7 Most Important Stages of Building Your Shipping Container Home Blog Cover

7 Most Important Stages of Building A Shipping Container Home

Posted By: November 1, 2017 In Guides

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Whilst no stage of shipping container home construction should be taken lightly, certain stages are definitely more important than others.

These key stages of construction should be carried out carefully. They have the capability to make or break your entire build.

Knowing these key stages also helps you to prioritize where you should spend your time and budget. There is no sense in spending most of your budget on external cladding and having to cut back on key aspects such as insulation and rust prevention.

So, in this article I will share with you the 7 most important stages of building a shipping container home.

Installing Insulation

Spray Foam Insulation Shipping ContainerIn my experience the insulation of a shipping container home can make or break the entire build.

Get it right and you will have a home that can maintain the correct temperature all year round. It will also be cheaper to run, and reduce your energy bills.

However, if you get it wrong your home will not be energy efficient, you’ll lose heat easily and find excessive moisture inside the home. You will also have expensive energy bills as you will need to spend on AC in the summer and heating in the winter.

Regardless of the type of insulation you decide to install, you need to make sure it is installed correctly.

With spray foam insulation this means ensuring a vapor barrier is created.

If you’re using panel insulation this means fitting them with the foil the correct way around.

You should also make sure you insulate the correct parts of the shipping container. A lot of people don’t insulate underneath the shipping container, however I would recommend you do.

It isn’t just fitting the insulation though; it’s making sure you choose the right type of insulation to use in the first place.

The type of insulation you use will depend on the climate you live in and also your budget.

For instance, if you live in a cold climate you will want to look at using spray foam insulation. Whereas in a dry, mild climate you could use panel insulation.

If you’re looking for more guidance on insulation read this and this.

Choosing Shipping Containers

In my opinion choosing your shipping containers is one of the most important stages of your shipping container home build.

Failure to get the appropriate shipping containers can lead to issues such as limited ceiling height, rust and corrosion.

If you’re buying new, or one-trip, containers then you only need to focus on getting the right type of shipping containers.

The right type of shipping container to buy will clearly depend on your plan and what you want to build. As a general rule though I recommend building with high cube shipping containers.

This gives you more ceiling height and also provides additional space for insulation to be fitted underneath the floor.

However if you’re buying used shipping containers you also need to pay attention to the condition of them.

When buying used containers you must make sure you inspect them in person and don’t rely on an online description of them.

When inspecting the containers you should pay special attention to any leaks, areas of corrosion and check for any signs of damp or mold.

We have previously published a detailed checklist in our complete guide to buying shipping containers. You should read that if you’re looking for more detailed information.

Shipping Container

Zoning Permits

We wouldn’t be talking about shipping container home construction properly if we didn’t make reference to zoning and building permits.

Clearly this one stage alone can completely make or break a build.

Whilst lots of regional planning departments are starting to warm to the idea of shipping container homes, unfortunately there are still those that aren’t familiar with them.

Getting a permit in areas familiar with shipping container homes is far easier than those areas with no previous builds.

I would recommend that before you buy land, you should approach your local planning department and see how responsive they are to the idea of a shipping container home build. Better yet, take a look around the local area and look to see if any cargo homes or unorthodox builds have already been built.

You don’t want to be this person. Robert Fidler built his home, at the cost of $1.5 million, without a permit and was forced to pull the building down.

Make sure you have all the necessary approvals before you start.

Planning Your Build

Whilst planning isn’t the most exciting part of your build it is definitely one of the most important.

Without a well thought out, realistic plan your build is already off to a bad start.

When people decide to build their own home they tend to get excited and want to start building as soon as possible. Whilst the excitement of seeing your shipping containers arrive on-site is unrivaled, I would suggest that you take your time.

It’s well known in construction circles that any mistakes on your plans are 10 times more expensive to fix once you’ve started building.

The cheapest and most effective way is to take your time to plan properly and make sure you catch any potential problems whilst you’re in the planning phase.

Just realized that your bathroom is too small on your design? It’s much easier to move a wall on a piece of paper than on an actual house!

When planning your build, some of the key things to think about are: budgeting, design, zoning and your timescale.

If you’re looking for more information, make sure to read our article on how to plan your build.

Setting a Realistic Budget

In my experience the single biggest reason that a shipping container home build fails, is due to a lack of money. The majority of the time this could be avoided if a solid plan and budget had been put in place before the build had started.

As previously mentioned you need a bulletproof plan before you start your build. A huge part of the plan is setting a realistic budget, and then designing your home around this budget.

For instance, if you’re looking to build a large family home but have a small budget, you would want to consider building with used shipping containers to keep the costs low. Make sure to plan and budget for only what you need and later on you can spend money on luxuries.

Whilst this is obvious, it’s very easy to get carried away during the planning phase. Before you know it you’ve committed to spending far too much money.

You should also make sure that you put 20% of your overall budget into a contingency allowance. Even with the best plan, unexpected things can and will occur during your build. You don’t want this to happen if you have no money.

So if your budget is $100,000, you should plan to spend $80,000 and place $20,000 into your contingency fund.

Site Preparation

With self-builders in particular, site preparation is often an overlooked step because it doesn’t feel productive and is something that can be done, as and when it’s needed.

I would recommend that you don’t fall into this trap.

Site preparation involves a lot of boring, but crucial tasks. For instance clearing all the rubbish off your land and leveling the site. Marking out where your foundations will be dug.

It also entails making sure there is suitable access to your land. If you’re building on a new piece of land, chances are there won’t be a drive. So you need to make sure there is access from the nearest road so the containers and other supplies can be delivered.

Whilst each of these tasks might not sound significant on their own, added up they equal a lot of work. Having all these tasks done before any major construction takes place will help make your build much smoother.

Also, if you’re looking to save money you can do many of the site preparation tasks yourself.

Rust Treatment and Prevention

Rusty Shipping ContainersRegardless of the material you choose to build your house with they each have a weakness. For instance with wooden homes it is decay and termite infestation. With traditionally built concrete homes it’s crumbling. With shipping container homes its rust and corrosion.

Shipping containers are built out of Corten steel; when they are new they are treated with anti-corrosive paint.

During the construction, when you are cutting and modifying the containers, you will likely strip away the protective paint. This can leave your shipping containers exposed to the elements.

This is why it’s crucial you treat your shipping containers for corrosion during the build.

However even once you’ve finished your build and moved in you still need to keep an eye out for rust and corrosion.

It’s much easier, and cheaper, to treat rust sooner rather than later.

Once every few months you should inspect your shipping containers. Read our guide on identifying, preventing and treating rust and corrosion here.


I hope this article has helped show you some of the key stages to keep in mind when building a container home.

Just by knowing these crucial stages, you know what you should focus your time and effort on. This will help to ensure a successful build.

In my opinion planning, insulation installation and rust prevention are the most important stages. Get them right and you dramatically increase the likelihood of a successful build.

Let me know in the comments section below what you think the most important stage of a shipping container home build is…

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