Plans, Drawings, Sketches or Pictures?


plansThe day you walk into your local building department and say: “I want to build a home from shipping containers…” What do you think will happen? For jurisdictions that have no clue what you are talking about or just aren’t open to the idea, you are facing an uphill battle. What to do?

From talking to visitors to this site, even if you have credentials in design like an architect or engineer, that is no guarantee that you will get even a toe in the door of getting your home plans considered; let alone, a building permit. I personally haven’t had the pleasure of this experience yet and I guess I do dread that day. It will be a real nail-biter if I really like the area for maybe picking up a few acres. Common sense tells me that if you go equiped with some pictures, drawings and maybe even some professional-looking renderings of your proposed home, you could get them to look and listen to your ideas. What would be great is if you establish a good contact at the building department–this will better your odds immensely.

Of course, before you even consider buying land for the sole purpose of putting up a container home, you had better check with the building department before you lay down any money. Why get stuck with a piece of land you can’t use for your building plans, right?

Where do you turn? I would download some images of nice homes built using shipping containers like the Redondo Beach home and some others. Hire a person to draw up your design; even just an exterior rendering. It could be worth the money to get things rolling in the right direction. If you are computer savvy, you could use Sketchup from Google to design your home. Do all the research you can and prepare yourself so that you can field any questions they throw at you without looking clueless.

Be armed with all the ammo you can get. There are a bunch of people out there who have never heard of a container home.

  • Wow! This is such an informative website. Currently, my organization has decided to build shipping container homes for veterans, low income families, and the homeless, (shelter) in Los Angeles, Ca. Our goal is a 100 unit apartment building. There have been a buzz that the city would actually provide the land for such a large project. We feel this is a great humanitarian idea for our teen members to experience. We have a youth construction program that would benefit from such a project. It’s great to know that we can visit your site if we have any question. Thanks!

    James Ingram

    Organization Founder.

  • In reality aren’t you simply making a building out of Steel. (that just happens to be already in rectangular shapes), but when you submit drawings, I don’t think it’s even required to specify that you are using recycled shipping containers. The drawings will show the outline of the building, as well as placement of walls, and when required materials.
    Or am I off the mark here? After all there are codes about specific things. Other steel framed houses are allowed. The engineering information about the strength of these containers I’m sure is available.
    I look forward to hearing more on this.

  • NickB.

    Robert, I think that might be the best approach one could take *if* the finished product isn’t going to look like it’s made of used shipping containers.

    I’d be curious to hear more on it too – seems like approvals are a big and common issue

  • hi, my wife and i purchased a piece of property and we are in the process of getting the necessary permission to build – true, if you mention ‘containers’ most people think about the typical harbor scene with thousands of them standing idle and rusting – or worse, they think ‘squatter camp’, or the pc for that would be low income housing district or maybe ‘ghetto’.
    i believe drawings, images, ‘sketchups’ etc are very effective – a picture tells a thousand words; or more.
    as we believe in the truth, telling it like it is, ie ‘shipping containers’, is essential. it is also important that you stress the point that it is a building structure of which elements are containers – its a matter of getting the perception to ‘home’ rather to a goods container.
    see our site for developments…
    good luck all you ‘out-of-the-box’ thinkers and God bless!
    gabriel smit
    south africa

  • The ISBU has advanced a standard for international building code that actually makes it quite easy to permit such a structure. I am a Florida General Contractor who specializes in sustainable development; of all the unusual projects I have permitted in recent years, our container home projects are by far the easiest to permit in a state known as one of the two toughest building code standards in the nation.

  • jerry olie

    i need a three bed flat plan and picture.about three different once.

  • abc developemts

    Hi guys. I’ve been in the building and development industry for almost 25 yrs now. The trends are changing. The houses are getting smaller as we work longer to be able to afford tem and the income is n ot moving in accordance with the rise of property prices. It was not so long ago the finance requirements were the home required one 10th of the income to pay off is acceptable to pay as much as 33% to the loan. Some peoples half income goes on the loan and most need to have both partners working just to have somewhere to lay your head down at night. Our stress has gone up and the taxes increase every time there is a change of govement. They promise the world but just keep comeing up with more taxes and find inovating ways to increase the once we allready have. Because we all need a place to sleep accomodation is one of the basic needs we all have. So cheaper accomodation is becomeing a very big issue world wide. We have been working in the affordable accomodation industry for a while and there are a number of people who specialize in getting approvals for this type of accomodation. The problems we encounter are 99% created by political will or lack thereof. We neeed to create preasure on our representatives not the council to create laws to allow the use of safe but cheaper materials to accomplish. If they don’t we vote them out and rally. we just need to work toghether as it doen’t take much of a population to change the perception. 10 percent of a population can create enough political will to change any laws in any country without the shedding of blood. The guys who have a monopoly on the building industry will not like it but it has to happen. or people in well to do western societies will grow back into third world conditions or worse. All building codes are based on common sense and we have to rememmber that.

  • mojo

    ok…looking to put pics here..building my 20 footer now…see my pictures at look in photo albums…email me at for Q/A.. also I am available to Forman your project locally and abroad…35 yrs in multi construction…

  • Sara

    So, has anyone had any luck getting permits to use shipping containers in Los Angeles? My husband and I keep going back to this idea, but we certainly don’t want to jump ahead and buy the land and then find out it wouldn’t be possible. Anyone have any leads for LA???

  • Jason

    I have the same question as Sara but mine is on the East Coast in Wilmington Nc where we contend with hurricanes and sandy soils. And It seems the building inspector really wont call you back. Any info would be appreciated thanks,, Jason

  • BobVM

    I guess Google SketchUp is just for making a sketch from the outside, then another one for the floor plans.

  • celia wait-schroeder

    checking on codes in the black hills of south dakota if anyone can help..

  • ToddO

    Any experiences building a container home in or around the Denver/Colorado Springs area?

    Also, around the New Orleans, LA. area. If these containers can offer a true watertight seal, we might have a great solution to our flooding and low income issues around the city of New Orleans.

  • Rudy

    It is impossible to do anything innovative in the U.S., just a backward nation, a sort of communist tyranny.

    Americans make plenty of designs, and 3d models, but try getting one of these approved.

    Other nations actually make things.

  • Gordon

    I am interested in doing a multi family structure in MICH. Any help on foundation advice.

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