How to Build Your Shipping Container Home the Right Way

Design & Build


Shipping container homes have really increased in popularity over the last few years. From tiny container homes to large 5 bedroom homes, it is quite interesting to watch this evolution.

With this interest, there has also been a rise in the number of people offering advice.  Unfortunately, we have read some poor advice and some inadequate advice. Some advice, at a minimum, could make your building less comfortable but also at the other extreme, could be costly or even dangerous.

Because of this, we recommend that you do your due diligence in researching as you begin on the shipping container journey. This article was developed as a result of the popularity of shipping container homes and the resulting glut of misguided advice.

Plan, Plan, Plan!

You may notice that this has been mentioned before, but it really needs emphasizing here.

As Benjamin Franklin states: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”.

The best shipping container homes have been thoroughly planned for months, even before the first container is delivered on site.

This planning stage allows for two key things:

  1. Identification of mistakes in advance of the build
  2. Change of ideas

Nobody is perfect, even shipping container home architects!  With the best intentions, mistakes can still happen. Planning your container home thoroughly allows for most mistakes to be identified before the construction begins.

It is much easier and less expensive to catch a mistake and correct it during this planning stage. Correcting mistakes after the construction has already begun is better avoided.

Planning Your Container Home

Planning and designing a home from scratch is surprisingly difficult!  The sheer number of details and decisions to be made can be overwhelming.

It isn’t surprising then, that during the planning process, most people change their mind about the house layout multiple times.

Having a reasonable planning period allows you to really think through your design, sleep on it, talk about it, change it, sleep on it again, talk about it some more and then finally to commit to it.

Again, changing your mind and editing a sketch is simple enough. Changing your mind during the construction stage can be an expensive nightmare.

Don’t Commit All Your Money

Shipping containers can be used to build incredibly cheap homes, but don’t fall into the trap of overbuilding because shipping container homes are relatively inexpensive.

For instance, some may compare the price of a traditional three bedroom home and think that, for the same price, they could build a five bedroom shipping container home.

Instead of saving money and building a three bedroom container home, they decide to spend all their money and build a five bedroom container home instead. They fail to take into account the additional cost and additional work to manage and operate a larger home. Build what you really need.

Another common mistake is committing to spend 100% of available resources. We always recommend having a contingency budget of around 20%.

Consider this example. You have available resources (down to your last penny) of $100,000. You should plan your build so that you commit to spending no more than 80% of this amount:  $80,000.

The reasoning behind this is that during the build you will always have unexpected bills and expenses. Plan carefully so that you have an adequate safety net of cash to cover these unforeseen expenses. Imagine the stress that would occur when an unexpected expense comes up for which you don’t have the funds.

Read the article on how much do shipping container homes cost to get a reasonable understanding of how much to allocate to your budget.

Get the Correct Shipping Containers

It can be incredibly tempting to buy any old shipping container to use to build your home.

You’ve just seen a 40-foot container for $1,000 and it seems like a bargain, right?  At that price you are probably buying a 20+ year old container which potentially has some significant rusting and leakage problems.

Old Shipping Container

It could conceivably cost you more money to repair the shipping container than it would have cost to buy a more suitable container initially. It is just not wise to cut corners when choosing a shipping container.

Remember to read our guide to inspecting shipping containers.

On the subject of shipping containers, it is also important to consider the size of the container. Again, many people jump at the chance to buy a cheap shipping container, but this doesn’t mean you should.

The most widely available and the most inexpensive shipping containers are standard shipping containers with a height of 8 feet 6 inches.

When you factor in the floor, the insulation, and ceiling, the remaining headroom is notably reduced.

We typically recommend building with high cube shipping containers. High cube containers have the same dimensions as standard containers except that they are one foot taller. This extra foot of ceiling height makes a big difference in interior space.

The high cube containers usually cost a few hundred dollars extra but are well worth the additional money.

Remove the Floors in Your Containers

Another hot topic with shipping container homes is flooring.

Some say that you can save a lot of money by keeping the original shipping container flooring. But, is this wise?

Typically, shipping container floors are made from tropical hardwoods. Unfortunately, the hardwoods used such as Apitong or Keruing attract pests.

For this reason, container manufactures treat the floor with harsh pesticides to kill off any pests. This is great for transportation, but we do not advise having these harsh chemicals inside your home. As a general rule of thumb, existing flooring in a shipping container should be removed or at least treated.

Removing the floor is the easiest and safest option, but it is also the more expensive option.

If cost is a concern, then you can consider treating the floor instead. Read more about treating the floor in this article where we’ve already covered this in-depth.

Keeping the original container floors would only be recommended on new containers or containers where you can verify and guarantee no harsh chemicals are present.

Insulate Your Containers

Insulating your shipping containers is one of the most important aspects of the build. It is arguably the most important factor when building a shipping container home.

Which insulation material you should use will vary, depending on your budget and location. One thing that won’t vary is whether you should insulate the containers at all.

Although it is tempting to do so, it is a mistake to consider not insulating your home in any but the most special situations. Without insulation, your home will be too hot during the summer and too cold during the winter.

Generally, we recommend using spray foam insulation. Spray foam insulation tends to be the most effective overall. It also helps prevent dampness and moisture issues.

Spray Foam Insulation

Another great option is to add wood strips to the container and use panel insulation. The only drawback with panel insulation is it doesn’t provide you with a vapor barrier. This can sometimes lead to dampness issues.

If you’re looking for more guidance, read up on shipping container home insulation.

Have Fun

It’s sound cliché, but it’s true. Building your shipping container home should be fun!

You don’t want to look back at this time in your life with regret and disappointment. Now we don’t want to oversell it by saying that there won’t be some stressful times during the build. However, building your home should be fun.

When you become stressed during the build, remember why you chose to build a container home. Was it to save money, help the environment, or just because they look cool?  Take a break, calm down and have fun!


We hope you enjoyed these tips on constructing your shipping container home.

Even though it can be tempting to cut corners to reduce costs during the planning and construction, eventually it will catch up with you.

Overall, constructing a shipping container home is no different from constructing a traditional building or home. It should be well planned and you should have a contingency fund to use as a safety net.

There are some unique aspects of building with containers such as insulation and floor removal. Hopefully, after reading this article you feel more comfortable and knowledgeable about these differences.

What’s your best piece of advice for constructing a shipping container home?  Let us know in the comments section below.

(2) comments

Add Your Reply