Before You Build A Container Home, Some Considerations To Make.

container home construction

Containers on crane being positioned for home construction. photo:

It is easy to buy used shipping containers for container home construction; the whole acquisition process is very simple.  Buy a used container from a supplier and away you go.  Preplanning ensures the shipping container sizes are preset, and one would think just one metal, oversized cargo box would mean one room built, that is it, simple, done.  Stacking containers on top of each other might be a good idea to create multiple living areas.  As simple as it sounds joining containers in two or three or four may create larger room areas but it cannot be all that simple, can it?

There are plenty of factors to consider when building a housing project on a block of land with shipping containers.  Even more so, when it is your home to live in permanently.

The first consideration to make when building, is that shipping containers were intended for shipping goods and not for making homes.  They were therefore not intended for use for building – they have been built specifically to transport cargo.  Therefore, they have been designed in a way that never took into consideration your need to put in place insulation, ventilation ducting and HVAC systems or electrical wiring systems.

A second consideration is that there is also a limited availability of professional consultants to help you, by this I mean that are extremely experienced in shipping container house design and construction in Australia.  Compared to traditional building processes, there are few available end products like showrooms and display homes, and there are no display villages for shipping container homes that I am aware of in [cf_geo return=”region”].

More considerations can include the following …

Always buy sight seen, not sight unseen.  As basic as it sounds, before you purchase a shipping container, you need to go and visually inspect the containers yourself and ensure that they are in good condition.  By this, I mean suitable for the development of your proposed home.  Remember some of these containers have been around the block a few times so to speak and have transported all sorts of items on boats that have endured extremely rough seagoing conditions.  Containers have been built to withstand the rough seas but also on a port that been roughly handled.

You need to spend a small amount extra.

As mentioned above that the containers may be in the rough conditions it may be worthwhile paying just a small amount extra to get a better quality container.  Even price out what brand-new container costs.  Buying brand-new shipping containers vs. used shipping containers will mean, no worries about the containers condition and its goods that it has transported whether it has leached any toxic chemicals into the cargo container.

The next rule is to learn your local council regulations. These can be town council, city council, provincial Shire Council regulations in respect of developing your property using shipping containers.

Generally the city or town planning department will be able to guide you further as to the town planning regulations suitable for the construction of shipping container homes on your block of land.  As mentioned in another post, councils such as the Christchurch City Council in New Zealand had a problem with people living in shipping containers resulting in an eyesore.  In the end, the Christchurch City Council implemented penalty system handing out fines to people to get them moving out of these structures being parked behind people’s backyards or in front yards.

Before you start building, you will need to apply to the council for a building permit or different permits.  It is beyond the scope of this post to tell you which information is to be given as each council has differing council planning requirements and for readers overseas there might be requirements that aren’t applicable in Australia and New Zealand.  Depending on the job a builder should be able to answer basic questions, and there are town planners or surveyors who can also run through the application and development process which Council will impose under their urban planning and development process.

A good builder familiar with the legislative scope of the council can advise, and a town planner can prepare preliminary investigation reports on any block of land that you are considering to buy.   You could even just turn up to the council and ask over-the-counter and talk to a town planner in the town planning section of the council.  I have found most rural councils good to deal with.  That way you can apply for any searches if required.

In a nutshell, you will have to research the local council rules and guidelines to know what you can in cannot do on your property in respect of building a shipping container home.  Some councils may or may not like it.  In other articles I have written on this website, there certainly have been Council related problems on “tiny house” development in Australia and overseas in the USA.


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Finding someone who can take care of the entire project.

As mentioned previously it cannot be stressed the importance of finding experienced consultants that have “been there and done that” through the whole process of developing a shipping container home from scratch.

Ideally, you can find a one-stop shop for container home construction like traditional housing builders.  This will be a person who starts at the ground level from the initial conception of the project and design, the modification requirements of both interior and exterior areas of the container right up to finish and sign off of completion stage.

Finding people experienced with container home construction will save you much heartache because they would have known about previous projects and building to incorporate the concept of what you require into the structural integrity of the shipping container and its design.

Of course, the more hands-on consultants that you have, the higher your building construction cost and you will have to budget this accordingly and be aware that you do not exceed costs that make the end house component of the build on a rate per square metre, high.

Get to know the container home market, construction costs and any (if available) similar projects for sale.  Size, Style and Height.

Get to know the shipping container market – before you start going out buying containers to build your home you need to go and get some understanding of what the market is doing in shipping containers and how to cost them out as there are different used container sizes for style as well as different styles.  You need to be aware of the size of these cargo containers versus market values and investigating the market thoroughly is required.

You also need to consider the heights of the containers taking into account the service space between the ceiling and your living area and allowing adequate clearance.  So before considering buying a used shipping container not only have you got your width and length dimensions correct and height, you need to know how much the value of these containers are to buy on a rate per cubic metre basis.  Note – building and dealing with builders you work on a dollar rate per meter squared.

Another thing to get familiar with is the basic construction of a shipping container.  Not only did we discuss the condition above and that the containers in their life get battered around and twisted as well as going through many weather extremities, but you need to remember that the roof of the container is somewhat thin and some can dent easily. There are thick steel parts that act as load-bearing walls and braces that take a load of containers when usually stacked in the port one on top of each other.

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Metal cutting – The design considerations are important because you will have to cut section portions of the walls of the containers to make doorways and windows as well as joining containers together.  So determining how many parts of the container wall to remove is important because you do not want your container once you start stacking on top of each other to collapse.  You need to remember when you cut bits out of the container that you may need to balance off the loading elsewhere or brace it off somehow.  This load bearing and maintaining the structural integrity of the frame is something that the builder will definitely know.