Tiny houses have been growing in popularity with New Zealanders over the past few years. They offer affordable, personalised living that you can take on the road or base on a section of land. They also fit into the increasingly attractive minimalist lifestyle. But are they superior to container homes?

What are tiny homes? Back to top

It’s in the name really - tiny homes are little houses designed for compact, minimalistic living, offering residents reduced living costs. They use less materials and resources than standard housing, cost less to build and are usually designed with sustainability and an outdoor lifestyle in mind.

shipping container illustration

How big are tiny homes in comparison to shipping container homes? Back to top

While both tiny homes and container homes can be designed to personal taste, container homes don’t need to fit into the term “tiny”. Being modular, container homes can range from being tiny houses to being extended, spacious family homes. 

large and spacious container home

Standard tiny homes are around 8.5'x24' in size, although some may be designed bigger or smaller depending on budget and the number of residents. Shipping containers are usually around 20 to 40 ft long individually, however they can be joined to create a home of any size.

Cost comparison between Tiny homes and Shipping container homes Back to top

If pricing is your deciding factor you are likely to remain on the fence. Standard tiny house and container house costs start at around $40,000 USD. Prices rise to match additional bedrooms, spaces and specifications. 

If you are considering creating your own design and build, your costs will likely vary. Individual shipping containers can be bought from approximately $2,500 USD. The design, engineering, materials, consents and labor costs all need to be considered on top of this.

Are tiny homes or shipping container homes more sustainable and energy efficient? Back to top

Shipping container homes are a great way of recycling while the sustainability of a tiny home partly relies on the material choices you make. That being said, the smaller space of a tiny home means reduced energy costs and saves on materials used. Both have the potential to be assembled onsite, which reduces the amount of travel time involved and, consequently, their carbon footprints.

Container home NZ
Image courtesy of Look Good Feel Better

Are tiny homes or shipping container homes easier to renovate? Back to top

Both have pros and cons. Container homes are more of a specialized building project and roofing work can be complicated, especially for extension work. However, containers are easier to extend due to their modularity.

Insulation is another important consideration with container homes. As steel is not a breathable material, non-porous insulation is required. You also need to ensure the individual shipping containers you use are wind and watertight. 

In container home renovations, recycling can mean a lot of extra work. Dealing with rust, removing toxins and undergoing panel beating work is often part of the process. However, it can be worth it.

In comparison, tiny houses do have many benefits. There are a huge amount of materials and designs to choose from, which creates more space for renovating within your budget. Materials do need to be kept light if they are being built onto a heavyweight trailer. Heavyweight trailer builds also require sturdy, supportive framing. 

tiny home design

In some ways tiny house living does require more creative planning than container home living. This comes down to the smaller living space and a need to create practical, innovative storage and living areas. This is important for every area of a micro-house design, down to the lighting. Hanging lights will take up more space so opt for non-obstructive ceiling fixtures instead.

Container home and tiny house renovations do have some things in common. Neither take long to build (it’s possible to have either completed in under a month) and creatives can enjoy the process with either project, as they are both highly customizable and easy to transport.