Building a Shipping Container Home
You may have seen previous posts about building a shipping container home. Setting up such a structure is relatively quick, cheap, and is sure to turn some heads in the neighborhood. If you’re considering building a shipping container home, or just interested in what’s involved, check out this guide to building one. There are a few more steps involved besides getting the container ordered and shipped to your location.
Pros and Cons
First, here is a quick list of pros and cons for using shipping containers as a building material:
- Strong material
- Steel is fireproof
- Compact and modular
- Can be built quickly
- Interesting and different style of architecture
- Building shape options are limited
- Harder to find knowledgeable builders
- Harder to get approval
- Steel is more difficult to work with than wood
Permits and Order Forms
Next is a step-by-step guide to the process of building a shipping container home. Many of these steps resemble (or are identical to) the process of building a regular house out of wood, brick, or stone, but some of the steps are very different.
There are regulations in place that affect anything you want to build on your land. Since a shipping container home isn't the norm, it can be tricky to make sure you get the right paperwork and approvals. Contact your local building authorities to get more information on the process you will need to perform, since it varies by location. There will be initial construction documents and permits to acquire. Then you can use theses documents to help with pricing and help the contractors with construction. Further clarification documentation may be necessary as the project proceeds.
While filling out forms and getting permits, you need you decide how large of a building you want to make. Shipping containers come in standard sizes, but you can combine them together to make more rooms. Often, houses built from these containers include 3-4 units. However, if you want a more compact house, a cabin, or a shed, you could go with 1-2 units. You'll also need to choose which company to use for ordering the containers, depending on your location and pricing.
As with any other type of structure, the first step towards creating your shipping container home is to build a foundation and set up utilities. A typical slab-style foundation works well for shipping container homes. If you’re going with a 3-unit design, about 1000 square feet should cover it. During the process, a perimeter is excavated and filled with gravel to help with drainage. Panels are added to provide more insulation and waterproofing. Then, utilities such as water, electric, and gas are established and run to the locations that make sense for your desired room layout. Finally, the foundation is completed with compacted soil, gravel, rebar, and the slab itself.
Shipping containers are built to be extremely strong and durable. However, they are monocoque structures, meaning that every aspect of their walls, floor, ceiling, doors, beams, frame, and rails work together to provide its resilience. Any time you modify the structure by adding holes or removing parts, the structure is weakened. Because of this, it’s important to consult a structural engineer before making the modifications necessary to turn your shipping containers into a home. Often if you make changes such as removing a panel, the structural integrity can be maintained by adding supports elsewhere.
It’s much more difficult to manipulate steel than wood or other softer building materials. It takes special tools and a lot of effort to make changes to a steel shipping container. Because of this, you should look into getting modifications done by the company you are ordering the materials from, since they tend to have the right tools and knowledge to get the job done. Otherwise, you will either need to know what you’re doing with steel-working yourself, or hire a competent contractor to do the job on-site.
When the containers arrive, they will need to be lifted by crane into place. Then they are secured and welded into place onto the foundation and attached to each other. Since the containers are so strong, they should only need to be fastened at each corner in order to hold securely.
After the units have been delivered, modified, and secured into place, there are several steps to go before you have a comfortable shipping container home. Windows and doors need to be installed into the holes that were made for them. All openings should be framed with steel, and rectangular openings work best. The normal steps are taken to finish off windows and doors, including framing, flashing, thermal breaks, and glazing.
After these steps have been taken and you have an enclosed structure, you need to finish off the interior, which also works similarly to regular houses. Framing, insulation, heating and cooling, plumbing, and electrical systems should be installed, including all of the necessary fixtures. Supertherm ceramic coating is often used to help insulate a shipping container home. Floors are built with plywood, then can be covered with the desired tile or carpet. Walls and room partitions can be finished with drywall like a regular house. After all of this, the only remaining steps are to finish installing fixtures inside and grade and landscape the yard outside.
As with any other house, a final inspection is necessary. These are done with contractors and building officials that are qualified to sign off on the integrity of the architecture, foundation, plumbing and electrical, and fire safety. A final checklist is created and gone over one-by-one, and after everything has been given clearance, you will receive a certificate of occupancy for your shipping container home!
If you want to hear first-hand accounts from people who have already build their own shipping container home, check out this link. It’s an interesting read and gives great insight into the process.
Now that you know a bit more about building a shipping container home, what do you think? Would you consider building one for yourself?