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The Complete Guide: How to Build a Shipping Container Home in 2020

Ah yes, the allure of the shipping container lifestyle.

Minimalist living. Off the grid.,

Nothing’s better, right?

Many agree…

It’s becoming a hot trend, notability in the US.

So are you looking to DIY your own?

Then this article is for you!

The scope of this article is to shed more light on the legality of owning one, and also a guide for building your own shipping container home. 

Before You do Anything, Read This Complete Guide.

How to build a shipping container home the complete guide
House Built Using Shipping Containers

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.

Below are the things to consider before building your home:

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.

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.

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
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.

Hiring Professional For More Technical Cases (If Needed)

Hiring a contractor to oversee some technical aspects when building a shipping container home is very important. This is similar to cases where there’s no other choice than to use a pile foundation method; you will surely need an expert in that area because of the necessary equipment needed to execute the task.

Aside from that, it is not logical to dive into something you have no experience with, so hiring a professional to do the job is the best decision you can make. If you feel you don’t have to do anything, then you can hire more than one contractor to help you with everything needed to complete your DIY home.

But the best way to save time and money is by hiring just a contractor who is experienced in everything that has to do with building a home from shipping containers.

Roofing and insulation

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.

Ways You Can Insulate Your Container Home

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Read our other step by step container home tutorial here.

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, 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 containers 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! Now What?

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?

If yes, we pointedly recommend the Build a Container Home Book.

Build Container Home Book

You can DIY this alone if you want…

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

If so, read our review of the BCH program here.