Are Shipping Container Homes Legal: Important Facts You Need to Know

We are in an age where real estate prices are only rising. This means that it is expensive to build a home from scratch let alone buy a piece of land. Hence, more people are looking for innovative and pocket-friendly ways to have a home. Amongst the several options, shipping container homes are beginning to gain a bit of popularity.

However, there are still quite a number of concerns people have with such homes. Some of them are safety and durability, but the most critical of them all is the question “Are shipping container homes legal?”

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To determine whether building and living in a shipping container home is legal or not, you must be familiar with some regulations related to building properties. Let’s shed some light on this.

Are Shipping Container Homes Legal: The Considerations

There is really no definite answer to shipping container homes being legal or not, and there is no clear-cut system in place in order to build a shipping container home, especially in the USA. With that being said, there are still a few things you must keep in mind before moving or building a shipping container home.

  • Building Codes

For folks who are completely new to this, there is something called a building code, which is basically a set of rules or at the least, minimum standards that any building must meet or even exceed to get an occupancy permit. The need for these building codes is to basically protect the safety and the health of the people occupying the property.

These rules apply to both residential and commercial buildings. Thus, building plans need to be approved before the property can even be built. Also, upon completion of the building, there is a final inspection.

Here is where the issue sets in. These set of building codes aren’t uniform throughout the USA and even in other countries. These codes are all drafted either at township or at the county level. So, what may be legal in San Francisco, California may be illegal in Providence, Rhode Island.

So, how could these codes affect the complexity of building a shipping container home? One would assume that a shipping container would be more structurally sound in comparison to something like a manufactured home, for instance, a trailer home. That is because the corner posts in shipping container homes are far heavier in contrast to a constructed house. As such, they are capable of withstanding a higher load. Likewise, they are made entirely out of steel and not wood or even aluminum.

However, the load capacity is only aimed at the posts and rails. Likewise, there is no insulation which leaves the inspectors confused about its safety. In addition to that, if people around you live in traditional residential buildings, they may oppose shipping container homes as that could impact the value of their property.

  • Zoning Regulations

Another issue that further complicates shipping container homes is the fact that you cannot just build it wherever you would like. Building a shipping container home entirely depends on the planning department and local building’s zoning regulations.

Zoning regulations state whether the particular zones are allowed to be used as commercial or residential areas, as well as open spaces or for institutional purposes. It can also regulate the size of the lot, its placement, and the height and bulk of the structures.

To give you an example, if an area is zoned as a residential area, there certainly will never be an airport built next door to you. The downside to these regulations though is that they can be quite excessive and even restrictive. Nevertheless, not all areas are zoned.

You might find a piece of land that falls outside the zoning regulations, which would mean that you would be allowed to build a shipping container house without a permit. Do keep in mind though that you would still need to meet or exceed all of the building codes in that particular area.

Where to Build a Shipping Container Home: States in the USA

Now that you have a better understanding of what building codes and zoning regulations are, we will list some of the top places in the USA where you could consider building a shipping container home with less hassle as possible.

The places we have listed in no particular order are based on their affordability, the acceptance of such a structure and how flexible the local planning regulations are.

  • California

Although California has quite a strict land use, they also take pride in how progressive they are in every aspect, and one of them being their approval of container homes. In fact, several shipping container homes are already successfully built in this state.

So, if you consider this, stick to areas either towards the north or inland from the coast as these are priced more reasonably and even the ordinances there are not as strict.

  • Missouri

With a summer season that is warm and a winter that is quite mild, Missouri possibly has one of the best weathers in the country. With regards to the land, it is quite reasonable, and even the local zoning is quite decent.

Additionally, rural areas in Missouri do not need any building permits. If you are the someone who wants to live in a place with quick access to forests and rivers, then this state would be perfect for you.

  • Texas

Texas is one of the best places if you are looking to build a shipping container home. This state has a proven record of countless homes of this type already built, in multiple sizes as well.

To add, Texas is well known to have a much relaxed regulatory environment, even with the building regulations. This may not exactly apply to large cities though. So, preferably stick to small towns or rural areas, as these will have a far easier path to approval.

  • Tennessee

This state is considered as an all-rounder. It is perfect for individuals who are looking to live off the grid. Most land here has access to farming and water. In terms of affordability, West Tennessee is possibly the most budget-friendly.


So, are shipping container homes legal? Unfortunately, there isn’t an exact answer to it. The best way to know whether it is legal or not is to find out the building codes and zoning regulations in the area where you are looking to build the shipping container home.

Apart from the ones we have mentioned earlier, there are quite a few states in the USA that allow shipping container homes. Therefore, do thorough research before you set out to build one.

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