Shipping container homes have really taken off in popularity over the last few years. From tiny container homes to large 5 bedroom homes it’s truly encouraging to see their progression.
With this, there has been a rise in the number of people offering advice on how to build container homes.
Unfortunately, a lot of this advice is ill-advised and can actually be dangerous.
From using the original container floors to not insulating them- I’ve read a lot of bad advice.
Today, I want to set the record straight and discuss how to build your shipping container home the right way.
Plan, Plan, Plan!
I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it really needs emphasizing here.
As Benjamin Franklin states: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”.
The best shipping container homes have been thoroughly planned for months before the first container is even delivered on site.
This planning stage allows for two key things:
- Identification of mistakes with the plans
- Change of ideas
Firstly, identification of mistakes within the plans.
Nobody is perfect, even shipping container home architects! With the best will in the world mistakes can still happen. Planning your container home thoroughly allows for any mistakes to be identified before the build starts.
It’s easy to correct a mistake on a piece of paper- try correcting it on site when you’re already started building!
Secondly, change of ideas.
Planning and designed a home from scratch is surprisingly difficult! The sheer number of decisions and opportunities can be overwhelming.
It isn’t surprising then that during the planning process most people change their mind about the house layout many times.
Having a reasonable planning period allows you to really think through your design and commit to it.
Again, changing your mind and editing a sketch is simple enough. Changing your mind during the construction stage can be an expensive nightmare.
Don’t Commit All Your Money
Yes, shipping containers can be used to build incredibly cheap homes.
However you shouldn’t get carried away!
Some people fall into the trap of overbuilding because shipping container homes are cheap.
For instance they may live in a traditional three bedroomed home. However, with a shipping container home they can build a five bedroomed house for the same price.
Instead of saving money and building a three bedroomed container home, they decide to spend all their money and build a five bedroomed container home instead.
They also fail to take into account the larger running and maintenance costs of this bigger home.
You should only build what you need- don’t get carried away and build a huge house you don’t need!
Another common mistake is people failing to plan for a rainy day fund, and committing to spending 100% of their budget. I always recommend against this approach.
Let’s take an example where you have a budget of $100,000.
You should commit to spending no more than 80% of your budget, so $80,000.
The reason being, that during the build you will always get unexpected bills and expenses. So you need to make sure you have an adequate ‘safety net’ of cash to cover these unforeseen expenses.
A good ratio I recommend is a 20% safety net.
Read our article on how much do shipping container homes cost to get a good idea how much to allocate to your budget.
Get the Correct Shipping Containers
It can be incredibly tempting to buy any old shipping container to build with.
You’ve just seen a 40ft container for $1000 and it seems like a bargain right?
At that price you are likely buying a 20+ year old container which has some significant rusting and leakage problems- not the ideal building material.
It will likely cost you more money to repair the shipping container than it would to have bought a decent container in the first place.
Never cut corners when it comes to buying your shipping container.
It might seem like you’re saving money through buying a really cheap container. But actually you are buying liability and will end up losing money overall when you factor in the cost of your repair bills.
Make sure to read our buyers guide to inspecting shipping containers.
Whilst we’re talking about shipping containers it’s important to also think about the size of the container.
Again, most people jump at the chance to buy a cheap shipping container but this doesn’t mean you should.
Most shipping containers are standard height- 8ft 6ins.
When you factor in your floor, insulation and ceiling this doesn’t leave much head room.
I generally recommend to people that they build with high cube shipping containers. High cube containers are an additional foot taller than standard containers.
This extra foot of ceiling height makes a big difference.
Whilst they are generally an extra $1500 to buy, in my experience it’s well worth the additional money.
Remove the Floors in Your Containers
Another hot topic with shipping container homes is flooring.
You can save a lot of money by keeping the original shipping container flooring- but is this safe?
Typically shipping container floors are made from tropical hardwoods. Unfortunately the hardwoods used such as Apitong or Keruing attract pests.
For this reason container manufactures treat the floor with harsh pesticides to kill off any pests. This is great for transportation, but do you really want these harsh chemicals inside your home?
As a general rule of thumb you should remove or treat the floor in your shipping container.
Removing the floor is the easiest and safest option but also the most expensive.
If cost is a concern then you can consider treating the floor instead- we won’t cover how to do this here, as we’ve already covered this in-depth.
The only times I would recommend keeping the original container floors are when it’s either a new container or you know the history of the container and can guarantee no harsh chemicals are present.
Insulate Your Containers
Insulating your shipping containers is one of the most important aspects of the build. In fact, it’s probably the most important factor when building a shipping container home.
Get this stage wrong and you’re in for big trouble.
Which insulation material you should use will vary depending on your budget and location. One thing that isn’t up for discussion though is whether you should insulate the containers.
It can be tempting to avoid insulating the container to save money but this is a big mistake.
Without insulation your home will be too hot during the summer and too cold during the winter.
Generally I recommend to people to use spray foam insulation because this tends to be the most effective and also helps prevent damp and moisture issues.
Another great option is to batten the containers and use panel insulation. The only drawback with panel insulation is it doesn’t provide you with a vapor barrier- this can sometimes lead to damp issues.
If you’re looking for more guidance, read up on shipping container home insulation.
It’s sound cliché but it’s true.
Building your shipping container home should be fun!
You don’t want to look back at this time in your life with regret and disappointment. I’m not going to lie to you- there will be stressful times during the build.
However, building your home should be fun. If you’ve lost sight of this then, remember why you wanted to build a container home in the first place. Was it to save money, help the environment, or just because they look cool?
Whatever the reason, when you’re stressed during the build, remember why you chose to build a container home!
I hope you now have a much better idea about how to build your shipping container home.
Whilst it can be tempting to cut corners during the planning and building of your container home, eventually it will catch up with you.
Overall building a shipping container home is no different from building any home. It should be well planned and you should have a ‘rainy day’ fund.
Whilst there are unique aspects of building with containers such as insulation and floor removal, hopefully after reading this you feel more comfortable and knowledgeable.
What’s your top piece of advice when building a shipping container home? Let us know in the comments section below.