Which States Allow Shipping Container Homes And How to Get Permission
Today, shipping containers are not mere transportation and storage units anymore. Recently, there has been much talk about container houses. Modern architects and designers increasingly use humble steel boxes to create their signature projects. More and more often, you can come across extraordinary cafés, shopping centers, showrooms, restaurants, and even hotels constructed of heavy-duty containers once used for shipping.
Giving a second lease of life to old steel units, easy to build, durable, and affordable, container houses make a competitive alternative to brick-and-mortar buildings. Besides, they are environmentally friendly and work to reduce scrap metal. According to Business Research Company’s calculations, recycling a 40 ft container to build a house allows for reusing 3,500 kg of steel instead of melting it down.
The global container house market hit the $51.35 billion mark in 2022 and is expected to grow up to $68 billion in 2026. Smaller simple ready-made container houses might cost around $10,000, while big, luxury shipping container homes might be priced at $185,000, which is still lower than an average U.S. home price.
Yet, converting a huge old steel box into a full-scale house is more than remodeling it into a comfy living space and placing it on a piece of land. First and foremost, you need to find out which states allow shipping container homes, since rules vary by jurisdiction and locality. Below, we’ll look into major regulations and legal nuances you need to take into account when planning to make a home out of a cargo container and consider the best state to build a shipping container house.
Can I Live in a Shipping Container in My State?
When you try to figure out which states allow shipping container homes, a quick answer will be any of them. In practice, though, it’s not that simple since there are many details to observe at a regulatory level. There are a bunch of zoning, permissive, and code requirements you should abide by to make your container structure official.
Notably, each county, town, and city has its own set of shipping container home regulations. Even different neighborhoods have their own restrictions. So, these are the local rules that define what states allow shipping container houses. At a glance, it might feel a bit confusing, however, there are a few basic types of regulations common for all states and localities:
- A zoning code is a city-specific set of rules determining the intended use of land and the types of structures to be placed on that land. This is done to separate industrial and residential areas by maintaining property zoning;
- Building codes and permits not only ensure legal permission to build a container home but also outline the rules for any physical object you are going to place on your site or property. It’s the International Residential Code and the International Building Code that governs all local business codes in the nation;
- Codes related to structural house types are different for mobile, modular, and manufactured homes. In some states, mobile houses are simply banned. Modular structures should usually match International Building Code rules. And manufactured homes are to be built in accordance with federal construction and safety standards;
- Homeowner association rules and restrictions often outline additional requirements to adhere to and often embrace the regulations mentioned above specific to your area.
Taking into account valid statutory regulations and building standards across the country as well as restrictions pertinent to certain territories, the states that allow shipping container homes are: Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Minnesota, North Carolina, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Tennessee, and Washington DC. Some of them are better for building a shipping container home in terms of regulations than others, but we’ll talk about that a bit later.
Aspects Regulated When Building Container Houses
Once you’ve reviewed the key compliance laws and major restrictions when choosing the state to build a shipping container house, there are more factors to check before you launch the building process. While zoning and building regulations greatly vary by locality, there are points of control that government authorities will monitor before issuing the required permits nearly anywhere. Here is a short list of factors normally covered by zoning and building restrictions. They are pertinent to the states that you can choose for shipping container homes.
Distance From a Property Line
It’s a part of a zoning law that determines how close a new structure or building could be placed to the property lines. In other words, your projected container home should not hinder the neighboring buildings or houses. Though this requirement rather refers to multi-floor buildings, you should check it for a container structure as well, especially when building in a city area and densely populated districts.
The intended purpose of the building to be constructed also matters a lot, since zoning rules separate buildings with different purposes. By and large, there are three major construction categories, including commercial, manufacturing, and residential structures. Obviously enough, a shipping container home (especially the one you are going to set up as a permanent full-fledged house) should be built in a residential area. Those categories might be further divided into narrower sub-groups, so double-checking locally won’t go amiss.
By determining the use zones, city planners also determine the dimension of the property allowed in those zones. Thus, the regulations for the territory you look into will stipulate the height, square feet, floor space, and even wall-thickness limits. Some states that give permits for shipping container homes might have restrictions on bulky constructions, i.e., those that take too much space and land.
Regulated by the International Building Code, this aspect is controlled for all buildings and constructions, no matter the intended use. All in all, there are five construction types defined by the type of material used for the structure. The chosen construction type will further determine the building dimensions.
At the same time, shipping container structures are not as strictly regulated as stick-and-brick buildings yet. So, you still have enough leeway to make a container home project that will match the requirements of the area you want to live in.
With all permissive documents in hand, you might be prohibited from bringing your container project to life due to aesthetic considerations. Older cities and towns often have so-called historic streets and whole districts, limiting the setup of contemporary facades and modern structures.
It’s important to remember that by putting your shipping container house into a truck, you’ll get a recreational vehicle, not a permanent residence. To build a stand-alone residence with all utilities connected, you need a permanent foundation. Besides, banks and financial institutions are not eager to provide loans for non-permanent and movable constructions.
How Do You Get Permission to Build a Container House in Your City?
It’s the next thing you’ll ask yourself when you answer the question, “Where can I build a container home in the USA?” As stated above, each state has its own rules, restrictions, and requirements related to shipping container structures and residences. Generally, those come down to zoning ordinances and building codes. Before you start building your new house, you should find out if shipping container homes are legal in your state, then match all those regulations in your area, and get a local permit. Here are a few steps you need to take to understand the whole process better.
Contact Your Municipality
It’s the local authorities that ensure and control zoning laws. You should check with both the municipality and the county clerk’s office, since they might have some restrictions of their own, and you should observe all of them. This way, you’ll find out if your project fits the desired area and spot.
Contact Your Local Building Department
Locally, building codes are maintained and controlled by local building departments. Get in touch with one in a chosen state and county to find out the requirements set forth for container houses in the area. This is where you will also apply for a building permit.
Invite a Building Inspector
You can consult a permitting official and invite a building inspector to check your container house project for safety, fire protection, electricity standards, and any other applicable local regulations and norms.
Get In Touch With the Homeowner Association
Many homeowner associations have their own specific rules in place that might limit or even prohibit your container home construction. Hence, if you look to place a container structure on your existing property or make it the main place of living in some sort of community, don’t neglect to check for neighborhood rules so that those won’t become an issue afterward.
Consider Hiring a Professional
Getting permits is not an easy task. It might look quite intimidating for first-timers. You can hire a professional permit expeditor who will communicate with local authorities on your behalf, handle the paperwork, and, what’s most important, speed up the whole process, saving you the trouble of getting into it on your own.
The Best States for Building Shipping Container Homes
There are many states in America that allow shipping container homes. We’ll describe a few of them that we think are most comfortable to live in and have the most container home-friendly regulations.
What makes Texas the best state for your shipping container house is flexible local regulations and an appropriate technical base that will enable you to implement the project without a hassle. The number of existing container homes you can spot across the state proves that getting construction approval won’t be a problem. And there are professional container house builders that will bring your stunning ideas to life in the best possible manner.
Another state distinguished by lenient local regulations. While zoning rules are not restricting, building requirements won’t limit your design endeavors and architectural aspirations. Since the government doesn’t interfere with the building process, you’ll get enough freedom to bring to life your boldest ideas.
Shipping container homes in Wisconsin have gained full ground. You just have to be familiar with the steps you have to take and the processes you have to go through before you build the container home. Even with shipping container zoning laws about the walls of a house in certain areas, you can still live in a shipping container home.
Despite quite tough land-use policies in place, California is one of the most attractive states that allow shipping container homes since it considers these structures legal and even bends some restrictions to adopt those constructions in its territory. The prime areas for container homes are the north of the coast, where they have more affordable prices and fewer legal limitations.
When you are strapped for cash yet still want a container house, consider building it in Tennessee. With minimal interference from local government, affordable access to clean water, and low pricing for this type of project in the western part of the state, this area is a welcoming spot for budget container home builders.
Alaska is a low-populated area with no zoning rules for low-cost residential constructions. Add to this reasonably priced land, and you’ll get an ideal place for your container home in a wild-nature scenery next to other similar residences.
The state climate, with cool summers and mild winters coupled with favorable zoning codes, makes Missouri heaven for container homes. While the law considers these houses great home alternatives nearly anyone can afford, excellent environmental conditions allow building without special reinforcements to save on construction costs. One more outstanding detail about this state is that it doesn’t require a building permit.
On the one hand, the state has strict building rules. On the other hand, though, it easily allows container houses as single-family homes in areas with a population below 10,000 residents. So, it’s a great option for those who want a simple, smaller dwelling and wouldn’t mind living off the grid. In return, you’ll have much fewer formalities to stick to.
The Most Common Challenges You May Encounter When Obtaining a Permit
To finalize an overview of shipping container homes’ regulatory aspects, let’s take a quick look at the most common issues you might face when obtaining a permit.
If you choose to build on land not meant for residential construction, you’ll have problems with a building permit. That’s why it’s essential to make sure you can use the land for this type of construction before submitting an application for a permit. It’s crucial for densely populated urban areas.
If an inspecting official reveals any safety violations in the course of the inspection or aspects that don’t match approved safety standards, your permit won’t be approved. So, ensure that you duly observe local safety regulations before applying.
Even in a state that matches all your expectations and seems a perfect place for a container home, you can get limited by individual property restrictions. Thus, thoroughly check for any individual rules in force for the property you are going to build your container house.
Consider Pelican Containers as Your Trusted Partner
Now that you’ve learned what states allow shipping container homes, it’s high time to think about where you can buy a container unit. In Pelican Containers, we have all types of new and used shipping containers for sale. Whether you need a smaller 20 ft unit, a 40 ft side opening shipping container, a flat rack, or high cube units, we have them for you.
What we offer is
- certified quality products, no matter if you buy a used or new unit;
- the best pricing policy, with no hidden fees and extra charges;
- helpful and responsive customer support to answer your questions and address any product issues you might have.
In our wide range of 40 ft shipping containers for sale, you’ll surely find a model to match your home-building plans. Our offices are scattered across the U.S., and we can deliver your container to any state and location in 4 to 7 days. More than that, if you wonder how to ventilate a shipping container or insulate it to make it fit for living, our team can do all the necessary modifications as well. Feel free to contact us for your best container solution and a free quote.
Obtaining a container home permit will certainly take some effort. But who said that building a home is an easy task? However, a container home’s cost-effectiveness, affordability, and contemporary appeal certainly make it worth the effort. Besides, some states favor this type of house and intentionally facilitate permissive routines.
How do I know if a container home is legal in my area?
While many states allow for container homes, some local restrictions might make it impossible. So, before you get into construction, check with your appropriate local authority (normally, a building department) if this type of housing is legal in your city or town.
What are container home pros and cons?
The major advantages of having a shipping container home are lower construction costs compared to standard houses, durability, customizability, and mobility. Quick and quite easy to build, container homes are also easy to move to any location you need.
In the meantime, one of the biggest disadvantages of having a shipping container home is the hassle of getting permissive documents. Besides, some difficulties might arise when connecting utilities.
Where can I buy a shipping container?
It won’t be a problem at all. There are many companies selling new, used, and depreciated shipping containers of all sizes that can be used for home building. If you seek affordable prices and quality service, consider contacting Pelican Containers.
Which is the best state for building a container house?
The best state for your shipping container house is the one with flexible statutory regulations and reasonable land prices.