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Container Home in the UK

Hi there,

I'm almost complete with a container home project in Brazil (my wife is Brazilian) and we're looking to try to build a similar home in the UK. I would be keen to hear from anyone who's doing or done the same thing, and how they tackled planning permissions and other legalities. We're only at the very start in terms of dreaming up the project, but are wondering about the possibilities of buying grazing land, or a small disused car park and then looking to change the usage to allow building. Or, building in such a way to avoid the necessity of certain permissions - if that's possible. Are there any loopholes we can use here, in terms of buildings under a certain height/width/height from the ground etc? If anyone has any experience would be great to hear.

Thanks in advance,



  • edited June 2014
    I'd suggest digging around online or in the papers (it has been intermittently fashionable recently), and talking to the people who did it.

    Alternatively, find out where one is, track down the online planning permission on the Council website, and talk to the Officer.

    Wales has special regs for low-impact houses, which has been used for eg modern roundhouses. No idea whether containers qualify though. I think it is called "One Planet".

  • In Wales!!! Blimey you do surprise me as normally you can't f##t if you haven't got a sheet of paper giving you permission (in Welsh).

    I looked this briefly a few years ago and then I had to show that my full time work and only income was from the land that I wanted to build on. I could not do this so I was dead in the water. There are a few loppholes I think but I would ask a local planning advisor initially. They usually do not like building on green fields at all.
  • I doubt that using containers would make any difference one way or the other from a planning permission point of view unless there are aesthetic concerns with the style of the container visible from the outside. However, getting enough insulation inside a container is difficult because a) it then gets very small and b) corten steel is not terribly “breathable” so you're likely to have insulation and cladding outside the container to conceal the structure.

    Saying that, container city in docklands:

    puts the relatively high tech spray-on insulation on the inside. I've got some pictures somewhere of some containers there being prepared (amusingly, buried in my container somewhere).

    Not very surprisingly, there don't seem to be a lot of loopholes in UK planning and building regulations. If there were they'd be being exploited and subsequently filled pretty rapidly. Containers may or may not make sense as building materials here but I doubt they'd help much with bypassing the system. On the plus side, it'd probably take not much more than a bit of siding material to prevent them hindering, either.
  • edited June 2014
    Google really is your friend! I searched on 'container city insulation' and the top hit was this:
  • edited June 2014
  • The detailed One Planet doc is posted here:

  • Thanks for all your comments so far guys. We've had to deal with the opposite in our Brazil project - living in steel boxes in a tropical country - but so far so good. Plus, we're in the shade, which helps enormously. We don't get very much direct sun, even during summer. There are photos here:

    Insulation certainly can reduce the interior space quite significantly (relatively), although we only lost we lost about 12cm. It does make for pretty small bedrooms towards the back of the containers, but then the lounge and kitchen space is more open-plan, so the incentive is to spend more time hanging out in those spaces. It feels strange to leave one project that we know well to start another one and have totally zero idea where to start !
  • edited June 2014
    We're only at the very start in terms of dreaming up the project, but are wondering about the possibilities of buying grazing land, or a small disused car park and then looking to change the usage to allow building.
    Getting planning permission to build on grazing land will be hard virtually anywhere in the UK. It also makes very little sense for someone to sell grazing land cheap without trying to get planning permission themselves. Grazing land is normally only cheap because it doesn't have planning permission (or any chance of getting it) for residential use.

    I recommend reading:

    "How to find and Buy a Building Plot" and "How to get planning permission" both by Roy Speer and others.

    There are some books and web sites that claim to tell you how to you can build on agricultural land without needing planning permission but many are little more than useless (in the same category as how-to-get-rich-quick guides). Some are just factually wrong or financially risky.

    The government is coming under pressure to cool the housing market and we could hope that might lead to a relaxation of planning policy but I doubt it. Their standard answer at the moment is that the Bank of England has the tools it needs to cool the housing market. Most people assume that means interest rate rises or mortgage restrictions. They have previously stated support for self builders but it takes ages for any changes to come into effect. Look how long it took to exempt self builders from the CIL.
  • Yes, I hear you. And I'm sure you're right. I don't expect the government to relax planning laws in any way that would benefit self-builders right now. Help to Buy and other such schemes are only feeding the housing crisis, but of course benefiting the major developers.

    I'm looking into the Roy Speer books now - thanks for the tip. Looks like they're available used pretty cheap online.
  • edited June 2014
    Posted By: CWattersGetting planning permission to build on grazing land will be hard virtually anywhere in the UK.
    Except, perhaps, in NE Scotland. Quite a few greenfield plots around here. Not much else here, though, of course!
  • Looking your photos I have to ask, why you returning to the UK rat race?
  • Because we like the UK too! And much of our life is still here. The dream started with the Brazil project, and recently we thought maybe we could do the same in the UK, hence all my questioning!
  • edited June 2014
    May be you could convert an old agricultural building as the Government have just made their change of use easier.

    A few ideas
  • Interesting article, thanks Triassic.
  • edited June 2014
    I wonder if anyone has ever built an earth-sheltered container house in the UK?

    It would seem to be a natural match here, since it would be naturally waterproof/very strong and you could superinsulate outside the 8ftx8ft.

    You could try and replace a dilapidated eyesore if you find one.

  • How do you mean by an earth-sheltered container exactly?
  • Buried or semi-buried shipping containers.

    It's been done in other countries. It's also happened that the containers have collapsed. I think there were a couple of cases in Australia but it's ages since I read about them. Containers are wonderfully strong with loads on the right points but need beefing up to deal with awkward spread-out forces.
  • We are planning to do polished concrete floors in our container house in Brazil. Do you think we need to worry about the weight?
  • @jamie

    An earth sheltered home is partially or completely buried. Example:


    I was thinking that quite a bit of Water goes into the hole for waterproofing / structure etc (see my first link from 10 minutes in) and speculating that containers could potentially require less of that that and so be a good match.

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