At first glance, building a home using shipping containers seems straightforward: The containers are readily available and multiple units can be joined or stacked to create large multi-storey buildings – what else is there to it?

While not at the calibre of rocket science, building a house using shipping containers does require some thought and considerations for the best results to be achieved. There are a couple of things you need to know going into the project to ensure the finished home is beautiful, compliant, safe and durable.

It’s especially important that you know these 10 things If it’s the first time you’re undertaking a container-build project.

  1. Shipping container variations. All shipping containers are not the same. Some are larger than others while others feature designs that make them suitable for carrying a specific type of cargo. For home construction (and generally any other type of construction) dry cargo shipping containers are commonly used.

Dry cargo shipping containers are available in two main sizes i.e. 20ft and 40ft. There’s also a high-top variant that offers an extra foot in headroom. You’ll need to choose the best container size mix for your project.

  • Container quality matters. Buying used shipping containers helps keep your construction budget affordable. Ideally, you want to buy “one-trip” cargo containers for home construction purposes. These have only been used once, are in great condition, and will enhance your homes durability. If you’re going to buy containers that are much older than one-trip, make sure to be physically present to perform a visual inspection to avoid buying lemons.
  • Insulation is critical. Sea containers are steel structures, which makes them bad at keeping out heat or cold. It’s, therefore, critical to invest in proper insulation of all the container units in your home build to ensure comfortable temperatures are maintained within the house.
  • Building regulations in your locality. Although it’s completely legal to build using shipping containers, getting a building approval from your local council might be more involving than it normally is, since shipping container home builds are not as common. Your local authority will also need to ensure that the building will be up to standard before they give their stamp of approval.
  • Cutting diminishes structural rigidity. Cutting off chunks from a shipping container reduces the unit’s structural rigidity. It’s important that you avoid cutting up the container as much as possible; and when you do, make sure the cut areas are not important for the container’s structural strength.
  • It helps to work with experienced people. Building with shipping containers requires a unique set of skills. You’ll be better off working with a team of professionals who have experience working with shipping containers to avoid mistakes and inconveniences. Your architect, structural engineer and contractor should all have sufficient shipping container construction experience.
  • Plan for electrical and plumbing. Shipping container homes are, for the most part, fabricated in workshops, off-site. To avoid the inconvenience of having to undo the finishing or uninstall some fixtures, make sure to submit plans for the electrical and plumbing networks so that they are incorporated in the build.
  • Changing plans is expensive. Make sure you are satisfied with the design-plan before the project commences. Changing your mind about important design aspects could add a significant amount to your budget. Once containers are cut to fit a particular design, welding will be required or change of container units for the new design to work. So, make sure to go over the plans with a professional before signing off.
  • Treat for chemicals. Cargo containers are designed to be durable at sea. The wooden floor of most cargo containers is treated with heavy pesticides to keep away pests and rot. The container’s paint could also have chemical treatment to protect against seawater. It’s, therefore, important to ensure that the floor is replaced with a new one and the walls are covered with foam insulation to protect from chemical residues.
  • Plan for winds. Sea containers are blocky boxes – not exactly what you’d call aerodynamic. When built in a windy location, shipping container homes can generate noise when they’re hit by strong winds. While wind would never damage the robust metal box, it is a mild inconvenience to keep in mind when planning out your home. Perhaps consider situating your home in a location shaded from strong winds.

Keep these things in mind before you begin your shipping container home build and your project should complete on budget and with minimal inconveniences.

Lastly, although cost-effectiveness is part of the charm when it comes to shipping container home construction, spending a little more could save you money down the road while saving you the headache of having to fix issues that result from cut-corners.

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