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.

I’m often asked by people where the best place to build a shipping container home is.

Honesty, I think it comes down to personal preferences. What makes a perfect location for someone 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.

So, in this article I’m going to talk to you through what to look for before sharing some of the best states to build a container home 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, they are two separate things.

Zoning regulations will state where a house can be built.

These zoning regulations help to 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.

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

Generally these regulations will 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 requirement insulation value
  • Energy efficiency of your home
  • And much more…

If you are incredibly 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 though that you will likely still need to meet the building codes.

The Best States to Build In

Now we’ve covered zoning permits and building regulations, I want to look at the best places in the US to build a shipping container home.

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

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

So in no particular order, let’s take a look at each state in turn.

1. Texas

Texas would make 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.

They also have several large off-grid communities such as the Garden of Eden farm.

Texas is also known for having lax building regulations. However, like in any state, you should avoid looking to build in a large city as this is where the regulations are generally the strictest.

If you’re considering Texas be sure to avoid stricter places like Dallas and Austin, and head for more rural/agricultural areas.

2. California

Next on our list is The Golden State, California.

California is notorious for strict land use and limiting the number of new properties being built, so it might surprise some of you that it makes the list.

Whilst it’s true they are strict on land use, they are also one of the most progressive states 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 you should head north as the land tends to be more reasonably priced there and ordinances are less strict.

3. Tennessee

Third on our list is Tennessee, it is generally considered a great all-rounder and one of the freest states in the US.

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

Additionally, it also makes a great place for people looking for off grid living as well. 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 makes it a perfect location for building a shipping container home.

6. Oregon

Next on our list is Beaver State, Oregon.

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

Whilst I couldn’t find any shipping container homes built in Oregon, the state’s reputation for live and let live is reflected in their acceptance of off grid communities.

One of the most famous off grid communities in Oregon 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 on the west coast and California is appealing to you.

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 out low-cost housing. This is perfect for people looking to build an affordable shipping container home.

There have been several cargo 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

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

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

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

It’s our hope that in due course shipping container homes will become widely accepted and local city planners will account for them.


I hope the list of places above has helped you.

Whilst 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.

Once you’ve found your land, make sure to read how to get started building your shipping container home.

Let me know in the comments section below where you want to build your shipping container home…

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  1. 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,


  2. 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…

  3. 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.