Is Amazon's New Shipping Container Home Right for You?

Cargotecture is all the rage these days.

Just ask Amazon. The Internet’s largest retailer has been making inroads in the affordable housing market as of late, partnering with the Wisconsin-based housing firm MODS International to produce fully furnished, $36,000 homes* inside of repurposed shipping containers.

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Over the past decade, tiny homes like this have exploded in popularity. These innovative new housing models—which many praise as cheaper, more environmentally responsible alternatives to traditional residences—are part of an ongoing homebuilding revolution that prioritizes economy and functionality over luxury.

Grain silos, boxcars, shipping containers—these have all become the perfect fodder for tiny homebuilders and their so-called “cargotecture.” Blessed with initiative and an entrepreneurial zeal, tiny homebuilders often secure these prefab structures secondhand, then set to work renovating them on their own, to cut down on expenses.

A cursory search on eBay reveals that a used shipping container can be purchased for as little as $1,500.

With the potential savings benefits of independent homebuilding in mind, is Amazon’s one-size-fits-all, assembly-line approach to cargotecture really worth the $36,000 price tag?

It all depends on how much creative leeway you’re willing to sacrifice for your tiny home.

Here's what buying Amazon's tiny home will get you

Let’s check out the benefits of the Amazon approach to cargotecture.

  • The home arrives fully furnished
  • It includes connections for electricity and water, as well as a drainage line for the sewer
  • It’s got functioning heating and air, and is insulated to protect from the cold
  • There’s a shower, a toilet, a bedroom, a kitchenette, and a living area

Pretty nice, right? With all of these added perks, a prefab tiny home like Amazon’s may even be less expensive than buying your own shipping container and handling the renovations yourself.

With that said, there’s a lot of creative control you give up in the process. Since Amazon’s tiny home is prefabricated, there’s virtually no room for you to provide architectural or design input. Basically, what you see is what you get.

Of course, there’s always the possibility of renovating further down the road, so it’s not as if that’s a total loss of creative control.

But what else aren’t we addressing about the Amazon shipping container home? What are the cons associated with buying a tiny home?

  • There’s no foundation included with the purchase, so you’ll have to supply your own—homeowners are, generally speaking, bound by law to anchor their homes to a proper foundation (usually concrete)
  • What’s more, even if a tiny home sounds appealing, there are myriad zoning restrictions from location to location that could prevent you from building in a certain spot
  • Purchasing land can be just as expensive as purchasing a traditional home—if not more so! This is important to bear in mind as you consider a tiny home; where will you anchor your new purchase, and how much will that plot of land cost you, in addition to what you’re already spending?

If you’re looking to downsize in a big (or, more accurately, small) way, and are comfortable giving up a bit of control over how your home looks both inside and out, then Amazon’s shipping container home may be worth considering. Before you do anything, though, check the zoning laws in your area to be sure that installing your new purchase is even a possibility.

*This figure, it should be noted, does not include the price of shipping, which some have reported can cost as much as $4,500.