So you’re thinking about getting a shipping container for your property. Whether you need extra storage or want to create a unique living space, you probably have questions. Can you even put a container on your land legally? What rules and regulations apply? Do you need special permits? This guide will walk you through everything you need to know to successfully place a shipping container on your property.
Rules and Regulations Around Shipping Containers
Before you order that shiny new container for your backyard, it’s important to understand the legal landscape. Zoning laws and building codes will determine what you can and can’t do. The last thing you want is to plop down a container, only to be told by local authorities to remove it! Let’s break down the key regulations:
What Do Local Zoning Laws Say?
Most cities designate separate areas for residential, commercial, and industrial use. The type of buildings allowed in each zone varies greatly. In residential neighborhoods, shipping containers used as storage units or secondary structures may be perfectly legal. Using them as permanent homes is more complicated. Some areas prohibit container homes outright while others have strict rules about foundation, utilities, minimum size, and more. Before buying your container, call the zoning office to learn your area’s specific regulations.
Building Codes and Permits Are a Must
Nearly all jurisdictions require some type of building permit to place any structure on your property. Shipping containers fall into this category too. The process varies, but generally involves submitting an application with your plans to the local building department. They want to ensure the container will meet safety standards, codes, and zoning rules before approving.
Common building codes include the International Building Code (IBC) and International Residential Code (IRC). The IBC applies to commercial buildings while IRC governs residential. Most container homes are held to IRC standards but be sure to check with your area building department. Oh and don’t forget…permits often take weeks or months to get, so plan ahead!
What If My Neighborhood Has Extra Rules?
If you live under a Homeowners Association (HOA) or have private deed restrictions, extra regulations may limit containers in your area. It’s not uncommon for HOAs to prohibit certain paint colors, fence styles, accessory buildings and so on to maintain neighborhood aesthetics. Before buying your container, request a copy of your HOA’s Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CC&Rs) for review. If deed restrictions are involved, you may need to consult a real estate attorney.
Storage vs. Living Space Matters Too
Are you planning to just use your shipping container for storage? Or will you be converting it into a living space? Intended use matters when it comes to permits and legalities. In many areas, temporary storage containers are allowed permit-free while permanent dwellings require extensive approval. Know whether you need a temporary use permit or more formal building permits before setting down that container!
Placement and Access Are Key
You found the perfect container for your property. But where exactly will you put it? And how the heck are you going to get it there? Choosing the right location and planning for delivery ahead of time prevents major headaches down the road.
Pick the Ideal Spot FIRST
Scope out your entire property and evaluate potential sites for container placement. Consider easy access for delivery trucks, proximity to existing buildings, sunlight exposure, views and more. Also check that the ground is level enough to support it without shifting. If the container will be visible to neighbors or public spaces, placing it behind fences or trees can help it blend better with your existing architecture and landscaping.
Don’t Forget the Foundation
Unlike traditional homes, shipping containers don’t require deep foundations or basements. But they DO need a solid, level surface beneath them to prevent cracking, leaks and structural issues over time. Pouring a concrete pad is best for permanence. But well-packed gravel beds or elevated wood supports also do the trick.
Get Those Utilities Connected
If you’ll be using your shipping container as a living space, connecting electricity, water, sewer and HVAC is a must. Be sure your property already has access to these utilities nearby. If not, prep this infrastructure yourself ahead of delivery day. Installing new utility lines and connections gets pricey fast, so budget accordingly!
Mind the Neighborhood Too
Out of sight, out of mind, right? Not always when it comes to shipping containers and nosey neighbors! If community aesthetics are important in your area, your container project may get some extra scrutiny.
Double Check with HOA Before Buying
As mentioned before, HOAs often limit “non-standard” buildings to maintain neighborhood uniformity. But with smart design choices, you can likely get their blessing. Focus on colors, materials and finishes that complement existing architecture. Strategic fences, screens and landscaping also help containers blend right in.
Curb Appeal Matters Too
Even without finicky HOAs, neighbors can complain about eyesores harming property values and curb appeal. If your container will be visible to others, getting their input early on promotes goodwill. They’ll be more understanding if construction noise or temporary access issues affect them too. A little communication goes a long way toward positive reactions later!
Modifying and Maintaining Containers
The work doesn’t stop once your container is delivered. Modifying it to suit your needs while keeping up with maintenance is crucial for performance and looks over time. Let’s chat budgets, upgrades, upkeep and more.
Budgeting for Build-Outs Adds Up
If you’ll be converting your shipping container into a dwelling or workspace, substantial modifications are probably needed. That rugged steel box won’t be too comfortable without insulation, electrical systems, interior walls and finishes! Container build-out costs vary widely based on features but allocate $200-$300 per square foot for starters. Complex designs with high-end appliances, bathrooms and off-grid energy can skyrocket overall budgets. Know your must-haves so you can plan and prioritize wisely.
Don’t Skimp on Maintenance!
While extremely durable, shipping containers still need regular care and maintenance. Over years of sun, rain and weather exposure exterior paints and seals degrade. This allows moisture intrusion and rust if left unchecked! Be diligent about washing, checking seals, and touching up paint every year or two. Catching small issues early makes repairs far cheaper. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as they say!
How Long Will It Really Last?
Shipping containers can last indefinitely with proper site preparation, modifications and maintenance. But how do they compare to traditional home building materials? Containers withstand weathering better than wood frames but lag behind brick in lifetime durability. Lifespans certainly depend on quality of the initial product and level of care too. Realistically you can expect 20-30 worry-free years from a container with decent upkeep.
Could Placing a Shipping Container on My Property Lead to Legal Issues?
State Laws and Community Examples
U.S. state governments regulate everything from taxes to tomatoes so shipping containers are no exception! Plus seeing examples of creative container projects in your region provides inspiration. Let’s see how laws and neighbors are embracing containers, shall we?
The Best States for Instant Container Living
Certain states make the container life easier through relaxed regulations, low costs and container-friendly culture. Texas offers both affordability and room to spread out with very minimal red tape. Oregon and Washington embrace unconventional, sustainable living making containers popular there too. And just about anything goes in the deep south! Louisiana tops lists for container home living thanks to low taxes, low costs and lots of land.
Real-World Container Home Inspiration
An estimated 10,000 shipping container homes exist across the country From trendy downtown lofts to off-grid desert retreats, containers adapt to virtually every climate and lifestyle. And they often cost 50% less per square foot than traditional construction! Before starting your container adventure, browse inspiration from others in your area. What designs or features really stand out and excite you? Use notes and photos to inform YOUR perfect container vision!
Can I Put a Shipping Container On My Property?
The short answer is yes…with proper planning and preparation! While regulations and requirements vary across states, cities and neighborhoods, millions have successfully placed shipping containers legally. By understanding the rules in your area, considering placement thoughtfully and budgeting for modifications, you too can have the container structure of your dreams!
We’ve just covered the key steps for residential container projects but tons of commercial applications exist too. From disaster response units and mobile health clinics to off-grid cabins and pools houses, shipping containers offer almost endless possibilities if properly executed. Let the creative ideas flow and happy building!