Building a Container Home… What Are the Steps?

Logic. Use it. It really makes no sense in getting ahead of yourself when contemplating or spearheading a container home building project. It’s not prudent to jump too far ahead of yourself. Planning is important and the wise way to go. It’s very easy for us diehards who are seeking our very own Utopia to sit back and dream about how amazing living in a container home will be… that’s easy and to some, blissful; but unless you have the main components of the plan implemented (like a place to build the home and some containers.. oh, and a building permit) you should really tread lightly before you get yourself into a unwanted situation.

Here are of a few logical steps in my opinion to avoid getting into a mess when planning a container home building project:

  • Acquiring the right piece of land. You gotta have a place to start from, but if you are contemplating acquiring land for the sole purpose of building a container home, check with the building department or the local subdivision rules (if you are looking to buy a piece of any land development). They may not allow you to build using containers at all! That would be a travesty, but it can happen. It would be good to have your house plans or a sketch of the home handy to present to anyone of influence. Take down names as well. Consider the distance to stores, hospitals, emergency services and even proximity to dangerous wild animals like snakes, cougars, coyotes and bears–I am serious, they are out there! Is the land in a wash? I would hate for you to wake up in your container home scrambling for an oar, ten miles from where you started.  Are there earthquakes, hurricanes, landslides… a weapons testing ground nearby :) ? My point is to think before you buy. Be sure you can live with what you are getting yourself into.
  • Construction plans. Professionally drawn plans certified by an architect is ideal. This will make your project sail past the desk of the building department in your city/county. Are you just going to wing it? Toss a couple of containers on a pier foundation and have at it? I think not. The problem there is that you can run into code enforcement and they could very well tell you to stop your build and take it all apart. Do this right. It could cost you more in the end than a conventional home if you run into a situation that stops you in your tracks. No shortcuts.
  • Utilities. This really goes hand in hand with the land acquisition. Where is your electricity, water and phone service coming from? Do you even care? These are luxuries we all take for granted and believe me, if you have never lived without those aforementioned luxuries, then you will likely suffer some. Decide whether you are going off the grid and sticking to solar, wind, and satellite services or hanging on to conventional means. Land with utilities available tend to go for a premium compared to a nearby tract of land without them.I had been involved in a situation where I was the contractor/owner/builder in a home construction for my mother. She had secured a construction loan, purchased the land (1.25 acres for $23000) with part of the loan and everything was within budget, all thought out and calculated properly… until we encountered the part where we were attempting to get figures on tapping into a town’s water supply. At first, we calculated about $1800 based on local hearsay and call to the water department. “Just run a small pipe and tap into the main. It costs about $1500 for the hookup,” they said at the water department. Simple, right? We took that figure for granted.Well, when push came to shove, they wanted us to lay our own pipe… a main run! This meant trenching, pipe purchase and laying the pipe. Plus installing the meter. They wouldn’t allow us to run a small diameter pipe and hook up to the water main as first informed to us. The water department wanted us to run something like 12-inch diameter pipe of our own! For about 230 feet! It was going to cost $30,000 for a water hookup! I honestly think that they were just jerks and had no solid reason to treat us like this, but they owned the water and basically they were a monopoly. It killed the entire build and she had to forfeit the loan. We had to abandon the project, leaving my mom with a piece of land that was basically useless. She is attempting to sell it to this day. The proposed build was 3 years ago.
  • Shipping Container(s) and all attachments. Now the containers come into play. Some people may consider rushing out to buy the containers and really have no place to put them! Remember, there will always be containers for sale. You will likely not be missing out on much if someone has a 40-foot container listed for $1000 on Craigslist. Yes, that’s a great price for a 40-footer, but most are very affordable, so don’t worry too much about not finding a great deal until you have a place to put it… the deals are out there and will always be out there. It could cost you more if you snag a “helluva deal” with no place to put the container, thus running into the possibility of renting a space to store it (costing you more). Consider what you will need to transform your container from a metal box into a livable space. This will cost you a pretty penny if you aren’t handy around tools and building things because you will need to hire some able hands.

Well, there you have it. How to start. There are so many other facets to construction of a container home. Be sure you take a while to draft up your plan. Make it a good one and don’t bypass any important steps or you may find yourself in the middle of the woods living inside a metal box using a hole in the ground as your bathroom! Plan, plan, plan.

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