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Shipping Container Housing Permits and Building Codes

06.12.2015 - Posted by Updated On 06.12.2015    

One of the biggest question marks when it comes to shipping container housing is the permitting process and local codes, and unfortunately there is no clear cut system for building a container home in the United States. However, there are some things to consider before you dive head first into building a container home.

First off, for those new to building any type of home, a building code is a set of rules, or minimum standards that every building must meet or exceed in order to receive an occupancy permit. The goal of building codes is to protect the health and safety of the inhabitants of the building. They can apply to both commercial, and residential buildings and the building plans normally need to be approved, and there is a final inspection upon completion of the structure.  However, the problem with an article like this is that building codes are drafted at a township or county level; they aren’t harmonized at a national level, meaning that Los Angeles, California building codes are different than Denver, Colorado building codes.

Why are there Code Problems with Container Homes?

On the surface, a shipping container home seems more structurally sound than a traditional manufactured house (ie: trailer home). The corner posts are heavier than a manufactured house, it can withstand a greater load, and it’s all steel - not wood or aluminum 2x4’s. However, the load capacity is aimed at the rails and posts, there’s no insulation, and inspectors don’t completely understand them yet. Plus, the neighbors might object to anything different in fear that it will impact their property value. alt

How to Get a Building Permit for a Container Home

There’s no silver bullet for getting a building permit for a container home, but you can take certain steps that will make it more likely that you’ll plans will be approved.

First, communication. Speak with the local authorities about your plans, explain the designs and benefits, and have examples of other container homes built (ideally in your area or state, or worst case any good example you can find). If they give you a positive response, you’re moving in the right direction. Along with examples of container homes, research "nontraditional" or alternative housing such as earthship housing, dome houses, or even tire buildings. These types of homes aren’t the norm, but they are accepted in many areas. alt

Second, if you haven’t purchased the ground yet and aren’t locked into living in one specific area, research places that are more friendly and open minded to container homes. If an area is a little more remote, there might be a better chance of having your designs accepted and ultimately approved. Building some type of container home in New York City might be more difficult than building one outside of Scranton, PA. You can also look for areas with no building codes. There aren’t many places left, but they do exist in the United States.

Unfortunately, if you came here looking for a set criteria for having a container home approved, the only thing you really learned is that one doesn’t exist for the United States. Each municipality or region has their own set of codes to best ensure the safety of the residents of that area, and container homes are still a new concept that government administrators aren’t ready to rush in and approve as quickly as a traditional stick built house.

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