If you’ve spotted some of your neighbours, pop-up shops, or construction site offices using prefab containers and are thinking of getting one for yourself, you may be wondering about their legality and what measures you need to take to get approval.
In most towns, you can’t simply place your modified shipping container anywhere you want, and the legal requirements tend to vary from place to place.
With advanced technologies for shipping container modifications, these durable and robust steel containers can be used for just about any application, from offices to stores to homes. But before you begin the process of acquiring one, you should find out about the rules of owning a shipping container in your area.
Building Regulations for Shipping Containers
Whether you’re looking to use your shipping container as a residential shelter or for storage purposes, you should know that these containers are subject to the Ontario Building Code and local zoning by-laws.
According to the Ontario Building Code, shipping containers that cover an area between 160 and 320 square feet are considered as structures when placed on land. And since the placement or construction of any structure covering an area of over 108 square feet (10 square meters) requires a Building Permit, then you’re required to get a permit for your shipping container. Whether you are using a container as a residential shelter or for secure storage, you should consult with your local Building Division before commencing your project.
But getting a Building Permit is not simply meant to comply with regulatory requirements. This step also ensures that a city-certified building inspector has checked the position and placement of the container on your site, and has verified that there are no safety or health concerns such as:
- Surface stability, so the ground doesn’t collapse under the weight
- Risk of overturning or uplift
- Snow loading
- Structural safety
- Wind resistance
- Proper anchorage
Relevant Building Regulations
Shipping containers also share the same requirements and restrictions as permanent buildings in Ontario. This implies that they must be properly zoned and follow the property line setback guidelines outlined in the city zoning by-law.
Some of the building regulations you might encounter include:
1. Property zoning
Zoning refers to segmenting large pieces of land into different sections that determine the type of structures that can be constructed there. This process is undertaken by city governments to aid in planning the city’s growth and development to ensure that similar structures are grouped to control the density. Zoning influences how industrial areas are located in only a specific area of the city, or how liquor stores are never set up near churches or residential neighbourhoods. So zoning will affect the process of getting a permit for your shipping container.
2. Building codes and permits
These codes ensure that the standards of construction are maintained, including how residential shelters or homes are built. You must apply for building permits to prove that you’re in compliance with relevant building codes and obtain approval to proceed with your construction project.
The codes for most developed countries are based on the International Building Code (IBC) and International Residential Code (IRC), which also contain specific codes for any electrical, plumbing, and fire protection activities.
These international codes are updated every couple of years, so you should ensure you follow the most current guidelines. However, some cities have their own code requirements. Ask your local authorities about the right code to follow to ensure that your permits for getting a shipping container home are approved.
3. Mobile, modular, and manufactured building codes
Although it can be difficult to distinguish mobile homes from modular (prefabricated) or manufactured homes, each type of home applies unique building standards. As such, you must identify the codes that apply to your shipping container construction.
- Manufactured homes, which were previously referred to as mobile homes until 1976, referred to any house mounted on a permanent trailer chassis and built entirely in a factory and then shipped to the property on a permanent chassis for installation. The code for these homes is regulated by the Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards under the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
- Modular homes are built in a factory and then transported to a site for assembly on a permanent foundation; they are regulated according to the International Building Code (IBC), not HUD.
- Although recreational vehicles (RVs) are comparable to manufactured homes, they are regulated by RV Industry Association Standards.
The manufacturer should choose the applicable code depending on the intended use of the modified container.
Getting Your Storage Container Permits
The requirements may vary for each municipality or city. So you must ensure that you get the right information as it will affect the permitting process, including:
- The physical location of the container on your property.
- Local rules and regulations.
- The physical condition of the container.
- How long the container will sit on your property or work site.
- How the container’s presence will affect the community.
Here are a few tips to help you get a shipping container permit:
- The shorter the duration you intend to have a shipping container on your property, the fewer the requirements for permitting. In fact, you may not even be required to get a permit for short-term container placement, provided you don’t make it a permanent structure on your property. But you should find out if a temporary use permit is required. This should be easier than getting permission for using the container as a permanent structure.
- If you plan on setting up your container in a residential or high-traffic area, such that steel containers are uncommon in that area, then you will likely face stricter permitting requirements. On the other hand, you may not even need a permit to have a permanent container on your property if you reside in a low-traffic area or rural farmland.
- Depending on your situation, you may need to hire a permit expeditor—especially for container placement in urban areas—to assist with your engagements with the local authorities. The professional will handle any paperwork and legwork on your behalf.
It might take you about 10 to 20 days to obtain a Building Permit for your shipping container. Yet, you cannot proceed without it as you risk the Building Division taking legal action against you, including issuing an Order to Comply, a hefty fine, or even prosecution for non-compliance. As such, you should seek assistance about applying for a Building Permit from the Building Division, or the professionals handling your shipping container modifications.
For more information on permits and regulations for shipping containers, call Sigma Container Corporation (SCC) at (855) 228-1993 or contact us here.