How to Build or Buy a Shipping Container Home
Shipping container homes have gained popularity and come in various designs and color combinations. You’ve probably been dreaming or considering owning one after seeing it on TV, or reading about it online or seeing one in person.
But is this home right for you? There are many benefits to owning a container home. First, it’s very eco-friendly; by reusing the metal, you’re saving and lowering the demand for natural resources. Also, you’re preventing the containers from being melted down, which saves a massive amount of energy. Secondly, it can be built quickly and affordably. On average, it takes seven months to build a container home; at the very least, the total cost could range from $20,000-60,000, depending on your design. Third, shipping container homes are very sturdy and can withstand natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes. Lastly, if insulated correctly, it can keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer .
Building a shipping container home makes homeownership more attainable. Most container homes are built in rural areas, and some people choose to live off the grid in them. If you want something affordable and eco-friendly, then a container home is right for you.
In this article, you’ll learn how to build your own shipping container home, and how to order a container home kit if you don’t have building experience.
How to Build it Yourself
1. Have a Game Plan
In “How to Plan Your Shipping Container Home,” Tom Woods stresses the importance of having a budget. Figure out how much you can put towards your home; then, if necessary, find out how much you can borrow from a bank. These two amounts will be your total. Next, he recommends setting aside a 20% of the total budget as a contingency fund for unexpected costs. To calculate your contingency budget, multiply your total budget by 20% (.20).
Now that you have your budget, it’s time to start designing. Setting a budget first helps you create a design that is within your price range. To help you design, Woods suggests asking yourself questions regarding the purpose of the home and how many bedrooms and bathrooms you need. Asking specific questions will improve your design, and you’ll know how many shipping containers you’ll need to buy.
It’s crucial to have a design plan because it helps you decide what you want; and it gives you the flexibility to change your mind about any unwanted features. It doesn’t cost anything to remove features on paper, but it’s very costly to remove them during construction.
2. Get Inspired
Look for inspiration on the internet for how you want your home to look. But first, let’s go over some basic floor plans. The number of shipping containers you’ll need will determine your floor plan.
If you plan to live alone, then consider a one bedroom, one bathroom floor plan. This can be achieved with one 40ft. shipping container, giving you 320 sq ft. You can also achieve this floorplan by using two 20ft. containers for the same amount of square footage. If you use one 40 ft. container, your home would be like a wide hallway, and your furniture would be aligned against the walls. However, the other plan would resemble a square shaped, open floor plan.
The two bedroom, two bathroom floor plan is a good for those who want their own living space. This plan uses two 40 ft. containers; each container has its own bedroom, bathroom, sitting area and kitchen. If you don’t like this plan, consider having two bedrooms with an open floor plan. In this plan, you would have to share a kitchen and a living room, but each bedroom has its own bathroom.
For a three bedroom, three bathroom plan, you’ll need two 40 ft. containers. In this plan, each bedroom has its own bathroom, and there is a shared kitchen and living room. Next, is the Commercial Office floor plan. This is perfect if you’re starting your own small business. This plan can be achieved with two 40 ft. containers side by side, giving you 640 sq ft., allowing four work cubes seating two people. Overall, these plans are suggestions to let you know what’s possible. You can see theses floor plans and more here.
Now let’s think about outer designs. Despite being made of steel, container homes can look very modern and stylish; and you can find a ton of inspiration on social media sites like Pinterest. To help jumpstart your search, here’s a list of five modern shipping container homes.
- Grillagh Water House
- Adriance House
- Nomad Living
- McConkey Residence
- PV14 House
- Redando Beach House
You can visit here to see more homes and discover its designers.
3. Finding Land and Legal Permissions
In “How to Plan Your Shipping Container Home,” Woods explains how to find land, and he discusses zoning laws and permits. To find land, you can search online or talk to people who live in your desired area. To narrow your search, find a plot of land that’s no more than 15 miles across. This saves time by excluding sizes of land you don’t need.
If you’re unsure of where you want to live, Woods provides a list of the best places to build a shipping container home. These states are: Alaska, California, Tennessee, Texas, Louisiana and Missouri. Researching these states is a good starting point to help you on your search.
When you find a plot of land, find the local zoning or planning department. Zoning laws determine what homes and other buildings are allowed near each other. So, it’s important to know if you’re allowed to build a shipping container home in your desired location. Depending on your area, you may need a building permit, which could take some time to get. At this point, you may only have a rough idea of how you want your home to look. So you’ll need an architect to sketch a more detailed and stable design. Secondly, your design has to meet building code regulations, which determine if your home is safe to live.
You can use the Municode library to find the laws that apply to your city and state; or, type “building code and zoning laws” along with the name of your city and state in the search engine. This will generate links to your city’s government website. Overall, it’s important to do your research before buying land and doing construction work.
4. Buy New, Used or a One-trip Shipping Container?
By this point, you have your land and all of the legal work is squared away. Now it’s time to buy your shipping container(s). As you already know, there are standard 20ft. and 40ft containers. Containers can cost around $2,000-5,000, depending on its size, condition and where it’s purchased.
Search online for reputable local dealers. During this step, you should consider whether to buy your containers pre-modified, meaning the openings for the windows and doors are pre-cut. Once you’ve decided that, you should visit the dealer and see the container person–especially if it’s a used one. Don’t worry if you can’t find a local dealer. Just search online for some; to ensure their legitimacy, choose one that’s a member of the Intermodal Building Units Association (ISBU) or the Container Dealer’s Association (CDA). Overall, if the dealer has a good business history you’ll be fine.
The size container(s) you’ll need depends on your design plan. If you’re purchasing multiple containers, Woods suggests buying the same brand. Different brands can have slightly off measurements and building with them could be difficult.
Also, he recommends buying high cube containers, which provide an extra foot for head room. A standard container is 8 ft. and 6 in. tall; and with the floor and added insulation, you won’t have much space. To be on the safe side, consider buying a high cube container for the extra headspace.
When checking the overall quality of a shipping container, the ISBU Association provides a list of what to look for. Try to see the container in person if you can; if not, make sure the images you’re seeing are quality. If you choose to buy a used container, make sure the doors open, close and lock properly. Then check for corrosion. A little rust on the outside is normal, but make sure the metal isn’t thin or eaten way. Also, check for holes in the roof and floor; smell the inside to make sure it’s free from harsh chemical odors. More importantly, don’t buy a recently painted container because it could be hiding signs of damage.
To get a higher quality container at a cheaper price, Woods advises buying a one-trip container. A one-trip container has only been used once, and it’s just like buying a new one. Choosing to buy a new or one-trip container means your home will last longer than if you buy used. More importantly, buying a one-trip container lowers your chances of buying a contaminated shipping container. Regardless of what kind you buy, remove the plywood floor because it’s treated with pesticides and fungicides that’s toxic to humans.
5. Build Your Professional Team
More than likely, you have building experience, but you’ll need more help. You can find contractors by simply by asking around in the area you plan to live. Specifically, look for shipping container homes and ask the owner to recommend a contractor.Also you can find experienced builders through your local home builders’ association.
6. Site Preparation
Now that you have your team, it’s time to get to work. According to hometuneup.com, you need to prepare the site, by providing utilities, such as gas lines, electricity, septic tanks, storm drains, plumbing and sewerage. When that ground work is done, lay the foundation. You can pick the traditional concrete block, crawl space or a basement. The concrete block is the cheapest option. Crawl space is a good choice if you can’t have a basement, but still want a bit of storage space. If the soil conditions allow you could get a basement, which provides more storage space.
7. Container Alterations
Now it’s time to cut some holes in your container(s). If it’s already been pre-modified, then you’re good to go. If not, you’re going to need something to cut through the metal. Hometuneup.com recommends using either a Plasma Cutter, Cutting Disk or a Reciprocating Saw. You could choose the Plasma Cutter if you want to finish quickly; however, the tips of these can easily burn out, and it’s expensive to replace. A Cutting Disk will do the trick, but be cautious of sparks and flying metal debris; so use the appropriate, protective eye gear with this tool.
The Reciprocating Saw, will get you through the job without burning out so easily. If you choose this tool, make sure you have one that’s industrial strength. If you’re not skilled with these tools, don’t worry, someone on your team will be. A structural engineer will ensure that any alterations won’t weaken or disrupt the home’s overall structure.
Now that the alterations have been made, it’s time to attach the container(s) to the foundation, and stack them according to your design plan. At this point, the house is set up, and it’s time to install skylights, doors, windows, insulation and ventilation.
When you insulate your home, Closed Cell Foam can be placed on the inside and outside walls. This kind of insulation keeps out against heat, cold and moisture. To prevent overheating, reflective paint can be used to block UV rays, especially during the summer. Finally, install your utilities such as electric wiring, plumbing and gas inside the home, which will align with the underground work that was done previously.
8. Inspection and Sign-off
At last, your home set up, and now it’s time to move in. But before you get too comfortable, you’ll have to get an inspection to make sure it meets your local building code.
Ordering a Container Home Kit
If building isn’t your thing, container home kits can be ordered online. There are many companies that manufacture prefabricated homes. These homes are constructed off site, then shipped to you in pieces to be assembled. You can also find manufacturers by googling container home kits. The overall cost of your home depends on many factors such as land, permit fees and the actual home itself. At the least, a home could cost around $20,000-40,000.
The company you choose will determine the buying process. Regardless of which one you choose, the company will offer various shipping container home plans. Choosing the prefab route to build a container home is less of a hassle, because the company will guide you. However, there are a few things to know that will help you search for container home kits.
1. Find the Right Company for You
In your search, you’ll find that some companies design traditional houses, and some sell shipping container homes. Also, companies may only serve certain areas. So find out if your company can deliver to your location.
2. Understand Your Company’s Pricing Model
It’s important to know what services are included in the plan you choose to buy. Some shipping container home plans may include some services but exclude others, such as transportation and assembling the home on site. Also if your company has customization options, this may result in added fees. Overall, knowing what you’re paying for and what’s included in your plan will help you make the best decision.
3. Find Land
You can’t build a container home without having somewhere to build it first. Also make sure you can legally build there, by checking with your local zoning or planning department. Depending on your company, you should receive some guidance on this.
4. Financing Your Home
If you’re unable to pay cash for everything, be sure to discuss your financing options with your company and your bank. Financing information is available on modularhomeowners.com and through the Federal Housing Administration. Also, to ensure that your home isn’t a financial nightmare, have a budget and stick to it. If you have to borrow money, borrow as less as you can. Container homes are more affordable than traditional houses, but don’t get carried away.
Overall, there are many benefits to owning a shipping container home, such as eco-friendliness, affordability, fast and off-site construction and the ability to withstand natural disasters. Hopefully, you’re excited to learn more about shipping container homes. So watch videos about building a container home. Be inspired and find your dream design, and then go make that dream a reality.