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How To Prepare Land For A Shipping Container Home

Short term rentals and accessory dwelling units (ADUs) continue to grow in popularity along with the options for providing such services. Pairing the growth of the custom shipping container industry with these options can provide you a comfortably inhabitable home, customized to your liking, in a much quicker turnaround time. So then the next question pops up once you have realized shipping containers as a possible option for you. How do you prepare for your new shipping container home? With this blog, we will walk you through the process and possibilities in permitting and land preparation. If this leaves you with more questions than answers, give one of our container techs a call today to discuss your potential build(s).

joshua shipping container home

Permitting

There are many ways to go about getting permitted, but the most efficient process can vary. Most U.S. states accommodate prefabricated metal structures, but local town and county permitting codes can obstruct the process. In some places, it is possible to build a container without a permit. However, you should be aware and acknowledge potential regulations, permits, or zoning issues that could hinder the experience or build process. 

When asking questions to local authorities and building inspectors regarding permitting, codes, and zoning, you should know a few different ways to increase the chance of approval.

Questions You Should Ask: 

  • What rules exist that could potentially affect my  prefabricated metal structure from being placed on my property?
  • Are there specific design elements that would delay permitting?
  • What regulations (if any) are there against recreational vehicles in my area? (if installing caster or dolly wheels)
  • Are there any deed restrictions or HOA rules that would affect my  prefabricated metal structure from being placed on my property?

Questions You Should NOT Ask:

  • Can I put a container home in this location?
  • Are containers legal in my location?
  • Can my container home pose as a backyard shed? 
  • If I put wheels on my container home it is considered an RV, right? 

The last thing you want to do is ignore the fact that permits, codes, and zoning exist. This can result in fines, penalties, or even worse, remove your container home. Most areas continue to welcome containers, and there are very few exceptions where containers are explicitly banned. It is important to remember that no city or state will outright say “no container homes” because the meaning of ‘container home’ is so broad. Oftentimes a rules official will say “no” just because the proposition is out of the ordinary and they don’t want to face repercussions. This is why you approach permitting, code enforcement, and zoning very carefully and make sure your proposal is concise about your specifications.  

You can make your container home classify as an RV by adding caster or dolly wheels if you choose. Adding caster or dolly wheels to your  prefabricated metal structure is a great way to bypass the idea or label of housing a permanent structure on your property. 

dolly wheels on shipping container

Leveling 

Much like any home, container homes need level ground for placement. Before starting the build process, you must be certain the area your container will live in is easily accessible by a delivery truck. It is essential to leave ample room around the container for easy accessibility to adjust the container, bring in furniture, etc. Container homes, much like any home, must be level to operate normally. If your container home is not level it can result in slanting that allows for doors and/or windows to not shut properly. The ground moves a considerable amount and can cause your container to move, sink, or slide if it’s not leveled properly. 

In addition to generic leveling, we recommend your container home be raised off the ground. Lifting container homes off the ground will prevent water intrusion and rust to ultimately extend the longevity of your home. 

Foundations

Container homes can very well be dropped on level ground that’s not raised, but a foundation of some sort is highly recommended. Building a foundation for your container home is the best way to keep unwanted pests and elements out. 

Container home foundation options we recommend:
  • Concrete slab foundations 
  • Diamond Pier foundations
  • Gravel pads
  • Railroad ties/foundations 

Concrete Slab Foundations

Concrete slab foundations make the best foundation for container homes. This is the most expensive option, but if you are looking to keep your home in the same location long-term it is a viable option. The concrete slab should be four inches deep, and must extend an extra two feet wide on each side of the container so the home fits comfortably. 

concrete slab for shipping container home

Pier Foundations

Pier foundations are another popular option for container home foundations due to the price, quick build time, and it is DIY-friendly. Pier foundations are typically designed with concrete blocks or footings and are a great option if you plan to relocate your container home in the future. This foundation allows the container to be moved easily from place to place since no foundation is directly attached to the container. When setting up your pier foundation, one concrete pier should be placed at each corner of the container. However, on 40-foot containers, you should add two additional piers in the front-middle and back for extra support.

beaumont shipping container home

Gravel Pads

Gravel pads are another trusted option for foundations. This foundation is made with a type of gravel and calcium carbonate that acts as a natural cement. The foundation is rolled, compacted, and spread onto a level surface that typically raises 4 to 6 inches off the ground. Similar to a concrete slab foundation, you should allocate at least one extra foot of space for ample room to move around the container. 

gravel foundation for shipping container home

Railroad Ties

Railroad ties are a cheap, viable option for container home foundations. If chosen, railroad ties should be placed at each end to elevate the container, and one in the middle for extra support. Railroad ties, treated 4x4 wooden beams, and other similar skids are a great option if the container will be moved in the future. These options can be used as permanent foundations, but if you plan on living in the container long-term it’s better to go with a more reliable foundation. 

railroad tie foundation for shipping container home


Hook-ups

Connecting a container home from Bob’s is simple and hassle free. In fact, it’s practically the same as connecting an RV. This standard hookup option is for those wanting access to municipal water, electric and plumbing. 

Off-grid options are available as well for those who do not have or want access to municipal services. 

Container plumbing is essential, and nearly the same as residential plumbing. Plumbing hook-ups for containers require a 3-inch pipe for blackwater, a 1.5-inch pipe for greywater, and a .5-inch pex for freshwater. For those who do not know, blackwater is for sewage, greywater is for sinks and tubs, and freshwater brings in clean water. 

Off-grid plumbing options consist of:

  • Water tank
  • Septic field

A tank or septic field is required for both blackwater and greywater if you choose off-grid plumbing. If you choose to go with water tanks, both tanks should be located above ground or buried near the container for easy access. Depending on how often the container is used, it is recommended you pump the tanks biweekly to maintain a clean living environment. If you choose to construct a septic field, site preparation must be carried out well before the container home arrives to avoid outrageous costs associated with a late setup. The septic field consists of two components, a septic tank, and a soil absorption field. Primary treatment will begin in the septic tank then, leftover water will infiltrate into the soil. 

When it comes to off-grid water, there are a few options to choose from:

  • Gravity-fed water system
  • Cistern watering system
  • Freshwater tank

Gravity-fed water systems allow water stored in a tank to flow by its weight inside the pipes and run out of the tap. This system only works if the unit is located below the water’s starting level. Gravity will take control of the water if it is below the starting water level and will then flow out of the tap. 

Another viable option for freshwater intake is a cistern watering system. This system stores water needed for household use in a large container that can be filled with collected rainwater, or by a water truck. Cistern watering systems are a great option for those who are outside the municipal water service or don’t collect much rainfall. 

Freshwater tanks are also a great option. These tanks are typically made out of seamless polyethylene plastic and hold water for your sinks, toilets, etc. These tanks range from holding 1 gallon to 202 gallons of freshwater for your container home. Freshwater tanks are intended for homeowners who will not have access to water connections and/or sewage services. 

In addition to off-grid freshwater practices, french drains are often used to recycle greywater which doubles as irrigation. Greywater will run its course through the drain line and end at the french drain where it will then disperse to irrigation. 

shipping container home - blue

Off-grid power options consist of:

  • A solar package of some sort 
  • Power generator 

Bob’s Containers has a solar package designed for website models, but if you are interested in another package you will need to calculate how big of a system your structure requires. Bob’s typically recommends a 400-watt solar package for 20-foot containers and a 1000-watt package for 40-foot containers depending on how many appliances are installed.

To sum things up, choose a foundation for your container home and a plan for how utilities will be set up in the home. Those two essential things will naturally allow your container home to thrive in its environment and show off how beautiful container home living can be. After all, container homes are more than just a place to live, they are an art piece!

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