How To Plan Your Shipping Container Home Blog Cover

How To Plan Your Shipping Container Home

Posted By: November 18, 2015 In How To

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In today’s blog we are going to look at exactly how to plan the build of your new shipping container home.

As you already know, planning is the most important part of any project, and shipping container homes are no different. Have you ever heard the famous expression: If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”?

The average new home tends to run over its budget by around 15-20%, so it’s crucial you make a solid plan and stick to it, to avoid overspending whilst building your container home.

Not only do you risk overspending but you also risk the construction running over on time as well.

Let’s take a closer look at exactly how you should correctly plan your shipping container home.

Set Your Budget

The first and most crucial step to planning the build of your container home is to set your budget.

Setting Your BudgetThere is not much sense in planning to build a 4000sq foot home if you only have $50,000 available.

So first, sit down, and work out how much cash savings you have and also how much money you can loan from the bank. Add these two figures together and you have your total budget.

You then need to allow for a contingency fund of 20%. A contingency fund is a reserve of money that is used when you meet unexpected expenses/delays during the construction of your home.

It’s a sad reality of home building, but the majority of builds overrun and cost more money than originally expected.

Let me show you how the contingency fund is calculated with a total budget of $150,000. Twenty percent of $150,000 = $30,000.

So your budget to build your container home would be $120,000 and you would have a contingency of $30,000.

Decide and Finalize Your Design

Here comes the really fun part, it’s time to actually design your shipping container home. You need to calculate your budget before this step so you can plan realistically.

You can design anything, from a single container tiny house, all the way up to a three story mansion! The combinations of shipping containers are nearly endless, and they can be designed perfectly around what you need from your home.

If you are short of ideas or are looking for inspiration, make sure to check out our pack of 20 plans.

Shipping Containe Home Floor Plans

I find the best way to plan is to think about the logical questions first before you start worrying about: “how many shipping containers should I use” and “how should I layout the shipping containers”.

Instead you should be asking yourself questions like: “How many bedrooms do I want” and “what will the home be used for”.

Remember, the more specific your answers are, the better your design will be.

It costs a lot of money to change your mind about the design halfway through building your container home.

I remember a friend of mine, who was building their own container home, decided to remove an internal wall of their container. Subsequently they decided they didn’t want the open plan room and put the wall back in. In total the changes cost them $5,000 in wasted material and time.

Better planning would have avoided this expense!

Who Will Build It?

Once you’ve decided on the design of your shipping container house, you need to think about who will build it.

Lots of people choose to build their shipping container home themselves. This is far cheaper and I think it’s also far more rewarding. If you want to build a shipping container home yourself, you need to think about whether you have enough relevant experience and practical skills.

If you don’t have the practical experience, or don’t have enough time, then you should instead think about hiring a contractor to build the home for you.

Contractors tend to be more experienced and can build the home in a shorter time, but they will be far more expensive. If you’re thinking about employing a contractor, make sure to:

  • Ask for references.
  • Do they guarantee their work?
  • How long does the guarantee last for?
  • Do they have liability insurance?

If you decide to hire a contractor, make sure to read our article on how to find a contractor.

Where Will You Build Your Shipping Container Home?

So you’ve set your budget, designed your container home and have decided who is going to build it, it’s now time to find a piece of land that meets your needs.

How To Find LandThe reason I tell people to design their container home before they find land, is so they design the actual shipping container home they want and don’t design a container home which is restricted by a particular piece of land.

To find a plot of land I prefer to first, identify a particular area that you are interested in. This area should be no more than 15 miles across- any bigger than this and it becomes increasingly time consuming and more difficult to research.

Whilst you can look online and use websites such as Zillo, I still prefer to find pieces of land the old fashioned way- you can sometimes get an absolute bargain!

I’d simply drive around the area which you have identified and then look for any ‘for sale’ signs. Another thing I like to do is speak with the locals there. They are often much more in the know, and know of land that might be for sale before it hits the real estate listings.

Once you’ve found a piece of land that you’re interested in, make sure you speak to the local zoning/planning department.

You need to talk with them and establish how likely they are to grant you a building permit to build a shipping container home in their district. If at this point the local planning department seem very against the idea, it might be for the best to find a piece of land in another district instead.

Is Your Shipping Container Home Viable?

The final question you need to ask yourself is: “is your shipping container home viable”?

Viable can mean many different things, but here it means: do you have the required skills and resources to build a shipping container home.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any period of time, you will know that building a shipping container home is hard work and requires a variety of skills and resources.

Clearly, the two most important resources you will need are time and money. Then you will need the DIY knowhow and ability to convert the shipping container into a home, or, enough money to hire someone to covert the containers for you.

It’s also important to consider where you are going to get your building materials from before you start building.

For instance, if you are planning to build a shipping container home, but live 1000 miles away from the nearest container depo, then perhaps it isn’t viable for you to build a shipping container home. This would cost you a lot of money and also take time to get your containers delivered across such a distance.

The last key thing you need to consider is building permits/planning permission. It’s a sad truth, but in certain areas of the world you just aren’t going to get a building permit to construct a shipping container home. If this is your local planning departments’ stance, then you’re going to have a hard time changing their minds.

Sometimes it’s easier to decide to build a container home in another district with different planning/zoning laws!


You should now be able to plan your new shipping container home, from setting your budget all the way through to identifying a piece of land.

When setting your budget, make sure you allow for a contingency fund of 20%, this will cover you in case you have any unexpected costs during the build.

To design your container home, think of the logical questions first, such as: “how many rooms do I need” and “what will each one be used for”. Then you can work from that and calculate how many containers you require.

Make sure you decide who will be building your container home. Many container home owners have built their own home, however this doesn’t mean you have to. Think about whether you have the time and DIY knowhow to get the job done.

You now need to find a piece of land. My favorite technique is to speak with the locals because they will be able to tell you about land that’s available before it hits the real estate listings.

Finally, you need to consider is your shipping container home viable? Do you have the time, budget and resources to make this possible!?

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