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How to Plan a Shipping Container Home

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Shipping container architecture has taken off in a big way. Not only is it cost effective and environmentally friendly, but shipping containers are highly convenient – taking just about 2 months to build a smaller container.

But there’s a lot of planning involved, particularly if you’re having containers made to create a home. And 90% of good design in the architectural process is planning. You need to know what you want from your home, what you’re able to afford and you need to understand a variety of external factors. Have a look at our checklist to make sure you’re ready for your shipping container build.

  1. Conceive It

The pre-design is arguably the most important phase. It’s during this phase that budgets are determined and expectations set. The main objective should be to come up with a conceptual design while keeping the budget in mind and developing a schedule.

  1. Take a close look at other shipping containers

Look through drawings and try to have a tour of a shipping container. Walk around it, stand in it and a get a sense of the actual size so that you can better understand scale and working floor plans.

  1. Understand the relevant codes

Where you plan to build your shipping container home will dictate what is required. Your local building department will need to review all drawings. They will also be the ones to issue you with permits and carry out inspections.

  1. Rough order of magnitude project budget

When having a shipping container built, you don’t want hidden or unforeseen costs popping up. So do your homework and be prepared. Professional services to account for include civil engineer, land surveyor, mechanical engineer and architect. At least have all the line items accounted for in your budget.

  1. Choosing where to build on site

This is one of the most important decisions. You’ll need to consider soil bearing, grade, potential views, existing landscaping and proximity to roads and boundaries.

  1. Create a simple site layout and floor plan

Drawing out your shipping container plan is where it starts to get exciting. The 8 inch width of a shipping container is more or less a small room. So if you want a bigger room, it’s simply a case of arranging two containers together length-wise and removing some corrugation before reinforcing the containers.

A Full Checklist


Here’s your complete checklist for your shipping container:

  • Review soil bearing capacity and site
  • Find out about zoning restrictions
  • Determine your maximum budget
  • Find out about site servicing requirements
  • Find out about the binding code and review carefully
  • Determine which professional services you will require
  • Put together the project budget
  • Carefully detail all the program requirements such as number of rooms, square footage
  • Develop the schematic design and include floor plans, shipping container massing configuration and elevations.

Shipping container architecture really can be quick, cost effective and easy to modify so long as you follow the check list.