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Container Homes: What to Know About This Housing Choice

By Bill Gassett | March 9, 2021

What Should I Know About Shipping Container Homes

Are you thinking about buying a shipping container home? Container homes are just another housing option you may want to consider.

Since there are thousands of excess shipping containers lying around ports all around the world, they are the perfect size to be used for your brand new home.

But you’re not limited to something small. If you want a multi-story home, then all you really need to do (in theory) is stack these shipping containers sky high, and you’ve got your brand new multi-story home.

Of course, it's never that easy, is it?

When building a shipping container home, there are a couple of things you should know before you jump into your car and drive to the nearest port to collect your shipping container. Maximum Real Estate Exposure has one of the most comprehensive resources about shipping container housing worth looking through.

Without question, shipping container homes have grown in popularity. They have become another housing choice similar to tiny homes or even smaller modular built construction. Like these options, shipping container homes are Eco-friendly.

Let's take a look at the basics.

Container Homes
What to know about shipping container homes.

Get Enough Information as Possible About Your Shipping Container

Before purchasing a used shipping container, you’re going to want to know EVERYTHING about it before you hand over your hard-earned cash...although this isn't as easy as it should be since it's probably sat at some random port in a location you’ve never heard of before.

So getting there and having a walk around it isn't easy.

The next best thing you can do is make sure you get pictures and a detailed description of the shipping container to get enough information about it as possible.

Dated shipping containers might be riddled with dents and rust, so finding a container that has only made a few trips would be ideal, although as you can imagine, these tend to be a little bit more expensive.

Though it's worth the cost to avoid having to do any expensive repairs in the future.

Not All Shipping Containers Are Built The Same

Not all shipping containers are built the same. Traditional shipping containers are around 8 feet tall, while high cube containers are an extra foot in height.

If you insulate your flooring and ceiling (which you should be doing), you could be left with a shipping container home that feels rather small to live in. High cube containers are more expensive, around about $1k more than traditional containers, but paying the extra cash is definitely worth it to give you that little bit of extra height.

Know Your Building Limits

Towns and cities have unique building restrictions when it comes to creating your very own property, some of which are specific to container homes.

So before you invest your life savings into a shipping container, you should check your local rules and regulations so you know what you can and can't do; and know if you can even use this shipping container to live in.

If it turns out, you can’t build your shipping container home, and you’ve already purchased the shipping container, at least you’ve got a large metal box you can store your goods in all year round...right?

While many people are using shipping containers as a housing option, they also work well as an alternative to portable storage like a POD.

Find One Single Container Home Contractor

It is much easier to find one contractor to oversee your product than dealing with multiple people throughout the project, as it's hard to ensure everyone knows what they are doing and things get done on time.

You might have a hard time finding a contractor with the right experience to oversee the shipping container project, as this is quite a new niche in the home industry.

Though keep looking for as long as it takes, you’ll find one eventually - it's worth the time investment since you’re going to be spending money on this person, so you’re going to want someone who isn't going to make this project a complete disaster.

Plan For Insulating Your Container Home

As you can imagine, a shipping container feels like the Sahara desert in the summer and like Antarctica in the winter, so it's important that you have a plan ready to put into action when it comes to insulating your new home.

Your contractor should already know how this should be done, thanks to their experience, but it is still worth an ask so you can ensure that this sort of thing isn't going to be overlooked as you’re going to pay for it in the future.

Understand What You’re Buying

If you’re purchasing a shipping container that was designed for a lifetime at sea, they were designed precisely for this, meaning that things like the wood flooring inside the container include heavy pesticides to deter things like rats and rodents from eating through the floor.

Even the paint on these containers often contains chemicals to protect it from the salty ocean.

To avoid these issues, you can either buy a brand new shipping container, which will not have any of these issues since it will have been made to be used as a home, or you can just make adjustments to a used container.

This means ripping out the pesticide-infested flooring and adding foam insulation to the interior walls to help protect against the off-gassing from the harmful chemicals used in the paint.

Don’t Cut Your Container (If You Can Help It)

Shipping containers are structurally strong, thanks to the solid steel they are made out of, however every time you make a hole for a door or a window, you are directly impacting the structural integrity.

So you should try your best to avoid doing this. But of course, you’re going to need to cut holes here and as you’re not going to live in a home which features no natural light.

You could add steel beam reinforcements to ensure that your shipping container isn't going to collapse in on itself unexpectedly.

But don’t forget to account for this in your budget. The more you cut, the more reinforcements you’re going to need.

Plan Ahead For Plumbing and Electrical

When designing your shipping container home, just like you would with a traditional home, it's best to plan where your plumbing and electoral lines will go.

You’ll want to make sure you have the holes cut before you put the other interior necessity in your home, so you don’t have to move furniture around to put a hole and add an extra pipe you forgot about in the future.

Final Thoughts on Shipping Container Housing

A shipping container home is just another housing choice that seems to grow in popularity as the years go by. They make an awesome potential home when there are limited funds, and you happen to have access to a cheap land purchase. Container homes make the perfect choice for isolated rural areas where there are not significant zoning restrictions or protective covenants that disallow such structures.

If your dream is to become a home owner investing in a shipping container home as your first property could make sense. You can continue to save money, and when you can make the jump into a larger home, you'll hopefully have built some decent equity.

Hopefully, you have enjoyed the info provided here on shipping container homes.

Bill Gassett is an authority in the real estate industry with 38 years of experience. Bill is well respected for his informative articles for buyers, sellers, and fellow real estate agents to make sound decisions. His work has been featured on RIS Media, the National Association of Realtors, Inman News, Newsbreak, Credit Sesame, Realty Biz News, and his own authoritative resource, Maximum Real Estate Exposure. He has been on of the top RE/MAX agents in New England over the last two decades.
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