8 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Building a Shipping Container Home Blog Cover

8 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Building A Shipping Container Home

Posted By: September 15, 2015 In Featured

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Building a shipping container home can be one of the most rewarding things you do. However, you don’t want to rush into it too quickly and make some simple mistakes.

Are you going to be building with new or used shipping containers?

Do you have the DIY knowhow to build the home yourself or are you going to need to use a contractor?

Don’t make the same mistakes I’ve seen time and time again by rushing into the building process without figuring out exactly what it is you want to build.

Make sure you answer these 8 questions before you start building your dream container home.

Can You Afford It?

This is the most important question you will ask yourself as a soon-to-be shipping container home owner. And it’s a question that will continually be asked throughout your project.

Cost of a Shipping Container Home

Unfortunately, not everyone has a huge budget and the majority of us have to be careful with how we spend our hard earned money!

The simplest way to work out ‘if you can afford it’, is to calculate your maximum budget. To calculate your budget, subtract your contingency allowance from your total budget.

For instance if you had $100,000 to spend, you need to take away 20% of this and place it into your contingency allowance. So your budget for your container home will be $80,000, and you would have a contingency allowance of $20,000.

Now some of you may be asking: “what is a contingency budget”?

A contingency budget is a pot of money which is used to pay for any unforeseen bills and expenses. You don’t want to allocate your every last penny to the project to find out you forgot to include the cost of a kitchen in your calculations. This is why you have a contingency allowance, because you can be certain that there will always be unforeseen costs.

Note: An average contingency figure is 20% as shown in the example. Typically the more complex/expensive a project is the great the contingency figure needs to be.

Which Containers Are You Going To Use?

Not only do you need to decide whether to use high cube or regular containers, you also need to decide on whether to build using new or used containers.

If at all possible I normally recommend getting high cube shipping containers. They are a foot taller than regular containers, so this gives you some extra headroom inside your containers. It means you can insulate the inside of your ceiling and still maintain a ceiling height of eight foot.

I won’t go into more detail here, but if you’re interested you can read my post about high cube vs standard containers.

Example Of High Cube ContainerAlso you need to decide whether to use new or used shipping containers. Many people that build a shipping container home do so because they are conscious about the environment and want to save money.

Building with a used shipping container home meets both of these requirements. Used containers are definitely more eco-friendly than buying new containers and they are also at least $1000 cheaper than new containers.

Again, I’m not going to get into much detail here but if you aren’t certain make sure to read building with new VS used containers.

Self-Build or Contractor?

Deciding whether to build your container home yourself, or to get a contractor to build it for you, will have cost and time implications.

Do you consider yourself a DIY friendly type of person? Are you handy with a hammer?

I know that many people who build a shipping container home decide to build it themselves. They like the challenge and the achievement once the home has been built.

Building the home yourself is not only cheaper than paying a contractor; it also means you can ensure the home is built to a high standard and that no corners have been cut. However, to build the home yourself you need to be ‘DIY friendly’ and have at least some experience of home building.


On the other hand if you don’t have any experience and aren’t DIY friendly then you would certainly want to bring in a contractor to build the majority of the container home for you. Bringing in a contractor to build the container home for you will be more expensive but it’s likely it will be faster as they can have several people working on your home at once.

Do I Have The Time?

Whilst shipping container homes can be built extremely quickly (less than 2 months) you still need to consider timeframes when looking to build a shipping container home.

If you absolutely have to move as soon as possible then building a container home probably isn’t for you. You would be best just purchasing a house which is already on the market.

On the other hand if you have enough time and aren’t in a desperate rush to move then you can look at building a shipping container home.

Ideally, you should still allocate at least 5 months if you’re building your container home from scratch with no foundations or prefabricated containers.

Also, if you have yet to plan your home you should probably allocate a further month or so to finalize the design.

What Do I Want My Home To Look Like?

Before you starting building your container home you need to have a fixed idea about what your container home should look like.

Changing your mind about a bedroom or the size of a room during the actual construction phase will cost you a lot of time and money. Instead, give yourself lots of time before you start building to design your home the exact way you want it.

How many bedrooms would you like, how big should they be, where should the kitchen be placed? Have all of these crucial questions answered before you purchase your first container!

Where Do You Want To Build?

You need to decide on the area where you want to build your container home.

I’ve previously written about converting your shipping containers on site vs converting them off site, and tend to favor converting them on site. This means you need to find a piece of land which is available in the area where you have decided to build.

Location of Shipping Container Home

Selecting a location and finding a piece of land also helps to test whether you have enough money. If you want to convert a container home in Beverly Hills but find out that land is over $1,000,000 and your total budget is only $400,000 then you need to have a rethink…
Also, sometimes there just isn’t any land available in a certain area and you’d then need to decide whether you should wait for a piece of land to become available or look at buying land elsewhere.

Do You Have A Builder?

If you’ve decided to self-build, you don’t need to worry about this question. However, if you’ve decided to use a contractor to build your shipping container you need to make sure you can find one.

You need to find a contractor who has experience building shipping container homes and who is available during the time frames you’re considering building.

There is no point in deciding and planning your shipping container home only to find out that you can’t find a contractor who’s available to build your home in the timeframe.

Whilst contractors who build shipping containers can sometimes be tricky to find, rest assured knowing that there are plenty out there, you just need to find them!

Once you’ve found a contractor make sure to get some reviews from their previous clients and ask around in your local area to check their reputation.

If the contractor wants to offer you the world for $20,000, be very careful! Whilst it might seem great that they will build your dream home so cheaply, they might cut corners and reduce the quality heavily. So make sure to only use a contractor who is realistic in their offerings.

Also, if at all possible take a tour of some other homes which the contractor has built to get a feel for their quality and style- also speak with the owners to see how easy it was to work with the contractors.

Are You Ready To Take The Jump?

Building any new home is not for the faint of heart.

Before you start building your shipping container home, you need to ask yourself are you ready to take the jump? Is your lifestyle stable enough to accommodate building a new home?

Are you just about to move jobs or start a family? If you’re personal circumstances are about to change drastically, it’s probably best you don’t start building your container home yet. Building a container home can be stressful and you don’t want any additional pressures during this time.

Make sure you circumstances are as stable as they can be before you take the plunge!


Please make sure you take the time to properly address each of these questions before you start building your own shipping container home.

Taking the time out now will save you weeks if not months later on into your build. Making a modification halfway through your build can cost you not only time but lots of money!

Let me know which question you found most useful in the comments below…

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  1. Nick

    I haven’t seen any articles on delivery of containers, eco-options such as a garden roof, solar etc….really love this idea.

    • Tom

      Hi Nick,

      Thank you for the ideas I will be sure to include them in my future articles.