How to Build a Shipping Container Home: The Complete Guide

  • By: Promise
  • Time to read: 14 min.
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The complete guide on how to build a shipping container home:

  • Purchase a land
  • Obtain building permits and planning
  • Purchase containers for the building
  • Meet a shipping container home builder
  • Prepare the land
  • Build the foundation
  • Place the containers on the foundation
  • Cuts the openings needed for doors and windows
  • Install doors, windows, and framing
  • Wire the container home
  • Build a septic tank and install plumbing pipes
  • Insulate the container home for temperature control
  • Landscape the area and decorate it
  • Call inspection on the house

Building a shipping container home involves several procedures that may or may not be difficult. It is not something that can be done in a twinkle of an eye. There are several step-by-step procedures to follow to ensure you build a shipping container home that is acceptable by law.

However, the question now is, what are the steps to follow while building a shipping container home? In this article, we will explain the complete guide on how to build a shipping container home that is acceptable by law.

How to Build a Shipping Container Home

Here is the complete guide on how to build a shipping container home:

1. Purchase a Land

The first process of building a shipping container home is getting land where the container home will be built. This is because container homes cannot be built on air neither can they be built on government or someone else property.

Even if you wish to build your shipping container home on someone’s property or on government property, you have to secure the land first. By securing the land, I mean, getting approval to use the land for your container home from the landowner or the government for, without that, you may find yourself in big trouble.

Without first securing the land where you wish to build the container home, you cannot start other procedures explained in this article.

Moreover, there are many factors to consider when purchasing land to build a shipping container home. Personally, I would suggest you buy land in a location where it can be possible for you to erect a container building.

The reason for saying this is because even though most cities and states now allow the use of shipping containers as home, there may be an obstacle if you wish to build the container home in a particular location.

If for instance, you secure land to build a shipping container home in a location that the government has mapped out under urban development for skyscraper homes, you may not be allowed to construct a shipping container home in such location unless it’s going to be a skyscraper container home.

Therefore, the best way to find out is by contacting the local authority in charge of the location where you wish to purchase the land for your container home and inquire about the possibility of building a shipping container home in that location.

Even if you have already purchased land in the past and want to use it for the container home, you can still contact the local authority to be ensured.

Another way to know the possibility of building a shipping container home in that location is by checking if someone else has already erected a container home there. If there is, then, you don’t need to call any local authority to inquire. You can just proceed to the next procedure.

2. Obtain Building Permits and Planning

Even though many states now allow shipping container homes, these states mandate you to obtain planning permits before commencing building a shipping container home.

Whether you are in the US or the UK, a permit is necessary to build a shipping container home. People have often asked what will happen if one builds a shipping container home without a permit? It’s just like asking what will happen if while driving, you see the red traffic light and refuses to stop.

While some states may require you to obtain a planning permit before building a shipping container home, others may not. So the best way to find out is by contacting the Building Department. They are in the best position to tell you what to do and how to do it.

Some states may require you to draw a clear plan of the type of shipping container home you wish to build and submit for approval. Once the plan is reviewed and everything is OK, the permit will be granted.

However, it is important to note that sometimes, the authority may not grant you a permit. That is why obtaining a permit and have it stamped can take up to 4 months or more.

Even if the permit is not granted, you will be told why and if it is something that needs to be rectified in the plan, rectify it immediately and submit it back for approval. Once everything is in place, the permit will be granted to you.

Remember that you have to pay some money to obtain the permit. The cost to obtain the permit varies from one state to another and may even vary from one city to another. The Building Department will discuss that with you.

3. Purchase Containers Needed for the Building

What is a shipping container home without shipping containers? It won’t work. You need to purchase the number of shipping containers needed to build the container home.

The number of shipping container homes you need to purchase depends on the type of shipping container home you wish to build. Is it a 1, 2, 3, or 4 bedrooms shipping container home? The more the number of bedrooms you wish to have in the building increases, the more containers you need to buy for it.

A 20-foot shipping container is OK to build a shipping container home but the most recommended size of container needed for a shipping container home is the 40-foot high cube container. This is because these 40-foot high cube containers offer about 320 square feet of living space.

With one 40-foot high cube container, you can use have one decent bedroom, a decent bathroom, living room, and kitchen.

Buying shipping containers may or may not be too expensive. But if your dream is to build a shipping container home, then, you should not be afraid of the price of the container.

However, a used shipping container can cost between $1,800 to $2,500 while a new shipping container home can cost between $5,000 to $8,000 depending on the size you wish to buy.

While buying new shipping containers may sound like the best idea, it is still OK to use a used container for your home. But you must ensure the container was not used to carry harmful products/chemicals in the past.

If you wish to purchase used containers with the hope of using them to build a container home, please ensure that the containers were not used to carry harmful products in the past.

While those products are no longer in the container, they might still be harmful to humans if care is not taken. Let the sellers know what you want to use the containers for so they can give you one that is suitable for home building.

4. Meet a Shipping Container Home Builder

Since building a shipping container home involves a lot of work, you will be needing the services of a shipping container home builder to do the job for you.

Even if you are a builder or contractor, it is obvious that you cannot build a shipping container home from beginning to completion all by yourself. You will still need the services of a good builder.

There are many advantages of using a good container home builder for your container home. First of all, the builder must base on your location. If the builder’s office or workshop is not in your location, ensure the builder is in the same state where you want to build the home.

If the builder is in the same location as you, it will make it easier for them to access the site where the container home will be built. It will cut some unnecessary expenses and will help when getting a permit.

Moreover, using a shipping container home builder for your container home is total liberation for you. You will just relax knowing fully well that the construction of your new home is in good hands.

Also, most shipping container home builders equally sell shipping containers. With this, you can just purchase the container from them instead of buying it from another location.

At least, buying the containers from the builder is an assurance that you purchased the best shipping containers suitable for building a home.

Moreover, most shipping container home builders do not work on-site. You meet them and tell them how you want your home to be, they construct the home in their workshop and deliver it to you.

If you meet a container home builder that does not work on-site and purchase the containers needed for the building from them. It has saved you the cost of transporting the containers from other sellers to the builder workshop.

Another advantage of using a shipping container home builder for your container home is getting a permit.

As reiterated earlier, you must obtain a permit to build a shipping container home, and sometimes, the permit is hard to get especially if you don’t know your way to it. The builder can help you get the permit and save the stress for you.

Also, since being a registered custom home builder in the state/locality, there is a chance that the Building Department already knows them. So, this will help fasten the permit.

Also, most shipping container builders have an architect who works with them or under them. These architectures will ensure they draw a plan that is acceptable by law. They will follow all the building codes and zoning laws while drawing the building plan for you.

Peradventure an issue occurred or something needs to be rectified on the plan to obtain a permit, it will be easier for the company to correct the mistake and submit back the plan for approval.

The labor cost of these builders varies from one company to another and their location as well plays a very key role too. While others may charge higher, others may not. That is why you are advised to use a building company that is located in the same city or state where you wish to build the container home. It will cut down some expenses for you.

We have assembled the best shipping container home builders in different states and cities. If you are in any of the cities below, follow the link and choose a container home builder you think is suitable to build your home.

Nevertheless, if you don’t want to use a shipping container home builder, then you must have to hire the services of people that are good at cutting steel and making a home. No matter how you want it, you will still need the services of other people. You cannot do it alone.

5. Prepare the Land

Before your shipping containers or your shipping container home is delivered to the site, it is time you prepare the land and have it ready for what is coming. Of course, you can’t build a shipping container on land filled with grasses.

Preparing the land involves lots of things such as clearing all the bushes. Ensuring that there is no grass or weed on the space where the container home will be built. If possible, clear all the bushes that are close to the site so the place can be suitable for living.

Should inspectors come for inspection, they will be able to give you a go-ahead. You don’t want anything that will put a stop to the building process.

After clearing the grasses/weeds, you can level the land and make it OK. You can do this by pouring the sand on the land, though this depends on the kind of foundation you want to use for the home.

However, it is important to note that not all sand can be used to level the ground. Ensure you are using the right sand to avoid doing double work.

6. Build a Foundation

After the land is leveled, the next is the foundation. To build a foundation is to create a usually stone, wood, or concrete structure that supports a building from underneath.

By now, you must have been told by the building company building your house the type of foundation needed for the home. After the land is prepared, the next is to have the foundation prepared.

If the builders cannot build a foundation for you, you can get or have them recommend laborers that can construct the foundation for you. Make sure they are experts. Remember that this is the foundation of your dream home, you don’t want to give to anyhow laborers to do for you.

7. Place the Containers on the Foundation

After the foundation is completely constructed, you have to leave it for some days to dry especially if it is a stone or concrete foundation. After it is dried, you can start placing the containers on it.

The best way to place these containers in their respective position on the foundation is by using a crane and delivery truck.

Containers are heavy. Instead of hiring 100 hefty men to carry them for you, it is better to hire a crane and delivery truck to carry them for you.

You can hire them from any local builder close to the site or rent them for some hours. Ensure that all adjustments are made with a large crowbar after the container has been successfully placed on the foundation.

8. Cut the Openings Needed for Doors and Windows

This is where the construction begins in the containers. Since all homes are required by law to have both doors and windows, and even egress windows, you have to make some cuts to the containers to create these windows and doors.

While cutting openings for windows and doors, ensure that all measurements are correct. Do not make any mistakes. If you are not an expert in this, hire people who are experts in that field. Trust me, you don’t want to build a house with faulty windows and doors.

Moreover, if you wish to do the cuttings by yourself, you can get the necessary equipment needed for the cuttings such as a grinder, plasma cutter, or cutting torch to remove the entire wall, and jigsaw to cut small openings.

Before you start cutting, you need to first mark the places that need to be cut. Make the measurement and mark them. Do not make any mistakes. Remember that you don’t need to do it by yourself if you are not good at that. Hire professionals in that field to do it for you.

9. Install the Doors, Windows, and Framing

After the cuttings are made correctly, the next step is adding the doors and windows including the framing. By this time, the windows and doors are purchased and ready to be installed.

Framing your container home is important. You can make use of 1 1/2″ steel studs to frame your shipping container’s inside. The advantage of using the 1 1/2″ steel studs is that they will secure well to drywall coupled with the fact that they are stiff enough to handle the type of insulation you wish to use.

If the framing is something you cannot do by yourself, I suggest you hire people that can do it. Also, ensure to include a thermal break between the studs and the shipping container’s metal walls. I suggest you watch more videos online on how to frame a wall to be sure you are doing the right thing.

10. Wire the Container Home

Electricity is one of the social amenities that help make life more enjoyable than it is. What is life without electricity? That is why you need to wire the whole shipping container home and install all the sockets needed for the house.

While wiring the house, you can use that opportunity to install other electrical appliances needed in the house such as the HVAC systems and the air conditioners.

However, if you are afraid of the average electric bill of your home, you can choose to install Solar panels for electricity. Whichever one you wish to use, ensure they are installed properly to avoid fire outbreaks.

11. Build a Septic Tank and Install Plumbing Pipes

Septic tank is very important in every household. This is a place where all the things you flushed down the toilet are stored. You can build the septic tank to be somehow far but not too far from the container home and connect all the plumbing pipes needed to channels to waste to the tank.

12. Insulate the Container Home for Temperature Control

Insulating the shipping container home will help you with temperature control. The only downside of insulating the home is that it may cost you some living space but in the end, it is still worth it as it gives you the ability to control the temperature of the house.

There are different insulation types to be used here. You can either use the spray foam insulation type or the panels, whichever one you choose, ensure you do it right.

Also, if you wish, you can choose to insulate the exterior part of the shipping container home. If you are already very good at insulating, you will know what to do but if you are not, hire people that can do it for you.

13. Landscape the Area and Decorate it

Landscaping and decorating come after the container home building is almost done. This is where you add some decoration around your shipping container home. If it is possible, you can install beautiful flowers around your home. You can even install a deck to expand the living space.

While you are still decorating, ensure that the house is given the suitable paint it needs. Note that some paint colors can be soothing while others might give a negative vibe. If you like, you can use the same color paint for both the ceiling and the walls.

Install all the beddings needed in the bedroom, some art on the walls to beautify the house, and all the kitchen appliances needed. By now, the bathroom and toilet must be ready for use. Install all the bulbs needed and test everything out.

What about the furniture? Of course, your living room needs some good pieces of furniture such as a couch, TV, etc. Install them accordingly including the TV.

If you wish to use a bigger inch TV, I suggest you know the size before buying. Check the 60-inch TV dimension you wish to use for your living room and ensure it will fit on the wall.

14. Call Inspection on the House

Before moving into the house, you need to call for an inspector to inspect the house to be sure it is up to the building code. Once the inspection is done and all the sign-off is done, you can move into your new home.

However, before calling any inspector to inspect the house, please ensure you call an engineer or any good contractor to check the house for you to be sure that everything is in order.

While doing this, they might find some small mistakes that need to rectify. You can rectify them before officially calling for an inspector.

These are how to build a shipping container home: the complete guide. If you want more information on how you can building your shipping container home, you can consider getting a guidebook written by Robert Price on Amazon.

Final Thoughts

With the procedures on how to build a shipping container home: the complete guide explained on our website, it is obvious that you need experts to build the container home for you. That is why I suggest you give the construction work to a building company if you know you cannot do it yourself.

You can even choose to purchase an already built shipping container home from these builders and save yourself the stress. Whichever one you wish to do, ensure the building is up to the building codes for an inspector to mark the house suitable for human habitation.

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