Getting Started With Shipping Container Homes

Throughout the world, shipping containers have been used to build different kinds of structures. A simple Google search will show you what can be built from shipping containers. Shipping containers or cargo containers have been used to make a simple two-room house as well as a big shopping mall or even a huge housing colony. Some of the popular usages of shipping containers in the United States are Starbucks stores in Broadway, Chicago, and Aviation maintenance facilities for the United States Marine Corps. In Ukraine, the biggest shopping mall or organized market called “Tolchok” or the Seventh-Kilometre Market is made by stacking shipping containers. In Kyrgyzstan, the Dordoy Bazaar is made from double-stacked containers.

The following list will give you a basic idea of what the alternative uses of shipping containers are. Shipping containers have been used to make:

Affordable housing

Emergency hurricane shelters for thoroughbred horses

Fire training facility

Military training facility

Emergency shelters

School buildings

Apartment and office buildings

Artists’ studios


Moveable exhibition spaces on rails

Bank vaults

Medical clinics

Radar stations

Shopping malls

Sleeping rooms

Recording studios

Transportable factories

Modular data centres

Experimental labs

Combatant temporary containment



House foundations on unstable seismic zones

Elevator/stairwell shafts


Construction trailers

Mine site accommodations

Exploration camp

Food trucks

Hydroponics farms

Battery storage units

Permits You Need And Building Codes You Should Follow

You know what you can build from shipping containers and what the different types of cargo containers are. Now, you might be already thinking about building your own shipping container home? Sadly, you can’t build a shipping container home anywhere you want.

Before you acquire containers and start building your home, there are certain things that you need to know. You have to understand zoning regulations and building codes. These are two different things. Zoning regulations will state where a house can be built. For example, a commercial building cannot be erected in the area zoned as a residential area. Building codes are the standard regulations for building houses or commercial complexes. These regulations tell how a home or commercial complex should be built. Some of the common building codes for a shipping container home are:

The foundation type

The minimum floor area for each room

Minimum requirement for insulation

Energy efficiency of your home

And so on…

Have you built a home in the United States previously? If your answer is yes, it is very likely that you already know about the Department of Building Inspection. Just like a standard house, shipping container homes also come under the purview of Department of Building Inspection.

If you are building a container home and you don’t want any problem, check what kind of building codes you have to follow.  Steel is widely used in the industrial construction. However, steel is not very common for residential homes. Therefore, in some regions, you might encounter problems while obtaining building permits.

In the United States, some areas are classified as ‘outside of city zoning,’ which refers to the area exempted from the building permit regulations. If you are located in ‘outside of city zoning,’ you don’t need a permit for your container home.

Do you want to know whether there are any Shipping Container Zoning Permits and Building Codes in your area? The following States are considered to be the best places in the United States for shipping container homes:

Texas:  There are no strict building regulations in Texas, however, if you want to play safe, avoid building in large cities like Dallas and Austin. Rural areas will be better for shipping container homes. Texas is already glutted with numerous large shipping container homes.

California: California has strict rules for land use and new properties, however, it is also a progressive State. They approve tiny homes in certain cities. If you want a shipping container home in California, head north where the regulations are less strict.

Tennessee:  Generally speaking, Tennessee is one of the freest States in the US. There are no strict building regulations. If affordability is your primary concern, look for the land in the western part of Tennessee.

Louisiana: Zoning regulations are not very strict in Louisiana, which is often touted as the number 1 for land freedom. Shipping container homes are sprouting in Louisiana.

Missouri: With the reasonable land price, warm summers and mild winters, Missouri is one of the best places to live in the United States. The State is ideal for shipping container homes because the local zoning is quite loose. You don’t need building permits for shipping container homes.

Oregon: There are, of course, strict building regulations in Oregon, however, the state is also considered progressive when it comes to granting permit for alternative construction.

Alaska: Alaska is one of the best places in the United States for container homes. There are already many cargo homes in Alaska.

Perhaps, you are not in the US, but in Canada. Canada has different regulations. In Canada, the Building Code defines shipping containers as structures. Therefore, shipping container homes are subject to the same regulations as traditional buildings. If you want to place a shipping container on the residential property, you must provide the building department with a written description of how they intend to use it.

Just like with traditional home building, shipping container homes also require a building permit. However, if you happen to be located outside the zoning area, you may not need to follow aforementioned building codes. You should always stay safe by checking the building codes in your area. Building codes are different in different areas.

You also need insurance for your container home. Since container homes are earthquake and hurricane proof, getting insurance will not be that difficult.

Here is my little disclaimer: Always check with your local department of building inspection before building your home. Otherwise you could be in for a surprise.

Building Shipping Container

If you want to live in a shipping container home, you have three options.

Prebuilt shipping container homes

If you do not want to take the troubles of designing and customization, you can directly buy prebuilt shipping container homes. A simple Google search will help you find the marketplaces for prebuilt container homes. If you are buying a prebuilt small home, you can get it for around $15,000, and pay few more thousands to deliver the home to your location. If you are building a large container home, it can cost you as much as $215,000, which is still less than the traditional homes.

Procure shipping containers and build the home yourself

Building your home from the steel boxes is a hard work, however, it can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. If saving money is on your priority list, you can try this option. Building it yourself will give you a lot of freedom to make the home of your choice.

Find a contractor and ask him to build a container home for you

Building your own home, whether it is a traditional home or a container home, is very rewarding. However, building your own shipping container home is not a viable option for everyone. If you do not have any experience and knowledge, it can cost you a lot. In that case, finding a contractor and asking him to build a container home for you is the best option. If you want to hire a contractor, find contractors with experience.

Do some research and try to find a contractor in your area. Talk to the people who have already built container homes and ask for recommendations. If there are no contractors who have expertise in building container homes, don’t think that your dreams have shattered. Look online and try to find agencies or independent contractor who builds container homes.

How Long Will the Container Home Last

Now you know what shipping container or cargo containers have been used for and what are the different types of shipping containers, you might be wondering how long will the shipping containers home last?

An average life of a residential home is thought to be 40 years. You might ask, will the shipping container home last as long as the standard home?

In order to answer the question, we have to consider a couple of things, such as:

Is it a one-way trip container?

Is it a new container or one that has already been used for 8-12 years?

What kinds of materials were used to build the container?

What about rust and corrosion?

Perhaps, questions like these might be evolving in your mind.

Some cargo containers have been used multiple times before they are being sold for home making purpose? However, some containers have been used only once. The life expectancy of the later is higher than the former. Life of shipping container also depends on the material used to build the container.

A shipping container is made from special kind of steel Corten steel, which does not rust easily. Furthermore, the Corten steel is also given ceramic coating during the manufacturing process, which makes the container 100 percent rustproof. The ceramic coating also prevents mildew and mold and is highly antiseptic. These homes are hurricane proof and earthquake proof. Your container home can withstand 100 MPH winds and 175 MPH winds in the top. The shipping container homes are ten times safer against earthquakes than traditional homes. You can even bury one or more containers underground to make an underground shelter. 

Things to Consider Before Moving into a Shipping Container Home

Acquiring shipping container home, acquiring land and getting permit to build shipping container home and customizing the cargo containers into a living space are not enough, you also need to careful about water, electricity and other amenities you need

You need various kinds of utilities such as gas, water, and electricity in your home. Installing utilities in a container home is just like installing utilities in any traditional home. You can restrict plumbing in one, two or three locations (kitchen, dining room and bathroom) and minimize the cost. Installing gas in the kitchen is as simple as installing gas in a traditional home. You can do electrical wiring below the flooring and behind the drywall.

You can even go creative by installing solar panels on the roof and produce your own electricity or solar water heater.

If you do not have a civic water supply in your location, you can install water tanks and begin harvesting rainwater.

Interior Designs for Your Shipping Container Home

You have decided to build a container home. You tell this to your spouse. He/she might ask: Who wants to live in a home that looks like a Cargo Container?

Well, shipping container homes actually do not look like a shipping container. The containers are only the super-structure frames. You can cover the walls, floors, and ceiling with any surface, wood, stucco, vinyl siding, or anything. Furthermore, the cargo architecture is also becoming trendy. You can check online to see how a finished container looks like. You may not even recognize it as a shipping container.

Another question that you might face is: are container homes tall enough to comply with the building codes? The general requirement of a home is 8 feet tall. The shipping containers have 8.6 feet in height. You even have a better option to make your home taller by getting HC containers which are about 12 feet tall.

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