How to Build a Shipping Container Home (for Beginners)

So you want to learn how to build a home using shipping containers, right?

Believe it or not.

It’s a very hot trend right now.

The average cost of building a new home is becoming more and more expensive.

Many potential home builders are looking for alternative materials for building a home to benefit from reduced construction costs.

How to Build a Shipping Container Home

Building a Tiny Home Using Shipping Containers

The use of these prefabricated boxes offers an excellent solution for a dream home creation. Just like me and many others, if you have decided to build a house from shipping containers, understand you can benefit in different ways including:

  • They offer speedy construction: While you can choose the DIY container home option, it is recommended that you seek consultation from an engineer or design firm…
  • They are eco-friendly: To build a container home you primarily rely on the existing building material…
  • They are cost-effective: To build a container home is relatively cheaper compared with the process involved in conventional building…
  • Offer creative freedom: Sea containers are available in different sizes for creating a large or small home and you may not have to adhere to the rules and regulations of conventional architecture and construction…
  • They are sturdy and durable: Containers are manufactured to be tough and durable for withstanding adverse ocean shipping elements such as moisture…
  • Allowing mobility: Once constructed, container home can be shifted to the required location as often as you like; unlike conventional homes…

The Process to Build a House from Shipping Containers

For you to build a container home, apart from purchasing the building material, you will need to consider other different tasks such as insulation, plumbing, and foundation.

While this step by step guide on how to construct a DIY container home tries its best to furnish you with the necessary information, you also need to seek the involvement of a professional.

1. Determine Your Budget: Cheap or Luxury?

Once you have decided to have your DIY sea container home, you must sit down and come up with a realistic budget suitable for the construction work. Like I had said before, you will see that the traditional home construction is relatively more expensive.

In setting a budget for you to build a house from sea containers, different factors may affect the total cost like the design, location, and the size of the living space. Also, do not forget to research the expenses exhaustively of:

• The containers and other building materials
• Compliance permits and fees
• Hiring architects and contractors

Equally vital when determining your construction budget is that you have a contingency fund. It should be about 20% of the overall budget of your project. We all know that unexpected expenses can occur even if the building plan is solid, needing the use of the contingency money.

And in the event the contingency funds are not used or exhausted, they can be directed to landscaping, buying high-quality appliances, or undertaking excellent furnishings.

2. Check Your Zoning Issues and Building Permits

Checking your local area zoning issues and acquiring building permits is a time-consuming process especially if your container home design and drawings are intricate. Understand that municipality zoning and building permit issues are beneficial for guaranteeing energy conservation, structural safety, and integrity, etc.

It is possible to avoid all of this process involved in checking building regulations and getting relevant planning permission and building permits. And I’m afraid it is not about avoiding the process. You can use the service of an architect or a structural engineer.

An architect has the prerequisite training and experience on how to build a home out of shipping containers. Thus, he or she understands the process of sorting out the issues of planning permits and building compliance. Also, a professional delivers a structurally-sound building.

When in a local area with a good number of people already with a DIY container home, there is a high chance you may find it much easier getting permits.

Sea Container Into Tiny Home
Sea Container Into Tiny Home

3. Purchase Your Shipping Container

Once your local council approves the plans and designs, go ahead with your project. To build a house from shipping containers, you need to acquire the main building material. For purchasing the container or containers, there are quite a few things you need to understand.

Sizes of Containers

The shipping containers are available in standard sizes and the common sizes for home are 20 FT and 40 FT long with an 8 FT standard width. Other sizes you can choose from including the 8’, 10’, 20’, and up to even 53 lengths.

The compact sizes of the containers make it easier and simple for them to be interlocked. As for the size and amount of shipping containers you need, it will depend on your budget and scale of plans.

Second-hand or New Container?

You may also be torn between choosing a second-hand or new container for building a container home. For you to save some reasonable level of money, make sure the container manufacturer allows the implementation of the modifications you need.

For quality, it must:

  • Be wind and waterproof
  • Have quality hinges, doors, and roof
  • Be rust-free

Another point worth noting here is that procuring a container must be done as soon as possible particularly if the delivery may take longer. As well, before buying your container inspection is necessary for determining its quality and look for things like unpleasant smells and rust.

4. Builders and Contractors Hiring

Choosing a DIY container home option is advantageous because it is a rewarding experience and cost-saving. However, to realize the benefits, you have to have enough time, practical experience, and even a license for building.

Most people who want to build a house from shipping containers tend to prefer the hiring of contractors, electricians, builders, painters, etc. Only choose tradespeople by asking for references from your family, friends, and colleagues. As well, consider their reputation and various quotes for achieving the best deal possible.

5. Preparation Of The Site

From my experience, this step is often overlooked by most people as it does not feel useful and appears like a task that can be done when there is a need. We strongly recommend you avoid falling into this common trap.

The site for you to build a container home needs thorough preparation to make it suitable for home construction. Preparation of the site may involve debris clearance, earthworks, and setting up different amenities like gas lines, septic system electricity, and stormwater drains.

Apart from making the site suitable for appropriate construction, also see to it that it is accessible for delivery of supplies and containers. For permitting easy access to your site, there is a need for dealing with issues like loose soil, steep inclines, and low-hanging tree branches.

6. Sold Foundation Development

To build a house from shipping containers that are structurally sound, there is a need for using a robust foundation. Any structure without reliance on a solid foundation is guaranteed to collapse.

A qualified builder or engineer is in a better position to consider various factors such as container weight and number, soil type, and water level to provide a sturdy foundation.

A popular foundation option is the use of a concrete slab because it is not only relatively affordable but also efficient. A cemented foundation is also moisture accumulation resistant.

You have to undertake attachments of the containers and then apply steel reinforcements for their welding. If the budget allows, having a basement for extra storage is a welcome addition.

For other foundation options, there is also a concrete strips foundation.

Shipping Containers
DIY Shipping Container Home

7. Prepare The Storage Containers

This is another crucial step to build a container home. Shipping containers may come with different structures and modifications for delivering a wholesome strong structure. When front doors, corrugation panels, and other existing structures of a container are left as they are then the build will be more reliable. It can carry more loads than a typical home construction.

On the other hand, if you make modifications like holes cutting or paneling removal there is a chance that the DIY container home structure may be compromised. We recommend that before you make any structural modifications on the container, consult with an architect or structural engineer.

8. Attach Your Containers

You attach the containers not only to the foundation but also to each other. The use of a large crane may come in handy for transporting the containers to the actual site and accordingly positioning them on the created solid foundation.

9. Ventilation, Doors, Roof, Floor, And Windows Installation

Any installation undertaken must serve to safeguard the structural integrity of the containers’ Consequently, here are a few vital points to note.

  • When shipping containers are joined together it may lead to their roofs losing structural integrity. Hence, for enhanced structural integrity and proper drainage, the conventional roofing may be the best option.
  • The main disadvantage when you build a house from sea containers is that they may be susceptible to leaking moisture and becoming hot or cold. For appropriate temperature regulation, employ the use of a layer of closed-cell foam both on the walls inside and outside.
  • Seal any gaps to safeguard your investment from the elements.
  • While plywood flooring is synonymous with most shipping containers, you can still use another flooring option. One reason is that plywood can be harmful to your health as it is usually treated with resilient pesticides.

Related Article: How to Make a Vegetable Garden at Home

10. Fixtures and Fittings

For your DIY container home to be functional for your use, you must also undertake electrical wiring, fittings, and any other plumbing needs in different rooms including the kitchen and bathroom. For example, when in a desert environment solar panels can serve as an excellent source of electricity.

11. Proper Finish Application

As you build a container home, making modifications may be necessary but it may also lead to the stripping away of the anti-corrosive paint. The result is your home is left susceptible to the elements which create structural and aesthetic issues.

With proper finish touches, any bare material will be protected against rust and corrosion.

12. Inspection

As one of the last stages, hopefully, by now you have done everything possible to make your DIY container home ready as a proper living space. Thus, you need to contact inspectors to examine your building to establish whether it complies with the local building standards and regulations.

A building inspection may give you a nice opportunity to make any substantial changes to your DIY container home.

13. Landscaping

Landscaping the area you have used to build a house from shipping containers should be done for allowing a warm embrace between the surrounding natural environment and building. The natural surroundings may be a desert, forest, etc. Also, you may find landscape design useful in erosion and flooding prevention, reducing air pollutants and environmental impacts, etc.

Do you know how to do landscaping? No? If not, conversant with landscaping, there are many landscaping companies for choosing as per your preference. The important considerations in choosing a landscaping service may involve equipment, experience, landscaping budget, and many more.

14. Move-In

Once you have successfully built your container home, you can now proceed to use it and enjoy your investment to the fullest.

Things to consider before building your container home

Having a beautiful shipping container home takes more than just buying containers, cutting them, and joining them. There are basic rules to adhere to and guides to be followed carefully.

1. Legality

It is natural to question the legality behind container homes as you begin to get more familiar with the topic. More often than none, people ask the wrong questions.

They ask, “Is container home legal in my location?” instead of asking, “Is there any rule that could affect my shipping container home?” Below are some important things that you should know.

2. Property Zoning

You must understand what zoning is because it will help you make better judgments in deciding where to build your container home.

Most city governments use property zoning to plan the development of a city, and what type of property can be built in a particular area. In a nutshell, the government uses zoning to keep similar types of properties together.

Aside from Houston, Texas, most other cities in the US have zoning laws. So, once you check the zoning law of an area, you’ll know if it’s legal to build your container home there or not.

3. Building Codes and Permits

Another important regulation that affects building container homes is the building codes and permits. Building codes determine the minimum standard required and how your shipping home should be built.

Meanwhile, building permits allow you to apply and prove that you’re complying with the building code so that you can get the approval for your building construction.

In the US, most of the building codes are based on the Internation Residential use (IRC) and the International Building Code (IBC) from the International Code Council (ICC).

Also, most states have their specific building code as well. With a little research, you’ll be able to find your state’s specific building code.

After knowing the building code restriction of your state, then it is time to take another step towards having your own well-designed shipping container home.

Shipping Container Home Building Permits

Choosing a Foundation for Your Sea Container Home

Just as you need a strong foundation for the traditional buildings, it is equally important for your shipping container home. This is because the condition of the ground you are placing the container will determine how long your container home will last.

That is why it is important to choose a solid foundation in order to have stability and avoid your containers from separating or collapse.

There are three main types of foundation that you can choose from when setting up a foundation for your sea container building project.

3 Types Of Foundation

  • Slab foundation: This is considered as the most common foundation when dealing with soft ground. However, it has proven to be time-consuming and quite expensive to build.

    So if your ground is soft, then you should be ready to dig through hell, just kidding! But you are sure to dig a lot.

  • Pier foundation: This is an escape plan if one is not ready to go through the troubles of choosing a slab foundation. It is what most home builders use because they are not expensive compared to the slab foundation, and what makes it more popular is because it is easy to construct.

  • Pile foundations: This foundation is the best when the ground of your choice is weak to accept concrete. This type of foundation requires hammering plies into the soft ground until it reaches the hard part. Due to its technicality, it is recommended to hire contractors to ensure that it is well done.

    Well, one shouldn’t ignore the fact that it is also very expensive, unlike the other types of foundation.

Related Article: Easy Diy Chicken Coop

Ways You Can Insulate Your Container Home

Roofing your container might not be necessary because some believe it saves money. But the truth is, it is wise to spend the money on roofing rather than spending more in the future in the process of covering energy bills.

When deciding to have a roof, you must consider insulating the inside of the roof to maintain a stable temperature inside your home.

Customizing your roof with an overhang is also beneficial because it prevents rain from running down your window.

As mentioned above, roofing your container home goes hand-in-hand with insulation. For you to have the proper insulation you must make sure the walls are built to allow enough depth for the installation of any insulation type.

However, it might require consuming some square inches inside your container.

When deciding on which insulation material you’re to use for your container home, the first thing that should come to your mind is the way you want your walls to be built out. Then you can choose from the different ways of insulating your container home.

1. Cotton insulation

Cotton has been a relevant material used for insulating container homes. Most companies have been offering natural cotton for container insulation; these kinds of cotton are made out of recycled clothing products such as denim, jeans, and so on.

What could make cotton insulation frustrating is that it requires a vapor barrier, and the chances of it losing its insulation properties are high. This is because it could get wet anytime, and more to its disadvantages, it takes a while to dry.

2. Cork insulation

Cork insulation is also another choice to consider when looking for a way to insulate your container home. It is harvested mostly from the bark of a tree, which makes it a renewable and biodegradable resource.

One intriguing benefit of cork is the acoustic property it has, which makes it suitable for insulating container homes, therefore creating an acoustic buffer for your container home and also the metal walls in the container.

3. Wool insulation

The source of this insulation method is sheep wool. It shares the same R-Value of 3.5 per inch, the same as the cotton or some other types of fibrous insulation.

The wool is not required to undergo any special treatment with different chemical solutions because the ship wool contains lanolin making it naturally retardant to a flame.

4. Spray foam insulation

If you’re looking for a fast and easy way to insulate your container home, this is the best option to consider. What makes it easier is that you can spray it directly on both the exterior and interior parts of the walls of the shipping container.

Most walls are coated with highly toxic paints, due to their life on the sea. However, the use of spray foam insulation method will make sure that the VOCs that could off-gas into your room is trapped.

Insulate Your New Home

Insulate Your New Home

The goal of insulating a container home is to prevent heat from extending from the warmer side to the cooler part of the container. Unlike the other types of residential constructions, sea containers have an exterior made of steel, and this makes insulation important.

Insulating your container home is important, but one shouldn’t just decide to do that without considering another factor, which is climate. The climate of your environment will also play an important role in determining how to insulate your container.

If your environment is cold, then you might not need to insulate the container home because it could save you from spending on a heater. But generally, professionals do advise container homeowners to insulate their container to avoid spending more in the future.

1. Plumbing and electricity

This is an important stage when building your new home. Plumbing pipes and electrical wires should be planned ahead before the completion of interior decoration; this is mostly the part you’re going to need a contractor to help you with. Failure to plan may lead to unnecessary rearrangements

2. Flooring

Shipping container floor comes with a typically 1-1/8” thick marine plywood. Some prefer to leave it the way it is, but others might want to customize it to their own style. If you fall under the latter category then, I will be discussing three types of flooring materials you can use in flooring your container home.

  • Commercial carpet tile: This material is suitable and sincerely worth it, should you decide to go for it. It has a soft texture and a sleek look. The interesting aspect is that it comes in different colors, so you have a wide range of options to choose from.
  • Steel overlay: One popular way of flooring a container home is installing a steel sheet on top of the plywood that originally came with the container.
  • Vinyl floor covering: This is the best option when looking for all packages in one. It is easy to clean, solid, oil-resistant, and fire retardant.

3. Security

The security of your home is very important, whether it is a shipping container home or not. You want to make sure that only authorized people can gain access to your home. Aside from that, you also have some personal belongings that you want to keep safe from burglars. Below are some of the ways in which you can keep your home safe.

4. Deterrence strategy

Deterrence strategy wades off intruders from your home. It tells them that the chances of breaking into your home are slim.

Generally speaking, this strategy keeps burglars from making any attempt at all. There are various ways in which you can execute this strategy.

Some people will park a vehicle in front of their home to prove that there is someone inside. With this, one wouldn’t be so foolish to attack under such circumstances.

5. Prevention strategy

The idea behind this strategy is to make sure that any intruder or attacker trying to break into your container home is delayed enough for you to catch them. There is no sure way to stop intruders from breaking into your home, most notably when it is a determined intruder.

The only way to at least have a chance of catching the culprit is by executing this security strategy.

6. Detection strategy

This strategy aims to detect when an intruder is about to break into your home. The strategy gives you a chance to respond swiftly to unauthorized activity.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are the top common questions mostly asked by people enquiring about building a home from shipping containers.

What are the benefits of living in a shipping container?

Compared to the traditional building constructions, living in one saves you a lot of money and time when building it. Apart from that, it’s easy to use and construct.

Are they safe to live in?

Shipping container homes are believed to be safe due to their ability to endure dangerous environmental conditions. Though people might say it is not because of the chemicals the container contains, you can choose a container that is free of poisonous chemicals.

Where can I get the best container?

There are various places one can get a good shipping container. What matters most is, that you have to see what you are buying before purchasing it.

How long does it take to build a shipping container home?

Ideally, it takes between 4-10 weeks to build a container home, depending on the construction material, and design. Also, the time it takes to place order and delivery depends on how many units you’re ordering.

How much does it cost to build a container home?

Generally speaking, building one will cost anything between $1,400 and $4,000, depending on the age, size, and condition of the container.

Also, the more add-ons and extra features you add, the more the price you pay. Besides, a large container home will cost between $150,000 – $175,000. That’s about half the price per square foot of a regular home.

How long will my home last?

Ideally, your container home should last a minimum of 25 years, and with proper maintenance, it will last even longer. Besides, with external covering like wood, you can expect it to last even longer.

Do shipping container homes rust?

Yes. The main thing that can shorten the lifespan of your container is rust. So you must always inspect your home regularly to check for any fault and have it fixed as soon as possible.

Build Cheap, Enjoy Big!

So you now have a breakdown of how to get your new minimalistic lifestyle into action…

But wouldn’t it be great to have a full guide to walk you through the exciting process of creating your first home?

You can DIY this alone if you want…

But do you agree that having an expert guide you through every is significantly better?