Thinking of building a shipping container home, but not exactly sure how to start? You’ve come to the right place. Each year, a growing number of Boxhub customers transform their shipping containers into full-time homes or accessory dwelling units (ADUs). And while buying a shipping container is an important part of your construction project, it’s only one step of this ambitious process.
To better understand how to build a shipping container home step by step, read this guide below.
Do Your Research
The first step to building a house from a shipping container is research. Every state and city will have specific building regulations that you’ll need to follow when planning a new construction — this includes building a shipping container home. Look up what regulations you’ll need to follow and what building permits you’ll need to apply for ahead of time. If you are unsure about how to get started, there are many online courses that can provide you with everything you need to feel confident in building your dream container home. We recommend Alternative Living’s Container Home Builder Masterclass, you learn all about it here.
Purchase the Land
You may be wondering: Where can I build a shipping container home? Building a shipping container house will be easier in a rural area, where you’re more likely to encounter empty plots of land. Rural areas can also be easier for shipping container delivery since they offer plenty of space to maneuver.
The only pitfall with a rural area is that it may not be zoned for residential living. It might be “raw land,” meaning it doesn’t have ready-made connections to sewer systems or the electrical grid. Adding these connections will increase your construction costs.
In urban areas, utilities will be easier to set up, but it will also be more challenging to find an empty plot of land to build on. You may need to tear down an existing house.
If in doubt, speak to a real estate agent who can support you with finding a property that works for your construction plans.
Once you’ve done your research and purchased your land, you can shop for your shipping containers! If you’re building a tiny home, you may only need one container. If you’re planning a larger, multi-level build, you will need multiple containers.
Regardless of the scale of your home construction project, we recommend choosing new “one-trip” shipping containers as the basis of your build. One-trip containers have only transported a single load of dry goods across the ocean. As a result, they require no upfront maintenance or painting.
For a detailed breakdown of all the container sizes and grades available to you, consult our container buying guide.
Prepare the Land
Before you get your shipping containers delivered, survey the area to find the best spot to build on. You may also need to grade the land to ensure its level. Then, create a solid foundation. The foundation will add further stability to the structure and stop moisture from getting inside your container.
Have Your Shipping Container Delivered
Once the land is ready, you can have your shipping container delivered. Boxhub’s drivers conduct a thorough inspection of your container(s) before loading the container at the depot. However, when the driver arrives, ensure you also do a quick inspection of the container to confirm it’s the size and condition you have purchased.
Start the Construction Process
Now it’s time to start building your shipping container home. Whether you hire contractors to conduct the work or take on the project yourself, constructing a container home typically includes the steps below.
All shipping containers come with large swing doors on one end. While these doors are ideal for loading and unloading cargo, you may prefer to use this valuable floor space differently in your container home. Luckily, shipping containers are easy to modify. Boxhub can even provide ready-to-weld man doors — in addition to windows, vents, and more — to bring function and light to your container home.
Add a Roof
Your shipping container will be delivered with its standard flat roof intact. However, you may want to install a sloped roof on your container home if you live in an area with frequent precipitation. A sloped roof will divert rain away from your foundation during the spring, summer, and fall. In the winter months, it will prevent snow from piling up and weighing down the top of the container.
Frame the Interior
While the structural integrity of a shipping container is strong, it loses some of that integrity when you cut openings into the sides. You (or your contractor) may need to reinforce some of the structure with steel beams. This is particularly important when stacking containers on top of each other.
When the structure is deemed stable, it’s time to start framing the interior. These frames will support the new walls of the container, which will hide your electrical work, plumbing, and insulation from view. You can also drill into these walls without affecting the “building’s envelope.”
At this stage, you will want to add electrical and plumbing components into your shipping container home so that it’s fully functional.
Depending on the climate in your area, this step could include the installation of solar panels on your container home’s roof. The number of solar panels that can be installed on your roof will depend on the wattage and thickness of the panels. As a rule of thumb, however, you can expect to fit 6 solar panels on top of a 20ft shipping container, and up to 12 panels on a 40ft shipping container.
Insulate Your Container
Insulation is a very important step in building a shipping container home. Without insulation, you will have very little climate control inside your home. You also won’t be able to control condensation coming through the walls, which can cause problems like water damage, mold, and mildew.
Add insulation between the container walls and interior walls. Install a vapor barrier between these to combat condensation and moisture build-up.
When you add entrances to any openings in the container, like windows, doors, and skylights, ensure they’re sealed so that water and air leaks don’t make their way inside.
Drywall, Flooring & Carpentry
Once you have added insulation to your container home, you can put up the interior walls and install the flooring. At this point, you can also install cabinets, countertops, and other wooden features. If you’ve created a “tiny home,” you may want to install built-in furniture like murphy beds and tables to conserve space.
It’s time to wipe down the interior walls and ceilings to create clean surfaces. Then, add coats of your preferred primer and paint. You can also begin installing appliances like refrigerators, stoves, and washing machines inside your shipping container home.
The next step is to move your belongings into your new shipping container home. Did you know that a shipping container can help you on moving day? Yes, a moving shipping container can help you transport all of your belongings (including vehicles) to your brand-new home if you have too much to fit in a single moving truck.
If you’ve created a tiny home, you may even consider keeping your moving container for additional storage without cluttering your main living space.
Is It Cheaper to Build a Shipping Container Home?
So, how much do shipping container homes cost? The amount you spend on your shipping container house will depend on the type of home you want to create. For example, building a tiny home from a single shipping container will certainly be cheaper than your traditional brick-and-mortar home. Some estimates suggest that you can build your own container home for as little as $25,000 — dramatically lower than the national average house price for 2022, which sits at just over $428,000.
Ready to get started? Alternative Living Spaces offers a comprehensive masterclass where you’ll learn professional trade secrets, receive detailed instructions, and take home comprehensive, actionable content. Learn more for yourself, here.