Shipping container home construction has certain unique characteristics when compared to traditional brick and mortar construction.
One area where this is most apparent is the distinctive set of tools required to build a shipping container home.
I receive a lot of questions about which tools, both power and hand operated, are needed when building your own shipping container home.
When it comes to selecting your tools, this is as important as selecting the correct shipping containers.
Without the right tool and more importantly, the right type of tool, you will end up wasting time and money.
The 5 tools discussed below are specifically for shipping container home construction. I decided not to discuss generic tools (such as handsaws and drills) in this article as there is already a wealth of information published online about such tools.
Tool 1: Welder
At the heart of every shipping container home build is a trusted welder.
You will use a welder at several key stages of the build:
- To weld the containers to your foundation pads.
- To weld your shipping containers together.
- To weld your window and door frames into place.
There is much discussion with shipping container construction whether to use a TIG or MIG welder.
I will now try to simplify an unnecessarily complicated discussion, here goes…
A MIG welder uses a continuous feeding wire whereas a TIG welder uses long welding rods.
In practical terms what does it matter?
A MIG welder can be used on your own and it’s much easier to learn how to use. Whereas TIG welders are generally harder to learn how to use.
Further to this, MIG welds are typically much faster, however they generally produce a little splatter and you may need to clean this up to get a smooth surface after welding.
For most people a MIG welder is the right choice. As to whether you buy the weld or hire it, well that’s another question…
To buy a good MIG will set you back upwards of $500, whereas they can be hired for less than $75 a day.
For a tiny home build I would recommend hiring a welder, but for anything larger than this generally it’s worth buying your own.
Tool 2: Spray Foam Insulation Kit
Whether you need a spray foam insulation kit or not will depend on the type of insulation you are using. However, in most cases I recommend spray foam insulation, so you will very likely need an insulation kit.
I generally recommend spray foam insulation because it has a single key advantage over blanket insulation and panel insulation. Spray foam insulation creates a seamless vapor barrier.
This is critical with shipping container homes because it helps avoid issues such as condensation and damp.
Now back to insulation kits.
For the typical container home build you can purchase pre-mixed solutions which come in cylinders ready to spray.
These kits normally include everything you need to fit your insulation including: spray nozzles, gun hose and sealant.
Normally when purchasing the insulation you get the spray nozzles and gun hose included in the price.
However, if you are ordering a large volume of spray foam insulation you will likely need to purchase your own cylinder, hose, gun and nozzles – but they aren’t very expensive. A couple hundred dollars should see them purchased.
For the majority of homes (>2500 sq foot) it will suffice to use pre-loaded cylinders. It’s only on large buildings where it becomes cost effective to use barrels.
Tool 3: Grinder
One of the most common tools you will use throughout your build is some form of a grinder.
You will need this to cut the openings for your doors and windows and also to remove any container walls which aren’t needed.
As for which type of grinder to use you have a few choices: angle grinder, cutting torch or a plasma cutter.
If you’re looking for the cheapest and most DIY friendly then look no further than the angle grinder. It’s simple to use and replacement discs are available for only a couple of bucks. Even if you have no previous experience, you can get up to speed with it very quickly.
However, it can be difficult to cut accurate straight lines using an angle grinder if you aren’t experienced.
Tip: When cutting your openings use a cardboard cutout template. It makes cutting much easier because you have a guide to follow.
If you’re looking for a smooth clean cut then the plasma cutter is your friend. Using a plasma cutter is much less physically demanding than an angle grinder and will leave clean-cut lines. This means any sheets of steel which you cut out can be reused.
Again though, inexperienced users will struggle to cut straight lines. I would only recommend using a plasma cutter if you have lots of experience. For people just starting out an angle grinder is sufficient.
Tool 4: SketchUp/Drawing Software
One of my favorite tools isn’t actually a physical tool at all.
It’s a drawing program called ‘SketchUp’ which lets me design and model all of my different ideas for shipping container homes.
Whilst you don’t need a piece of computer software to draw and design your container home, I find it much easier. Why?
- If I make a mistake when drawing I can easily correct it without having to bin my design and start over again.
- I often forget about my designs, so SketchUp means I can store them all together and view any one of my designs instantly.
- The designs are easy to share with people and I can share them instantly around the world.
If you don’t want to pay for SketchUp, there are plenty of other programs out there for free. You can also get design apps for your iPad now, in case you’re inspired to design whilst away from home!
However, if you don’t want to use a computer you can always just do it the old way and get out a piece of paper and start sketching.
Once you’ve finished drawing you can then scan them and store them on your computer to keep them safe.
Tool 5: Crane/Lifting Equipment
When your shipping containers are delivered to your land, you will need something to lift and place the containers on your foundation block.
Typically people use a crane for this.
You have several options depending on the foundation type you’re using and the access to your land.
If you’re using a slab foundation, and there is good access to your site, when the containers are being delivered you can ask the driver to back right up to the foundation slab and simply slide them right off.
However, generally this won’t be the case so you are going to need something to lift the containers: either a crane or a HIAB.
The HIAB is cheaper but unfortunately it will only lift 20 foot containers. So if you’re building with 40 footers you’re going to need to use a crane. The crane is the most precise method, but also the most expensive.
Generally you will rent a crane as it isn’t cost effective to purchase one. Even commercial developers won’t purchase cranes because of how expensive they are.
You should expect to pay around $750 a day to hire a crane.
As a side note, I was recently contacted by a reader who informed me that in Costa Rica they have used diggers with back hoes to move their containers.
Improvisation is the key word here!
I hope this list of must have tools has helped you plan and budget for your shipping container home.
Knowing which tools are needed is crucial when planning and sticking to your budget.
Whilst you don’t need to own all of the tools mentioned, you will certainly need access to them at some point during your build.
Some of the more expensive tools, such as a crane and welders, will be cheaper to hire on a day rate rather than buying them.
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts about the tools and if you think you could build a container home without some of them!
Are there any crucial tools you think I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments section below…