Shipping container homes – all you need to know
Shipping container homes have become increasingly trendy over the past decade amongst eco warriors striving to find low impact dwelling solutions that don’t cost the earth, or their wallet, but also amongst the wealthy who are building massive, multi-million dollar modular shipping container homes that are both modern and attractive. If you’re thinking about building a home out of a shipping container, this might be the beginning of an exciting adventure. That said, there is some imperative information that any keen container-home owner needs to know before they begin. Have a read through this list of both the advantages and important considerations for building shipping container homes and see if it’s in the cards for you.
Don’t hoard materials ahead of time
Many future shipping container homes builders start collecting a variety of materials once they decide on their project. You might be tempted to start a collection of old windows, doors, pieces of wood and other building supplies that you can “patch together” when the time is right. While this might save you some money in the beginning, it will more likely make it extremely difficult to follow a building plan and you may end up with a design that has less integrity and uniformity due to the mismatched pieces. If you’re planning on a tiny home, you may also find that materials from full sized houses just aren’t a good fit.
Shipping containers were made for carrying several tonnes of cargo on long trips over harsh seas, stacked one atop another. One of the advantages of shipping container homes is that they make for a strong foundation that can withstand inclement weather while keeping the inhabitants safe.
Just because shipping containers are thick and sturdy, doesn’t mean they will keep you warm or cool over the various seasons! These big metal boxes are perfect conductors for harsh temperatures if they aren’t modified and insulated properly.
Insulation panels are a popular option for shipping container homes as they’re cheaper and do the trick, but they take up more room by at least an inch. This is a lot if you’re home is tiny. If you have more in your budget, get spray foam insulation to create a vapor barrier to protect not only from the temperature changes but also moisture which can lead to mould formation. Spray foam will also give you more interior space which is definitely appreciated!
Shipping container homes can be energy efficient for a few reasons. In one way, you’ll reduce the amount of foundational material that needs to be built and the waste that is created in the process. This helps to reduce your contribution to greenhouse gases. If you are planning on having a tiny home, containers are super easy to fit out with more than enough solar power to allow you to live a contemporary lifestyle using a hairdryer, a kettle, and to charge all your electronics. With a small space, it’s almost much quicker to warm up with a small furnace so you’ll require less wood and it can double up as an oven or stove!
Consume less with less space
If you choose to go the tiny home route with your shipping container, you’ll have to make some serious cut backs with your material belongings. This will basically force you to become a more mindful consumer and think consciously about wants versus needs. Without room to store things you will eventually own only the essentials, and you’ll likely learn to appreciate simplicity. Small spaces become cluttered quickly so the more minimalist you can go, the cleaner your home will feel. In the long run, this new way of living with less will also save you a lot in the bank account.
Shipping container homes certainly play a big role in the tiny home movement, but they are by no means limiting to the amount of space you can have. While one container is a pretty cosy space for an entire home, shipping containers are modular and built for stacking! You can start with one space and easily add on more rooms later on. If you think you might do this, it can be helpful to buy additional containers from the same manufacturer so that bearings and corner posts match up exactly and they are easier to weld together. Plus, you’ll already be familiar with the exact dimensions and fittings from your initial build.
Low cost if you do it right
Even if you decide to buy a brand new shipping container, this will still likely cost less than brick-and-mortar or the average home building materials. If you want to cut costs, you can also find yourself recycled shipping containers. Many containers are called one-trip containers because they only made one trip across the seas before sitting dormant collecting dust. While these will be slightly more expensive than really old, used containers, they will be much cheaper than a newly built container. This is a good way to cut costs without cutting too much on quality.
It’s important to spend a little bit more on the important parts of shipping container homes, like the foundation, to save money later by avoiding having to replace expensive items. You can go cheaper on things like paint colour or carpeting, or easy-to-change furnishings, but make sure your container is in good condition when you buy. All of this aside, make sure to plan for things to cost more than your original budget. Contractors recommend leaving a 20% contingency just in case.
Building permits and regulations
This can be a tricky part of the process so you’ll want to get it right. It’s impossible to lay down an overarching guide to building permits and regulations as they change from state to state and even zone to zone within a city. Research previously built homes in your area to get some insight on what type of buildings have been approved. If there is another container home already in place, this is a good sign for your plan. If possible, seek out owners of any local shipping container homes and see if they’ll share some tips. Most owners of alternative homes are excited to talk about their project and will likely share whatever they can to help more people join in on the adventure.
If you’re a contractor yourself, this isn’t really an area for you, but anyone else, pay attention! It can be tempting to try to make building plans on your own, especially if you’re building a tiny home. How hard can it be after all? Well, there is a reason why their are professionals in this field because there are so many more details than meets the eye. It can be a lot cheaper in the end to hire professional architects and contractors who are in the know about how to create an efficient space and where to source appropriate materials. Plus, a lot of them have connections in the industry and can get better prices.
If you are hiring a contractor, make sure they are comfortable building within a shipping container. If possible, find someone who already has experience in the area. When building shipping container homes a lot of things won’t fit to standard size, so the contractor needs to be willing and able to accommodate to non-standard designs. The best thing is to start with a simple design and make sure the house is functional, rather than trying to get too fancy. Make sure it’s something you can actually build!
Don’t change the design!
This is one of the most common recommendations from owners of shipping container homes. While unexpected changes will definitely occur, one of the biggest ways to increase overall cost is to try to change things part of the way through when you realise they don’t look exactly as you hoped. One change can have a domino effect to many other things that will need compensation. Do a lot of research before you begin and get comfortable with your design well ahead of time.
Plumbing and electricity
This is really important as plumbing and electricity can be really difficult to change or move around once your paint and other furnishings are in place. This is where your design really comes into play. Make sure you have enough fittings in place for faucets, drains, outlets and light switches ahead of time. While you’re at it, plan for enough places in the walls that you can nail into later and remember to mark them along the way so you are aware of their location after the building is finished. You’ll likely want to add-on space saving shelves, especially in a tiny home, so it’s important to know where you can place weight bearing holds in the walls.
Cutting holes and welding
Windows, doors, exhaust, plumbing are all important in a functional house, but it can be expensive to cut through the thick metal in shipping container homes. Besides the costly procedure, cutting can also compromise the structural integrity and strength of a container and will need more costly compensation. On the same note, welding also adds a lot to the overall cost so try to keep it to a minimum and have a smart design to start with.
Mobile or Fixed
It’s important to decide ahead of time what type of shipping container home you will have, whether mobile or fixed to one plot. If it’s going to be one that is mobile, you will need to do the actual building on some kind of trailer from the start. If you’re building it for a particular plot of land then you can build it to suit the environment and surrounding nature, direction of the sunlight etc. When buying land for shipping container homes, seek out local zoning officers before buying the land to make sure you are likely to get building approval. You’ll also want to scope out whether the land is soil, clay etc., what the proximity is to water, who are the neighbours, and anything else that matters to you!
One of the biggest oversights in building shipping container homes is the weather you’ll be building in.
Plans are inevitably broken and things take a lot longer than expected most of the time, so you’ll have to make sure you’re able to finish in an appropriate season if you’re building outdoors. Maybe you were hoping to finish by rainy season but didn’t really leave any leeway. You might need to think of a protective structure or even a warehouse to build in. This goes for the interior materials but also for all of the tools and equipment. If you have to set up and pack up every day, this can add a lot of hours onto the building time as well as labour cost.
Ventilation and protection from the elements
No matter where you live, you’ll need to have ventilation of some sort beneath the shipping container. If you’re building on a trailer then this is taken care of, otherwise you may need to raise your home onto blocks. This helps with airflow to prevent condensation and mould growth. You’ll need to insulate the exterior bottom as well, which is easily done with spray foam.
As for the roof, constant rain or sun beating down will not only wear down on materials and cause rust but will cause heavy temperature changes in the interior, which is the perfect setup for mould growth. Consider building a tropical roof above the container to allow for airflow and keep things cool in the summer. It is a big metal box after all.
Keep an open mind
This is probably the best tip to keep in mind. No matter how much you research, how solid your design, and how professional your contractor, things are bound to “go wrong”. The final product will almost certainly look different from how you pictured it before it began. If you can have an open mind throughout the project, it will help you keep your spirits up and not get discouraged during the twists and turns. Something else to consider is that by keeping an open mind and listening to suggestions from others, you might even end up with something better than you could have dreamed up yourself.
If you’ve made it this far and you’re still excited about the idea of shipping container homes, get a free and quick quote or call us at 1300 284 896 to learn about the options and get started on your future home.