9 Things to Consider Before Building a Container Home

July 27, 2018

*Photo credit: Dwell.com

A Few Things You Might Need to Know

A lot of people are building with shipping containers around the world. It seems like a practical, and easy idea; plus, you are able to upcycle something that would otherwise sit in a field. They are built tough and made to withstand all sorts of weather, plus dings and scratches. They are even created to have a rust coating that is made to make them stronger over time. It seems like nothing about them is a bad idea for using them to build a tiny home, or even larger, more complex homes.

They are modular, and come in quite a few standard sizes. They aren’t too expensive, and they are pretty easy to find and buy. And when you do a Google search for “container homes” there are over 440 Million results. At the time of this post, in fact, there are 447,000,000 results for “container homes”. Everyone knows people are building with shipping containers. So why shouldn’t you do the same?

With a lot of research on how to build correctly with a shipping container, there are still a ton of issues that people run into during their build. This list of 10 things you should know before you start the process of building a container home will help you stay away from some of them:

9 Things You Need to Know Before You Build a Container Home

  1. Building permit and processes. Traditional house building has been around for, well, ever. There are processes and permits to make sure that houses are built safe and healthy, but container homes are relatively new, meaning that not all places have the same permitting or requirements. Be sure to find out yours before you even do anything else.
  2. Insulating. When you do dive into building with shipping containers, you’ll realize how difficult it is to insulate the containers. They simply weren’t built to be homes, but people have figured out how to make it happen. Be sure to work with someone that has built with containers before and you will probably eliminate some of those problems.
  3. Sun on the roof and heat. Another issue that you’ll run into with container homes is that the sun on the roof can be hot. Really hot. This gets inside the container and heats up the whole thing. There are a few ways to alleviate this, including painting the container a lighter color and insulation. Ask you contractor how they intend to help with that problem before it comes up.
  4. See the container first. Not everyone’s idea of a “good looking” shipping container is the same. To industry insiders, that see the containers day in and day out, a few dings or chipping paint may be a pretty good looking used container; perfect for anything you want to do with it. To someone that wants a pretty clean looking exterior for their container home, dings are bad. Just be sure to take a trip to where the container is and look at it for yourself to prevent this problem.
  5. Unexpected heat, wind, cold, rain, etc. problems. Again; containers were not built to be houses so they get cold and hot inside really easily. They are noisy when it’s windy or rainy, and if you don’t put them somewhere where water drains away, they could rust faster (because they do still rust and rot away). All of this can be taken care of when you do your research and work with experienced builders.
  6. You need contractors that know how to work with containers, inside and out. If you remove a panel for a window, you’ll need to compensate somewhere else because those side wall panels are load bearing. If you work with someone who doesn’t understand that, you’ll likely have an unsafe building and spend more money fixing it. So before doing anything at all, find someone knowledgeable to work with.
  7. Welding can be expensive. With all the other costs you already need to worry about, just be aware that if you plan to cut and weld a lot, it can drive costs higher, for those that don’t know how to weld themselves or have friends or connections that do.
  8. Don’t cut into the containers too much (if you don’t need to). If you cut into the side wall panels, you’ll have to compensate somewhere because they are load bearing walls. The less cutting you do on the containers, the better, so you don’t lose the structural integrity (another reason to work with a knowledgeable contractor!)
  9. Have a game plan. Plan ahead for mistakes and delays and make sure you have extra cash to complete your container home project for when things do go wrong or steps get missed.

While traditional housing is easier to build and pricing can be higher, at least it’s something that can be easily done without too many unforeseen problems. Building a container home isn’t that straight-forward, so it takes patience and research. If you are prepared to go into the project with all of this in mind, you will most likely be rewarded by a complete container home ready to live in!

Other Materials You Can Upcycle

There are other materials you can up cycle as well. That’s the main reason most people want to use shipping containers for a house; to recycle, reduce, and reuse! However, people are constantly reusing reclaimed items for up cycling all the time. Everything from an old house can find a new purpose in a new home, even things like railroad ties can be used to create a sturdy exterior. Here’s a list of items that people have used and are finding uses for everyday to up cycle with:

  • Doors.
  • Reclaimed wood.
  • Pallets.
  • Soda bottles.
  • Railroad ties.
  • Reclaimed and melted down tin.
  • Windows.

Other Ways to Use Shipping Containers

Maybe you’ve decided not to build that shipping container home after all, it doesn’t mean they can’t be used for other things. In fact, we’ve built many mobile offices out of containers, so we know they are versatile. And there are plenty of things you can still build with shipping containers. Swimming pools, pop up shops, and garages are things that some people have built from theirs. They are great for plain old storage on your property if you have the room for it. Here is a list of other uses for shipping containers:

  • Covered seating
  • Artwork
  • Fencing or walls
  • Hunting blind
  • Corral with storage

Really, shipping containers can be turned into a variety of things that don’t involve completely changing what they are. Build some really heavy duty fencing or walls along your property with a line of containers. Build a corral with storage for your ATVs or other small motor vehicles with a large circle of containers, leaving one or two facing outward to store things in and place a gate or fence in between. A simple “carport” can be created by placing two containers side by side with enough width for your vehicles and then stack a few more on top, perpendicular to the two on the ground. They were made to stack, so as long as you place them correctly (don’t get creative, just put them flat on top of each other), you’ll be just fine!

Of course, if you do plenty of research and you’re willing to make some compromises, you can still build a container home! Just be prepared and you’ll be just fine!

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