Do Shipping Container Homes Need a Foundation?

If you’re still learning about container houses, then asking “do shipping container homes need a foundation?” is a legit question. After all, a shipping container already comes with a base, don’t they? And if they do need a foundation, then what are the different options available? Which one is best for your location and budget?

In this article, we’ll delve into this all-too-important question and provide you with as much foundation-related information you need to get you started drafting a plan for your dream shipping container house.

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Do Shipping Container Homes Need a Foundation?

Like regular homes, shipping container houses need a foundation for the same reasons that regular houses require one. A solid foundation provides a level ground for your container house, protecting it from the effects of the soil’s natural movement. With the weight evenly supported, the metal case eliminates running the risk of twisting.

As you can imagine, the ground can have different levels of hardness, especially if part of it has soft clay while the other has hard rock. If you put weight on it, then the part with soft clay can sink lower than the other side with hard rock underneath.

This can eventually disrupt the straight lines of your container house, causing some unnoticeable twisting today and a rift in the long run. Additionally, while waiting for impending doom, every day you will have to deal with doors and windows that are difficult to open and close due to misalignment.

Thus, a good foundation is essential for your shipping container house.

What Are the Different Types of Shipping Container Home Foundations?

There are many foundation options for shipping container homes. Which one you should choose depends on the soil type, structural requirements, local codes, budget, and whether you see the spot to put it on as permanent or temporary.

Here are some of the different types of shipping container home foundations:

Concrete Piers

These are concrete cubes with reinforced steel bars or mesh of steel wires in them. Each block usually measures 50 x 50 x 50 cm. The method requires only six concrete piers—one pier on each corner and two in the center.

Laying a concrete pier foundation is the easiest and the cheapest way, making them a favorite among DIY builders and hobbyists. It doesn’t require a lot of excavation or expensive specialist equipment.

Another advantage it has over the other methods is that it keeps the container homes off the ground. Thus, it allows for air to pass through underneath, preventing moisture and corrosion.

Slab-on-grade (a.k.a. Raft)

The concrete slab is a go-to choice for shipping container homeowners working with softer soil types and larger installations. The raft, which measures larger than the perimeter of the shipping container home, provides an overhanging space of foundation.

Compared to concrete blocks, this one is more time-consuming and expensive to build as it requires some digging and more concrete. Nevertheless, it is common to see this type of foundation in warmer climates where heat loss does not pose a problem.

A downside to using a slab-on-grade foundation is the restricted access to utility lines. Once the concrete has set, you will have to cut out the concrete to, say, access a pipe for repairs.

A huge benefit, however, with using a slab-on-grade foundation is that it makes a container home less vulnerable to termite infestation because it doesn’t have hollow spaces unlike the trench foundation, which is down the list.

Steel Piles

These are cylindrical solid steel tubes hammered into the soft ground until it reaches a suitable load bearing level. The top is then finished with a block of concrete, leaving you with a grid system of concrete caps. The result would look like the concrete piers; only they’re not as easy to move around.

Because this method requires special equipment such as the piledriver, it is one of the most expensive types of foundations to build. Additionally, DIY-ing is not recommended for this type.

The pile foundation is suitable for container homes sitting on very soft soil.

Strip (a.k.a Trench)

The strip foundation is a combination of pier and slab foundation. The concrete strips are generally 1 foot to 2 feet wide and 4 feet deep, outlining the perimeters of the shipping containers and its walls. It is ideal when working with slightly firmer ground or ground that’s damp and liable to lots of water.

Compared to the slab-on-grade foundation, this one is less expensive since it entails less digging and concrete in its construction. However, trench foundations are best suited for small- and medium-sized installations because they are shallow. Additionally, this foundation type offers weak resistance to earthquakes and winds.

Wooden Beam

This kind of foundation is suitable for a wide range of soil types. And compared to concrete slabs, it is cheaper and something that doesn’t require special equipment. You will only need a wooden frame placed on top of a gravel bed which is useful in draining away moisture.

The use of wooden footings is especially ideal for instances where the chosen location is just temporary. It is also ideal for flood-prone areas, where shipping container homes can use some elevation.

Metal Tree Stumps

This excavation- and concrete-free method of laying a foundation entails the use of special steel piers. Each steel pipe works according to the root system of a tree with the ‘roots’ dug in a diagonal direction away from each other. The design helps spread weight to a higher area, allowing it to absorb more weight efficiently.

The steel piers are relatively easy to install and something that you can do on your own with the help of a few accessible tools. Each metal tree stump takes only 10-30 minutes to install.

But unlike the concrete pier foundation, this method allows you to work with bigger installations.

Parting Words

So, there goes your answer to the question, “Do shipping container homes need a foundation?” We’ve also provided you with six options that you can use for yours. But before deciding on one, always make sure to check the local codes in your area to determine which one is best for you.

Our top pick for container home designs

If you're looking for the best container home designs, look no further!

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