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Container homes take simplistic living, creative design and affordable building to the next level. It’s not surprising then that the trend for modular houses is booming, but before launching headlong into your own container build, some preparation is required.

1 Get council approval

Most councils are open to innovative types of building. Do thorough research on property restrictions before you buy the land. Have detailed plans drawn up professionally and develop a good relationship with your council; this will save you time and help you deal with any hiccups along the way.

2 Start right

Buy your container through a reputable company. They will help you choose the right kind of container for your needs, as well as ensure the container is structurally sound, waterproof and has not transported anything dangerous.

There are two types of shipping containers: one that has reinforced square tubing side top rails and one that has flat bar side rails. Buying the reinforced side-railed container will ensure that your home is more structurally sound, and you don’t have to pay extra building costs to reinforce the container sides later.

Building with a refrigerated container is ideal as they already have insulation but comes with different challenges. Most purchases require an upfront payment after you’ve seen the container and have the appropriate documentation with a container reference number. A SARS/customs EDI release (SAD500) is important as it gives assurance that the container is legally in South Africa, hasn’t been used for any illegal activities, and isn’t part of any investigation.

3 Design your home

Be clear on the vision for your home. A great way to do this is to look at showhouses. They’ll give you a good physical indication of how effective use of space can transform a container, as well as provide inspiration for your design. Get a professional to draw your design in 3D. It will give you and your builder a better feel for the space.

4 Plan your construction

As many container homes are built on vacant land, you need to install infrastructure – such as foundations, running water, power and sewerage – before you start your build. Luckily container homes can be built off-site while you lay the infrastructure.

The South African building industry is relatively new to handling modular framed structures and it may be challenging at first to find an experienced container home builder that will quote a fixed price.

However, there are experts such as Len Douglas of Inter Modular Concepts (IMC) that will be able to give you a fixed quote. On any build, skilled labour is the chief variable; by planning and thinking everything through beforehand, you’ll be able to monitor these costs.

5 Phase your build

It takes around three and a half months to have the container ready for occupancy and depending on the amount of infrastructure you need. Have clear lines of communication with your building team, do regular site visits and create a realistic, detailed building schedule.

Pre-order materials, such as fixtures and pre-cut timber. And keep in mind that you’ll need a secure, organised, watertight space to store all the materials and equipment if you’re building on site.

6 Budget your build

Your budget should include the cost of the container being transported to site, which will require a crane, labour, materials, equipment hire etc. The average cost of a simple high-end container home is between R825,000 to R1m. As with any build, it’s wise to include a contingency budget of about 13%.

The complexity of your design will determine the amount of customisation needed. Most building components, such as roof trusses, are designed to fit onto brick structures, which means that there will be instances where you must develop your own clever solution to achieve the look you envision.

These customisations may be challenging to predict or show on the drawings. This might require your attention when they’re being installed to make sure the building team, the architect and the engineer are on the same page.

To build in a box you have to think outside the box, and container homes provide a wonderful opportunity to be truly creative with your house. They give first-time builders a quicker, more economical way of achieving their dream home.

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