How To Plan Your Shipping Container Home

Plan & Budget

How To Plan Your Shipping Container Home Blog Cover

Planning is the most important part of any project and shipping container homes are no different.

The average new home tends to run over budget and time by around 15-20%. It is crucial that you make a solid plan and stick to it.

Let’s take a closer look at exactly how you should correctly plan the construction of your shipping container home.

Set Your Budget

The first step to planning the build is to set your budget.

There is not much sense in planning to build a 4,000 square foot home if you only have $50,000 available.

Determine how much cash savings you have. If you are in a position to borrow cash from the bank or family, that amount would be included in the total amount of cash you have available for the project. This is your budget.

Allow for a contingency fund of 20%. A contingency fund is a reserve of money that is used to meet unexpected expenses during the construction of your building. It is true that the majority of builds have unexpected expenses.

Here is how the contingency fund is calculated with total cash available of $150,000. Twenty percent of $150,000 = $30,000. Subtract the $30,000 contingency sum from your total available funds amount of $150,000. This remaining amount leaves the actual budget for constructing your container home. Your construction budget is now $120,000 with the contingency budget of $30,000. Your project must be based on that $120,000 amount, reserving the $30,000 for any issues that arise.

Decide and Finalize Your Design

Now it is time to actually design your shipping container home. By the way, you need to calculate your budget before this step, so you can plan realistically.

You can design anything, from a single container tiny house, all the way up to a multi-story mansion! The combinations of shipping containers are nearly endless, and they can be designed perfectly around what you need.

If you are looking for inspiration, make sure to check out our pack of 50 plans.

The best way to plan is to think about the logical questions first before you start worrying about all of the minutia, such as how many containers do I need, how should I insulate my building, etc.

Instead ask yourself questions like what will the building be used for, how many people will use it, etc. Go through it a step at a time. Make decisions on the major things first. Then add more detail as you continue. Remember that the more specific your answers are, the better your design will be.

It costs a lot of money to change your mind about the design halfway through construction. Don’t be like the couple who decided to remove an internal wall of their container. Subsequently, they decided they didn’t want the open plan room after all and put the wall back in. In total the changes cost them $5,000 in wasted material and time.

Better planning would have avoided this expense!

Decide Who Will Build It

Once you’ve decided on the design of your shipping container house, you need to think about who will build it.

Lots of people choose to construct their shipping container buildings themselves. This is less expensive and more rewarding. If you want to build a shipping container home yourself, consider whether you have enough relevant experience and practical skills.

If you don’t have the experience or don’t have enough time, then you should instead think about hiring a contractor to build the home for you.

Contractors tend to be very experienced and can build the home in a shorter amount of time. But they will be far more expensive. If you’re thinking about employing a contractor, make sure to:

  • Ask for references.
  • Do they guarantee their work?
  • How long does the guarantee last for?
  • Do they have liability insurance?

Where Will You Build Your Shipping Container Home?

You’ve set your budget, designed your container home and have decided who is going to build it. Now it is time to find a piece of land that meets your needs.

How To Find Land

The reason we tell people to design their container home before they find land, is so they design the actual shipping container home they want and don’t design a container home which is restricted by a particular piece of land.

To find a plot of land, identify a particular area where you are interested in building. You can look online and use websites such as Zillow or you could look for land the old fashioned way by just driving around. You can sometimes get an absolute bargain!

Don’t underestimate driving around the area which you have identified. Look for any for sale signs. Speak with the locals there. Locals may know of land that might be for sale soon before it hits the real estate listings.

Once you’ve found a piece of land that is interesting to you, make sure you speak to the local zoning/planning department. You need to talk with them and establish how likely they are to grant you a building permit to build a shipping container home in their district. If at this point, the local planning department seems adamantly against the idea, it might be for the best to find a piece of land in another district instead.

For more detail on how to prepare the building site on your selected land, read our site preparation article.

Is Your Shipping Container Home Feasible?

Do you realistically have the required skills and resources to build a shipping container home? Building a shipping container home is hard work and requires money, time, and a variety of skills.

Clearly, the two most important resources you will need are time and money. Then you will need the DIY knowledge and ability to be able to convert the shipping container into a home, or, enough money to hire someone to covert the containers for you.

It’s also important to consider where you are going to get your building materials before you start construction. For instance, if you are planning to build a shipping container home, but live 1,000 miles away from the nearest container depot, then perhaps it isn’t feasible for you to build a shipping container home. This would cost you a lot of money and also take time to get your containers delivered across such a distance.

The last key thing you need to consider is building permits/planning permission. It’s a sad truth, but in certain areas of the world, you just aren’t going to get a building permit to construct a shipping container home. If this is the stance of your local planning department, then you’re going to have a hard time changing their minds.

Sometimes it’s easier to decide to build a container home in another district with different planning/zoning laws!


You should now be able to plan your new shipping container home, from setting your budget all the way through to identifying a piece of land.

When setting your budget, make sure you allow for a contingency fund of 20%, this will cover you in case, or rather, when, you have unexpected costs during the build.

To design your container home, think of the logical questions first. Then you can work from that through the details. Eventually, you will have enough information to calculate how many containers you require.

Make sure you decide who will be building your container home. Many container homeowners have built their own home, however, this doesn’t mean you have to. Think about whether you have the time and DIY knowledge to get the job done.

Find a piece of land. Speak with the locals because they will be able to tell you about land that’s available before it hits the real estate listings.

Finally, you need to consider is your shipping container home feasible? Do you have the time, budget and resources to make this possible?

Do you have any other suggestions for deciding if your idea to construct a shipping container home is feasible? Leave a comment below and let us know.

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