How Much Land Do You Need to Build a Container Home?

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This is highly dependent on your local building code and your personal needs. The minimum land given a 20 foot container is estimated at 1,000 square feet. This has around a 10 foot setback and clearance from the metal home and accessory units to all sides of your property lines. This easily changes if you opt for a 40 foot container, combine containers, or add other accessory units such as a carport, outdoor terrace, pool, power generator etc. Therefore consulting building professionals on your exact situation is always best.

General Criteria and Building Code Standards

It’s hard to give an exact figure of how much you would need. What we can find out instead are the factors we need to consider before purchasing a lot.

In order to determine your land size, you’d need to know how big your house will be and the respective building code rules to apply.

Besides the actual home, you’d have to factor in logistics of the site itself. Can the truck maneuver into the site for assembly? Does the area have good security and adequate service utilities? Or will you have to build these out on site as well? This might mean having an additional fence, landscaping, or water tank depending on your situation. (1)

Note as well a great location may have stricter rules. If you find a good deal, make sure to look into their guidelines or restrictions if they’ll allow your container home into their site. Check for any additional permits you may need as well before securing the land.

An easier way to go about this is to also drive around the area to see if you find any non-traditional homes like steel homes, manufactured homes, camper vans and other shipping container homes. This will give a great idea and sense of whether your container home will be accepted or not in their zoning. (1)

Make your personal list of requirements for your site then begin the search. Check out real estate listings to get a good comparison for price, area size and better weigh what each can offer you.

Each locality will have their own building code standards. Local codes will dictate the minimum clearances or “setbacks” between your structure to the property line needed to protect structures from fire. A sample below is made by the International Code Council (ICC). Basically, the stricter the area, the higher the structure, the wider setbacks are needed. (2)

Image from CHAPTER 5 RESIDENTIAL ZONES, 2018 International Zoning Code (IZC) | ICC Digital Codes (iccsafe.org)

In searching for a site, always ask, “What rules apply to my prefabricated metal structure?” Whether it’s your local codes, permitting, deed restrictions or homeowner’s association (HOA) rules. This may mean wider clearances, additional permits to fill out, all depending on your site. (3)

Space to Maneuver and Maintain Around

The obstruction free clearances around your home aren’t limited to the minimum the code requires. Consider your home’s foundation and daily maintenance will need enough space around for you to work with and any equipment you may need to repair.

Foundations of concrete slabs need a four inch depth and two feet extension from the sides for security. Gravel pads on the other hand need to be rolled and compacted into a four to six inch layer off the ground. This type of foundation needs minimum one foot clear space around the container for proper maintenance. (3)

Note it’s not just how much land your home needs, but how much SPACE your equipment and truck need to bring the container into place. Unless you’re dropping the container down in a helicopter, consider that getting to your site and the site itself has to be roomy enough for a truck to turn and a crane needs to get through to grab and lift. So you can’t have those really narrow or tight frontage sites though it may be cheaper.

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You want a site that will be regularly shaped enough (closest to a square and not a narrow rectangle) to have your crane and delivery truck move with ease and swiftly. An alternative is getting a local builder and renting a forklift for hours. Know that more labor and time spent trying to figure out how to place the container in a tight site will also cost you! (4)

Space for Accessories and Add-Ons to Your Home

Now think of the space you want for yourself!

What spaces would you like to enjoy in your daily routine? Several container homes are laid out with a wide porch, outdoor deck or roomy backyard with a swimming pool. Will you have a little guest home? Tools shed or pool lounge at the back? Think of the cladding as well of your home and the thickness it requires. Setbacks as per code begin from the very edge of your structure, including all these accessories. (4)

If you’re planning on turning your home into an eco-home and going off grid, you’ll also need space for your water tank and septic field.

For an off-grid water system, you can opt for a gravity-fed water system, cistern watering system and freshwater tank. Off-grid power systems can be power generators and solar panel setups. (3)

The sizes of these will highly depend on your location’s accessibility and the capacity both power and water need to generate or store. Consult your building professionals for an estimated sizing to know how big a space to allocate.

Image from Aussie Couple’s Solar-Powered Shipping Container is an Eye Treat (homecrux.com)

References:

  1. How To Prepare For A Shipping Container Build – Discover Containers
  2. CHAPTER 5 RESIDENTIAL ZONES, 2018 International Zoning Code (IZC) | ICC Digital Codes (iccsafe.org)
  3. Preparing Land for a Shipping Container – Bob’s Containers / Bob’s Containers (bobscontainers.com)
  4. How to Build a Shipping Container Home: A Complete Guide – Container One