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How to Buy, Design and Build your own Shipping Container Home

Honestly the process of buying shipping containers is easy. They cost between $2,000 and $5,000, depending on where you buy from and size.

North America has millions of empty shipping containers - mostly made in Asia and shipped here - and then never shipped back to Asia thanks to the trade deficit.

It is cheaper for a shipping company to buy new containers in Asia than to transport empty ones back to the origin, creating a stockpile of containers in port cities across North America. (Thus if you live in Vancouver the prices of shipping containers will be cheaper.)

Furthermore, most containers are made of metal which makes them very sturdy even when stacked – not to mention resistant to weather, fires, and other natural elements. They’re available in a variety of sizes (with most common being 8 feet wide by 8.5 feet tall by 40 feet long) that make them ideal for modular housing and also business use for an office / work shed.

On the green side you are recycling materials that are just clogging up city ports. No trees harmed.

Farmers are even making barns out of shipping containers. So basically you can make almost any structure out of shipping containers.

Step One - Design Your Home First

Don't buy anything until you know what your home will look like. There are literally an unlimited number of configurations that shipping containers can be built together. Try making some wooden building blocks that are scaled the same shape as the containers you want to use and then playing with the blocks in various shapes.

Designing the structure is so easy a child could do it. It is the interior rooms that will be trickier.

On the right is 4 very simple (and unimaginative) configurations that would be easy to stack and build.

If it was me I would be tempted to use EMPTY space in between cargo containers to make a courtyard in the middle - making the home bigger with less materials. Can also make hallways the same way.

Step Two - Buy a Shipping Container

Google shipping containers for sale, limit your search to your area (eg. Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal), and browse the prices available. Don't worry about the colour. You can always paint it later. It is not like you are buying a car where you can be picky about the colour.

The container’s ID number can be used to determine the container’s age. Once a suitable shipping container (or containers) has been located and met your specifications, you can negotiate a very reasonable price of a couple thousand dollars each, plus hopefully shipping to the building location.

Step Three - Site Preparation

Smooth out the area where you will have the shipping container placed. Hire a contractor if you have to so you can make sure you it is perfectly level.

Step Four - Delivery

This should be the easy part. Ideally the company you purchased from might provide delivery too, but if they do not you can hire a trucking company to deliver it for you. Have it placed in the site location. If it is not perfectly placed, don't worry you can fix it later by dragging with a large tractor.

Step Five - Start Building

If you don't know how to use a cutting torch, now is the time to learn. You could also cut steel pieces out of the containers using a grinder. But honestly a cutting torch is faster.

If flames or grinders scare you then hire someone to cut out the pieces for you ... although seriously, why are you doing a DIY project if you are not doing it yourself?

There are even companies that now specialize in building container homes or you can get yourself a DIY Container Home Kit, which will include instructions on how to do all the little details.

If you really don't want to do anything yourself then just hire a contractor to handle the rest. But if you are the handy type then you will need to design and add the following:
  1. Heating and cooling.
  2. Water and sewage removal.
  3. Electricity, including lighting and plugs.
  4. Windows.

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