Shipping Containers

11 Essential Tips for Building Your Dream Shipping Container Home

Building a shipping container home seems straightforward in theory.

With millions of excess shipping containers lying around in ports worldwide, they appear to be the perfect size for a home.

If you want a multi-story or larger square footage home, you stack a few shipping containers on top of one another, and, voila, you’ve got a house.

Unfortunately, things are never as easy as they seem from the outset.

When building a shipping container home, there are several things you need to know to ensure your home is structurally sound, sustainable, and beautiful.

Inspect Before You Invest

You would never purchase a used car without first inspecting it and taking it for a test drive.

When purchasing a used shipping container, you will most likely not be able to do a complete walkthrough, especially if it is located at some obscure port on the other side of the world.

However, you can ask the seller for detailed pictures and a thorough description of the container.

Older shipping containers, especially, might have several dents, rust issues, or other structural problems that come with a lifetime of being tossed around on the high seas.

One-trip containers are a bit more expensive but almost always in great shape.

They might be worth the investment if you want to avoid the work and expense of fixing a container that is all dented up.

Master the Building Codes for Smooth Sailing

Many towns and cities might have certain restrictions against building a shipping container home.

Before you invest several thousand dollars in used shipping containers, make sure you check on your local and state building codes.

It’s important to understand ordinances that may impact container home projects, design choices, property zoning, deed restrictions, and governing bodies.

Regulations could be imposed at federal, state, county, or municipal levels.

States like Texas, California, Tennessee, Louisiana, Missouri, Oregon, and Alaska are relatively welcoming and easy to deal with when it comes to shipping container homes.

Know Local Building Regulations Before You Build

Before diving into the exciting world of shipping container homes, it’s crucial to be aware of local and state building codes.

Many towns and cities impose restrictions on such constructions, and ignoring these could lead to costly setbacks.

Research ordinances that could impact your container home project, including design choices, property zoning, deed restrictions, and governing bodies.

Regulations may exist at federal, state, county, or municipal levels.

Fortunately, states like Texas, California, Tennessee, Louisiana, Missouri, Oregon, and Alaska are relatively welcoming and easier to navigate when it comes to building shipping container homes.

Plan Your Insulation Strategy

An unfinished steel shipping container will be unbearably hot in summer and freezing in winter unless you have a robust insulation plan.

Consult with contractors about the best insulation methods and remember to insulate the roof and walls thoroughly.

Blanket-style insulation requires an interior stud wall, while foam insulation can be sprayed directly onto the container walls.

For a more sustainable option, consider using sheep wool or installing a green roof on your shipping container home.

Find a Comprehensive Contractor

To ensure a smooth building process, it’s best to find a contractor who can oversee the entire project from start to finish.

Shipping container construction is a relatively new niche, so finding experienced contractors can be challenging.

There are companies across the USA that specialize in shipping container construction and can provide pre-built homes, streamlining your building process.

Guard Against Harmful Chemicals

Used shipping containers were designed for long-term sea use and may contain harmful chemicals.

The wood flooring in most shipping containers is treated with heavy pesticides, and the paint may contain protective chemicals.

To avoid these hazards, consider purchasing a new, chemical-free container or make necessary adjustments.

Removing the pesticide-laden flooring and installing new flooring, along with applying foam insulation, can mitigate the risk of harmful off-gassing from the paint.

Limit Structural Alterations

Shipping containers are made of solid steel, offering excellent structural integrity.

However, cutting holes for doors or windows can weaken the structure, necessitating steel beam reinforcements.

Each cut requires more reinforcement, which can significantly increase costs. Minimize alterations to maintain the container’s strength and keep your budget in check.

Plan for Plumbing and Electrical Needs

When designing your shipping container home, plan the layout for plumbing and electrical systems.

Have your contractor cut the necessary holes for pipes and wiring before finishing the interior.

This foresight can prevent costly modifications later, such as moving kitchen cabinets to accommodate forgotten plumbing or electrical lines.

Choose the Right Container

Not all shipping containers are created equal.

Traditional containers are eight feet tall, while high cube containers add an extra foot in height.

If you plan to heavily insulate your floors and ceiling, the additional height of a high cube container can prevent your home from feeling cramped.

Though more expensive, the extra space can be well worth the investment.

Prepare for Wind Noise

Shipping container homes are not aerodynamic and can be noisy in windy areas.

Strong winds can create interior noise as they hit the container’s walls.

If you live in a windy location, consider placing your home behind a natural windbreak or in an area that offers some protection from strong gusts.

Minimize Welding to Cut Costs

Expanding your living space with multiple containers requires welding, which can be expensive.

To manage costs, design your home to minimize the amount of welding needed.

Each additional weld increases the overall budget, so plan accordingly to limit welding and keep expenses in check.

Consider Local and Sustainable Options

While shipping container homes are often seen as a sustainable option, it’s essential to consider the environmental impact of transporting heavy containers from distant ports.

To enhance sustainability, look for used containers close to your location, especially if you live near a port.

Combine vernacular construction methods with your container home, such as using straw bales and natural plasters for insulation and interior walls.

Be Prepared to Spend More

Shipping container homes are often touted for their affordability, but the costs can add up quickly.

Finishing the exterior and interior, welding, and insulating can increase expenses, especially for larger homes.

In some cases, the final cost may be comparable to traditional stick-framed houses. Be prepared to invest more than anticipated to ensure a durable and comfortable home.


Building a shipping container home is a rewarding project that requires careful planning and consideration.

From understanding building codes and insulation needs to managing chemical hazards and structural integrity, there are many factors to keep in mind.

By following these 12 tips, you can create a sustainable, beautiful, and safe shipping container home.

Invest time and resources into thorough planning and quality materials to enjoy a unique and durable living space.

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