Chapter I - Introduction to the Construction Phase

If you have spent weeks or months on the engineering and design of your container home the construction phase will seem almost anti-climatic because your knowledge of the project will be so complete you'll feel like you could build it while blindfolded.

Questions about the actual construction of your container home may revolve more around the role the contractor or the option of you acting as the owner/builder. Of course either approach has it's pluses and minuses.

Consider that a contractor typically can build anywhere between one and one hundred homes a year. He will usually specialize in a particular type of construction because his opportunities to save on economies of scale are most rewarding when he can narrow his range to take advantage of common materials and methods. In addition, his ability to win bids increases the more familiar he is with the materials and procedures.

His financial success depends on his ability to read plans accurately, estimate or take off the materials necessary for the job, purchase those materials at a competitive price, and then rely on his crews or subcontractors to complete the project in a timely and competent manner. Having the foresight to successfully schedule subcontractors around the weather, avoid materials delays and exceed the homeowner’s expectations will also play a large part in his financial success.

These facts would seem to argue against hiring a contractor of traditional homes to take on a non-traditional structure such as an container home. For a contractor, variations in the way things are normally done only add to his costs and hassles. Locating suppliers for new materials, and re-training crews or subcontractors for new methods may not be as attractive as just doing another traditional home. Add to this the uncertainty of estimating time and materials on unknown methods, and perhaps the contractor will start to think there should be an overly large premium, or cushion, built into the quote, just in case things don’t go as smoothly as planned.

Another possibility is that the contractor will simply estimate a cost per square foot for your project that is based on his experience with traditional construction. This can result in a quote that is many times what is actually required. In one actual case I know of, a contractor quoted $400,000 for a shipping container project that actually ended up costing only $160,000 when built by the owner.

Whether you build it yourself or decide to use an outside contractor, someone will need to translate your plans into a list of materials and labor costs in order to arrive at a realistic budget. Even the simplest construction projects will start with a set of specifications to guide the contractor, or at least the subcontractors. This will require you to create schedules and specifications, as well as doing takeoffs and estimating the materials needed. 

The section will also cover the many relevant departures from traditional construction when referring to electrical wiring, plumbing, HV/AC, and Insulation. Printable detail drawings clearly show how to effectively plumb and wire a shipping container structure to save over traditional methods. The various trades you will be working with, such as the plumbers and electricians will need to understand these variations and will turn to you, or the contractor, for explanations. Since the actual pipes and wires aren’t shown on construction plans, just the toilet at the end of the pipe or the receptacle at the end of the wire are noted, it is the tradesman’s familiarity with the job that allows him to install the various conduits (pipe or wire for example) to code and place the correct accessory (toilet or receptacle for example) at the end of the conduit.

If you are acting as your own designer and contractor you will be effectively removing two potential layers of miscommunications by sidestepping the architect/designer and the contractor. But at the same time it will fall on you to convey every nuance of the design to the subcontractors.

One of the major advantage of shipping container construction is that once the units are in position several crews can work simultaneously on various aspects of the finish work.  The crew prepping for new floors can work alongside a crew cutting the door and window openings while the plumbing crew can work at the same time as the electrical wiring is being done. 

In traditional construction there is a much greater need for a linear co-ordination, with each trade at least somewhat dependent on a previous trade completing it’s tasks before the next crew can begin.  Since all the framing and most of the foundation work is kept to a minimum, the procedure for final assembly is pretty clear-cut. The steps outlined below will seem obvious if you have already spent hours going over floor plans, specs, budgets, and revisions as your project has evolved to this stage.  But for the layman, who is contemplating a major do-it-yourself project and acting as an owner/builder, but has yet to design his home, it may be useful.

Scroll Down For Next Chapter

Next Chapter