How to Build Homes From Shipping Containers

Written by carol luther
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Build your first or next home from recycled shipping containers. Unless your local building ordinances prohibit it, you could build a small home from one container or combine two or more for a spacious, low-cost dwelling that might outlast your neighbour's stick-built house. Like prefabricated manufactured homes, shipping containers can simplify your home construction process. With the proper tools (and permits), you can move into a shipping container home in a few weeks.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

Things you need

  • Permits
  • Plumbing
  • Electrical
  • Insulation
  • Lumber
  • Concrete
  • Rebar
  • Construction tools
  • Welder

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  1. 1

    Acquire permits from your local government. You will need an architect's rendering of your proposed design, whether it is one container or many. Most municipalities will also have regulations about plumbing and electrical installation. You may need to schedule an inspection of the building site before you begin construction.

  2. 2

    Locate containers and have them shipped to your building site if you are doing the construction yourself. Contact ocean freight shipping companies or recyclers. See the Web Urbanist site for recommendations of companies that will ship containers with plumbing and electrical pre-installed.

  3. 3

    Prepare the foundation on your site according to building codes. Bob Vila's website highlights a North Carolina company that specialises in converting shipping containers into living spaces. They use a standard concrete block foundation, reinforced with rebar. Each corner of the foundation also has a steel plate and hook for setting the container on the foundation.

  4. 4

    Cut windows, doors, roof vents and rough openings for plumbing and electrical connections. This requires welding equipment. Since shipping containers are steel, you may need to rent the proper equipment or subcontract this job to an experienced welder.

  5. 5

    Apply insulation on the container walls. If you use a ceramic insulating foam like Supertherm on both sides of the container walls, your insulation will be approximately R19 and the exterior will be ready to finish.

  6. 6

    Set the containers on the foundation and weld them down. Once you attach the container to the steel plates, you can pour a concrete subfloor. If you are using two or more containers, weld them to each other.

  7. 7

    Frame interior rooms and install wallboard and doors. Finish interior electrical and plumbing connections.

  8. 8

    Attach the roof of your choice. If you do not want a flat roof, try a hip roof that you can attach with metal straps. You can weld the straps to the container for security and wind resistance.

  9. 9

    Finish the exterior of your container home with paint, siding, stucco or a masonry application.

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