Which States Allow Shipping Container Homes?

The shipping container housing trend has been ongoing for several years.  The many reasons include its affordability, usability, and efficiency. Shipping container homes are not only safe to live in, but they also come in varied sizes and styles. They may be made for luxury or designed as an Eco-friendly abode. 

In fact, shipping container homes are among the structures that follow the Tiny House Movement – an architectural and social initiative that promotes simple living and environmentally-friendly lifestyles.  Also referred to as an innovative project, shipping container homes can be built sustainably with all the necessities that every standard home provides. 

What Are Shipping Container Homes?

Andes Container Home

Shipping container homes are structures built from steel shipping containers that are primarily used to transport goods on trucks, trains, and vessels. The smallest ones are about 100 square feet of floor space while the larger ones could reach up to 1,400 square feet.

Shipping containers can be used for a lot of things other than residential houses.  In fact, some business offices, apartment buildings, studios, and bars are made of these sturdy, spacious, and long-lasting materials.  

Generally, the shipping containers are transformed into livable spaces out of the interest in cost-saving alternative living and recycling ideas. 

Most shipping container homes are prefabricated which makes building an abode or office faster than constructing a standard American house. 

In fact, some companies even deliver the shipping container and its essential contents right to your doorstep in a matter of 10 weeks!  You can even order them out in Amazon with just one click!  Talk about ease of access!

Opting to live in shipping container homes also gives you the benefit of cost-cutting especially when building one would only cost you an average minimum of $15,000!  That is significantly lower in value compared to building a standard home which could cost you a median price of $45,000. 

Despite the many advantages of living in a shipping container home, not all United States localities allow this type of alternative housing. 

There are certain zoning codes and building regulations distinct to every state that you need to check first before building your very own home.  Let's look at that first before seeing which states in the US allow this type of abode?

Things To Consider Before Building Shipping Container Homes

Just like building a conventional house, you always need to check with your local building department if they would allow you to build your home.  Some states allow the construction of shipping container homes if they would be recognized as Accessory Dwelling Units (ACUs). These are solo units built within an existing residential lot. 

It is important to determine first what type of shipping container home you are going to build. Most people consider these types of abodes as a simple cabin while others find them as custom-built residential homes.  Distinguishing the structure from cabins, recreational vehicle homes (RVs), and tiny houses on wheels lets you figure out which regulations cover your property.

Sierra Nevada Container Home
Sierra Nevada Container Home

Zoning codes, for example, are what break up urban land into different portions which would serve as the basis of the locality’s choice of structures that can be constructed there.   It is basically utilized by governments to prioritize growth and development and control the density of each district. 

To explain it in a simpler term, zoning codes are the reasons why bars and pubs are usually found farther away from residential neighborhoods and places of worship.  This is because zoning regulations distinguish the types of neighborhoods according to their functions. 

Typically, zones are categorized as residential and commercial areas. There are further subdivisions for each category such as R-1 to R-5 residential zoning's. They may also be altered depending on the variety of properties allowed in that area.  In fact, zoning regulations also affect the value of each property. 

Additionally, building codes and permits also restrict the construction of varied structures.  For example, shipping container homes need to abide by the standards of construction laid down by these mandates. These include the materials used, the usage thereof, and quarters of each home. 

In the United States, building codes are crafted according to the International Residential Code and International Building Code. They are updated bi-annually or annually. Some provisions of building codes are also taken from the National Fire Protection Association, National Electrical Code, and International Mechanical Code standards. 

The aforementioned standards are observed by most states.  However, some municipalities and cities such as Massachusetts have their own codes. This is also the reason why the city is more friendly towards shipping container homes than other districts.

The restrictions are far less and far stricter in states that create their own building codes.  Even the approval of permits is more liberal that by the time you apply, some states would not see the establishment of shipping container homes as a problem. 

Another factor to consider in building shipping container homes is learning the difference between mobile, modular, or manufactured homes. This is because each of them is governed by different building standards, others disallow shipping container homes when they are not built as permanent structures. 

Manufactured homes are those mounted on a permanent trailer chassis. They are governed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards (HUD). It is federally regulated and applies to ship container homes created in a factory or those shipped to your location on a permanent chassis for installation. 

Unlike manufactured homes, RVs are exempted from the HUD coverage and are governed by the Recreational Vehicle Association Standards (RVIA).

An added standard was updated this year for HUD-covered shipping container homes. The owner must first determine the longevity of use – is it intended for temporary recreational purposes or would be used as a permanent residence?  The size would also determine whether the shipping container home would be under the HUD or RV codes. Most shipping container homes are built with permanent foundations. Therefore, they would be governed by the IRC and HUD. Another restriction to consider is the deed restriction.

Otherwise known as restrictive covenants, deed restrictions are added requirements by the original developer of a parcel of land. This would require a shipping container homeowner to observe uniformity of the structure’s appearance in a particular neighborhood to protect the property values.  They are permanently fixed, and you would need a court order to remove an abode.

What Are Usually Covered by Restrictions? 

First, the locality looks into the color, style, and material used for the parts of the house. They would also review its accessibility, the square footage, the number of bedrooms, and the maximum allowable height, among others before your shipping container home would be given a go-signal.

Another consideration is the site offset which concerns the property line and its distance from neighbor’s properties.  They would also check the type of foundation, depth, and height above ground level for the purpose of ensuring that it would be safe from flooding and other natural disasters and environmental hazards.

The types of plants allowed in your property, the number of trees cut to pave way for your construction, the means of egress, fire and smoke protection, electrical, mechanical, and plumbing details would also be reviewed as per standards.

Tiny homes are also generally built to be Eco-friendly.  Therefore, the locality also checks if the shipping container home follows energy conservation.   Lastly, they would also ensure that the structure is compliant with the requirements depending on the climate of the location such as structural reinforcements including wind and snow loads. 

The Current Status of Shipping Container Homes in the US

The International Code Council (ICC), the body which decides on building codes, recently updated their guidelines concerning shipping container homes.   Now, there are more districts that are more friendly towards shipping container homes. 

Texas

There are a lot of shipping container homes in Texas due to their less-restrictive regulatory environment and building regulations.   However, these regulations may be stricter in its larger vicinity.  Therefore, suburban and rural areas of Texas are quite friendly towards shipping container homes. 

California

The Golden State is also well-known for its strict land use.  Despite that, they still welcome shipping container homes.  Since it’s a progressive state, they bend the rules for alternative housing options.  In fact, some residents own hybrid container homes and possess the necessary approvals and permits. 

The best locations for shipping container homes in California are those in the north or inland from the coast.  These are areas that sell reasonably priced structures and the ordinances are also less restrictive. 

Tennessee

According to the Freedom in the 50 States report, residents in Tennessee enjoy land freedom compared to other states in the country.  There are minimal local interference and building regulations making it the perfect location for shipping container homes. 

Most of its land areas have sufficient access to clean water and the farming season is more than 250 days.  Therefore, farmers in the north who can only afford real estate at a minimal cost have better chances at sustainable living by building shipping container homes here.

A word of caution, though.  Shipping container homes for sale at the Blue Ridge Mountains are pricier.  If you’re looking to save on building expenses, it would be best to reside in West Tennessee. 

Louisiana

Louisiana is the number one state where residents enjoy the most land freedom in the country.  The only standard that they follow is measuring local land and referring it to the local land use regulatory climate when it comes to building a shipping container home. 

This state also has more liberal zooming regulations that paved the way for numerous shipping container homes disbursed in many of its areas. 

In fact, their locality follows a hands-off approach which means that you have better chances at designing and constructing your shipping container home according to your preference without ordinance nuisance. 

Missouri

Missouri is where you can enjoy warm summers and mild winters, making it a friendly environment for shipping container homes.  These abodes require pricier insulation when the climate is erratic. 

Since the area has a comfortable climate, you wouldn’t need to add more features to your shipping container home for it to be functional and comfortable to live in. 

The local zoning codes also value shipping container homes as affordable living alternatives.  In fact, you can even enjoy a breathtaking view of forests and rivers if you live here.

Therefore, this is the perfect location for people who want to live in shipping container homes as a recreational abode.

The best part about Missouri is building a shipping container home without securing a building permit.   Residents who are looking to save on big bucks or want to create homes that are highly innovative would love it here!

Oregon 

In the state of Oregon, shipping container homes are allowed to be built on lots that are already recognized by the locality as single-family homes provided that the city has a minimum population of 10,000.   It is also well-known among off-grid homeowners thanks to its progressive laws. 

The Three Rivers Recreational Area which accounts for 4,000 acres even welcomes over 600 residents, some of them live in shipping container homes.

The best part about this state is the environment – it’s quite different than California but just as breathtaking especially if you live in recreational areas. 

Alaska

Alaska has a very expansive terrain with a low population rate. This makes it the perfect place for building shipping container homes because the state supports low-cost housing – exactly what shipping container homes provide you.  In fact, there are a number of existing shipping container homes here.

The Bottom Line

It may be challenging to establish your building plans according to the zoning regulations and building codes set forth in the IRC.   You need to do your research.   However, if you already know the type, use, duration, and the parts of your shipping container homes, you can easily reside in the aforementioned states that allow shipping container homes.  The trend is on the rise and soon there will be more tiny home-friendly states in the country!

>