The 'must knows' of container conversion

If you’ve read any of my previous blogs or even just skimmed my website, you will know just how much I love working with containers. They are versatile, durable, strong and you can put them just about anywhere. In fact, there are very few downsides to undertaking a container conversion in my book. They make the perfect starting point for creating beautiful, functional and cost effective small living spaces and there’s nothing quite like a container design project to get my creative juices flowing.

As with any design and building project, you must undertake some research to ensure you can achieve your goal. While building with containers may seem the easy option (it’s like building with Lego right?), there are a few things unique to container conversions that you must consider. Don’t be alarmed! I still believe building with containers is a great way to get the space you want but let’s discuss a few aspects to ensure your container build is a success.

The Right Container

Shipping containers are not equal. There are different sizes and types with different purposes – high cube, regular, refrigerated. Some have been around the world a few times while others are known as “single or one trip” containers that are virtually like new. Yes they are a bit more expensive but you know they haven’t seen much action so might be a better option for your build. Inspect the containers before you purchase. The pictures on the website might look great but your opinion of “in great condition” might be vastly different from the vendor’s! If you don’t feel confident in knowing what to look for, bring in your builder, architect or someone with structural knowledge to check them out for you. Also try to buy local so you can save money on transport costs.

Importance of Insulation

It’s pretty obvious that a steel box is going to get hot, especially in Australia! Insulation is absolutely imperative for any container that is designed for inhabitation as it will help regulate temperature and keep out moisture that could cause erosion or mould. There are several insulation methods including spray foam, insulation panels, blanket insulation and natural insulation products. Spray foam is versatile, being useable internally and externally, and is the quickest way to insulate a container but is more expensive and messier than other methods. Insulation panels and blankets require stud walls to enable them to be fixed to walls so the process is more time consuming but it is a cheaper alternative to spray foam. Natural products such as wool and cotton or a living roof also offer great insulation properties and tick the eco-friendly box but will take longer to install. You could also use a combination of insulation methods depending on your project, climate and budget. The key message here is not to skimp on insulation…it will save you money in heating and cooling, keep your container dry and you happy!

Don’t Cut Too Much

One of the best features of shipping containers is their strength. Admittedly, they are also dark so the temptation to cut away the steel to let in light is pretty strong too. Withstand the urge to cut it all away! Every cut weakens the structure and means other reinforcing needs to be introduced to ensure the overall structure remains safe and strong. I am all for introducing light but approach this carefully with the bigger picture in mind. Consider the functional needs of your space to determine the best placement of doors and windows. Consider alternative lighting methods for spaces that may not need a window such as skylights. Use light paint colours to help brighten and lighten the space which can maximise the natural light that does stream in. Every cut will also increase the cost of the build so think carefully about how this could impact on your budget.

At One With Nature

Building with shipping containers is a wonderful way to reuse, reduce and recycle. Consider going green with your container conversion by introducing eco-friendly power, plumbing and water collection systems. This is especially useful for small space designs that may be located rurally or even in your backyard, especially if you want to keep utility costs reduced. When developing your design, also consider the site and how the container home should be oriented to maximise natural light, cooling and heating and so it fits in with the natural environment. Don’t forget, containers are made of steel and can be noisy in high winds so consider the local weather conditions and elements to ensure your home remains comfortable.

Building Regulations & Codes

As with any building project, you need to make sure you have the necessary permits and planning permissions and ensure your build meets local requirements. Although container homes are becoming far more common, they’re still a little out of the box, so-to-speak, so don’t assume a design approved for one location will automatically be approved for another. Shipping containers are built to resist fire and extreme weather conditions but local regulations will determine if further fire retardation is required or if your design will withstand local environmental conditions. Ask questions first, bring in an expert with good planning connections and then develop your design with that knowledge in mind as it could just save you money and a whole lot of angst in the long-run.

When it comes to building a container home, small or large, the options are endless! Your project really is only limited by your imagination and budget, although building with containers can be a cost-effective option so you may be able to get more for your money than you think. Do your research, talk to people who have experience and bring in the experts before you start.

Shipping container conversions are my passion! I especially love taking a seemingly single-purpose object and refashioning it into a beautiful, functional and liveable small space. If you’re interested in building with shipping containers, whether that is to create a backyard studio or something altogether grander, please get in touch as I’d love to help create your perfect space.

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