What to Prepare Before Building a Shipping Container Home

Posted By: July 7, 2017 In Guides

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Once you’ve decided to build a shipping container home, there are 5 key things you need to prepare before you go any further:

Budget, Design, Land, Shipping Containers and Contractors.

Without adequately preparing these key 5 things, you will already be off to a shaky start with your build.

In today’s article, we are going to go through each one of these activities and discuss how you can best prepare for your shipping container home build.

Let’s start with the budget.

Budget

Shipping Container Home BudgetThe first, and most important thing you need to prepare, is your budget. This will shape the rest of your project.

Your budget should cover every cent which you are planning to spend on your home build including:

  • Buying your containers
  • Buying land
  • Labor Fees (Structural Engineer, Architect, Welders etc.)
  • Internal Fixing (Kitchen, Bathroom)
  • Foundations etc.

For a cost breakdown of building a shipping container, you can read my article here.

When preparing your budget I always recommend putting some money aside to create a contingency budget.

A contingency budget, is as it sounds.

It’s a chunk of money set aside which you use to pay any unexpected expenses during your build.

No matter how well you plan your build, unfortunately even with experienced builders there will always be unexpected costs which arise during your build.

I generally recommend a 20% contingency for most builds, and a greater percentage for more complex builds.

For example, if your total budget for your container home is $100,000 then you should allocate $80,000 to spend. And you would have to set aside $20,000 as your contingency budget.

Designing Your Home

Shipping Container Home Floor PlanNow you’ve allocated your budget you can set about realistically planning and designing your shipping container home.

If you already own land then you will be constricted to making sure your new home design fits within your existing land.

However if you don’t have land yet, depending on your budget, I would suggest two different approaches.

  1. If you have a small budget I would suggest finding your land first.

Finding land is hard enough without worrying about whether your design will work with the land. If you purchase the land first you won’t have this problem. This way you can find affordable land and then design your home around the land which you have.

  1. If you have a larger budget, I would first design your home and then find a piece of land which accommodates your design.

Whilst finding land to meet an existing set of criteria is harder, it will ensure that the land you purchase is suitable for the home which you’ve designed.

Land

Finding LandAfter setting your budget, and designing your container, you can now start the process of finding suitable land to build on.

If you already have land you can skip past this section, however I imagine the majority of people will not have land.

First you need to create a list of requirements for your land, this can include:

  • General location of land
  • Access to water (any wells or streams on site)
  • Subsurface soil type (clay, sand, peat etc.)
  • Proximity to neighbors
  • Existing access to land from closest road

Once you’ve created a list of requirements you can start to search for land. A good first place is online real estate listings and the local land registries.

Using these sources you can search through previously sold pieces of land and check the sale price. This way you know if the area and plot are within your budget or not…

After you have found an area which meets your requirements and is within budget you need to appraise the likelihood of getting a permit to build a shipping container home there.

What I like to do here is drive around the local neighborhood and look for any nonstandard buildings (i.e. log cabins, container homes, fixed trailers, wooden frame homes and steel builds).

It’s a good heuristic to gauge the likelihood of getting a permit.

They don’t have to be shipping container homes but if you do find one already in the local area this is even better!

Any non-standard home though is a good sign. It means that the local building department is open to unorthodox builds which means they are likely already familiar with shipping container homes.

Shipping Containers

Shipping ContainersNow you need to turn your focus to the actual shipping containers themselves.

At first thought, the shipping containers you buy will largely be decided by your design.

For example, if your design calls for high ceilings, then you will need high cube containers…

However I find it’s rarely this simple.

The design and shipping container selection is usually an evolving process.

Generally, unless you are extremely fortunate, your local shipping container dealer will not stock every type of container. Also, they could be running a promotion on certain types of containers.

In either case you need to get creative…

If budget is not a concern then you can simply choose your desired container and ship it to your location from the nearest source, however if you’re on a strict budget; you need to work with the container dealers to work out the best option for you.

Regardless of the type of container you are buying you also need to decide whether you will be buying new, one-trip or used containers.

I’ve spoken about this at length in my complete guide to purchasing shipping containers; however I will briefly discuss it again here.

  1. New Containers

New containers offer the advantage of being in immaculate condition and are easy to source and purchase.

However, new containers are much more expensive and less environmentally friendly than reclaimed containers.

  1. One-Trip Containers

Your next option is to use one-trip containers.

As the name suggests, one-trip containers are brand new shipping containers which have only been used for a single shipment.

Buying one trip containers offers exceptional value for money, with the peace of mind about the container’s condition.

The only drawback to these containers is that they can be hard to purchase because there is generally a high demand for them.

  1. Used Containers

Used containers can be extremely good value for money, providing you purchase them in good condition.

However, you need to make sure you thoroughly inspect them. Always make sure to see the containers in person before you buy them.

It’s incredibly easy to make used containers look like they are in good condition on photos, when in reality, the seller could be hiding corrosion and infested floor boards.

Both of which can be expensive to fix.

When inspecting a used container you should walk around the perimeter of the container looking for any signs of corrosion and major dents. Also look down the major support beams.

You then need to check the roof and underneath the container.

Generally people don’t check the roof of the container, but in my experience this is one of the most important places to check. Used containers left outside for long periods of time can have extreme corrosion due to standing water.

Self Build or Contractor

Finally you need to decide if you are going to build the shipping container home yourself or if you are going to use contractors.

If you are building it yourself you will need to prepare your equipment and tools.

If you have built homes before, you will likely have the majority of tools needed except: grinders, welders and lifting equipment for the containers.

If you are using contractors then you need to prepare well before the build starts.

The first thing you will need to do is shortlist a handful of contractors who you like the look of. Then you need to ‘interview’ these contractors.

Once you bring this shortlist down to 2 contractors you should then ask to see previous homes which they have built.

This process alone will take up to three months.

Are you uncertain about whether you are going to build your shipping container home yourself or use a contractor? Read my article should you build your own shipping container home.

Summary

I hope this article has given you a better idea of the key issues you need to resolve before you build your shipping container home.

In my experience your budget, design, land, containers and builders, are generally the five key issues which need resolving before your build moves forward.

Once you have these five key areas prepared, you will have a much smoother build process.

If you have any other key issues which arose during the preparation stage of your build, let me know and I will add it to our list below.


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