Once you decide to construct a shipping container home, you will anxiously await the moment your shipping containers show up to your building site.
Before the containers arrive you should have already prepared your building site. Doing this in advance will allow the containers to be put in position immediately on delivery.
Since your site is not prepared for your containers, a high priority is to get the site prepared so that you can get your containers in place as soon as possible.
How long this step will take will vary, depending on the condition of your site and whether your land is flat and level. Generally, though, site preparation involves marking and clearing.
First, you need to mark out where your shipping container home will be constructed. Since you planned your build beforehand, this step should be straight forward.
To mark your site, use stakes and place them into the ground at the corner of where each container will sit.
Once you’ve marked out where your container home will be built, you know exactly where you need to clear and prepare.
Now that you’ve marked where your containers will be placed, you need to clear the area. This stage includes removing any trees, vegetation, roots, rocks, and debris within the marked area. It also means making sure the ground within the marked area is flat and level.
You can pay a contractor to do this, but if you’re looking to save money, it is a job that you can do yourself.
Before you start clearing your site, decide what to do with all the debris collected. If you have a large piece of land, you could bury the debris in a discrete location. More likely, though, you will need to pay someone to come and collect the debris and haul it away. Another option would be to load it and haul it yourself and just pay to dump it.
Once you’ve prepared and cleared your site, the next step is to lay your foundation. We will give an overview in this article, but you can read more detail about shipping container home foundations here and here.
The most inexpensive and most versatile form of shipping container home foundation is the pier foundation. The pier foundation involves laying small concrete blocks underneath each corner of your shipping containers.
This foundation approach is less expensive because you don’t need to excavate much land. In this case, you only excavate the small cube shapes for the concrete needed in the corners. You also don’t need to use much concrete. It also happens to be the most DIY friendly of all the choices!
However, the pier foundation is not suitable for every shipping container home. For instance, if you are constructing on a site which has very soft top soil and clay, then you would more than likely need to use a slab or pile foundation.
For more information, read shipping container home foundation types, where we discuss each type of foundation and where they are most suitable.
It’s also during this foundation stage that you generally attach brackets to the foundation block before it sets. These brackets are used to attach the containers to the foundation. The most DIY friendly way is to use a steel plate with vertical bars and set this into the wet concrete before it cures.
Siting your containers means placing them on and fastening them to your foundation.
There are a few choices here, but it mainly depends on the size of your shipping containers, how they are being delivered, the state of your foundation, and what tools you have accessible.
If your foundation is ready and your shipping containers are being delivered on a tilt flatbed trailer, a skilled driver can back right up to the foundation and let the container slide off straight onto the foundation pad. This is the cheapest and easiest method by far.
If your foundation isn’t ready when your containers arrive, or isn’t easily accessible, you are going to need to look at using a crane to drop the containers onto the foundation block.
Once you’ve placed the shipping container on the foundation, you need to join the container to the foundation block.
Due of the weight of shipping containers, you could just place the containers on the foundation block and be done with it. However, without secure attachment, the container could move in very high winds, flood waters, impact from a large vehicle, etc.
That’s why we recommend that you weld the containers to a steel plate which has been set into the foundation.
If you don’t want to weld the containers, you can instead bolt the containers to a bracket or anchor bold embedded in teh concrete.
Once you’ve bolted/welded the containers to the foundation block, you need to join the containers to one another. Connecting the containers together provides extra strength, so it is important not to skip this step.
To join them together you can either bolt or weld the containers.
We suggest welding the containers since this provides a stronger connection than bolting and therefore is more secure. To weld the containers together, place 3” x 1/8” flat steel between the touching containers and use a stitch pattern to weld them in place.
Courtesy of Larry Wade
Remember, though, that if you plan to relocate your shipping container home, then bolting the containers together is the preferred method.
To bolt your containers together, you need to drill through each corner of the container where it touches another container. Use a bolt and washer to join them and use mastic to seal any gaps around the bolts.
At this point the basic structure of your building is in place. The foundation has been laid, the containers have been sited and, finally, the containers have been welded to each other and to the foundation block.
The next stage is cutting any openings you have designed for your doors and windows.
Since we receive this question frequently via email, let’s review structural reinforcement. Is it necessary to structurally reinforce the containers after cutting a section of steel out? Unfortunately, the short answer is that it depends on the situation.
Generally, when removing smaller sections of steel for window and door openings, no structural reinforcement will be needed. However, when removing larger sections of steel, such as the entire side of a container, then yes, the containers will need reinforcing.
It varies project to project and the best way to know for sure is to contact a local structural engineer. Choose an engineer who is familiar with shipping container homes, or at a minimum, steel framed construction.
With that being said, to cut the opening in your containers, you can use an angle grinder, plasma cutter or cutting torch. Angle grinders are certainly the cheapest and most DIY friendly choice.
Make sure to create a template for the windows and doors then place the templates on the container and cut around them using the angle grinder. Once the openings have been cut, weld into place the door and window frames before installing the actual doors and windows. After the doors and windows have been installed, your home should be waterproof.
There aren’t too many more stages left until your home is complete! The key stages remaining include adding your services, framing/insulation and internal/external features.
After reading this article, you should be familiar with the construction steps necessary to complete your shipping container home from beginning to end.
Like any other form of construction, there isn’t only one correct path to complete a build. So, the stages in your shipping container build might vary somewhat from those listed.
Remember that having a plan in place before you build will help keep you on schedule and budget.
In the comments section below, let us know any particular issues you had with these initial phases of your contain project build.
Whether you build or buy your dream shipping container home, you owe it to yourself to be an educated consumer. Get equipped with the knowledge of how container homes should be built by checking out our floorplans and eBook for sale!