6 Steps to Building a Shipping Container Home

6 Steps to Building a Shipping Container Home

Mar 25th 2021

What is a shipping container home?

Shipping containers are a functional modular building block for constructing useable living spaces at a modest price. Storage container homes are homes using versatile shipping containers to provide the structural components of the house. Container homes vary from tiny houses using one or two shipping containers to multilevel dwellings with plenty of space for a growing family. Container houses' appeal includes a shorter construction time and a significant cost saving in many projects.

Steps to Start Building Your Container Home

If you think a shipping container home may be ideal for you as a primary residence or a holiday cabin in the mountains, there are some essential planning stages:

1. Choose Your Location

Before you can start your container home build, you need a plot of land. Land costs vary depending on the desirability of the  location and the access to amenities.

Points to consider in choosing the location include:
Sufficient access for delivery and positioning of the shipping containers – you need truck access and possibly a crane for larger containers.
Ground quality – a steeply sloping sight will need more work on building a suitable foundation than a flat piece of ground.
Available utilities – some remote areas may mean planning an off-the-grid home because you cannot easily access a power supply.
Before buying your plot of land, check it is possible (in principle) for you to get permission to build on the site.

2. Plan Your Project

Most  construction projects work best if you have a plan for the finished project. You may choose to work with an architect, structural engineer, or contractor with experience in container home build or draw up the plans yourself. Because you are working with modules, it is relatively simple to draw up a three-dimensional model of your proposed container home build using cardboard boxes. The advantage of creating a 3-D scale model as part of your planning process is that you can see where the shipping containers need to be modified and where you will connect and weld the blocks together.

At the planning stage, you need to establish:

  • Project budget with a 20% contingency fund.
  • Number and type of containers you need for your project.
  • How each shipping container needs to be modified.
  • How you are going to build it – DIY or contractors.
  • Interior and exterior finishes.
  • Power supply along with wiring and plumbing.
  • Project timetable and action plan.

3. Get Approval for Your Building Plans

Before you purchase your containers and get started on your project, get all your legal paperwork in place and make sure you know what needs to be inspected and certified at each stage. The best approach is to talk through your plans with a local planning officer as they can give you all the guidance you need.

Building codes cover the details relating to a safe home – structurally sound, fire safety, and other areas that meet relevant local building standards. Container home builders must meet all the applicable building codes for occupancy. Zoning regulations cover where you can build and the type of permitted buildings. Your State may have a category for storage container homes, or it may come under non-traditional structures.

4. Prep Your Site

Before you start your container home build, you need a stable, level foundation that supports your home. The foundation protects you from ground movement – the earth beneath your feet rises, sinks, contracts, and expands. Plus, the ground is not uniform – rocks, clay, sand, and other materials with different properties.

Your shipping container home needs a stable foundation to keep your floors level, protect your structure from moisture and corrosion and evenly distribute weight. The basic types of foundation are:
Concrete piers or blocks at strategic points – minimal ground excavation, DIY friendly, and you can use to level up a sloping site.
Pile foundations – expensive as you hammer in solid steel tubes to reach the bedrock, but the only solution for soft, shifting ground.

You need a professional to install a pile foundation.
Slab foundation -reinforces concrete slab just larger than the footprint of the building. More expensive than the pier foundation and takes more work. It fully supports the building with no voids underneath for potential pests. Potentially increases heat loss and makes it challenging to access utility lines.
Strip foundation – a concrete slab or channel one or two feet wide and four feet deep lies under the container's edges. More affordable alternative to slab foundations with less concrete pouring. It has less earthquake resistance. Better for small to medium-sized builds in stable climates.

It is better to anchor the shipping container to the foundation rather than relying on the container's weight to keep it in place. Intense floods and high winds can move a container with devastating consequences if it is your home. The best foundation depends on your land, budget, and project, but a sound foundation is essential for a successful container home.

5. Lay the Foundations and Buy Your Containers

All buildings need the right foundations, and it makes sense to plan and lay your foundations before your containers arrive on your site. Meanwhile, you can source your shipping containers (read our guide to buying shipping containers) and arrange for modifications – removing panels, cutting the door and window spaces before delivery onto your site. Careful selection of your container for house building can save modification costs and allow you to save money on base containers. For example, a container with a hole in the side will be cheaper than one without – if your building plan includes cutting away that side of the container, then the gap is not an issue for you.

6. Await Delivery and Installation

The final stage before you can get on with your shipping container home project is waiting for delivery. Careful planning means each container installs in the correct position to connect to the other modules. Shipping containers stack and connect along the edges and at the corners. Once the shipping containers are in place and fastened to the foundations and each other, you are ready for your container home build.

How Much is it Going to Cost You?

Unless you buy a prefinished home, any calculation of shipping container homes cost is an estimate covering the following factors:
Cost of land and preparing the site for your container home.
Number of shipping containers and extra costs to modify.
Delivery and off-loading costs.
Cost of employing contractors for some or all the build.
Levels – multiple levels mean building stairs.
Regulation costs including permits, fees, and inspections.
Build quality – materials for finishes, floors, roof, and insulation.
Utilities, wiring, plumbing, and other infrastructure.
Part of the planning process is working out what you can afford within your budget. The total cost of a storage container home depends on your build quality and proposed design.

Consider Purchasing a Shipping Container Home Already Built. There are two types of shipping container homeowners – the enthusiastic designer and builder and the person who wants an affordable home with minimal effort.

A prefabricated home's massive advantages are that you know how much you will spend, get it delivered and ready to use, and meet local building codes. Shipping container homes for sale arrive prepared for occupation. You save time, and you minimize the risk that the costs on your affordable container home build will spiral out of control.

You contribute to the design decisions because you choose the modules, fittings, and finishes to suit your budget and style. You delegate the project management and installation. You provide the site, finance and accept the key to your new shipping container home.

Last Word

Container houses cover the whole range from single container cabins to five-bedroom container homes with a rooftop garden and container pool. You can self-build or commission the work depending on your inclination. Some people choose shipping container homes for affordability, and others because they want to design a spectacular home. You can be on-grid, off-grid, in the heart of a town, or on a mountain top – a shipping container helps you build quickly and to a high standard whatever your housing dreams.

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