So you want to build an ISBU home to live in. Well, how can I do it affordably? Why do so many container homes I see online cost $100,000 or more?
I'll answer why. Because a lot of the people doing this have a lot more money to play with than me and you, and they just want to build something "Green" yet they spend thousands on interior design and materials and getting other people to do the work. Some build them with the intentions of getting attention for a business, and the bigger and prettier the better.
Most of us looking into this option are looking at "Green" options that cost little and lessen our dependance on the economy. I want to build a strong, safe, comfortable family sized home with as many "green" options as possible, with sustainability, and that requires as little dependancy on the economy as possible. And quite honestly, I don't want to spend $100k in the process. So how?
First off, you will need to do your homework when it comes to container purchases. If you go to the first place that's near and get them from there you may be paying more than triple what you could get them for. My advice, call the shipping yards direct, you may be surprised to find out they are getting deperate to get rid of these things, I was quoted as cheap as $700 if I picked them up myself. If you are patient and can wait, you can even get them shipped for darn near free by allowing companies to use your containers to ship materials to your area, then once they are offloaded the trucking company drops the container off at your location. But if you don't want to have to wait, they can still be gotten much cheaper by getting quotes from companies around your area and presenting them to one another in competition until you get the price down as low as possible.
Second is decide what types of materials you intend to use to make it into a home. You can go out and buy all the things you need to turn it into a home from the local building supply company, but it's going to cost you. Do some research, ask some contractors in your area, find the overstock stores, the second hand material stores, the discontinued items, the slightly damaged etc etc etc. You will be surprised to find out that there are places like Habitat for Humanity in almost any area.
Example: I just purchased an all steel bathtub that had a chip in the finish, the tub is a $400 or so tub, I got it for $20, and the repair kits costs about $20. With a little labor and $40 I just saved myself a large sum of money. I just purchased a LARGE picture window that had a single cracked pane in it for $50, originally $500. I paid $20 for a crappy window with a big enough good pane in it, got a glass cutter and replaced the pane myself. $50 picture window, $20 salvage window, $2.00 for the glass cutter = $72. I just missed out on a set of used french doors that had a little rot on the bottom (Can be cut out and new wood glued in and repainted for next to nothing) for free.
Also keep an eye out for houses being remodeled or torn down in your area, a lot of things will be free for the taking, especially if you volunteer to tear it out yourself. I had a friend that got a full set of cabinets, a full house worth of interior paneling (He loves paneling...), 2 toilets, 2 tubs, 4 sinks, and an entire roof worth of metal roofing. All for free because he volunteered to tear it all down for free if he could have the things he wanted out of the house. It took 2 weekends of his time, but he saved a TON of money. When he got done tearing out what he wanted he called the fire dept and allowed them to burn the rest for training purposes.
Wall coverings? Well sheetrock is cheap, really cheap, that will be one of my few purchases from the local supply company. Fixtures are a matter of taste, but the same discount companies have similar fixtures like lights, faucets, toilets, etc for MUCH cheaper than the chain companies, discontinued fixtures are surprisingly cheap. I can get toilets all day from habitat for $20 to $40. I can get tubs for about the same prices. Cabinets?? Those are expensive right?? Well, if you have someone build them for you, or you buy them pre built, then absolutely they are going to cost you out the backside. But with a book, some patience, and about 1/10th the money (Even taking into account mistakes) you can build them yourself, to your own tastes. You can either purchase the tools (I suggest you do) or rent them. Get the do it yourself books from the local big chain retailer that will show you how to do it. Initial investment seems rough, but after you get done the final cost savings will be signifigant.
Exterior? Why put siding on the thing? I'm not going to, I'm going to leave it industrial looking, but with a nice coat of insulating paint. But if you want to, find a store that carries discontinued colors and such and purchase from there, it can save you over half the cost of new.
Do the homework, and find everything you need with as little money as possible, and store it in one of your containers until you get everything you need. Once you get that done, do as much of the work as possible yourself. 90% of the work is really not even remotely as hard as you will assume. Get those do it yourself books, study them, use some of that money you saved and get the proper tools, rent what you can't buy, and get to work. A Contractor is going to charge you a lot for labor, for you, it just costs you some weekends of free time. You can pay the contractor well over $50,000 to come in and finish the house, or you can do it yourself with some help from friends and family for hundreds of dollars.
Just to give you an idea of what the difference is.
Having the concrete slab poured and finished for me would cost over $2000, but if I do the finishing labor myself it somehow drops the price down to $890. Less than half.
Putting a 30x50 roof on the upper level will cost over $4000 to have a contractor do it. Doing labor myself is less than $1700 in NEW materials, even less if I buy used or discontinued roofing materials.
Already I would save well over $3000 (After you finished the entire house you may just have saved enough be able to afford that off the grid solar electricity system you have been dreaming about.)
It's understood there are things you can't do. I can't weld, I'm sure I could learn, but I'm not going to, it'll cost me to pay someone to do the welding work, but I can tell you I do know how to run the cutting torch I'm going to need on the inside. I know I can learn how to do plumbing, electrical, etc. I have a background in general contracting and most of my younger years worked construction, but again, it's not hard. Just do it yourself and save more money than you ever dreamed.