6 Tips To Help Your Shipping Container Home Last Longer


Shipping containers are quickly becoming a popular way to construct a beautiful home for a great price!  I have a few friends that live in shipping container homes here in Hawai’i and they love them!  But they do stress the importance of taking care of them if you want them to last.

A new shipping container home’s estimated lifespan is 25 years if left uncovered and as much as 50 years if it’s under a roof.  The life of a shipping container home also depends on the methods and materials used in the construction phase.

I’ve been thinking about leasing a few acres of land to grow bamboo where I would be allowed to put up a farm dwelling.  A small shipping container home would be perfect, but I want to know how I can make it last as long as possible. 

So I asked my friends as well as posted a poll on several Container Home Facebook groups and got some pretty good tips on how to make a shipping container home last longer.  I can’t wait to get started!

6 Tips To Help Your Shipping Container Home Last Longer

1. Build A Roof Over The Shipping Container


A roof is the most essential aspect of maintaining your container home. It can increase the life of the shipping container by as much as 100%.  If that doesn’t speak for how important this is, then I don’t know what else will.

Shipping containers are durable: they are made of corten steel and are designed to withstand the weather they will encounter during sea crossings, including heavy rain, wind, sea storms, salt water and direct sunlight.

But it can rust – and rust is the worst enemy for your shipping container home. A proper roof provides the necessary protection for your home against rain and sun and will be the first defense against rust. 

An added bonus is that it also gives shade to keep your home cool.

If you’re building a container home in a cold environment, a roof is just as important! Snow is your enemy in that case, and the roof provides insulation to keep your home a bit warmer.

The roof should:

  • Be a separate structure covering your container
  • Extend beyond your home for proper shading (not be the exact size of your container, but slightly larger)
  • Have a adequate pitch for rain-water runoff
  • Be strong enough to hold solar panels, if you intend to use solar-power

2. Apply Rust-Preventing Paint

I always advise painting your shipping container, even if you are putting siding up around the exterior. A main reason for this is to prevent and treat rust.

The paint used on the majority of shipping containers manufactured before 2017 is unsafe. This is because shipping containers were not initially built for the purpose of housing, and the paint used on most shipping containers was solvent-based, which can be toxic to humans.

If you purchase a shipping container that was manufactured before 2017, be sure to inquire about the paint used to coat the container. Direct-to-metal coatings that are waterborne are typically safe and don’t have harmful chemicals for humans. They sometimes are called ‘DTM coatings’.

  1. Clean off any rust (no matter how small the area) before painting.
  2. Apply a primer
  3. Spray or paint entire exterior of container with a rust-preventing paint, such as Rust-o-leum, Behr or a similar brand
  4. Once a year, apply a coat of rust-preventing paint on any areas of your container that come in contact with sun or rain, or are not covered with siding.

Did you know Rust-o-leum was created by a sea captain? He discovered that fish whale-oil helped prevent rust on his ships and started applying it, mixed with paint, to DIY projects on land, too! Sounds perfect for a shipping container home!

3.Install Siding to the Exterior

Siding on the exterior of your shipping container really takes it from a box to a home, giving a cozy appearance and feel. Siding also provides protection from the elements and can further prolong the life of your home.

Shipping containers are steel, therefore you should give consideration to the methods used to attach siding. It is advised to make as few cuts or welds as possible to your container, so choose siding that can be attached by adhesives, such as vinyl or composite siding. 

Wood siding can be an option, but select mechanical fasteners to attach wood panels instead of making any holes or cuts on the exterior of your container. 

Some of the best siding options for container homes include:

  • Fiber Cement (also called Composite Fiber Siding)
  • Vinyl Siding
  • Composite Wood

Considerations for Installing Siding:

  1. If you have made cuts to the shipping container (such as for windows), ensure you have properly treated, sealed and painted with rust-preventing paint before covering with siding.
  2. Make sure all siding overlaps to ensure siding is waterproof
  3. First layer of siding should not touch the ground

4. Keep Them Off The Ground

It’s important to situate your container home on a sturdy foundation. One reason is that this provides a perfectly level plane for your home. Also, a foundation will keep your container from sinking into the ground over time.

The determining factor of the type of foundation needed is the ground beneath your container home. If your soil is soft or has a layer of clay, then you may need to consider extra support for your foundation so that your home will not sink after 10 or 20 years. 

Popular choices all are made from cement or reinforced concrete, but differ in style. Some options include:

  • Concrete slab
  • Concrete piers
  • Blocks
  • “Raft” structure of inverted concrete slab with extra support

5. Clean off Debris 2x per Year

Just as you would need to clean out your gutters on a yearly basis for a traditional home, you should do some regular maintenance for your container home.

Remove debris at least twice per year, especially after the rainy season or a significant storm. This includes ground debris, such as piles of leaves that could attract moisture around the foundation of your home if allowed to accumulate significantly.

If you live in a tropical area, do this after a hurricane or monsoon season and check for any damage or cracks to your roof or siding.

Cleaning up debris is also a good time to supervise the soundness of your roof for any leaks (and clean off your solar panels, if you have them). You can prevent or stop corrosion if you are proactive about spotting cracks or leaks early.

6. Make Sure All Modifications Are Properly Sealed

The fewer cuts and welds to a shipping container, the better. Of course, you still want to make the space your own and create a layout for your unique home. That being said, any modifications you make to the container must be properly sealed.

Cuts made for windows and doors should be given extra attention, as these areas affect the exterior as well as interior and could be prime places for moisture to get in (and later, rust!) if not sealed. These modifications should be treated with either silicone or insulation.

Spray foam is a popular choice, because it can easily adhere to the corrugated walls of the container.  It is also great for insulating your container home because it does not cause condensation the way other forms of insulation can.

Note: Only closed-cell polyurethane spray insulation meets the US Code for tropical climates. This type of spray insulation also helps prevent moisture from getting into your home and will keep your home cool in hot temperatures.

If you want your container home to last longer, follow these six practical tips. A roof, secure foundation and siding also help your shipping container house to really be a home, a home you can live comfortably in for years to come.  Here’s to many years in your amazing home!!

Sean Jennings

Sean has been living simply Off-Grid in Hawai'i for over 18 years. He lives debt free on Hawai'i Island with his family and over 40 chickens. When he's not tinkering around the homestead, he's off exploring the shorelines for fish & surf.

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