Are Shipping Container Homes Safe? Are Container Homes Dangerous? We Break It Down in This Guide

As one delves into the world of alternative housing, the line between “avant-garde architecture” and “possible death trap” can sometimes feel as thin as the walls of a studio apartment. 

Welcome, brave explorer, to the wild frontier of shipping container homes. Yes, those same corrugated steel boxes that were probably last used to transport plastic flamingos across the ocean can be, and are being, converted into stylish, functional dwellings.

But it does beg the question: “Are shipping container homes safe?

Yes, shipping container homes can be as safe as traditional homes, provided they are properly designed, built, and maintained according to relevant building codes and safety standards.

However, unique considerations, such as dealing with original flooring treatments, ensuring proper ventilation, and managing heat transfer due to their metal structure, must be addressed to ensure safety and comfort.

Before you pack your belongings into bubble wrap and trade your traditional bricks-and-mortar for bolts-and-metal, join us on this thorough safety inspection of these unconventional abodes.

You might be surprised to find that not all containers are created equal, and that ‘shipshape’ in the world of container homes might have a different meaning than you think. Let’s dive in, shall we?

Are shipping container homes safe?

looking at the safety of a shipping container house and what might make shipping container homes dangerous to live in

While we know that living in a shipping container house can be safe, there are still plenty of things you need to take into account.

Let’s journey through various safety aspects, from structural longevity to weatherproofing, to find out what makes these unconventional abodes as snug as a traditional brick-and-mortar house.

1. Structural Integrity and Longevity

“Tough as nails” or “fleeting as a ship at sea”? Let’s dive into how long these boxy residences can hold up.

Shipping container homes, like the Honeycrisp apples in your fridge, have a shelf life, typically between 25-30 years. Now, that’s a bit less than the average suburban McMansion, but remember that we’re working with reclaimed materials here.

Shipping containers are made from a special type of steel known as Cor-Ten steel, also known as weathering steel. This material is renowned for its high strength, durability, and resistance to atmospheric corrosion.

Cor-Ten steel is a low-cost, robust material that forms a protective layer of rust when exposed to atmospheric conditions, which reduces the need for painting. This rust layer not only gives the containers their distinctive appearance, but it also provides added protection against further corrosion.

However, it’s important to note that while Cor-Ten steel is rust-resistant, it’s not rust-proof. Prolonged exposure to harsh weather conditions (especially salty environments) can still cause the steel to corrode over time, which is why protective treatments and maintenance are crucial in prolonging the lifespan of a shipping container, particularly when used for housing.

Overall, the primary factors that affect their lifespan include:

  • The initial condition of the shipping container
  • Maintenance level: a little TLC goes a long way
  • The environment: let’s face it, oceanfront property sounds great until you factor in the saltwater corrosion
FactorsImpact on Longevity
Initial ConditionHigh
MaintenanceModerate to High

2. Safety Regulations and Standards

These metal monoliths aren’t just dumped willy-nilly on your land. They have to comply with codes and regulations that would make a lawyer break into a sweat.

The International Residential Code (IRC) has set down the code of conduct for our steel dwellings. They’re like the overbearing aunt who insists on using a coaster: stringent but well-intentioned. Local regulations can vary, so be sure to give your city council a ring or dive into the depths of their website.

Examples of Safety Regulations and Standards 

Every steel fortress must stand up to a barrage of safety regulations and standards. Here’s a small taste of what they might face:

Building Permits: Before you even think about setting down your shipping container, you’ll need to secure a building permit from your local authorities. This verifies that your planned home complies with local zoning laws and building codes.
Structural Codes: The IRC (International Residential Code) stipulates that all dwellings must safely withstand expected loads, like snow, wind, and earthquakes[^2^]. These are decided based on your geographical area.
Egress Codes: The IRC also mandates that each bedroom has at least one operable emergency escape and rescue opening[^2^]. This means you can’t just seal yourself in your steel box (as appealing as that might sometimes sound).
Fire Safety Codes: Shipping container homes need to adhere to fire safety codes, which dictate the type and placement of fire alarms, along with minimum fire resistance ratings for walls, doors, and windows.
Electrical and Plumbing Codes: The installation of electrical and plumbing systems in your home must meet the National Electrical Code (NEC) and the International Plumbing Code (IPC). These codes ensure safe installation to prevent issues like electrical fires or water damage.

Remember, regulations can vary significantly by region, so always check your local codes before beginning construction.

3. Fire Safety

We don’t want to put the fire department on speed dial, so let’s talk fire safety. As the adage goes, it’s better to have a fire extinguisher and not need it than to need a fire extinguisher and not have it.

A major advantage of these steel fortresses is their fire resistance. Your container home isn’t likely to ignite like a paper lantern.

However, the addition of insulation and interior cladding can introduce combustible materials.

Thus, wise selection of fire-resistant materials and the inclusion of fire extinguishers and fire escape routes are prudent measures.

4. Weatherproofing

new shipping container insulation for extreme weather conditions

While it’s natural to question the comfort of a shipping container home during extreme weather, rest assured, these homes can be efficiently insulated and climatized, allowing them to weather both hot and cold seasons.

Fiberglass and foam stand out as trusted insulation choices for container homes, each offering their unique benefits. For deeper insights, we recommend exploring our comprehensive guide on insulation methods for shipping containers.

In colder climates, spray foam insulation is often the go-to due to its excellent thermal resistance. For those in warmer climates, light-colored paints can help reflect heat, and a reliable HVAC system is a must for maintaining optimal indoor temperatures.

With strategic planning and execution, your shipping container home can adeptly withstand diverse weather conditions, proving it’s not just the robust steel structure, but also its adept weatherproofing that makes it a safe and comfortable dwelling.

5. Protective Coating and Painting

non-toxic paint to improve safety of shipping container homes

Much like protective clothing safeguards us from harsh environmental factors, shipping containers benefit immensely from protective coatings and paints that prevent corrosion and degradation.

A practical recommendation is to apply rust-preventive paint to your container home’s exterior. This not only enhances its lifespan but also provides an opportunity to customize your home’s aesthetics with your choice of color.

Protective coatings play a pivotal role in ensuring the safety and longevity of shipping container homes. Primarily, these coatings serve as a defensive shield against the elements, particularly moisture, which can lead to corrosion of the steel structure over time.

The corrosion of steel not only degrades the aesthetics of the shipping container but also can compromise its structural integrity. Extensive corrosion could potentially lead to perforation or weakening of the steel walls, thereby increasing the risks of structural failure.

By using a protective coating or rust-preventive paint, you significantly reduce the risk of corrosion, thereby maintaining the robustness of the container. This adds to the overall safety by preventing structural weakening, potential collapses, and maintaining the barrier against external threats like pests or extreme weather.

Moreover, certain protective coatings may also provide additional benefits such as improving fire resistance or reducing heat absorption, further enhancing the safety and comfort of the dwelling.

So, in essence, protective coatings contribute to safety by ensuring that your container home remains sturdy and resilient for a longer period, able to withstand the tests of time and environment.

Your steel fortress can stand tall and proud, and be as safe as a traditional home. Just be sure to invite us over when it’s all set up!

6. Replacing/Covering Shipping Container Floors

One thing that can potentially make used shipping container homes dangerous if you’re not careful, is the flooring. The flooring in shipping containers is typically made of marine-grade plywood, designed to withstand the rigors of ocean travel and heavy loads.

However, to enhance their durability and resistance to insects, these floors are often treated with various hazardous chemical preservatives.

One of the common toxic chemicals used is a pesticide known as chromate copper arsenate (CCA), which indeed can pose health risks.

Extended exposure to low concentrations of arsenic, a component of CCA, has been associated with a range of health problems, from skin irritation to certain types of cancer2.

When a shipping container is being converted into a home or other living space, it’s important to address the issue of the treated plywood flooring to avoid. Some options include:

  1. Removing and replacing the original plywood with a safer material.
  2. Sealing the existing floor with a non-toxic sealant to prevent chemical off-gassing.
  3. Covering the existing floor with a barrier, such as a non-breathable flooring underlayment to shield yourself from the chemicals sprayed on the wooden floor. Other options include ceramic tile, hardwood, or another type of flooring material.

Always ensure to consult with a professional who has experience with shipping container homes to deal with these harmful chemicals and other potential hazards effectively.

7. Safe Handling and Transportation

The delivery and installation process of your container home, though complex, is instrumental to its overall safety and integrity. Just like in a high-stakes game of Tetris, missteps aren’t merely loud—they can lead to substantial structural damage.

This is why it’s essential to rely on specialized companies for the transportation and installation of your shipping container home.

These companies have the requisite knowledge, expertise, and equipment to handle these sizable structures with the care they deserve.

Safe handling and transportation of your shipping container not only prevents immediate physical damage but also avoids undue stress on the structure that might compromise its longevity.

Ensuring your container home is delivered and installed without a hitch is the first crucial step towards your safe and secure dwelling.

8. Ventilation and Indoor Air Quality

Creating a home inside a shipping container demands mindful planning around ventilation and air quality. After all, we need to ensure your container home offers a healthy, breathable atmosphere and doesn’t mimic the air stagnancy of a sealed Tupperware.

Understanding the importance of ventilation extends beyond comfort—it has direct implications on health and safety. Here are some thoughtful options to consider:

Mechanical Ventilation Systems: Think of these as an artificial yet efficient set of lungs for your home. These systems control air circulation, maintain a comfortable humidity level, and help to filter out potential pollutants.

Passive Ventilation: This approach leverages natural airflow to maintain indoor air quality. While the concept may sound as simple as opening a window, in practice, it involves the strategic positioning of windows, vents, and openings to promote cross ventilation.

The right ventilation system for your shipping container home not only enhances comfort but also promotes health and safety by improving air quality, controlling moisture (thus reducing mold risks), and reducing indoor pollutants. It’s an essential ingredient for making a shipping container home safe and livable.

9. Noise Insulation

Residing in a shipping container home doesn’t have to feel like dwelling inside an echo chamber. Noise insulation is a crucial aspect to address for comfort, privacy, and in certain cases, safety.

Adopting noise reduction strategies is paramount. Insulation not only helps regulate temperature but also serves as a sound absorber, reducing the reverberation of sound waves.

Double-glazed windows work wonders in blocking external noise, and internal partitioning can help contain and isolate noise within specific areas of the home.

Effective noise insulation is not just about ensuring a quiet and peaceful living environment. In certain scenarios, it could also be a matter of safety and well-being.

Excessive noise could lead to stress, sleep disruption, and other health issues. Therefore, investing in noise insulation contributes to making your shipping container home not just a quieter but a safer place to live.

10. Security

You might be thinking: “My home is a fortress of steel. Who’d dare to break in?” But the unique structure of shipping containers presents some security challenges.

For example, windows and doors can be weak points if not adequately reinforced. Solutions can include security cameras, alarms, reinforced doors and windows, and even prickly plants under the windows for a dash of green security!

11. Electrical and Plumbing Safety

Deciding to live in a steel box brings unique challenges for the electricians and plumbers involved in the process.

Remember, these containers weren’t designed for people to live in (unless you’re a castaway stowaway on a cargo ship). So, modifying them for habitation requires some savvy.

6. Electrical and Plumbing Safety

Adapting a steel shipping container into a habitable home presents unique challenges, particularly in the realms of electrical and plumbing installations.

Let’s face it, these containers were designed for transporting goods, not accommodating humans (unless we’re talking about resourceful stowaways on a cargo ship). Transforming them into livable spaces necessitates clever and safe modifications.

There are specific concerns that need to be addressed:

Conductivity: Bear in mind that electricity seeks the path of least resistance, and your entire home is made of conductive steel. Proper insulation and grounding are crucial to avoid electrical accidents.

Cutting and Welding: While necessary for customization, too many cuts could weaken the structure. Furthermore, welding must be performed under strict safety guidelines to prevent fire hazards and structural damage.

Navigating these challenges and implementing safe, code-compliant electrical and plumbing systems are integral to ensuring your shipping container home is not only functional, but also secure. These factors are significant in reinforcing the overall safety of your unconventional dwelling.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do container homes last?

The longevity of container homes can vary greatly based on factors like maintenance, climate, and the quality of the construction process. If well-maintained and properly constructed, a container home can last up to 25–30 years, similar to traditional homes.

Are shipping container homes safe in tornadoes?

Shipping container homes, when properly secured and constructed, can be exceptionally sturdy. However, they may not be inherently safer in a tornado than other types of homes.

The safety of any structure in a tornado depends on numerous factors, including the severity of the tornado, the home’s design and construction, and its anchoring system.

What are some disadvantages of shipping containers?

Shipping containers, while versatile, have some downsides. They can be challenging to insulate and modify, and obtaining building permits may be difficult. Containers may also contain harmful substances from prior transport usage.

Additionally, their non-standard dimensions can complicate interior design and furniture fitting.


So, are shipping container homes safe? Well, as we’ve seen, they can be as safe as houses (pun heartily intended), provided some attention is paid to their quirks. They’re not immune to the laws of physics or societal rules (AKA regulations).

But with some love, caution, and a dash of rust-preventive paint, they can stand tall against the elements, would-be intruders, and the occasional misguided pigeon.

Remember, whether it’s made of bricks, wood, or corrugated steel, the safety of a home is largely in the hands of its owner (you).

So, if you’re ready to embrace life in a reclaimed shipping container, may it bring you as much joy as a well-tuned joke about steel and fire safety regulations can offer.

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