The hot trend of shipping container homes fulfills many design desires: living simply, lessening clutter, being environmentally conscious, building a home on a budget and the chance to do something totally modern and different that makes your neighbors’ jaws drop.
But there are other practical aspects to living in a shipping container home. Your house is fireproof and low maintenance. You can live in a container home almost anywhere, and lock it up when you’re away. Even better, smaller container homes can move with you. Shipping container homes can be modular: You can stack two or three or more as needed.
The Previous Life of a Shipping Container Home
Shipping containers are made of steel and built to withstand weather, heavy stacking and ocean travel. While their lifespan can easily be 30 years, most shipping companies use them considerably less before putting them out to pasture. A typical shipping container work lifespan is 10 years or less.
Because of this, there are reportedly 30 million unused shipping containers sitting around. A decent one can be bought for as little as $2,000.
Shipping Container Home Plans
The standard container measure 8 feet wide and 8 feet 6 inches high, and comes in lengths of 20 or 40 feet. A third option, which may be harder to find, offers higher ceilings; it’s called the high cube. A high cube container measures 40 feet long and is 9 feet 6 inches high.
While a shipping container home plan of 150 square feet is really small, the beauty of working with storage containers is the ability to group them to create a bigger space. The 8747 House (above), overlooking the James River in Springfield, Mo., uses several cargo containers.
Before you head out to buy a plot of land and build your dream container home, you’ll need to ask yourself the following questions to avoid potential issues.
Do I need a permit?
You will probably need several. Some areas don’t allow residential construction using shipping containers, so check with your local planning department first.
What is the weather like where I want to build?
Insulating a shipping container can be tricky. Bigger issues include extreme weather changes that can lead to interior moisture condensation, and windy areas that can create noise problems.
How am I going to get the container onto the property?
An empty 20-foot container can weigh almost 5,000 pounds. You’ll probably need to have it delivered. Make sure a large truck can enter your property easily and place it on site,or you’ll have to deal with very expensive cranes to lift the container into place.
What was the previous life of the container?
Buyer beware: The contents of many containers are often sprayed with pesticides for ocean travel. Worse, some shipping containers for sale previously transported toxic chemicals that will ruin your chances of creating a green home. Do your research on the previous life of the shipping container you’re choosing.
Will I need an architect or engineer?
If you’re making cuts and major changes to your container, it’s probably a good idea to consult with experts. The long, vertical walls on a container are load bearing and will need reinforcement if cut out for windows or doors. Planning for electrical and plumbing requires professionals, especially to pass permit and planning requirements.