Are Shipping Container Homes Safe?

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|10 min read

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Shipping container homes have become a popular topic in recent years. They blend sustainability, affordability, and minimalist design, helping them capture the attention of many prospective homeowners seeking to embrace a more eco-conscious lifestyle or provide an affordable alternative for a first home. Yet, questions have arisen as to whether container homes are safe.

While shipping container homes are appealing on a number of levels, potential buyers must approach this alternative housing solution carefully. Homebuyers should consider the following factors—both positive and negative—before taking the leap into the world of shipping container living.

1. Shipping Container Homes Are Affordable But Vary in Cost

Shipping container homes are a cost-effective housing solution for people looking for a much more affordable alternative to traditional houses. With rising housing costs and limited availability, many are turning to shipping container homes for their affordability and modern design aesthetic.

Container homes are a lot cheaper to build compared to just about any other style of home. Costs, of course, vary depending on the number and size of containers used, the design, and the finishes, but a keys-in-hand container home can cost around $50k for a 20-footer, while building a container home DIY-style can cost between $15k and $25k per container. On top of this, custom work and welding can significantly increase the overall cost.

Shipping container homes offer versatility in terms of design and layout. The containers can be stacked and arranged to create flexibility. They can be used to build tiny homes, one-story residences, or multi-story homes, depending on the buyer’s preferences, but any level of customization will generally increase the overall cost of the project.

2. Zoning Laws Can Prevent You From Owning One

Zoning regulations can pose a barrier to owning a container home. Local governments decide regulations and control land use and development within their jurisdictions. Zoning determines what types of structures (residential, commercial, etc.) can be built in certain areas and how they can be used—and some laws can severely restrict what is allowed. While container homes have gained popularity for their affordability and versatility, they may not be permitted in all zoning districts.

Before committing to a container home, research the zoning laws in your area. You can do this by contacting the local planning department or reviewing the zoning ordinance. In some cases, obtaining a special permit or variance may be necessary to build a container home in a zone where it is not typically allowed. This process can require submitting plans, attending public hearings, and paying fees. However, obtaining a special permit or variance is not guaranteed and may require additional time and resources.

3. Shipping Container Homes Can be Built Quickly

Building a container home can be accomplished very quickly, allowing homeowners to have their residence ready relatively quickly. Compared to traditional construction methods, shipping container homes can be built much faster due to the prefab nature of the containers.

The process begins with sourcing the shipping containers, which are readily available from resellers across the U.S. These containers generally come in sizes of 20, 40, and 45 feet. They can be easily transported to just about any construction site. Once on-site, the containers are modified to the homeowner’s specifications.

A lot of the construction can be done off-site (e.g., cutting openings for doors and windows, installing insulation, electrical wiring, and plumbing). The containers are then transported to the site and assembled, resulting in a much faster construction process compared to traditional homes.

4. Building One Requires a Lot of Work

Building a home using shipping containers involves more than simply stacking and welding the containers together. It requires careful planning, design considerations, and the execution of various construction tasks. 

The containers must be properly prepared, including cleaning, removing any hazardous materials, and reinforcing the structure if necessary. After that, openings for windows, doors, and utilities must be carefully cut and reinforced to maintain the structural integrity of the containers.

Insulation, electrical wiring, and plumbing systems must be installed to ensure a safe and comfortable living environment. Additionally, interior finishes, such as flooring, wall coverings, and fixtures, must be carefully selected and installed.

Exterior cladding and landscaping are also essential to improve the aesthetics of the container home. 

Throughout the entire construction process, attention to detail is crucial. Ensure the home is structurally sound, weather-resistant, and meets all building codes and regulations. Building a container home requires a lot of work, but with proper planning and execution, it can result in a unique and sustainable living space.

5. Space Will Be Limited

When building a container home, it is important to consider that space will be limited, requiring strategic design and organization. One of the biggest challenges of container homes is maximizing the available space while maintaining functionality and comfort.

Shipping containers come in standard sizes of 20’, 40’, and 45’, with internal dimensions of 7’10”. These dimensions provide limited space compared to traditional homes.

To make the most of the limited space, open floor plans are commonly used in container homes. This design approach allows for flexible living areas and maximizes the perceived space. Incorporating windows and skylights not only enhances natural light and ventilation, but also creates an illusion of spaciousness.

Multi-level designs can also be utilized to optimize the available vertical space. By stacking containers, container homes can offer more living areas without expanding the footprint.

Creative storage solutions are crucial in container homes. Built-in shelves, hidden compartments, and multifunctional furniture can help maximize storage space while keeping the interior organized and clutter-free.

Lastly, exterior cladding and landscaping can play a significant role in improving the aesthetics and functionality of container homes. Utilizing outdoor spaces effectively can extend the usable area and create additional living or storage spaces.

6. Container Homes Aren’t Always as Eco-Friendly as They Seem

Despite their reputation as an eco-friendly housing option, container homes may not always be as environmentally friendly as they seem. While it is true that using shipping containers for housing repurposes materials that would otherwise go to waste, not every container home is going to be as impactful. 

Shipping containers are often touted as eco-friendly because they’re upcycling a huge object that could otherwise be sent off to a landfill when it’s run its course. However, many people purchasing shipping containers for homes opt to buy ones that have only been lightly used.

These containers are in a like-new condition, and removing them from circulation to turn them into houses defeats the purpose of upcycling when they could have had many more years of use before removal.

Shipping container homes absolutely have a great potential to be the ultimate eco-friendly home, but that requires allowing the containers to run their course in their intended usage before taking them for other products. 

7. Shipping Container Homes Can Be Just as Safe as Regular Homes

Shipping container homes can be equally safe as traditional homes when proper construction and safety measures are implemented. Despite concerns about toxic chemicals and harmful paint coatings, there are ways to address these issues. Here are some factors to consider for ensuring the safety of shipping container homes:

  • Treated Flooring: Contacting the original manufacturer can provide information on whether the container’s flooring has been treated. Non-breathable flooring underlayment or replacing the wooden flooring with marine plywood can protect against chemicals.
  • Harmful Coatings: Second-hand containers may have coatings with toxic components. While finding out the exact coatings used can be challenging, options like removal or encapsulation can address harmful coatings.
  • Security: Shipping containers were originally designed to be secure and impenetrable. They can be made secure for extended periods of absence, and the airtight nature of containers provides additional security. Implementing proper locks and security measures ensures peace of mind.

Is a Shipping Container Home Right for You?

Investing in a shipping container home is a multifaceted decision with many factors to consider. While the sustainability, affordability, and architectural possibilities are undoubtedly appealing, buyers need to be prepared to navigate the challenges that come with them. By considering these factors, home buyers can make a well-informed choice that aligns with their lifestyle, budget, and environmental values.

Kevin Bautista

Kevin brings a B.S. in Accounting and ten years of experience in sales and customer service. He started with FastExpert in 2019 and has been a big asset to the team. He believes strongly in the power of communication and has great attention to detail.

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