs Prefab House: What's the Difference?

When it comes to prefabricated houses, I believe most people have seen them in their daily lives. This type of structure belongs to a temporary and simple form of construction, often used in spaces such as factory buildings, exhibitions, or warehouses. Another similar type of spatial structure is the shipping container homes.

So, what are the differences between shipping containers and prefabricated houses? Let's find out together below!

Shipping Container Homes

Shipping container homes are constructed from steel shipping containers that are originally used for transporting goods across long distances. These containers are durable and designed to withstand harsh conditions, making them a viable option for housing. The basic structure of a shipping container home uses one or more of these containers, either in their original form or modified, to create a living space.

shipping container home buiders

Prefabricated Homes

Prefab homes are manufactured off-site in a factory setting and then transported to the building site where they are assembled. These homes can be made from various materials, including wood, steel, and concrete, and are designed to meet local building codes.

PTH prefabricated hotel rooms case

Shipping Container Homes Vs Prefab House: The Differences

1. Building Material

Shipping Container Homes: Shipping container homes are constructed primarily using repurposed shipping containers, typically made of steel. These containers are designed for transporting goods via ships, trucks, or trains.

Prefab Houses: Prefab houses are constructed using a variety of building materials, including wood, steel, concrete, and modular components.

2. Construction

Shipping Container Homes: Shipping container homes involve modifying one or more shipping containers to create living spaces. This may include cutting openings for doors and windows, reinforcing the structure, and adding insulation and interior finishes.

Prefab Houses: Prefab houses are manufactured off-site in a factory setting and then transported to the final location for assembly. They can be constructed using modular components that are assembled on-site or panelized systems where wall and roof panels are fabricated in a factory and then assembled on-site.

3. Residential Performance

Shipping Container Homes: Due to the environmentally friendly and non-polluting materials used in shipping container homes, as well as their fireproofing and insulation properties, they are designed with a higher center and lower sides, which prevents rain leakage. Because of their standard independent specifications and diverse styles, their usage is no longer limited to construction sites; many commercial buildings and temporary residences are beginning to use shipping container homes.

Prefab Houses: In contrast, prefab houses, due to the limitations of the materials used, have poor fire resistance and insulation performance. Living in them during summer is particularly uncomfortable, and they cannot be reused after dismantling, resulting in significant waste.

4. Structural Stability

Shipping Container Homes: The overall structure is welded securely, providing strength, safety, and resistance to wind and earthquakes. In situations such as typhoons, earthquakes, ground settlement, and other disasters, it will not scatter or collapse.

Prefab Houses: With a mosaic structure, they have low resistance and are prone to collapse in unstable foundations, typhoons, earthquakes, and similar conditions, lacking sufficient safety measures.

5. Installation Time

Shipping Container Homes: The entire container can be hoisted without a concrete foundation. It installs in 15 minutes and checks in in 1 hour, and is ready to use while connected to power.

Prefab Houses: It takes a long time to install the concrete foundation, build the main body, install the walls, hang the ceiling, install water and electricity, etc.

6. Decoration

Shipping Container Homes: One-time decoration of floors, walls, ceilings, water and electricity, doors, windows, exhaust fans, etc., safe to use, energy-saving, environmentally friendly, and beautiful.

Prefab Houses: Walls, ceilings, water, electricity, lighting, doors and windows and other facilities need to be installed on site. The construction period is long, the losses are large, and it is not beautiful enough.

7. Relocation

Shipping Container Homes: No need to dismantle them. Items in the room can be moved with the box without being lost. It can be lifted and moved more than a thousand times, which is convenient and saves money.

Prefab Houses: Requires dismantling and relocation followed by installation, and items must be packed correctly. A large amount of material is lost each time of disassembly and assembly, which is costly, time-consuming, and labor-intensive. The time for assembly and disassembly is basically scrapped after four to five times.

8. Cost

The cost difference between shipping container homes and prefab houses can vary depending on various factors such as size, design, location, materials used, customization level, and local labor costs. However, here are some general considerations:

Initial Cost

Shipping container homes often have a lower initial cost compared to prefab houses, primarily due to the lower cost of the shipping containers themselves. However, this can vary depending on factors such as the number of containers used, modifications required, and the complexity of the design. Prefab houses may have a higher initial cost due to the use of higher-quality materials, factory construction, and customization options.

Construction Costs

Shipping container homes may have lower construction costs compared to prefab houses, especially if the containers are used in their original state with minimal modifications. However, extensive modifications or customizations can increase construction costs. Prefab houses may have higher construction costs due to the factory construction process, transportation of components to the site, and assembly labor costs.

Long-term Costs

While shipping container homes may have lower initial and construction costs, they may incur higher long-term costs due to factors such as maintenance, insulation, and energy efficiency. Prefab houses, especially those designed with energy-efficient features and high-quality materials, may have lower long-term costs due to reduced maintenance requirements and energy savings.

Resale Value

Prefab houses may have a higher resale value compared to shipping container homes, as they are often perceived as more conventional and desirable by potential buyers. The design flexibility and customization options of prefab houses can also appeal to a wider range of buyers, potentially increasing resale value.


In conclusion, while both shipping container homes and prefab houses offer innovative solutions to modern housing needs, they differ significantly in their construction methods, materials, and design flexibility. Shipping container homes utilize repurposed containers, offering durability and eco-friendliness, while prefab houses employ various building materials and manufacturing techniques, allowing for a wider range of architectural styles and customization options.

Whether opting for the industrial charm of a shipping container home or the versatility of a prefab house, individuals can choose the option that best suits their lifestyle, budget, and design preferences.

Rutang ZHANG

I am Rutang Zhang, a seasoned expert in the field of integrated housing with a wealth of experience spanning over 30 years. I have had the privilege of contributing to the success of numerous projects in more than 120 countries and regions. My expertise lies in navigating the intricacies of the integrated housing industry, and I am proud to have played a significant role in delivering successful outcomes across diverse global contexts. From conceptualization to execution, my commitment to excellence has been a driving force in achieving results that meet the unique requirements of each project.
 Tel: +86 180 5752 0109
 Email: cs@putianhouse.com

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