My Shipping Containers Have Arrived, Now What?

Posted By: January 11, 2017 In Guides

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

The moment your shipping containers arrive is definitely one of the most exciting parts of building a shipping container home.

You’ve planned the build, chosen your containers and your containers have arrived. But now what?

Before the containers arrive you should have already prepared your building site. This makes delivering the containers much easier and cheaper, as you can put them in their permanent place straight away.

If you’ve already prepared your site you can jump ahead to the siting section here. If you haven’t prepared your site then keep reading.

Site Preparation

Once your containers have arrived, your first job is to prepare the site.

This step will vary depending on the condition of your site and whether your land is flat and level.

Generally though, site preparation involves marking and clearing.


First you need to mark out where your shipping container home is going to be built- you should have planned your build beforehand so this step should be straight forward.

To mark your site, use stakes and place them into the ground at the corner of where each container will sit.

Once you’ve marked out where your container home will be built you know exactly where you need to clear and prepare.


Now you’ve marked where your containers will be placed, you need to clear the area.

This stage includes removing any trees, vegetation, roots and anything similar that is currently inside your marked area. It also means making sure the ground within the marked area is flat and level.

You can pay a contractor to do this, but if you’re looking to save money I recommend you do it yourself.

Before you start clearing your site though, you need to decide what to do with all the debris and rubbish you’re going to clear.

If you have a large piece of land, you could bury the rubbish in a discrete location. Generally though, you will need to pay someone to come and collect the debris and get it hauled away.

Again, if you’re looking to save money you can haul it yourself and just pay to dump it.

Shipping Container Home Foundations

Once you’ve prepared and cleared your site the next step is to lay your foundations.

I’ve covered shipping container home foundations in much more detail here and here.

This section is meant as an overview.

In my opinion the cheapest and most versatile form of shipping container home foundation is the pier foundation.

The pier foundation involves laying small concrete blocks underneath each corner of your shipping containers.

This foundation approach is cheaper because you don’t need to excavate much land (just the small cube shapes for the concrete). And, you don’t need to use much concrete.

It also happens to be the most DIY friendly.

However, the pier foundation is not suitable for every shipping container home.

For instance if you’re building on a site which has very soft top soil and clay then you would more than likely need to use a slab or pile foundation.

Make sure to read shipping container home foundation types, where we discuss each type of foundation and where they are suitable.

It’s also during this foundation stage that you generally fix brackets to the foundation block before it sets.

These brackets are used to fix the containers down onto the foundation block.

The most DIY friendly way is to use a steel plate with vertical bars and set this into the wet concrete before it cures.

Siting Your Containers

Siting your containers means placing them on, and fixing them to your foundation.

You have a few choices here but it mainly depends on the size of your shipping containers, what they are being delivered on and finally, if your foundation block is ready.

If your foundations are ready and your shipping containers are being delivered on a tilt flatbed trailer- a skilled driver can back right up to the foundation block and let the container slide off straight onto the foundation pad.

This is the cheapest and easiest method by far.

If your foundation block isn’t ready when your containers arrive, or isn’t easily accessible you are going to need to look at using either a crane or a HIAB to drop the containers onto the foundation block.

HIABs can be hired for around $400 per day and Cranes are even more expensive at $750.

The HIAB though can only lift 20ft containers so if you are using 40ft containers you will need to use the crane.

Once you’ve placed the shipping container on the foundation block you need to connect the container to the foundation block.

Because of the weight of shipping containers you can just place the containers on the foundation block and be done with it.

However, for extra strength most people weld the containers to a steel plate which has been set into the foundation block.

Shipping Container FoundationIf you don’t want to weld the containers you can bolt the containers instead. To do this, once the containers have been placed on the foundation block, you can drill through each corner of the container down into the concrete and place a 1×12” bolt in each corner.

Joining Your Containers Together

Once you’ve bolted/welded the containers to the foundation block, you need to join the containers to one another.

Connecting the containers together provides extra strength so it’s well worth doing this step.

To join them together you can either bolt or weld the containers.

My personal preference is to weld the containers because this provides a stronger connection than bolting and is more secure.

To weld the containers together you can place 3”x1/8” flat steel between the touching containers and use a stitch pattern to weld them in place.

Shipping Container Roof Welded Three

Image From Larry Wade

If you’re looking to relocate your shipping container home in the near future then bolting them together is a much better option.

To bolt your containers together, you need to drill through each corner of the container where it touches another container. Then you can use a bolt and washer to join them and use mastic to seal any gaps around the bolts.

Cutting Openings and Fixings

At this point the basic structure of your home is in place: the foundation will have been laid, the containers should have been sited and finally, the containers have been welded to each other and to the foundation block.

The next stage is cutting any openings you have designed for your doors and windows.

Let me add a comment at this point about structural reinforcement.

I receive this question a lot via email, and people want to know, do they need to structurally reinforce the containers after cutting a section of steel out?

Unfortunately the short answer is: it depends.

Generally, when removing smaller sections of steel for window and door openings no structural reinforcement will need adding.

However when removing larger sections of steel such as the entire side of a container then yes, the containers will need reinforcing.

It varies project to project and the best way to know for sure is to contact a local structural engineer who is familiar with shipping container homes, or at a minimum, steel framed construction.

With that being said, to cut the opening in your containers you can use an angle grinder, plasma cutter or cutting touch. Angle grinders are certainly the cheapest and most DIY friendly.

Make sure to create a template for the windows and doors then place the templates on the container and cut around them using the angle grinder.

Once the openings have been cut you are free to weld into place the door and window frames before fitting the actual doors and windows.

Once the doors and windows have been fitted your home should be waterproof.

There aren’t too many more stages left until your home is complete, the key stages remaining include: fitting your services, framing/insulation and internal/external fittings.


After reading this article you should be familiar with the construction steps necessary to complete your shipping container home: from when the shipping containers arrive at your building site, through to fitting the final interior fixings.

Like any other form of construction, there isn’t only one ‘correct’ path to complete a build. So the stages in your shipping container home build might vary and that’s fine.

Just remember though, having a plan in place before you build will help keep you on schedule and budget.

Let us know in the comments below what your favorite stage of building a shipping container home is…

  1. Alf Buckley

    Very good information, very useful.

    Thanks Alf