7 Things to Know Before Moving into a Shipping Container Home

7 Things to Know Before Moving into a Shipping Container Home
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    Every generation's homes look a little bit different from the ones that came before, but the 21st century has given us some much more radical departures.

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Homes made from shipping containers are one such innovation, and reports indicate that their numbers are on the rise.

If you’re considering buying a shipping container and creating your own container home, it can be a highly rewarding process and result in a great, unique house. However, there are some factors you need to take into consideration to make your project successful.

Before we begin, note that for the purposes of this article we’re not talking about the numerous shipping container houses and apartments being built around the world by developers.

We’ll be talking about the DIY side of things—namely, the process of building your own container home.

Some people choose to use pre-built kits, while others hire contractors for the entire process. Whichever method you choose, here are seven things to keep in mind.

Make sure your local laws allow shipping container homes

Unfortunately, some municipal building codes haven’t caught up to the new demand for shipping container homes. Make sure you’ve done the research on whether your local laws allow for their use as building materials.

If you don’t already own the plot you want to use for your container home, spend some time researching at your local government office and make sure you’ve cleared your building plans with the relevant authorities.

There are more variables to shipping containers than you might realize

It’s easy to look at shipping containers and see them as all being the same, but there are several variations among them. The three key variations to consider are as follows:

  1. 20-foot or 40-foot length
  2. Normal dimensions of eight feet and six inches or “high cube” dimensions of nine feet and six inches
  3. New or gently used containers

Many other types are also available, but most of them have features such as reduced height or built-in refrigeration systems that make them unsuitable for building. A reputable container dealer can provide you with shipping container price quotes for various sizes of containers, both new and used.

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Costs can add up in unexpected places

Many people are attracted to shipping container homes because they want to save on construction and materials costs, and it’s true that the savings can be considerable, but watch out for costs that can materialize seemingly out of nowhere.

If you start customizing your container, the costs can escalate particularly quickly. Cutting and removing sections from the container can be extremely expensive, and once you remove a section it’s gone for good. Thus, one of the surest ways to control your building costs is to start from a solid plan and to stick with it.

Adding a foundation to a container home is another common source of hidden costs. You may be counting on being able to build a simple DIY pier foundation from cement blocks, but soil conditions may require a more substantial type of foundation such as a trench or slab type. In other words, the other main secret to avoid hidden costs is to do your homework in advance, including pulling soil samples and surveying data if necessary.

Don’t expect the labor to come cheaply or easily

If you were thinking of saving money on labor, don’t get your hopes up. The unique needs and special challenges of building a container home can cause labor costs to eat up more of your budget than they would with a standard frame house.

That doesn’t mean that you should cut corners when choosing a builder to work with—far from it. In fact, if you can, it’s highly recommended to work with a builder who has experience in building container homes, or—even better—one who specializes in it. The up-front costs may be higher, but, in the long term, you’ll be safer, happier, and save more money in a container home built by professionals—or at least with professional assistance.

If you’re building in a used container, have it cleaned thoroughly before you start

Buying a used shipping container can save you some money, but it comes with its own set of considerations and challenges. One you should pay particular attention to: Many used containers have previously been sprayed with chemicals to keep rats and other vermin away.

You don’t want to live in a space that’s still full of these chemicals, so any container that you purchase should be thoroughly cleaned, preferably by professionals, before building starts.

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Properly insulating a shipping container can be challenging

Insulation is usually one of the biggest challenges for people when building container homes. Since metal conducts heat easily, many container homes will be too cold in winter and too hot in the summer without substantial levels of insulation.

Numerous insulation options are available for container homes, but traditional materials such as loose fill and blanket insulation often don’t perform as well. Closed-cell spray foam insulation is the option that many experts recommend, possibly supplemented with additional methods such as passive heating and cooling design.

Shelter your container home from the wind as much as possible

Many people who have moved into container homes have cited wind as one of the biggest unforeseen challenges. Shipping containers aren’t designed for wind mitigation, and their metal construction can create extreme amounts of noise and vibration in high winds.

other valuable tips:

Since this problem stems from the design of the containers themselves, it can be tough to address. The best option is to locate your container home in an area with adequate vegetation cover to act as a windbreak, to add some to your property, or use landscape features such as hills for shelter.

Building and living in a container home comes with many challenges, but, for those with the resources to address them, it’s also a unique and valuable opportunity. At each stage of the process, it’s important to step back, observe, learn, and plan. Most importantly, build some flexibility into your process—shipping container homes are a very new way of building, and most are going to take a little bit of trial and error before you get it just right.

Cory Levins serves as the Director of Business Development for Air Sea Containers. Cory oversees the development and implementation of ASC’s internal and external marketing program, driving revenue and profits from the Miami FL headquarters.

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