6 Things You Must Know Before Building a Shipping Container Home Blog Cover

6 Things You Must Know Before Building a Shipping Container Home

Posted By: September 1, 2016 In Featured

Want to build your own shipping container home? Start Here.

We’ve been running this website for several years now to provide you with the most detailed and helpful information on building shipping container homes.

Whilst building a new container home is one of the most exciting things you can do, it can also be a difficult thing to do.

Shipping containers are a unique building material and have their own challenges and advantages.

We’ve already discussed the common mistakes to avoid when building a shipping container home, and today we want to expand on this by discussing the 6 key things you need to know before your build a container home.

Not All Containers Are Equal

One of the most important things you need to know when building your container home is that shipping containers are not all built the same. You have high cube, regular and refrigerated to name but a few types of containers.

Old Rusty Shipping Containers

In addition to this you can purchase these different types of containers as new, one-trip and used.

When we interviewed shipping container home owners, to ask them what is the biggest thing they wish they knew before building their home, an overwhelming number of people said high cube containers.

High cube containers are basically the same as regular containers except they are an additional foot taller. This extra foot is worth having, especially if you are insulating the floor of your container.

The only drawback is they generally cost a bit more than regular containers. For example, a new standard 20 foot container will set you back around $2,100. Whereas, a new high cube 20 foot container will set you back around $3,200.

Whilst they cost more, I would personally make every effort to buy the high cubes because you will really notice the extra foot in ceiling space.

We have discussed shipping containers in much more depth previously, so feel free to read that article to learn more.

You Must Research Local Planning Laws/Building Regulations

Whilst this is certainly applicable to shipping container homes, it is also applicable to anyone wanting to build any type of home.

Failing to research your local planning regulations can be disastrous.

Not Researching Local Planning Regulations

Recently in England, Robert Fidler was forced to take down his $1.5m house as he didn’t seek planning approval before building it-you don’t want to be this person.

We always suggest that you start by searching in your area to see if any unorthodox style homes have been built. If they have this is a great start.

An even better start is if a container home has already been built in your area.

Don’t worry if nobody in your area has built a container home, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t- perhaps nobody has tried before!

Once you’ve planned your build, and built up some evidence you need to go and speak to your local planning office before construction starts, to gauge how receptive they are to the idea (some need more persuasion than others).

The only time you don’t need planning permission is when you’re outside of your city’s zoning laws. In this case you are generally free to build providing the structure is safe- even in this case though we’d still recommend speaking your with your local planning office to confirm you’re outside the zoning limits.

Don’t Change Your Design

We’ve previously spoken about this, but it’s so important, so we will discuss it again here.

One of the biggest reasons why homes in general take longer than expected to build, and cost more money than expected is because the design gets changed whilst the home is being built.

You’ve probably experienced this before.

You decide to buy something and then once you get it, it isn’t quite what you thought it would be so you change it for another product.

When building a home you can’t do this!

Also when building with shipping containers, you have the unique position that when you remove a wall from the container it’s gone. It’s incredibly expensive and time consuming to replace the wall again once you’ve cut it out.

Make sure you do as much research as possible and ideally, visit several container homes before you commit to your design.

A good architect will not only produce the 2D elevations but also they will produce 3D elevations which will help give you a sense of space in your new home.

Tip: One of our readers recommended using Lego blocks to model container homes with- turns out it’s very effective!

Don’t Cut The Containers… Too Much

Like most building materials, shipping containers can be used to build anything from cheap homes right through to million dollar homes, and everything in the middle.

However, in our experience most people decide to use shipping containers because of the cost savings benefits.

You need to know that if you maintain as much of the container’s structural integrity as possible then you will save money.

Anytime you cut steel out of your containers, it costs you both time and money. Not only do you have to pay someone to remove steel from your containers, you will likely also need to pay for the opening to be reinforced with a steel beam.

If you look at the cheapest container homes built, the one commonalty they have is that they haven’t modified the containers too much. Sure, they have cut openings for doors and windows, but they haven’t removed large sections from the containers.

By not removing large sections of the container you are maintaining the container’s structural integrity which saves you money!

Which Insulation Should You Use

With a traditional brick built home the most common insulation choice is insulation panels.

Insulation Panel

However when building a shipping container home, not only do you want your insulation material to insulate your home, you also want it to create a vapor barrier to prevent moisture entering your containers.

For this reason the most popular choice of insulation for container homes is spray foam insulation.

Not only is spray foam insulation thinner than insulation panels, if applied correctly, it also acts as a vapor barrier.

You would generally spray the interior walls and the exterior base of the container. These two layers combined generally offer more than enough insulation.

The only drawback of spray foam insulation is that it’s more expensive than insulation panels.

If your budget is extremely tight then I would generally suggest you go for the insulation panels. They can offer just as much insulation as their spray foam counterpart, except it’s an inch thicker so you lose some interior space.

Finding Contractors Can Be Difficult

Building not just a shipping container home, but any home can be difficult.

This is why people use contractors because they don’t have either the time or the skills to build the home themselves.

As shipping container homes are only starting to grow into the mainstream, the number of contractors who specialize in this type of construction is relatively few at the moment.

Obviously if you intend on self-building your home this isn’t a problem.

However, recently more and more people have emailed us asking if we can recommend contractors to them.

One thing we would recommend is to try and manage the build yourself and bring in separate contractors for the various tasks you need help with, for instance welding and electrics.

This approach will help save you money as you won’t have to pay for a general contractor to manage the entire build.

Whilst unquestionably the number of complete shipping container contractors will grow, in the meantime we’d recommend bringing in individual contractors.


If you’ve read the article through in its entirety, you are now in good shape to begin your shipping container home adventure.

I would recommend that next you read how to plan your shipping container home.

When you’re reading that article remember to bear the two key points from this article in mind.

Firstly, not all shipping containers are equal. Different manufactures produce different quality containers. Also, high cube containers are generally the best container to build with.

Secondly, the insulation material you use should also act as a vapor barrier. Generally people use spray foam insulation for this, however panel insulation can also be used.

Have you built a shipping container home? What is the most important thing you think you need to know before you build a container home?