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Zoning, Permits, Land Prep, Oh My!

Updated: Jun 23, 2021

Quick tips on what to expect, prepare, and research when purchasing or building your own shipping container ADU [Accessory Dwelling Unit].


You’ve heard DIY success stories, family testimonials, and business professionals raving about how easy, quick, and stylish their shipping container builds have been – while all of this is true, the haunting idea of zoning laws and building codes are left out of the story because let’s face it, these details aren’t always a walk in the park. Nonetheless, we must talk about it!

Valid information is certainly out there – but finding the right sources is tricky.

In this article you'll be able to access a few of our favorite trusted sources that note some crucial aspects you need to research before purchasing or building your container ADU [Accessory Dwelling Unit].

*breathe* ... this post is written by our marketing team. If we can get it, you can too.

We work with you at S.I. to unpack the fine print of your local legalities of getting approved to build or place a new container build.


So, let’s get started.

Building Regulations

Understanding that each build is specific to its builder is necessary for this process. Your type of container build may fall under different types of regulations than your neighbor’s container build. It is important to establish a clear vision of what your container build will look like and be used for. Aside from size, spend some time deciding whether it will be used as a short-term rental, primary home, backyard office, pool house etc. as this will affect which building regulations apply!

Note: this is still totally dependent on where you live *

  • Accessibility

  • Appearance (color, exterior cladding)

  • Size (square footage and number of rooms)

  • Foundation

  • Landscaping (number of trees that can be removed during construction)

  • Fire Protection

  • Number of Exits

  • Electrical, Mechanical, Plumbing

  • Structure (weather compliance)

  • Energy Conservation

  • Site Offsets (distance from property line and neighbors)

A Deeper Dive into Zoning

Zones are typically broken into categories like ‘commercial’ or ‘residential’ and used by city governments to plan the future development of the city!

You may find yourself running into setbacks with zoning and deed restrictions, so we recommend that you research your local zoning laws and types of building regulations that may have an influence on you container build … here is what to look for: click here.

To get more of an idea of what to look for, here is an example of steps to follow for a resident of Santa Cruz, California:

Your process can be this simple by typing, “[your state] official zoning district charts” into your internet browser!

Zoning: Check. Land Prep: Next!

In the article linked below, you will read about the amount of work that needs to be done before getting your container delivered to the build site… this isn’t meant to scare you, but rather protect you from costly rework later in the game.

Our friends at Discover Containers take the cake in explaining the following:

  • Marking, staking, clearing, and grading your land

  • Putting in fencing or security

  • Planning for utility installation

  • Sewage and septic

Check out their article here.

Building Codes (you're doing great)

Building codes layout the standards of how homes are built in construction, and your building permit is what proves your compliance to building codes and grants you approval to carryout construction plans and operations.

Most codes are based on the International Code Counsel’s International Residential Code (IRC) and International Building Code (IBC) in the US.

As you may know, some US states have their own codes and rules tend to vary from area to area. Be sure to research your local state/area for detailed steps on what your specific process will look like.

Getting Your Building Permit

Generally, most rural areas do not even require building permits, which make it an ideal place for a shipping container home, but in case yours does, estimate your building permit cost here.

Price of a building permit depends on the estimated cost and complexity of the project. For instance, if you were to choose to purchase an S.I. structure that is completed with flooring and drywall, your chances of needing a building permit is low and will be less costly than if you were to outsource a container a start from square one.

Read about more building permit details from The Spruce here.

Here is what S.I. Container Builds covers in our DIY Finisher Models:

  • Purchase of your high cube container

  • Pre-purchase container inspection

  • Designing your layout

  • Fully finished metal work

  • Windows and doors

  • Interior framing

  • Electric package and inspection

  • Heat/AC venting

  • Plumbing

  • Caulking

  • Insulation

[S.I. Full-Build Models include flooring, drywall, trim, and interior and exterior paint, in addition to the above list]

Not so bad right?

Reach out to us for more details, resources, and future plans! Our sales guy loves to talk!


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