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3 Mistakes to Avoid when Building a Shipping Container Home

3 Mistakes to Avoid when Building a Shipping Container Home

Written by Kathleen Seide

I have a passion for helping others meet their goals. I focus on the important issues facing people. I am curious and adventurous by nature. I love exploring and understanding the world, sometimes that means meditation and other times I hike hours into the wilderness to see where a path leads.

January 17, 2020

So you’re thinking of building a shipping container home, that’s so exciting!

Some of the common reasons I hear from people who want to build their home from shipping containers are:

You want a unique home.
You’re a design nerd.
They are faster to build.
They are cheaper to build.

During my last move I was considering a shipping container, and I learned a few things about the process that you should know.


One mistake a lot of people make is fighting against their materials. If you embrace some of the inherent features you will keep your costs and construction time down. You will also and end up with a home that feels more in tune with itself.

When designing your home, you don’t have to thing you are simply working with a box. There are shipping containers available designed with sides that open completely, or a top that is missing. You can connect them in interesting ways to create open spaces and soaring ceilings if you get creative.

Here are some interesting design examples for shipping container homes.

This octagon design uses the inherent features of the shipping containers as an advantage and provides a large living space.

This design for townhomes in an urban setting stacks the containers.

29 Container Home Designs


When building a shipping container home you need to be careful about who you hire. You’ll want to find a contractor who specializes in shipping containers, or at least has a history of building in a metal environment.

A typical Home Builder doesn’t work in metal, or have the engineering how-how at their fingertips to calculate load bearing for your larger cut outs. There are different considerations for the foundations of shipping container homes, and the standard practices for electrical and plumbing a residential home have to be adapted depending on what your internal walls look like.


Shipping container homes may not conform to the standard residential mortgage, so you will need to look at other financing options.

To qualify for a mortgage it has to be attached to the land with a permanent foundation, plumbing, and electrical.

Site Built vs. Manufactured
Most homes you see are considered “site-built”. That means they are build from raw materials on vacant land.

Container Homes are delivered partially constructed to your property, so they are considered manufactured homes by most lenders. That means they will not qualify for a standard 30 year mortgage. You may have to look at loans designed for manufactured/prefabricated construction and mobile homes.

Loan information from HUD (The Department of Housing and Urban Development)

Loan options at Bank Rate

Land Availability

You’ll need a place to put your new home. Depending on where you live, vacant land my be scarce or cheap and easy to find.

I am based in St. Petersburg FL, and as of this writing there are 274 properties for sale in Pinellas County (including St Petersburg, Clearwater, Dunedin, Safety Harbor, Palm Harbor, Largo, and Seminole).

They range in price from $12,500 to $4 million, and they range in size from only 2,000 sqft up to about 7 acres.

vacant land for sale in pinellas county as of january 17 2020


Standard Sizes for Shipping Containers

Dry van containers are the most common type of shipping container you will find. Here are the three sizes you might be most likely to work with.

In addition to the below dimensions, you can get “high cube” containers that are 9ft 6 in tall (I.D. 8ft 1 in)

10 foot Long Container

Width 8ft, Height 7ft, Internal Dimensions: Length 9ft 4in, Height 7ft 10in, Width 7ft 9in, Doors 7ft 9in x 7ft 6in

20 foot Long Shipping Container

Width 8ft, Height 8ft, Internal Dimensions: Length 19ft 4in, Height 7ft 10in, Width 7ft 9in, Doors 7ft 9in x 7ft 6in

40 foot Long Shipping Container

Width 8ft, Height 8ft, Internal Dimensions: Length 39ft 5in, Height 7ft 10in, Width 7ft 9in, Doors 7ft 9in x 7ft 6in

Here is more information on shipping container sizes.

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