3 Mistakes to Avoid when Building a Shipping Container Home

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.

By Kathleen Seide | Posted in Real Estate | Tagged , | 7 Comments


7 thoughts on “3 Mistakes to Avoid when Building a Shipping Container Home”

  1. That’s an interesting idea to have the shipping containers connect to make a bigger home. I could see how that would make it so you could build it to be any size possible. If I decide to get a shipping container to use as a house, I’ll have to see if I can get multiple of them so I could have some more space.

  2. Joe Hall says:

    I love that you talked about how the octagon design is really great at providing a large room. My brother is trying to get a shipping container for a guest house because it’s cheaper and unique. I’ll try to share your article with him tonight so that he can get some more ideas.

    1. Kathleen Seide says:

      I hope it’s helpful! Please share what he ends up doing

  3. Joe Hong says:

    Do you know any contractors or companies that build residential shipping container homes in the St. Petersburg, FL area? Found SunDog Structures but they seem to be out of business.

    1. Kathleen Seide says:

      Hello Joe – I haven’t worked with any in the Tampa Bay area yet. I was considering going that route when I bought my last home and had planned to be the GC myself and coordinate the subs. From what I can see of SunDog, they had a few lawsuits before the stopped operating (https://www.fox13news.com/news/work-halts-lawsuits-pile-up-for-company-building-container-homes-in-tampa)

  4. Mat Djingga says:

    Hi there. I am Mat, from Minnesota. Planning to build a retirement house in the north of St Pete. Ideally, a lot that has water access to the gulf. I was told by a realtor from zillow that all new houses built by the water or have water access, would need to built on stilts. Is that correct ? Also, are those cities (St Pete and north, all the way to Spring Hills/Hudson) allow container homes (on stilts) ?, I have been considering container houses due to the pricing, unique design, and could be hurricane proof. Like Joe mentioned, I’ve been looking for these container houses contractors/builders. THANKS !

    1. Kathleen Seide says:

      Hello Mat! That’s an exciting project.
      The question of container homes and location would be based on local city codes, so I can’t really answer for the whole area. There are areas that are more and less strict with their building codes and some are unfamiliar with alternative construction so it takes more communication with the permitting department to get through the red tape.
      I would agree with the comment about stilts though – if you are in a flood zone you may not be able to get any insurance for new construction if you don’t build above the flood level.

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