Picking the Right size Shipping Container for your Tiny House or Cozy Home

Besides focusing on giving you more unique choices for cabins, casitas and cottage floor plans than anywhere else, Cozy’s other passion has been alternative building techniques.

I still have a great love and appreciation for ISBU’s or shipping containers, Earthbag construction, CEB’s “Compressed Earth Blocks” etc… Also planning to build a silo “Grain Bin” house/home in the future. Thanks to my brother, we already have the spiral staircase and Bins purchased and waiting. That is for another post though…

Cozy already has several floor plans compatible with existing ISBU sizes. Check out our list of shipping container standard sizes so you know exactly what’s available out there. Designing with the proper size container first will help to eliminate costly design modifications later. Starting with the right size container will help ensure that you can fit everything in from the beginning.

For example a 20′ Standard Freight Container is:

Internal Dimensions
Length: 19′- 2″
Width: 7′- 6″
Height: 7′- 8″

External Dimensions
Length: 19′- 10″
Width: 8′
Height: 8′- 6″

Door Opening
Width: 7′- 6″
Height: 7′- 4″


If the thought of building a home in a large metal box or shipping container is completely new to you, these are some concepts of what it actually could be?

Stock floor plans currently available:

The Skylight Mountain and Granite Mountain are both 16’ Wide and 20’Long, specifically to be options for utilizing 20’ ISBU’s.

In Flickr we also have…

53’ ISBU “Shipping Container” 1/1 424 sq. ft.

This home was one of the first created in Plan 3D. Loosely based on my current tiny house, I can definitely see myself living in it. Lots more Picks if you follow the link.

53′ Shipping Container Outside View










53′ Shipping Container 3D Top View











53′ Shipping Container Kitchen











20′ x 20′ 400 sq. ft. BOX

Separating the two or more containers with a gap creates additional square footage, at a very inexpensive cost. Ten additional Picks were just loaded up on 11/4/12.

2 40′ ISBU’s 1/1 640 sq. ft.

A sweet & simple one bedroom home with a great open kitchen and spacious bedroom!

And the Bay of Many 3/1-1/2 (640 sq ft)

3 bedroom 1-1/2 Baths all neatly packed into a 16′x 40′ shell.

640 sq ft “Bay of Many” Floor Plan 3/1-1/2 3D Top View











A driving force behind Cozy Home Plans is our commitment to the community, environment and green/alternative building practices. If you know of a unique alternative building practice, send us an email. We love to broaden our horizons here at Cozy Home Plans.

Cozy,  Kevin B Harrington

7 Responses to Picking the Right size Shipping Container for your Tiny House or Cozy Home

  • I don’t particularly have an interest in converting a shipping container into a home (although it would be neat!!!) but am highly considering purchasing a small one and converting it to a submerged (fancy redneck speak for “buried”) root cellar/storm shelter. Any advice?

  • My advice is… DON’T!!! That’s my short answer of course. Here is a much better long answer than I could ever give, from an actual expert.


    It would be all about reinforcing the walls and constructing the proper hole first. Many, many moons ago when I had a trucking company, we mainly delivered large 8”x18”x24” retaining wall blocks to a commercial installer. Mostly big walls from 4’- 40’ high. It was all about the proper backfill first, typically loose recycled concrete with no fines. This allows for proper drainage and also reinforcing ever couple of feet with some type of geogrid. A thin heavy duty mesh that is placed flat between the layers of block and stretching several feet back. When it’s then covered up with tons of fill, this reinforcing helped hold back any the inevitable pushing that occurs naturally against the wall from settling. I built a massive tornado “safe room” once, rebar and tons of concrete. Even though it was not a monolithic pour, the sheer weight and reinforcing made it safe. This is how would probably build one underground. Build a central reinforced box and pour around it. I’ll send you some Picts if you’re interested.

  • I have been looking the World Wide Web for this information and I want to thank you for this post. It’s not easy to find such perfectly written information on this topic. Great Work!

  • @ Cozy/Kevin,

    You’re absolutely right! I get HUNDREDS of emails annually from guys and gals who want to not only dig their own graves, but then go down and wait in them for the inevitable.

    Yes, I’m talking about their deaths.

    Soil MOVES. It gets wet, it gets dry and the load constantly changes. ISBUs are NOT designed or engineered to deal with these loads against the SKIN of the container. That corrugated Corten steel is just there to create to envelope that he cargo goes in. The real strength of an ISBU is in… THE FRAME.

    I have PERSONALLY excavated these “underground bunkers” to extract the bodies, after the walls caved in.

    In Iraq and the Sandbox (Afghanistan) we reinforced the CONEX (Military designation for ISBU) boxes by welding beams and steel in place to offset the loads. But, they weren’t “habitable in the traditional sense over long periods, without adjustment. And, it wasn’t cheap.

    By the time you re-engineer an ISBU to bear the loads of dry/wet soil upon burial, you’ve actually eliminated the requirement for the ISBU in the first place.

    Please, listen to Cozy. I don’t care how “smart” you think you are. I’ve been working with these boxes for over three decades on every continent on the planet, except Antarctica. Hundreds of projects. We’ve seen every “bizarre backyard rocket science ISBU burial gyration” that you can imagine.

    Don’t do this. You’ll either waste a LOT of money trying to re-invent the wheel, or you (or someone that you love) will DIE.

    Sorry, Cozy. My apologies for butting into your thread. This is just such an important topic to address where ISBUs are concerned, that I felt compelled.

    I’ll go now…

    This is me, going…

    So long.

    God Bless America!

  • No apologies necessary Alex! An experts input is always welcomed and appreciated here. I know that you have been super busy helping the victims from our recent “multiple” disasters around the country. The fact that you took the time from your crazy schedule to add your 2 cents just shows what a great guy that you really are. We love alternative building techniques here at Cozy and I was proud to include both you and Owen as my inspiration.

  • Don’t you guys worry. I am more of a dreamer than a doer sometimes and I am more interested in building a small root cellar than I am my own grave. I would do more than enough research into my options before putting my family into an airtight, pressure packed, steel coffin.

    I really appreciate the advice though!

  • These blog forums provide an excellent opportunity for some great Q & A. Micro to Tiny, ISBU’s to CEB’s, Earthbags to ????. “Ran out of cool connections”. People need a place to get expert advice from the “unconventional” expert advisers, especially if we’re all going to have a home in the future. Keep up the great work Andrew!

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