Many individuals are attracted to shipping container homes because of their durability and affordability. But the debate continues about whether shipping container homes are better as mobile home designs or stationary residential buildings.
Unlike traditional homes, shipping container homes are stable without a foundation. But a shipping container home foundation guarantees easier financing for your shipping container home and better longevity for your shipping container home over time.
When it comes to a shipping container home foundation, there are a few unique factors to take into consideration. Shipping containers are already made out of industrial steel, which is why they have different foundation needs from traditional timber-build homes.
Read on to learn what you need to know about your shipping container home foundation – including the best foundation options for your shipping container home.
What is a shipping container home foundation?
Shipping containers are being repurposed for a variety of residential uses – from shipping container pools to vacation getaways to single-family homes. But it’s especially important to note that shipping containers were not originally created to be used as building materials. On top of this, a building location that may appear flat initially can be impacted by temperature changes, nearby tree growth, and water movement over time.
That is why homes are usually built on foundations. A foundation helps with the unpredictability of natural ground and offers your home a stable and smooth place throughout the lifetime of your new construction. As a building settles into place over time, a foundation that is built well helps with weight distribution in your home.
And especially because shipping container homes are valued for their resistance to natural disasters, a foundation can help reinforce these natural elements of a shipping container home.
How a shipping container home foundation works
The concept of a foundation isn’t complicated. But it’s still important to know about different types of factors that can impact a foundation, as each one might help you determine the preferred size and location of your shipping container home.
The main factor that plays a role in how well a foundation will work is the soil makeup in the area where you plan to build. Whatever makes up the ground beneath your shipping container home will most determine how much moisture is naturally captured beneath your shipping container home over time. With traditional homes, this plays a factor in rot and mold throughout the lifetime of a home. For a shipping container home, this can impact rust on the floor of your shipping container home over time.
The type of soil composition beneath your shipping container home also determines how much weight can naturally be supported in one area. A metal home is naturally heavier than a traditional timber build, which means the pressure your home places on the ground beneath it is more focused. This can make a foundation even more important, as it guarantees the weight of your home is evenly distributed in a way that works with the natural ground framework beneath your shipping container home.
If you plan to build your shipping container home in an area that doesn’t have any other homes in it, it might be worth it to work with a soil expert to make sure you are choosing the best foundation that will work with the ground beneath your shipping container home. Otherwise, local building codes are established to best guide new home builders toward a foundation that will work for their home design.
Shipping container home foundation options
When it comes to picking the right foundation for your shipping container home, you’ll need to consider what materials you want to use and how long you want your foundation to last. Interestingly, you might think all home foundations are created for long-term use, but this is not the case. A foundation is most simply a barrier between your shipping container home and the ground, and it can be as temporary or as permanent as you want.
If you are still attracted to the nomadic lifestyle you can achieve with a shipping container home; you might consider a more short-term foundation. This option will still help distribute the weight of your home and protect it from directly being impacted by ground moisture wherever you place it, but a short-term foundation can also be removed and relocated easily. Short-term foundation options include:
- Wood beams – If you use treated wood, this option will help with weight distribution throughout your house at an affordable cost.
- Gravel – Compacted gravel can help with drainage beneath your home. Plus, it is less likely to wash away as your home settles into place.
The next level up in housing foundation support involves several types of piers or screws that are placed directly into the soil at each corner of your home. The goal of these options is to stabilize your home in place while also helping with even weight distribution in your shipping container home.
If you plan to build your shipping container home in an area with a high probability of tornadoes or hurricanes, this is a foundation option you should definitely consider. Look for options like these:
- Helical pier foundation – This option installs screws at different intervals along your home straight into the ground. The best part is you don’t need to pour concrete or figure out how to refill holes once the screws are installed.
- Specialty pine pile foundation – For this type of foundation, poles are installed in downward v’s along the base of your shipping container home. You once again don’t need concrete or to deal with extra dug-up dirt. But your home will be secured in place, and the weight of your shipping container home is supported across each pile point.
Any sort of long-term foundation comes in two forms. You can install some form of footing at evenly distributed intervals along the base of your shipping container home. This could come in the form of pier poles, piles, or concrete footings. All of these options help stabilize your home in place while also offering air flexibility and mobility as the season’s change. This will help to keep your shipping container home cool.
Or you might pay to have a concrete slab foundation poured for your shipping container home. Because a shipping container comes with pre-installed plywood subflooring and a steel exterior, you rarely need to consider a concrete slab foundation. This is the most expensive option because it requires the most amount of supplies.
A concrete slab foundation also requires you to plan more intentionally for how your utility lines will be installed in your shipping container home. And a concrete slab requires extra digging to make sure it isn’t impacted by frost and winter weather over time, which can also increase the cost of adding a foundation to your shipping container home.
Designing a shipping container home foundation
The long and short of it is that you need to know what type of soil you’re building your shipping container home on and what type of weather you can expect in the location of your shipping container home. This will impact how wind, snow, and potential flooding could impact your shipping container home.
When designing your shipping container home layout, you also need to be prepared to consider the weight of your home with and without people inside of it. For example, all the appliances stored in your home’s kitchen make it a space that requires more weight distribution even when people aren’t in that area of your shipping container home. All of these factors will play a major factor in how the weight of your home will need to be distributed with the help of your shipping container home’s foundation.
Remember, one of the most unique elements of shipping container home foundation installation is that you need to attach the shipping container home to your foundation. Most traditional builds are constructed from the foundation up, but the opposite is usually true for shipping container homes.
You can figure out a lot of this on your own. But when it comes to choosing the right foundation for your shipping container home, it’s best to consult an expert. It is best to work with a contractor and construction crew who has experience with installing shipping container homes. They will be able to add a level of expertise to your foundation decision that you can’t do all on your own.
Now that you’ve read through our guide to shipping container home foundations, the only thing left to do is to get started on your new shipping container home design! Feel free to also check out our shipping container home FAQs, including our tips on which is better between a shipping container home and a tiny house. Or read more about shipping container homes on our blog, where you’ll see content like these featured shipping container homes under $50,000.
If you want to learn more before you commit to building your shipping container home, check out our program “How to Build a Shipping Container Home: The Complete Guide.” It’s affordable, informative, and will give you every resource you need to move forward confidently with your shipping container home build.