5 Essential Things to Do Before Building a Shipping Container House

Shipping container homes are more popular than ever.

And with good reason. They’re economical, better for the environment, and have a sound structure. These tiny houses are incredibly durable, and offer owners flexibility, especially in places where it is difficult to construct traditional housing, like on slopes and steep hills.

There are a lot of options to choose from for your shipping container house’s design, size, and structure. Shipping container homes can be designed to show off your unique personality, and they can be custom-made to align with your values and your housing needs. While traditional housing may seem out of reach for many prospective buyers, the tiny house movement is making the dream of homeownership accessible for millions.

Shipping container homes offer many unexpected benefits for their owners:

  • Energy efficiency
  • Green living
  • Unique, affordable housing option
  • Quick to build
  • Portability
  • Durability

Building a shipping container home is an excellent option for many prospective homeowners. If you’re considering building a home out of a shipping container, then there are five things you must know when it comes to purchasing, planning, and working with a contractor. While shipping container homes are subject to the same building codes and regulations as traditional housing, there are several significant differences you need to know. We’ve put together a guide on the top 5 most important things you must consider when you plan on building a shipping container home. Read on to learn more about building one of these unique and affordable homes.

1. Commit to One Contractor

Unless you’re an expert builder, you’ll need a contractor’s expertise when you build your shipping container home. While the upfront cost of hiring a contractor may discourage you, in the long run, you’re going to save a ton of time and money by hiring a contractor who has a lot of experience working with shipping container homes.

Find a contractor who can deal with the moving, placing, modifying and designing both the inside and outside of your container home. Putting together an affordable, aesthetically pleasing, functional and comfortable shipping container home is like putting together a puzzle. It takes experience, and communication to get it right.

You’ll save money by hiring a specialist who is experienced with the inside and outside of shipping container house construction. They’ll be familiar with the design and implementation for both the interior and exterior of your house. Hiring the right contractor is like working with an architect and designer all in one. You’ll save money, time, and sleep when you know you can trust the person you hire to handle the building and designing of your tiny dream house.

2. Obtaining the Containers

You have the design you want, and you know how many containers you need. That’s all well and good, but before your contractor can purchase the containers, there are a couple of things to consider.

The first is the size of your shipping containers. Not all are the same size. The standard shipping container house size is the 8-foot tall model. But, it’s possible to order containers with an extra foot or more in height. Although a slightly higher container will cost a bit more than the standard size, this can make a difference in comfort if you’re planning to insulate your shipping container home. And you should plan to insulate.

Unfinished shipping containers are incredibly hot in the summer and freezing in the winter. Hardly anyone lives in a year-round, temperate climate. Also, extreme temperature swings can damage the interior systems in your shipping container home and potentially damage your possessions. Plus, a lack of insulation makes for very uncomfortable living. One of the biggest appeals to tiny house living is decreased energy consumption and cost. A lack of insulation will void the savings you may hope to gain here.

Adding insulation during the construction process will be easier and cheaper than doing it once the construction is finished. Of course, you’ll want to account for the loss of interior living space when you do put in insulation.

Remember, you will have to insulate the walls, floor, and the roof. Spray foam insulation can be sprayed directly onto the wall, but blanket-style insulation will need to be placed inside an interior stud wall. If you want to go green, you can use sheep’s wool for insulation or even add a ‘green’ roof to your shipping container home. A green roof will offer significant energy savings too. They reduce heat flux and keep the inside warmer during cold weather. Again, consider your intentions for how you’ll insulate and save on energy costs by discussing it with your contractor beforehand. They’ll know what size of shipping container you’ll need.

One great thing about working with a contractor is that you don’t have to purchase the container yourself. You can rest assured that an experienced contractor will know how to source for affordable and durable shipping containers. They’ll also get the perfect size containers for your needs, but you have to make those needs clear. Consider the standard size, and what your plans are for insulation when you discuss your shipping container house size with the
contractor.

3. Know the Codes

Before you set up shop, owning the land doesn’t mean you can build anything you want anywhere you want.

Some cities and townships have restrictions against shipping container homes. It’s always a good idea to be clear about building codes and regulations before beginning the construction.

Also, you’ll need to secure the proper permits. Even though a house built from a shipping container is incredibly different than traditional housing, it’s still considered a dwelling. Dwellings are all subject to building codes and permits, regardless of their material, or size. You’ll need to account for permits for plumbing and electrical work, too. If you fail to pull the proper permits, you could get into hot water with the local government, and you may be unable to sell your shipping container house in the future. A building that isn’t up to code won’t inspire confidence in a buyer, either.

4. Plan for Plumbing and Electrical Work

Plan ahead for plumbing and electrical work. It’s a good idea to have your contractor cut the necessary holes for the pipes and wiring before they stack and arrange the containers.

You should discuss with your contractor ahead of time where you want the kitchen and the bathroom located. An experienced contractor will understand where to allocate space for the increased plumbing and electrical needs.

Don’t forget about the insulation. The material you want for the insulation and any modifications to the shipping container house for bathroom and kitchen placement should be discussed with your contractor ahead of time. A failure to plan and thoroughly communicate your needs can lead to costly mistakes and renovations down the road.

5. Construct with Care

The long walls of shipping containers are load-bearing. That’s great if you want to stack them. If you need to cut into them, you will need to compensate. You can’t cut into a shipping container without taking care to reinforce the cuts with steel beams. A failure to strengthen the cuts means your shipping container house will be structurally unsound and potentially dangerous to live in. While it’s true that you can cut in windows and doors in a shipping container, they must have the proper reinforcements.

Also, try to avoid unnecessary welding. If you’re using more than one container, you’ll need to weld them together, but it’s expensive. By adequately planning, you can avoid costly, unnecessary welds and potentially dangerous cuts. Make sure you discuss the layout you want for your shipping container house, and where you would like the windows and doors with your contractor far in advance.

Before You Build a Shipping Container House

There have been so many times when people with shipping container houses have said, “I wish I had known!” Well now you know, so you’re several steps ahead of the game. Always thoroughly research the area where you plan to build. And absolutely make sure that a shipping container house is compliant with local ordinances and state building codes. Finding an experienced contractor who specializes in building shipping container houses, and thoroughly discussing your wants and needs for your dream home will prevent costly mistakes from happening.

Choosing to build and live in a shipping container house is an affordable and sustainable option to secure your housing needs. Armed with information, you’re on your way to having the home of your dreams. One that’s beautiful, eco-friendly, and economical.

If you’re ready to get started on your shipping container home, contact us today!