Building Your Eco-Friendly Container Home

The traditional construction industry is one of the largest users of energy, material resources, and water.  For this reason, there is growing interest in building options that are simple and sustainable.  Homes and offices built from shipping containers offer an eco-friendly option.  Sustainability ultimately involves enhancing the quality of life and supporting people to live in a healthy environment, with improved social, economic and environmental conditions.  Eco-friendly container homes certainly meet that brief, and as such, are a fast-growing trend within the tiny and small homes sector.  If you are getting fed up with cleaning a large, detached traditional built home, downsizing to a compact container home could be a very smart lifestyle choice.  In this blog, we’ll consider how you might begin to work towards building your own eco-friendly container home and start living the dream!

 Low Impact Construction and Living

Shipping containers offer a quick and simple skeleton shell for a long lasting and affordable designer home.  They are essentially a recycled by-product of the global economy.  They can be placed on small plots of land to create a snug home in a rural location, suited to self-sufficiency.  The footprint of the property is significantly smaller than many modern build homes.  All of this adds to container homes eco-credentials and there has been a big shift to homes that support green living in recent years.  And, in addition, container homes are bijou and compact, which encourages anyone inhabiting a container home to live simply.

Considering Building Your Eco-Friendly Container Home?

It pays to do your homework before embarking on building your container home.  You will need to secure a location on which to place the container home and to check with your local authority that you can place your container home there.  Some areas do not require planning permission, as many container homes are classed as moveable units.  To avoid any subsequent issues, find out where you stand in terms of planning.

Consider how you intend to layout your container home as part of the planning process.  That includes considering how many containers you will incorporate into the build.  Simple homes use just one container, more elaborate larger designs will include four or more containers.  It is wise to seek expert advice if you are considering designs involving more than one container, as cutting and welding of the fabric of containers to join them together can seriously damage their structural integrity.  Complex designs, such as those featuring cantilevered upper floors, are likely to need steel frame reinforcement. If in doubt, seek engineering advice.

It’s also worth considering what you want from your container home.  High up the priority list for many will be environmentally friendly options within the build:  solar panels, grey-water recycling, rainwater run off collection, wind power and space for composting and growing vegetables as part of the design.  An efficient design that makes the most of the space is worth considering at the planning stage.  For example, clever storage options and easy to clean, open areas help to keep small spaces looking elegant.

Choosing a Quality Shipping Container

Once location and design are sorted, the next step will be to obtain suitable container(s) for your build.  Shipping containers come in a range of sizes, with standard containers measuring 20ft or 40ft in length and 8ft in width.  Most containers measure 8 ft 6 in high, although it’s also possible to purchase “hi-cube” units that offer an extra foot in height.   Some savvy container home builders are known to obtain extra-long containers which measure 53ft in length.

Of course, you want quality as well as quantity from your container(s).  Solid and sturdy containers with limited wear and tear will make for a sustainable, long lasting home.  It’s possible to purchase one-trip containers which means less exposure to salty sea air.  Aim to visually inspect any container(s) prior to purchase so you are confident you are getting a solid frame for your eco-home.

Moving Towards the Build Stage

So, you’ve got to the stage of purchasing your container and have it in situ on site. This is where the build begins to pick up speed.  The process of transforming what is essentially a metal box into a comfortable dwelling space is surprisingly quick. Smaller and simpler designs of container homes can be ready for habitation within a few  weeks.

Cutting into the container can weaken the overall structure, so proceed with care, and seek advice as needed.  Welding is also likely to be costly, so aim to minimize the need for welding if you’re working to a limited budget.

Installation of Essentials into Your Container Home.

The installation of plumbing, electricity, insulation and windows are likely to be essentials for most container home dwellers.  It can be money well spent to enlist specialist contractors who are experienced in building container homes to advise on your project, to ensure planning regulations and safe building practices are adhered to.  Such advice will also help you with decisions such as how and where to run electrical ducting and wastewater piping.

Insulation is essential if you don’t want to be plagued with condensation.  Many container home builders opt for specialist spray on insulation that sits between the ridges on the inner of the container.  This can then be boarded over to provide an attractive finish.

Of course, you may decide to increase indoor space within your container home by creating a compost toilet in a small structure outside your container home.  And consideration of outdoor space around your container home may mean you opt for hedging or green screening which increases biodiversity and also acts as a break to reduce noise from gusty blasts of wind.

Safety Considerations for Your Eco-Friendly Container Home

Some shipping containers can be constructed with toxic paints and finishes.  It is important to identify if your container(s) contain any of these potentially dangerous treatments.  There are a range of options to ensure your container home is made safe to live in, including professional sandblasting, enclosing walls to limit exposure to chemical off-gassing and also removing wooden floors that are treated with pesticides.


So, if you are considering recycling a shipping container to build your eco-friendly home, there is plenty to consider before starting.  The considerations here will get you started on the steps to take to achieving your goal.  A container-friendly home can be a quick and sustainable build that offers a real alternative to traditional construction.



Jade Piper is a small business owner and part time blogger. Her other interests include healthy living, yoga, and the environment.