13 brilliant tips for newbies building or renovating container homes

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container home
Image credit: wiercinski-studio

In Australia, container homes are popping up everywhere. Some are in the inner city suburbs, others are in rural areas. The container home designs feature these heavy metal boxes stacked together, connected, and modified into aesthetically pleasing and structurally sound houses. 

If you landed on this blog, you are probably thinking of converting shipping containers into a house too. Like you, there are millions of people across the world who are curious about container home projects, thinking that it is a more affordable way to build a house. 

container home
Image credit: Studio H:T

Here at Superdraft, we want to help you design and build the container homes of your dreams. Take advantage of our project dashboard which you can use to plan and coordinate your container home project with design and build professionals. Access it for free when you sign up or request a quote.

For added value, read these expert tips:

1. Visualise your container home

Are you planning to use shipping containers to build a single-storey home? A multiple-storey mansion? A portable home? A tiny house? A granny flat? Or, a custom home that’s worth featuring in magazines?

container home
Image credit: Architect Matías Silva Aldunate

Shipping containers are well-suited for many types of residential construction projects. It is important to know what you want to build before planning this kind of project and engaging professionals. Visualise how it looks inside and out. Establish the project’s design brief and scope of work from the onset. Make sure that your goals for the project are clear before embarking on this journey.

Here at Superdraft, we realised that the easiest way to do this is to answer these guide questions. This pre-design questionnaire sets your project’s requirements before you meet a designer to discuss your project. 

Image credit: Studio H:T

2. Decide on how much you plan to spend

The total costs to build a shipping container home varies; there are many factors and considerations that determine the final cost: 

  • How big is the shipping container house? How many containers do you need? The larger your home, the more expensive it is to build.
  • What is the size of the shipping container needed? Yes, these heavy metal boxes come in a range of sizes. The 20ft and 40ft high cube containers are the most recommended size for building container homes.
  • Are you going to use new, old, or single-trip containers? What is the condition of the shipping containers that you plan to use? Old shipping containers are cheaper than new ones, but recycling these retired containers might incur extra cleaning and disinfection costs.
  • How do you deliver or transport the containers to the site? The more containers to deliver and more trips back and forth, the more expensive the fees.
container home
Image credit: Ramiro Sosa Photography, José Schreiber Architect

Many people are interested in building shipping container homes because of the supposed affordability, but in reality, one shouldn’t expect to make huge savings. There are instances when a home made from multiple containers is as expensive as a regular stick-framed house. Also, the factors that increase the costs of building a regular house also increases the costs of building a shipping container home. 

It is highly-recommended to talk to your partner, financial advisor, and bank until you come up with the numbers. Budget your funds wisely; prepare for the following:

  • Drafting of working drawings
  • Planning and building approval fees
  • Shipping containers
  • Transport fees of the shipping containers to site
  • Footings and foundation 
  • Welding to modify the containers; to connect them and to create doors and windows
  • Electrical works
  • Plumbing works
  • Flooring material and installation
  • Insulation 
  • Roofing and gutter installation
  • Interior construction works
  • Exterior design and finishing works
  • Paint job
  • Landscaping and gardening

The items listed above are the ones you must prioritise when budgeting. Decide when to splurge and save on fixtures, fittings, furniture pieces, and other decor later.

Alternatively, you can request a free quote here so you have an idea how much your container home project will cost.

Image credit: Pablo Sarabia, James & Mau

3. Know your local building codes in relation to building container homes

Contact your local council to check whether there are laws and regulations relevant to building shipping container homes in your area. Your community or subdivision might have certain restrictions against building shipping container homes as well. Check these out and study them before you invest in a shipping container. It is crucial to understand the ordinances set by governing bodies for these impact the design and construction of your container home project.

4. Conceptualise and finalise the design of your container home

Every container home project is different. Each house gets custom designed and built from the ground up. 

This kind of project is not as quick and easy as many people think. Modifying, stacking, connecting long rectangular metal boxes to create a livable home requires advanced design skills and construction experience. You need the help of building designers, structural engineers, and builders with experience in building container homes in the past. Engage professionals to get a container home that’s incomparable to a standard home, makes a statement, and delivers all the spaces you need.

container home
Image credit: Antonio Corcuera Photography

5. Choose the best roof design for your container home

There are three popular roof designs of shipping container homes: shed, gable, and flat. 

Shed is a slightly sloped roof design that is easy to build and is ideal for installing solar roof panels. This roof design is popular for homeowners who want their container homes sustainable, eco-friendly, and energy-efficient. 

Gable is a triangular-shaped roof design that is often seen on standard home designs. This roof design drains rainwater efficiently, preventing water build-up which damages the roof. 

The flat roof design is the most common one because it is the most affordable and most flexible option. This roof design can be turned into a roof garden or outdoor lounge. The standard flat roof design, however, is prone to water pooling, so carry out regular maintenance to preserve its structural integrity.

container home
Image credit: Poteet Architects

6. Make sure that your plans completely describe the structure 

Here’s where working with skilled building designers who have experience designing and drafting becomes an advantage. 

When you engage an expert in designing container homes, you also fast track the production of the working drawings, without sacrificing the quality of the documents. You are sure that the specifications accurately reflect the structure you plan to build.

7. Submit for local planning approval and obtain building permits

This is the part where cutting corners is not an option. It is crucial to obtain planning permission and building permit to ensure the uninterrupted and legal construction of your house. By now, you already established your relationship with your local council. You have an option to lodge the documents on your own, or ask us for assistance in council submission.

container home
Image credit: Ruben Rivera Peede Photography, ARQtainer

8. Familiarise yourself with the process of building container homes in Australia

The process of building shipping container homes vary depending on the professional you’re working with, but it can be categorised into three phases: 

  1. Planning phase – This is the time to do all your research about your project and engage the design professionals and construction consultants you need.
  2. Design phase – This is the time to finalise the design of your container home and prepare all the working documents needed for council approval and build tendering.
  3. Build phase – This is the time to procure all the building materials needed in your project and start building it from the ground up.

At any stage of the project Superdraft can provide you the right service and support. Take advantage of Superdraft’s project dashboard and stay on top of your project at all times.

container home
Image credit: tiny homes ltd.

9. Purchase the right shipping container 

Know your shipping container market so you can purchase the best containers available. Check out this shipping container buying guide for reference.

Note that shipping containers come in different sizes. The standard containers measure 8.5ft (2.59m) high and there are high-cube containers that measure 9.5ft (2.89m) high. Invest in high-cube containers and take advantage of that extra ceiling height. 

Shipping containers also come in three lengths: 10ft, 20ft, and 40ft. Choose the one that suits your project and fits in your property. Purchase the shipping containers that suit your project requirements. 

10. Reuse shipping containers? 

Second-hand shipping containers are more affordable than the new ones. The more trips a container has, the lower its price. 

Using second-hand containers is the most environmentally friendly move to make. If you are keen on reusing old shipping containers, see them before you purchase them. Old shipping containers often have issues such as dents, holes, and rust; both greatly diminish the structural integrity of the container. 

When shopping for used containers, choose the ones that are almost in great shape. Ask for photos online and conduct a final inspection in person before purchasing the containers. 

container home
Image credit: Lorena Darquea Schettini Photography, Daniel Moreno Flores + Sebastian Calero

11. Prepare your shipping container before construction

It is also important to ask for the history of the shipping containers before purchasing them. It gives you an idea how much and what kind of chemicals were used to protect the containers and its contents. Still, you should prepare the containers before construction. 

  • Scrub and power wash the insides of the container before installing your insulation. It is important to remove all the heavy chemicals and pesticides used here. You want a clean and unsoiled wall, floor, and ceiling before installing your insulation material.
  • Rip off the interior wood flooring of the containers before installing your interior floors.
  • Remove the original paint used on the walls and repaint the interiors using low-VOC paint. 

12. Keep your container home project on time and on budget

There are a lot of efforts that you can do to keep your container home project on time. One thing you can do is to cut the time needed to find the most suitable design and construction consultants needed in your project. Take advantage of Superdraft’s project coordination dashboard for this. Sign up to use the dashboard and get matched with the professionals with experience designing and building container homes.

To keep your container home project within your budget, consider following some of our expert tips on how to build a container home on a budget

container home
Image credit: Wine Down pop-up hotel

13. Select builders specialising in building container homes

Lastly, it is important to work with builders with experience in the construction of container homes. Experienced and specialised builders work faster and help you address any obstacle that you might encounter during the construction of your container home.

Here at Superdraft, you can find these specialised builders and get quotes for your container home project. Take advantage of our build tender service where we help you source quotes from multiple builders and assess which one is the best fit for you.

Get a free quote here.

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