Six Things To Know Before Building With Containers

Plan & Budget

6 Things You Must Know Before Building a Shipping Container Home Blog Cover

Constructing a shipping container home is an exciting and rewarding endeavor, but it can also be a challenging undertaking.

Shipping containers are unique as building materials go. As such, they have their own confounding issues as well as fascinating advantages.

This article addresses key things you need to know before you construct a container home and is supplementary information to the common mistakes to avoid article.

Not All Containers Are Equal

One of the first things you need to know when you begin to think about constructing a shipping container home is that these containers are not all the same. There are multiple types of shipping containers. The most common types used for buildings are high cube, standard, and refrigerated.

Old Rusty Shipping Containers

In addition to determining the type of shipping container that will be best in a given situation, you will have to decide on the condition of the container that will be most appropriate for your situation. Shipping containers are available to be purchased as new, used, and one trip containers.

We interviewed shipping container homeowners, to ask them what is the primary thing they wish they had known before constructing their shipping container home. Surprisingly, an overwhelming number of people said that they wish they had known about high cube containers.

High cube containers are basically the same dimensions as standard containers but they are an additional foot taller. The high cube containers are approximately 50% more expensive than standard containers. Most agree, though, that this extra foot of height is indispensable, especially if you are insulating the floor of your container.

Read shipping container types for more information.

Research Local Planning Laws and Building Regulations

No matter whether building a shipping container home or a traditional building, it is always necessary to know the local regulations. Failing to do this research in advance can spell disaster. It is especially important when constructing shipping container homes since not all localities have addressed these issues before.

Not Researching Local Planning Regulations

Recently in England, Robert Fidler was forced to take down his $1.5 million house because he didn’t seek planning approval before building it. To avoid encountering a disastrous situation such as this, always start your project by researching your area. Investigate whether there are any nontraditional buildings already there. If so, someone before you has fought the battle.

If you don’t find a container home, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t construct one. Perhaps nobody has tried before!

Once you’ve planned your build, but before construction has begun, go to the local planning office. At this meeting, you can determine how receptive they are to the idea. Without prior experience with shipping container homes, some will need more persuasion than others.

The only time you don’t need planning permission is when you’re outside of your city’s zoning laws. In this case, you generally have the freedom to construct a container home, providing the structure is safe. We still recommend speaking your with your local planning office to confirm you are truly outside the zoning limits.

Don’t Change Your Design During Construction

One of the biggest reasons why all types of homes take longer to build and cost more than expected is because the design gets changed while the building is being constructed. The time to change your design is during the planning stage. It is important to commit to your final design before you begin construction.

Remember that when building with shipping containers, when you remove a wall from the container, it’s gone. It is incredibly expensive and time consuming to replace the wall again once you’ve cut it out.

Make sure you do as much research as possible and ideally, visit several container homes before you commit to your design. A good architect will not only produce the 2D elevations, but also they will produce 3D elevations. This will help give you a sense of the space in your new building.

A tip from one of our readers was to build a model with Lego blocks.

Don’t Cut or Modify The Containers Too Much

Like most building materials, shipping containers can be used to build anything from inexpensive homes through million-dollar homes, and everything in the middle. However, most people decide to use shipping containers because of the cost savings benefits.

Maintaining as much of the container’s structural integrity as possible will save money. Any time you cut steel out of your containers, it costs you both time and money. Not only do you have to pay someone to remove steel from your containers, you will also likely also need to pay for the opening to be reinforced with a steel beam.

If you look at the cheapest container homes built, one thing they have in common is that they have not modified the containers extensively. Of course, openings for doors and windows have been cut, but they haven’t removed large sections from the walls of the containers.

Choose Your Insulation Wisely

When constructing a shipping container home, not only do you want your insulation material to insulate your building, you also want it to create a vapor barrier to prevent moisture from entering your containers.

For this reason, the most popular choice of insulation for shipping container homes is spray foam insulation.

Not only is spray foam insulation thinner than insulation panels, if applied correctly, it also acts as a vapor barrier.

You would generally spray the interior walls and the exterior base of the container. These two layers combined generally offer more than enough insulation.

The only drawback of using spray foam insulation is that it is more expensive than some other types of insulation.

If your budget is extremely tight, you can still choose other insulation, remembering though that the others don’t provide the same vapor barrier that spray foam provides.

Finding Contractors Can Be Difficult

People use contractors because they don’t have either the time or the skills to construct the building themselves. This applies to traditional buildings as well as shipping container homes.

Since shipping container homes are still relatively new to the mainstream, the number of contractors who specialize in this type of construction is still somewhat limited.

Obviously, if you intend on self-building, this isn’t a problem.

Some have emailed us asking if we can suggest contractors to them. Our recommendation though is for you to try and manage the build yourself. Bring in separate contractors for the various tasks where you need help such as for welding and electrical work. This approach will help save you money and will give you experience plus an incredible amount of satisfaction.


After reading this article, you are now in good shape to begin your shipping container adventure.

Be sure to read how to plan your shipping container home as you go forward with your project.

As a reminder, not all shipping containers are equal. Like other products, different manufacturers produce different quality containers. Also, high cube containers are generally the first choice for building homes or offices.

There are multiple types of insulation material available, but we generally recommend closed-cell polyurethane spray foam for most applications.

Have you constructed a shipping container home?  What is the most important thing you think you need to know before you build a container home?  Leave a comment below. 

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