Shipping Container Zoning Permits and Building Codes Blog Cover

Shipping Container Zoning Permits and Building Codes: Which States Allow Them?

Posted By: October 12, 2017 In Guides

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

People often ask us where the best place to build a shipping container home is.

Honesty, it comes down to personal preferences. What makes a perfect location for one person might make it a terrible location for someone else.

With that said, there are still factors which are applicable to everyone, such as affordability and the strictness of local planning regulations.

Anyone who has been around shipping container homes knows that it can be difficult to get a permit to build. This is why finding land in the correct area is one of the most important stages of your build.

In this article, we’ll discuss things to look for before sharing a few of the best U.S. states to build in.

Background to Zoning Regulations and Building Codes

Planning Your Container Home

Unfortunately, you can’t build a shipping container home anywhere you want.

Where you can build a container home depends on your local building and planning department’s zoning regulations and building codes.

It’s important though not to confuse building codes and zoning, as they are two separate things.

Zoning regulations state where a house can be built and help keep similar buildings near each other.  For instance, by zoning an area as residential, you can be certain that Walmart won’t open a warehouse next door to you! However, sometimes the regulations can be excessive and restrictive.

In contrast, building codes stipulate the standards for the construction (i.e. how a home should be built).

Generally, these regulations cover key aspects of your shipping container home construction, such as:

  • The type of foundation you need to use
  • The minimum square footage requirements for each room
  • Minimum required insulation
  • Energy efficiency of your home
  • And much more…

If you are lucky, you can sometimes even find land that falls outside of ‘zoned’ areas, meaning you are free to build without a permit. It’s important to remember that you may still need to meet the building codes in this case.  It’s best to check.

The Best States to Build In

Now we’ve covered zoning permits and building regulations, let’s look at the best places in the U.S. to build a shipping container home.

For each state assessed, we looked at affordability, the flexibility of local planning regulations, and the acceptance of shipping container homes.

Before we continue, it’s important to state that you can run into regulatory complexities in any state and there are no guarantees when applying for a building permit.

In no particular order, let’s take a look at each state.

1. Texas

Texas is a fantastic location to build a shipping container home.

It has a proven track record with several shipping container homes already built here, both large and small.

Texas is also known for having a more relaxed regulatory environment, which also pertains to building regulations. However, as in any state, regulations are generally most strict in large cities, so look to more suburban and rural areas for an easier path to approval.

2. California

Next on our list is The Golden State, California.

California is notorious for strict land use, so it might surprise some of you that it makes the list.

Whilst strict in some ways, California also prides itself on its progressivism and their recent approval of tiny homes in certain cities confirms this.

There have been several successful shipping container home builds already, which suggests approval for shipping container homes could be possible.

If you’re considering California, consider areas to the north or well inland from the coast, as land tends to be more reasonably priced there and ordinances are less strict.

3. Tennessee

Third on our list is Tennessee, generally considered a great all-rounder.

On the Freedom in the 50 States report, it is ranked 7th for land freedom meaning there isn’t too much local interference and regulation preventing you from building.

Additionally, it is also a great place for people looking for off grid living. Most plots of land will have access to water and the farming season tends to average more than 250 days a year. Unlike other areas in the south, Tennessee also experiences all four seasons.

As for price, anywhere near Blue Ridge Mountains can be expensive, so look for land in West Tennessee if you’re looking for affordability.

4. Louisiana

According to research by the Cato Institute, Louisiana ranks number 1 for land freedom in the US.

They calculated this using the Wharton Residential Land Use Regulatory Index, which is a measure of the local land use regulatory climate (i.e. how much local regulation there is on what you can build on your own land).

It turns out Louisiana has very light zoning regulations; this could be why we have already seen multiple shipping container homes built there.

It isn’t just land that isn’t highly regulated though, as Louisiana is renowned for its small local government and hands-off approach.

In addition to low amounts of zoning and regulation, it also appears on this list because land is reasonably priced there, however personal freedoms “have stayed still”.

Given their ‘relaxed’ zoning requirements, getting a permit to build here seems possible.

5. Missouri

At number five on our list is Missouri.

Those that live in Missouri fondly refer to it as one of the best kept secret states – with warm summers and mild winters, it has plenty to offer!

In terms of land, the prices are very reasonable and the “local zoning is quite loose”.

If you want land with access to rivers and forests, it would be a great pick for you.

Several container homes have been built in Missouri, including this beautiful home built near Rogersville for only $150,000.

Generally speaking, most of the rural areas don’t require building permits, which make it a perfect location for building a shipping container home.

6. Oregon

Next on our list is Beaver State, Oregon.

While Oregon is known for stricter builder regulations than most other states, it is also well known amongst the off-grid community for being very progressive with regards to alternative construction.

The state’s reputation for ‘live and let live’ is reflected in their acceptance of off-grid communities.  One of the most famous of these is the Three Rivers Recreation Area, which consists of 4,000 acres and is home to over 600 residents.

Consider Oregon if you’d like to live near the west coast, but appreciate a slightly different cultural feel than California.

7. Alaska

Last on our list of best states to build in is Alaska, The Last Frontier, known for its vast expansive terrain and low population density.

Crucially for people wanting to build their own container home, Alaska does not zone low-cost housing. This is perfect for people looking to build an affordable shipping container home.

There have been several container homes built here, including this impressive one shown in the video below. Built by Matt Petersen, the home utilizes strong roll-out steel sides to prevent vandalism.

If you’re looking for cheap land, snow and lots of personal freedom, Alaska is almost certainly the place where you should build your shipping container home!

The Future of Shipping Container Homes Regulations

While we have seen signs of local planning departments becoming more accepting of shipping container homes, this isn’t yet widespread.

Unfortunately, some local city planning and development offices can still be resistant and unknowledgeable about shipping container homes.

At Container Home Plans, we will continue to work towards our goal of educating as many people as possible about building, living, and working in shipping container buildings.

It’s our hope that in due time, shipping container buildings will become more widely accepted and local city planners will account for them.


We hope the list of places above has helped you.

While there can be no guarantees with building permits, working with more progressive or relaxed local planners can certainly help!

If you’ve found land that you’re interested in purchasing, make sure to thoroughly research it before you decide to buy it. Take a look around your local neighborhood – do you notice any unorthodox builds? Are there any shipping container homes already built here?

Either of these two are great signs. While they aren’t requirements, they do signal that the road ahead of you has already been blazed by someone else, and should be an easier path.

Additionally, once you’ve found a suitable plot of land, be make sure to read how to get started building your shipping container home.

Let us know in the comments below where you have built or are thinking about building your shipping container home…

  1. Crysti

    Hi, we are going to Oregon to escape CA. I had heard that if your home is on wheels, it’s a way to not deal with all this. I mean you can park a motorhome etc and not worry about it??

    • Tom

      What you’re talking about is more of a ‘tiny house’ than a ‘container house’. Container houses are semi-permanent as they technically can be moved with some work, although most people never do. A tiny house on wheels can be quickly moved, but it is a much smaller living space. The regulations regarding tiny houses are usually different than container houses, and most of the rules regarding where you can park them are not from the state or federal government, but from your city or county.

  2. Daiyanisse

    What about Florida? Specifying on Largo city (pinellas county) They allow it?

    • Tom

      You’d need to contact the planning department and ask. We unfortunately can’t stay up to date with the requirements of every city and region. In general, we’ve found very few cases where container homes are completely banned. It’s slightly more common to allow them, but possibly with some type of aesthetic requirements to disguise the fact that it is a shipping container. More common still is to allow them as long as they meet code requirements. However, depending on your location, you may face both city/county regulations as well as HOA rules.

  3. Mariela

    We want to build in california in Pheland

    • Armando

      were you ever able to get this build up and going.

  4. Evadney Sellers

    Can we build a container home in Charlotte nc in a rural area?

    • Tom

      Hi Evadney,

      I can’t advise on individual circumstances unfortunately. As mentioned in the article you should contact your local zoning dept.


  5. Joy J Burton

    I didn’t see Arizona mentioned…we have 2 and 1/2 acres just west of Phoenix…and want to build a shipping container home there. Any ideas?? Thank you…

  6. Peter Braun

    Planning to build a shipping container home in the Puna district on Hawaiʻi Island…any intel on rules and regs in Hawaiʻi County?

    • Tom

      Sorry Peter, nothing more than what is in the article.

      Best of luck,