building process


I have been looking at the whole issue of building a home using shipping containers and have made a number of observations and come to the following conclusions which I hope you will find useful.

The first big point is that building with shipping containers is, in many cases, more of a romantic idea for many than it is practical. It is not as easy as it looks. I have listed a number of common mistakes, both in thought and from a practical point, that people make when considering building a home using shipping containers.

Container home 6

  1. MISTAKE #1. Thinking that it is a cheaper way to build a house.
    You can look at purchasing a ready made fully kitted out container home that is what it is. You can look at modifying the external looks if it is not quite what you would want but you will be able to have a place to live in from day one. If you are considering building using shipping containers, it would however still be prudent to compare the cost of conventional building verses building a container home yourself because building a home using containers is not necessarily a cheaper way to build a home. Having said that, it depends on what you want your home to look like. If you don’t mind that it looks like a metal shipping container, then that may save you some money. If however, you want your home to look like some of the videos that you see on YouTube then it will probably cost you more than you are budgeting for.
    Remember that you will need to hire a large crane, firstly when the containers are delivered and if your foundations are not ready, again to place them which is a rather expensive item which needs to be included in your budget.
    The bottom line here is for you to do your homework properly before you start and price your project correctly.
  2. MISTAKE # 2. Buying the wrong container.
    Containers come in different sizes. The length, be it a 6m or 12m container is not the issue but the height of the container is. The dry container is only 2,34m high and leaves no space for a ceiling, which in any case needs to be 2,4m high to comply with building regulations. It also leaves no space for ceiling lights or any other services. The high cube container is 2,68m high and that leaves adequate space for a ceiling, overhead services and ducting but it is more expensive.
    There are also containers that are built for continuous re-use and will carry all manner of cargo from furniture to toxic waste over a number of years. These containers are the least expensive but need to be fully examined for damage, leaks, dents, rust, spills and the like, before you make a purchase. Then there are containers that are for single use and are sold at the end of that first trip. These containers are obviously more expensive but are also in much better condition.
    The point here is that all containers are not the same. Choose wisely.
  3. MISTAKE # 3. Underestimating required structural modifications.
    Simply cutting large openings in containers for windows or large doors or even removing whole sides to join two containers together will in many cases destroy the structural integrity of the container. A structural engineer will be able to advise on what can and what can’t be done. In many cases, a lot of additional steelwork, welding and reinforcing is required and this needs to be taken into account in your planning and budget. The foundations are also a very important and will require a structural engineer to design and certify them. The placement of the foundations are also critical to fit the various containers, particularly from a level point of view. If your site is sloping, even slightly, then the foundations become more of an issue.
  4. MISTAKE # 4. Installing the wrong insulation.
    Remember that a container is a large metal box and if you get your insulation wrong, you will either end up with a freezer in winter or an oven in summer. It is also important to use a spray-on insulation on the inside because of the fact that you will get condensation on exposed metal which will cause a number of problems over time. This is also of particular importance when insulating the roof of the container, that you don’t leave any exposed metal on which condensation can form, even if you are installing another roof over the container.
    Internal insulation is also different from external insulation and it would be prudent to seek the advice of an expert, particularly if you are doing the building work yourself.
    External insulation can also be achieved with various forms of cladding or shading which can be considered. An area that many people forget about for insulation, is the floor. It is all very well insulating the walls and roof but if you ignore the floor then it compromises the rest. It is also important to get the glazing right as it too will play an important part in the insulation of the structure.
    When submitting the drawings to the municipality for approval, your designer would have needed to submit the energy efficiency calculations for the building as a whole and this would include the specification of the glazing and the insulation. This would need to be included in your budget as your architect/designer would need to sign a declaration at the end of the project that what was specified in the design, was in fact installed.
  5. MISTAKE # 5. Using inexperienced contractors.
    There are a number of additional items that you need to consider when you are looking to build using shipping containers. There is a lot of cutting and welding and hiring someone to do this work is often quite expensive. The preparation of the steel framework for window and door openings as well as welding of structural supports requires an experienced artisan who understands what he is doing as well as the input of a structural engineer.
    Remember too that fixing anything to the walls or roof of the container requires a welded lug or bracket and this becomes an issue when fixing brandering for wall or ceiling cladding. The installation of the conduits for electrical wiring or plumbing also needs to be planned ahead of applying the spray-on insulation as cutting it in afterwards just before fixing the gypsum board finish is counter productive. One also needs to take the installation of plug and light switch boxes into the wall cladding into account so that you allow sufficient space for it. If for instance, you require a mixer tap in your shower, then you would need to create additional space in the wall to fit it. It all comes down to having someone with experience to guide you through the process.

Container home 2

The thought that I want to leave with you is that you need to do your homework before you decide on using shipping containers to build your home, even more so if you are contemplating doing it yourself.