Planning goes hand in hand with the design aspect of building a shipping container home – but if you’re building your house with a professional container home supplier or doing DIY, either way you will need some specifications and plans put together so the end result doesn’t collapse.

Depending on the size of the home you’re going to build, you may want to get an architect to draw up the house design for you once you have figured out what you want in your house. Having a professional will also help you with making sure all the details are correct, and compliant to relevant industry requirements, health, and environment codes, as well as a safe work environment.

It is of utmost importance to know what the building codes are for the location where you plan to build your house. You will also need to look into water, electrical, heating fuel, sewage, and other building codes for your new home. Knowing these codes ahead of time will save you a lot of trouble and headaches later on. Once you’re up on all the building codes, it’s time to get all the building permits you will need, as required by law in your area. Building without permits can be costly, both in terms of money and lost time.

Here are some more areas that need to be thought about when designing your container home:


While containers are designed to withstand the stresses of ocean passage and transportation by rail and truck, they often need additional structural reinforcement when used in home construction. There are two fundamental kinds of structural strength to be considered here: stacking strength and wall strength.

  • Stacking Strength These units are built to be stacked squarely one on top of the other, with the corner posts providing most of the weight bearing support. If you stack the containers in a configuration that doesn’t align with the posts, you run the risk of the containers below buckling under the weight. To prevent this, you will need to erect additional steel reinforcement that will provide safe weight bearing capacity.
  • Wall Strength The steel walls on containers are relatively weak. They are not designed to provide substantial support like the corner posts do. In architectural applications, these walls are prone to collapsing and therefore cannot be assumed safe for any weight bearing use. Where weight bearing is anticipated, additional structural reinforcement must be designed and installed.
  • Cantilever Designs Containers positioned so that one end is hanging out from the rest of the structure may collapse due to the walls buckling under the stress. Steel reinforcement will need to be installed inside the supporting container and in the floor of the cantilevered container to ensure optimal support and structural integrity.
  • Double-wide Designs Removing the sides of the containers further weakens the weight bearing capacity of the containers where the two halves will be joined. A weight bearing beam wide enough to support the top rails of both containers will need to be installed over the entire length of the home. This will ensure that the roof or ceiling do not collapse. If something other than a weight bearing beam is used, you must make sure that adequate support is given along the full length where the two containers join.
  • Openings in the container walls Every hole cut in the side of a container weakens it. To prevent collapse, structural reinforcement must be installed. Without it, unsupported sides will likely sag or buckle over time, causing extensive damage to the home.


After electrical service is hooked up, you will also want to find out what type of wire and how much you’ll need to wire your home. It’s a good idea to enlist the help of a licensed electrician, if for nothing more than to make sure you’re doing everything right.


There is more than meets the eye to plumbing. You may want to employ the help of a licensed plumber to help you with this.

Wall Framing 

Framing in walls is similar to what you would do for a regular house. The main difference is to use screws instead of nails. This makes the framing stronger, adding additional reinforcement to the steel container structure.


You can insulate interior walls like you would in a regular home, using fiberglass or other suitable insulation.

Windows and Doors 

Measure off and cut holes in the sides to the same dimensions you would in a house. Be sure to adequately reinforce all openings to preserve structural integrity.


Your container home can be ventilated like a regular home. What do you prefer? A whirlybird sitting on top of the container, or air vents installed in the sides of the container?

Heating and Cooling 

Think ahead and decide where you plan to have the central heating and air conditioning installed. You will also need to decide where you plan to install the duct work: in under the floor, in the walls, or in the ceiling on each level.