Shipping Container Zoning, Permits, and Building Codes

Plan & Budget

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People often ask us where we recommend as the best place to build a shipping container home.  Honestly, it comes down to personal preferences. What makes a perfect location for one person might make it a terrible location for someone else.  With that said, there are still factors which are applicable to everyone, such as affordability and the strictness of local planning regulations.

Anyone who has researched shipping container homes knows of their numerous advantages, but one difficulty they do present is getting permission to build one. This is why finding land in the correct area is one of the most important stages of your build.

In this article, we’ll discuss things to look for before sharing a few of the best U.S. states to build in.

Background to Zoning Regulations and Building Codes

Planning Your Container Home

Unfortunately, you can’t build a shipping container home anywhere you want.

Where you can build a container home depends on your local building and planning department’s zoning regulations and building codes.

It’s important though not to confuse building codes and zoning, as they are two separate things.

Zoning regulations state where a house can be built and help keep similar buildings near each other.  For instance, by zoning an area as residential, you can be certain that Walmart won’t open a warehouse next door to you! However, sometimes the regulations can be excessive and restrictive.

In contrast, building codes stipulate the standards for the construction (i.e. how a home should be built).

Generally, these regulations cover key aspects of your shipping container home construction, such as:

  • The type of foundation you need to use
  • The minimum square footage requirements for each room
  • Minimum required insulation
  • Energy efficiency of your home
  • And much more…

If you are lucky, you can sometimes even find land that falls outside of ‘zoned’ areas, meaning you are free to build without a permit. It’s important to remember that you may still need to meet the building codes in this case.  It’s best to check.

The Best States to Build In

Now we’ve covered zoning permits and building regulations, let’s look at the best places in the U.S. to build a shipping container home.

For each state assessed, we looked at affordability, the flexibility of local planning regulations, and the acceptance of shipping container homes.

Before we continue, it’s important to state that you can run into regulatory complexities in any state and there are no guarantees when applying for a building permit.

In no particular order, let’s take a look at each state.

1. Texas

Texas is a fantastic location to build a shipping container home.

It has a proven track record with several shipping container homes already built here, both large and small.

Texas is also known for having a more relaxed regulatory environment, which also pertains to building regulations. However, as in any state, regulations are generally most strict in large cities, so look to more suburban and rural areas for an easier path to approval.

2. California

Next on our list is The Golden State, California.

California is notorious for strict land use, so it might surprise some of you that it makes the list.

Whilst strict in some ways, California also prides itself on its progressivism and their recent approval of tiny homes in certain cities confirms this.

There have been numerous successful shipping container home builds already, and we had the chance to interview an owner who accomplished the feat.  Mike built a hybrid container home outside of San Diego and got all the approvals necessary, so the trail has been blazed.

If you’re considering California, consider areas to the north or well inland from the coast, as land tends to be more reasonably priced there and ordinances are less strict.

3. Tennessee

Third on our list is Tennessee, generally considered a great all-rounder.

On the Freedom in the 50 States report, it is ranked 7th for land freedom meaning there isn’t too much local interference and regulation preventing you from building.

Additionally, it is also a great place for people looking for off grid living. Most plots of land will have access to water and the farming season tends to average more than 250 days a year. Unlike other areas in the south, Tennessee also experiences all four seasons.

As for price, anywhere near Blue Ridge Mountains can be expensive, so look for land in West Tennessee if you’re looking for affordability.

4. Louisiana

According to research by the Cato Institute, Louisiana ranks number 1 for land freedom in the US.

They calculated this using the Wharton Residential Land Use Regulatory Index, which is a measure of the local land use regulatory climate (i.e. how much local regulation there is on what you can build on your own land).

It turns out Louisiana has very light zoning regulations; this could be why we have already seen multiple shipping container homes built there.

It isn’t just land that isn’t highly regulated though, as Louisiana is renowned for its small local government and hands-off approach.

In addition to low amounts of zoning and regulation, it also appears on this list because land is reasonably priced there, however personal freedoms “have stayed still”.

Given their ‘relaxed’ zoning requirements, getting a permit to build here seems possible.

5. Missouri

At number five on our list is Missouri.

Those that live in Missouri fondly refer to it as one of the best kept secret states – with warm summers and mild winters, it has plenty to offer!

In terms of land, the prices are very reasonable and the “local zoning is quite loose”.

If you want land with access to rivers and forests, it would be a great pick for you.

Several container homes have been built in Missouri, including this beautiful home built near Rogersville for only $150,000.

Generally speaking, most of the rural areas don’t require building permits, which make it a perfect location for building a shipping container home.

6. Oregon

Next on our list is Beaver State, Oregon.

While Oregon is known for stricter builder regulations than most other states, it is also well known amongst the off-grid community for being very progressive with regards to alternative construction.

The state’s reputation for ‘live and let live’ is reflected in their acceptance of off-grid communities.  One of the most famous of these is the Three Rivers Recreation Area, which consists of 4,000 acres and is home to over 600 residents.

Consider Oregon if you’d like to live near the west coast, but appreciate a slightly different cultural feel than California.

7. Alaska

Last on our list of best states to build in is Alaska, The Last Frontier, known for its vast expansive terrain and low population density.

Crucially for people wanting to build their own container home, Alaska does not zone low-cost housing. This is perfect for people looking to build an affordable shipping container home.

There have been several container homes built here, including this impressive one shown in the video below. Built by Matt Petersen, the home utilizes strong roll-out steel sides to prevent vandalism.

If you’re looking for cheap land, snow and lots of personal freedom, Alaska is almost certainly the place where you should build your shipping container home!

The Future of Shipping Container Homes Regulations

While we have seen signs of local planning departments becoming more accepting of shipping container homes, this isn’t yet widespread.

Unfortunately, some local city planning and development offices can still be resistant and unknowledgeable about shipping container homes.

At Discover Containers, we will continue to work towards our goal of educating as many people as possible about design, constructing, living, and working in shipping container homes and buildings.

It’s our hope that in due time, shipping container homes will become more widely accepted and local city planners will account for them more easily.


We hope the list of places above has helped you.

While there can be no guarantees with building permits, working with more progressive or relaxed local planners can certainly help!

If you’ve found land that you’re interested in purchasing, make sure to thoroughly research it before you decide to buy it. Take a look around your local neighborhood – do you notice any unorthodox builds? Are there any shipping container homes already built here?

Either of these two is a great sign. While they aren’t requirements, they do signal that the road ahead of you has already been blazed by someone else, and should be an easier path.

Additionally, once you’ve found a suitable plot of land, be make sure to read how to get started building your shipping container home.

Let us know in the comments below where you have built or are thinking about building your shipping container home.

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