How to Build a Container Home Step by Step

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Making use of discarded shipping containers to develop into actual, livable homes isn’t a new idea. 

However it is very quickly catching on, and all over the globe, more and more people are becoming interested in learning how to build a container home step by step.

In fact, even professional home builders are increasingly turning to these container units for their durability, flexibility, stackability (create a big house by stacking 3 to 4 containers together), and eco-nomic-a-bility. 

I know! I know! “That’s not a word!” I hear you cry. 

Still it just sounds good, so go with the flow and follow me on this one, please?

BUT, if you want to build a container home from scratch, of course, you shouldn’t go with the flow! That’s a pretty crazy thing to do—next to impossible, in fact.

What you should do is get a proper reference guide to help you out such as this one.

No detail was overlooked in the creation of this build a container home full construction guide.

Every single crucial piece of info is provided by this guide including cost-saving tips, shipping container inspection tips, instructions to help you acquire a building permit, design as well as layout planning instructions, over a dozen 3D container layout choices, and of course, detailed, step by step container home construction instructions.

You’ll find lots of easy to follow pictures and diagrams, complete plans for the electrical layout as well as installation, plus a ton more stuff, all of which will be useful in helping you build and design your own shipping container home.

I was able to build a container home from scratch thanks to this comprehensive downloadable guide, and the detail as well as the amount of reference materials that went into this package is nothing short of impressive.

Anyway, quickly becoming the choice for people wanting to design and build their own houses, home builders all over the globe are discovering just how secure, weather-proof, and eco-friendly these units are. 

Building homes from disused shipping containers has many, many advantages over conventional building techniques and materials.


Shipping containers are already built; they already exist. Using these units to build your dream home, or even just a holiday cabin, is recycling at its basic level.


You can pick up used shipping containers for as little as $1,500. Even new ones can be bought for a spritely sum of less than $10,000.

Transportation and installation is obviously a different matter, but still cheaper than the conventional building process.


The standard life of a shipping container is around 20 years.  That’s being shifted from continent to continent on huge trans-oceanic ships, in all weathers. 

After that, these containers can easily sit for an extra hundred years in a stationary position and remain more durable than most homes built today. 

Hurricane-proof. Tornado-proof.  You name it.

Shipping container homes are much more than just a simple, quick and easy, cheap, eco-friendly solution to building your own home.

They are fascinating, flexible, modular, and an extremely attractive way of building your dream home.

The Step by Step for Building a Container Home

Keep in mind that what I’m about to share here with you is just the basics on how to build a container home step by step.

There simply isn’t enough room here for me to share the full details from start to finish, which includes diagrams, measurements, laying concrete foundations, site preparation checklist, and more.

To obtain all those details along with countless of tips for building a container home, you really should check out the complete downloadable guide that I mentioned earlier.

Now, these are the step by step basics:

Discover the Rules

First off, make sure you check with your local government and obtain their permission because, you know how it is, obviously you can’t simply put together a structure or a house wherever you like.

Construction rules must be followed along with your local building codes or you risk having your container home taken down someday.

In addition, the building codes must be adhered to for the sake of your own safety as well as your family’s.

Put Together a Design

Make sure you come up with the design before splashing the cash on the construction materials.

Sit down and clearly visualize the container home of your dream, grab a piece of paper or two, and sketch it out.

Shipping containers are available in various sizes, but the typical ones are 20 feet, and 40 feet long (however, you can get them in 8′, 10′, 20′, 30′, 40′, 45, 48, and 53 lengths), with a standard width of 8 feet. 

Standard height is 8ft, 6 inches, and ‘High Cube’ containers have a standard height of 9ft, 6 inches.

A standard 20 feet container gives a floor area of 150sq feet. A standard 40 feet container gives a floor area of 305 sq. feet.

Internal dimensions are 1,160 cubic feet, and 2,360 cubic feet respectively. 

Throw a couple of these together and you easily get sizable, open, living space.

Go swing by your nearest port and you’ll find shipping containers in varying sizes. It’s possible for up to 10 containers to be stacked up, just as long as each one has the right size.

If you find it hard to design your own shipping container home and you can’t seem to come up with even a basic plan, then you might either want to consult an architect, or get this full construction guide which contains layout plans and 3D designs.

Develop a Solid Foundation

Establishing a strong, solid foundation is mandatory when it comes to building a house. Without a well-built foundation, the whole structure will collapse.

Homes developed out of shipping containers are no different.

They too require properly cemented foundation in order to stand strong and to keep moisture from accumulating, which can lead to rust.

These containers, after all, are created out of metal and as we all know, this material is very susceptible to rusting, particularly when their layers of protective coating have faded away.

That’s why it is so important that you create a foundation that inhibits the accumulation of moisture.

Develop a Tough Skeleton

Once you’ve put together a solid base, the next crucial step is to build a really tough skeleton to ensure your house is able to handle most natural catastrophes and nasty climates.

For example, if you reside in an area that has lots of snow, then you might want to make some adjustments here and there, especially the roof which can be prone to ice damage.

Apply the Proper Finish

You’ll want to weather-proof your container home by applying the proper finishing touches.

Moisture and heavy rain can cause metal to rust so the container must be sufficiently coated.

In addition, insulators or other appropriate materials need to be installed in the interior of your shipping container home so that you can live comfortably when the weather gets challenging.

All right, are you ready to learn how to build a container home step by step FOR REAL, with all the necessary details presented to you on a silver platter, thus allowing you to be successful in this endeavor right off the first attempt?

If your answer is “YES,” then by all means, grab these downloadable plans plus comprehensive instructions, and let’s get started building a container home darn it!

Getting it done will take some work and it’s going to be a little tiring, but on the whole, the experience will be fun and satisfying.

There is no doubting it, being able to construct your own place will provide you with the feeling of satisfaction that’s just beyond compare.

Is It Really Possible To Live In a Shipping Container?

YES! Of course it is!! 

Admittedly, it can be a bit small just living in one if you have a family, but because of their modular design, you can easily put three or four containers together —or more—to create quite a pretty sizeable home.

Ordinary people like yourself are turning more and more to discarded shipping containers, not just because of the sheer flexibility in them, but also because as your family grows, it is possible to add another container or two and extend your home.

But, I Don’t Want To Live in a Steel Port-A-Cabin…It is UGLY!!

In their raw form, I have to agree, they are indeed pretty ugly.  Especially if you like elegant curves, sweeping grand stair-cases, etc. 

There is a solution however.

The steel framework of the containers themselves are rigid and, to some, quite unsightly. 

It is easy enough, however, to cut through the metal in the sides to open up new entrances (leading to new rooms when adding two or more shipping containers together), or to add fantastic big windows (even floor to ceiling ones) to let in loads of natural sunlight.

Many people deviate from the ‘rigid steel look’ however, and completely change the appearance (both the interior and exterior) to their own liking. 

The steel box truly is like a blank canvas. Your imagination is the limit.

ISBU – The Building Blocks of Container Homes

The first shipping container was built by an American gentleman named Malcolm McLean in 1956. He owned one of the largest trucking companies in the South.

He was an observant man who noticed that the loading and unloading of freight was slow and unorganized.

Malcolm bought a tanker company and experimented with loading and unloading freight more systematically, and with the container’s design as well.

In the 1970’s his final design, which was to become the standardized shipping containers we know today was accepted and popularized by the U.S. Navy.

This new box was inordinately strong and uniform in shape and size.

This feature made the box easier to load and unload, easier to store, stack, and ship by land, rail and sea and reduced shipping costs by 90%.

Fast forward 30 years or so and you have the ISBU, or the Inter-modal Steel Building Unit.

This acronym was born when forward thinking individuals began to consider what to do with the 700,000 surplus shipping boxes that were littering America’s coastlines.

It was obvious that they could hold items, as this had been their former job.

The only reason most of these had become surplus containers was because it was cheaper to store the empty container than to ship it back to its former country empty.

It was obvious as well that these could be stacked safely and quite neatly because they were stacked all over the place.

Perhaps it was a romantic fellow who loved old movies about transients who “rode the rails” and lived in railroad freight boxes that first thought of using this surplus object for housing, but whoever first conceived the notion set the design world ablaze in about 2006.

Since then, designs for shipping container housing have exploded.

Creative thinking aside, what makes the shipping container ideal for housing humans?

Well, the first and most appealing is that the strength of the Cor-ten Steel creates a frame that is stronger than a standard wood construction home and since it is already built, the cost is minimal comparatively.

Secondly, the shape lends itself to stacking and modular design. The fact that the box is already weather resistant, was built to be theft resistant, and resists mold, pests, and aging makes this a winner for revolutionary home designers and their open minded clients.

ISBU or shipping container homes are all the rage currently and quite environmentally friendly because they recycle an already built but no longer used product.

Shipping container homes reduce the amount of resources spent on new construction, along with the labor and monetary costs as well.

But what other types of eco-friendly housing is available nowadays?

The list is long and unbelievably interesting.

Most of the eco-friendly housing is made from recycled materials. The materials used to build these homes may surprise you. What do glass bottles, old tires, cardboard and bananas have in common?

All are materials recycled to build homes; odd perhaps, but true. Hand woven banana plants form the façade of a three story home in Thailand, while in Australia a plastic coated modular cardboard home kit costs about $35,000.

While recycling may be a great idea, it isn’t a new one.

In Nevada, a home built in the 1920’s was constructed out of 51,000 recycled glass bottles and it still stands today.

In some of the less affluent parts of town old tires have been used to make cozy, if unsightly little homes.

While no longer road worthy, old tires stack nicely, are easily found in back road dumping grounds, and they can readily be insulated with last season’s wardrobe or yesterday’s news.

While recycled fare is a prime building material for the eco- friendly home builder, there is more readily available materials that has an even friendlier impact on the environment—it is nature herself.

Hay is a 100% renewable resource. It is far less expensive than wood or brick but quite sturdy when baled and finished properly. It is even its own insulator.

Another natural resource that is not foreign to the environmentally concerned homebuilder is dirt.

Adobe is made from dirt, sand, and clay along with some other porous or fibrous material like sticks or hay or even manure.

It is then formed into bricks or blocks. Adobe homes are hundreds, perhaps thousands of years old.

These homes are very durable and are great for sunny and dry climates because the adobe is a natural insulator like the hay bales are.

Cob or “hobbit” houses, yurts, and even earth bag homes are created from all natural resources as well, have little impact of their surroundings.

All of the houses listed are potentially “do-it-yourself” building projects; however a competent architect and designer are two of the most important resources you can use when building your eco-friendly home.

Or refer to these full detailed plans and instructions if you want to know how to build a container home step by step as quickly as possible.