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Things to Consider Before Building a Container Home

18.05.2015 - Posted by Updated On 18.05.2015    

More and more people are designing, building, and buying shipping container homes these days. Aside from being environmentally considerate, they can be hip and highly functional.

At its core, container housing isn't a totally new idea. People have been building modular homes and kit homes for years, with a container home the only thing being introduced is using a shipping container as the central building block. However, unlike modular housing which is all built from new parts shipping container homes can be built from new or used containers; and new and used shipping containers can vary greatly.

shipping container home

New or Used?

A lot of designers want to start with used shipping containers. Not only are the environmentally friendly, the right container can add a lot of character to the structure.

There can be future problem with used shipping containers, but it can be managed around. Used shipping containers may have dents or creases in the side, which may not be a huge issue since the container will be heavily modified, but it can create a problem if the container is put in place and part of the crease is where a window or door needs to go.

Are Previous Container Uses a Concern?

A lot of people think that the same containers are used to transport everything and anything, including toxic substances. While it's not possibly to review everything that a used shipping container has carried throughout its life, containers that have been used to move anything toxic are stored in a separate area in the depot and not repurposed to be used for standard items. There's simply too much liability to go between moving children's toys and nuclear waste. Dangerous waste and chemicals are carried in specially designed "IP2" shipping containers, and they will cost more than a standard container. shipping container radioactive

Delivery Restrictions and Considerations

Where is the container home going to be placed? Standard flatbed trucks or container chassis aren't able to unload a container, and they will need a forklift or crane. Tilt bed trucks can move the containers and set them on the ground, but they can't stack the containers. If you plan to have a multi-level container structure you will need a crane on site to put the containers in place.

All things together, the containers can be delivered on a tilt bed truck and set on the ground; but if you plan to stack them you will need a crane. If the containers are delivered on a standard flatbed truck you will need a crane or forklift to unload them from the truck. Keep in mind that all of this is tied to the area where the container structure is being build and if the surrounding area can support cranes and trucks.

Strength and Structure

Shipping containers carry weight in the rails and corners, so this needs to be incorporated in the design stage. Any load needs to be carried directly on the corners, or on the horizontal rails. If weight were to be focused on the sides or top it would lead to an eventual collapse of the side that is being put under pressure.

Size Restrictions

Unlike a stick or steel built modular home, containers come in fixed increments. The height is restricted to either 8'6" (standard) or 9'6" (high cube), and the length is contingent upon the height. Standard containers are 10' (harder to find, and nearly always new), 20', and 40'. If the container home is designed to use high cubes, you might be able to find 20' (always new), 40', and 45' lengths; but 45' lengths are harder to find.

shipping container flooring

What about the Flooring?

The flooring is treated with some pesticides, but unless you are sanding the floor and breathing in the dust there is little to be concerned about. That being said, the existing floor probably has some gouges, scuffs and stains and will need to be covered over or replaced.

Foundation Options

The foundation for a container home can go in many directions, but it will need to be a permanent foundation of some type, especially if you plan on taking out a mortgage. A permanent foundation can be either cement block, concrete footings, or a concrete pad.

Financing a Container Home

Financing a container home with a traditional mortgage can prove to be difficult, primarily due to the lack of comparable properties that any traditional underwrite will ask for. For a mortgage to be considered it would be best to work with a local lender that will use an in house, or portfolio loan.

These are only a few things to consider when beginning the process of designing and building a shipping container home, and are only suggestions as each situation is unique to the containers, design, and location. If you have any questions about shipping containers in general feel free to contact the staff at, if you have specific questions regarding shipping containers and builders in your area it's best to contact any of the listed sellers in your area.

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