9 things you should know before building a container home

Johannes van Graan Johannes van Graan
homify Rustic style house
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One of the more memorable architectural evolutions in recent years, not to mention in terms of sustainable design, has been the re-use of shipping container to become born-again structures, whether for houses, coffee shops, guest bedrooms, play pen for kiddies, etc. Due to their convenient sizes and simplicity, container homes are on just about every second homebuilder’s mind these days.  

But nothing is ever so straightforward as stacking two blocks on top of each other and calling it a home, and modern container homes are no exception. Let’s have a look at a few facts you need to know first…  

1. Insulation is important

Energy efficient A4AC Architects Modern houses
A4AC Architects

Energy efficient

A4AC Architects

Would you just walk into a stainless steel box and start living there? Precisely. Insulation is essential, as well as high-quality glazing solutions to ensure that a comfortable living temperature is maintained inside your container home.

2. One container does not equal another

Shipping containers are not all built the same. You have high cube, regular and refrigerated to name but a few types of containers. Do your research on each variety and speak to the relevant manufacturers about the pros and cons.

3. Research your local planning laws/building regulations

When it comes to architecture, including container homes, each country has its own sets of rules and regulations. This means a container house in South Africa differs from one in Europe. Sure, the container might be a generic product, but climate, fire regulations etc. are not the same.

And keep in mind that container homes can even differ from city to city depending on the relevant professionals, the area’s weather, etc; thus, don’t be surprised to discover container homes in Cape Town, for instance, differing slightly from those in Johannesburg.  

4. Stick to your design

Off the grid house Johannesburg, A4AC Architects A4AC Architects Modern houses Aluminium/Zinc Grey container house
A4AC Architects

Off the grid house Johannesburg

A4AC Architects

Why does it sometimes take so long to build a house the traditional way? Because people keep changing their minds! 

It’s incredibly expensive and time consuming to replace that shipping container’s wall once you’ve decided it needs to be cut out. Make sure you do as much research as possible and ideally, visit several container homes before you commit to your design.

5. Don’t cut too much

Whenever you cut steel out of your containers, it costs both time and money. Not only do you have to pay someone to remove steel from your containers, you will likely also need to pay for the opening to be reinforced with a steel beam. 

Thus, save a lot of money by not removing large sections of the container.

6. Check out the container you are buying

Pop Up retreat - Shipping Container living, Edge Design Studio Architects Edge Design Studio Architects Industrial style garden Grey
Edge Design Studio Architects

Pop Up retreat—Shipping Container living

Edge Design Studio Architects

This isn’t a shirt you’re buying – don’t just order that shipping container because it looked good in a photo on the company’s website. You never know when “good condition” actually means “horribly neglected”.

7. You can spend a little extra on a one-trip container

A one-trip container (which means a shipping container that has only made one round in its lifetime) is practically brand new. And it doesn’t cost that much more than an older one.

8. Understand its structure

Research a container’s structural integrity to know what you’re getting yourself into. For example, the two long walls are both load-bearing and bracing, which means if you were to cut a hole in one, it needs to be compensated.

9. Think about nature

Sure, you might dream about placing your new container home on a little hill overlooking the sea, but don’t forget to factor in the elements, like wind. That container’s made of metal, which means a large gust of wind is going to make noise – a lot! 

As they say: location, location, location! 

Container homes: The pros

• Although you will need special equipment, a container home (without its foundation) is perfectly portable, meaning more customer convenience. 

• Modern container homes are custom designed, allowing you (along with the appropriate professionals, like Architects) to create the container home of your dreams. 

• Old shipping containers are plentiful in South Africa (particularly in coastal settings like Cape Town and Durban).

• Container homes are ideal for the ‘going green’ age, as the recycling of the basic structure helps reduce our carbon footprint.

Container homes: The cons

Container Garden space Acton Gardens Industrial style houses Metal Brown shipping container,container living,upcycle,chic,reuse,roof garden,gabions
Acton Gardens

Container Garden space

Acton Gardens

• Shipping containers as is aren’t ideal for living conditions, as issues like insulation and condensation need to be considered before a container home can be created.

• Although perfectly mobile, you will first need to research local building codes to see if you’re allowed to build your container home with non-traditional materials. 

• Not all contractors are familiar with the craft of container homes. Ensure you pick a professional with the appropriate qualifications and experience before you contribute to the growing collection of modern container homes in South Africa.

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