Are you considering building a shipping container home? Many people are intrigued by the idea of repurposing shipping containers to create unique and eco-friendly living spaces. However, before you embark on your container home journey, it’s essential to gather insights from those who have already experienced the process. We reached out to several container home owners and asked them what they wish they had known before starting their projects. Here are their valuable lessons and advice:
- The Beach Box
- Owner: Andrew Anderson
Andrew Anderson built the Beach Box, a stunning beachfront container home on Long Island. He emphasized the importance of thorough planning, especially when it comes to plumbing and insulation.
“I wish I had known how important it is to plan the plumbing layout meticulously. Moving plumbing once containers are in place can be challenging and costly. Also, investing in high-quality insulation is a must, as it significantly improves energy efficiency.”
- Solar-Powered Guesthouse
- Owner: Julie and Andrew Puckett
Julie and Andrew Puckett designed and built a solar-powered guesthouse using shipping containers in Georgia. They shared their experience with off-grid living and sustainable practices.
Julie and Andrew’s Response:
“Before embarking on an off-grid container home project, research local building codes and regulations thoroughly. Also, consider the environmental impact and choose sustainable materials and practices whenever possible.”
- Shipping Container Home in the Woods
- Owner: Adam Kalkin
Adam Kalkin, a renowned architect, designed and built his container home in the woods. His unique perspective highlighted the importance of creativity in container home design.
“Container homes offer endless design possibilities, but it’s crucial to find a balance between creativity and functionality. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box, but always keep practicality in mind.”
- North Branch Container House
- Owner: Tim Steele
Tim Steele shared his experience living in a container house in North Branch, New York. He mentioned two key issues he encountered during the project.
“We faced two main issues during the project. The first was water infiltration above windows and doors after heavy rain. This was resolved by welding small overhangs on the roof. The second problem was finding the units too airtight, which we addressed by adding adjustable vents under the floating beds. As a result, we didn’t notice any heating or cooling loss; the containers are very well insulated.”
- Riverside Hideout Container House
- Owner: Ryann
Ryann built a container house on a large property for weekend getaways and rentals. She highlighted the importance of insulation in different climates.
“Originally, we used fiberglass insulation, which we found could contribute to condensation issues in cold environments like ours. In fact, we suffered water damage in the bathroom and kitchen due to condensation. I ended up having to disassemble the MDF panel ceiling in the bathroom, remove the old insulation, and replace it with closed-cell spray foam, finally using acrylic paneling to replace the ceiling finish. We also installed an additional high-power exhaust fan to aid ventilation.”
- Casa del Manifesto
- Owner: James & Mau (Architects)
The Casa del Manifesto is one of the most famous container homes to date, designed by James & Mau architects. They shared what they wished they had known before designing the Casa del Manifesto.
James & Mau’s Response:
“We wish we had known that in cold climates, you must ensure proper insulation to guard against condensation. With the Manifesto House in Chile, we achieved good results. The climate isn’t really cold or hot there. We just needed to add some external blinds to control the sun and a bit of insulation.”
- Grand Canyon Container Home in California
- Owner: Mike
Mike and his wife built a modern container home on the edge of a mountain canyon in California. They offered insights into financing challenges and adjustments made during the construction.
“I would have liked to have figured out the financing issues earlier in the build because I would have revised the design to include another bedroom and a garage unit. We’ll keep moving forward! We ended up using a combination of savings and credit cards to finish the house, then took out a short-term personal loan to pay off the higher-interest credit cards. While it’s nice not to have a mortgage, we originally planned to get one. In the end, we couldn’t because mortgage appraisers couldn’t find comparables (comps) for our unique home and therefore couldn’t appraise it properly.”
- Refrigerated Container Homes
- Owner: Shanti
Shanti brought her positive attitude and creativity to two container homes she built in Florida. She used pre-insulated refrigerated containers in her construction.
“Here, we have extreme weather conditions, so I made some adjustments to deal with it. In case of lightning, I had my electrician install grounding strips from the containers to a ground rod driven into the ground. I also decided to install hurricane straps that go through parts of the containers and anchor them to the ground. The containers are quite heavy and probably not at risk of moving, but I like to have everything extra secure, so I added the straps just to be sure. I also had people stay during the hurricane last year and didn’t worry about their safety.”
- New Orleans Container Home
- Owner: Seth Rodewald-Bates
Seth Rodewald-Bates built his own container home for about $200,000. He shared his experience with financing challenges and the overall cost of his project.
“The main thing would be that, in this instance, there were no significant cost savings. That said, I enjoyed recycling the containers. It was less about the price for me. The biggest expense was actually the land.”
- Nightmare House
- Owner: Sergio
Sergio built the Nightmare House, another great container design from Costa Rica. He shared his experience with extreme weather conditions and the importance of proper painting.
“Since this house is in Costa Rica with a tropical climate, I wish I had been more careful when painting it with the most rain-resistant paint.”
- Taj Malodge
- Owner: Larry Wade
Larry Wade built his own container home for about $35,000. He showcased how much space you can get for little money if you’re willing to do most of the work yourself.
“Everything about container construction was new to me, and there wasn’t helpful information I could find. For me, I really can’t think of anything that stands out from the rest. I can say that the one thing I wish I hadn’t done was buy my containers sight unseen. I took the company’s word that they would be in good condition. They were all beat up. The good news is most of the really dented places would end up being cut out anyway. I wish I had known that it doesn’t cost much more for a one-trip container, and they are like new.”
- Small House Prototype
- Owner: Steve Sawyer
Steve Sawyer built this small house prototype using a 20-foot container. It contains a full kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom!
“That’s a tough question and one for which I don’t have an answer. I started modifying containers over 10 years ago. I made so many mistakes I can’t remember them all, but I tend to forget most of the bad decisions and remember the good ones. The good thing about this business is that we are always learning. The advice I give to every new person is to talk to the local building department before buying the land.”
- SeaUA Container ApartmentsThese apartments are the first residential container homes in the Washington DC area. They were designed by Travis Price and Kelly Davies of Travis Price Architects and are a great example of multi-family container housing. The building was constructed using used containers to keep construction costs low and improve the project’s ecological qualities.
“There are numerous things I wish I had known before doing our project, but I would say the ONE thing that would have made a big difference was to have all plumbing pipes easily cut through the container floors and ceilings before stacking them. To run pipe once they are stacked. Also, the containers are placed very close to each other, and in the design phase, we added an extra inch to the width of the base in case they didn’t fit. In hindsight, we should have designed them with an inch less for a better eave connection.”
- The SurfShack
- Owner: Hartman Kable
Now we look at Hartman Kable from Kable Design Build. He built this DIY container house as a beach house using repurposed shipping containers. Hartman wanted a beach getaway that he could enjoy on weekends! It’s a small but efficient space that encourages you to go out and enjoy the incredible views and activities offered by the location.
“Thank you for asking. I think the one thing I wish I had known was: The container walls are rough and need framing for your interior walls to be flat and smooth.”
- Klip River Container House
- Owner: Shelley
Shelley uses a design idea we often hear: arrange the containers in a U-shape and then enclose the intermediate area. Additionally, the steeply sloped roof leading to the second-floor loft really makes the space feel much larger.
“My best advice is to make sure you follow the build EVERY step of the way! Contractors LOVE to cut corners, and many think they know how to alter a design. Keep the design unless there’s a VERY good reason not to, as changes can be costly.”
We are very grateful for all the excellent advice we received from container home owners who shared their experiences with us. It’s valuable to hear the lessons learned by people who have already walked the path you’re thinking of following. We hope you found their perspectives and advice helpful and that you won’t have to repeat any of the same painful mistakes.
The top 3 things you need to know:
- How to buy the right containers.
- The importance of regulations and building planning.
- Finding a contractor with previous experience.
Want to see even more inspiring container projects? Check out our list of container homes. Even though they are commercial spaces, some of the unique ways they are combined and used are still relevant for residential use!
Have you built your own container home? Why not tell us what you wish you had known before starting to build your container home?