8 Shipping Container Foundation and Footing Options

“You’re only as solid as what you build on.”

So you best make sure of what type of footers or foundation you will put under your shipping containers.

In this article, we will consider:

  • What are footing options available?
  • What should you think about when choosing your foundation or footers for your shipping containers?
  • And, Why did we decide to use 55 gal barrels as our footing?

What footing options are available for shipping containers?

  1. Precastconcrete footings for shipping containers
    1. These Specialty items: are convenient and the ones for decks are inexpensive. 
    2. Unless you are using wood beams, I wouldn’t recommend the deck pier blocks because of safety concerns.
    3. Not available in all locations
  1. Solid Concrete footer blocks
    1. available in most hardware stores- affordable 
    2. Easy setup
    3. Not your safest option, for lack of anchoring.
  1. Pour in place molds
    1. Cardboard pier molds or concrete form tubes can be cut to size, and they are ideal for uneven ground, slopes, and hillside terrain.
    2. Inexpensive and quick
    3. Not available in every country
    4. Requires rebar work
  1. Traditional wood forming
    1. Available in any location using local resources (most accessible)
    2. Hard work and a slower method
    3. Some knowledge of forming is essential.
    4. Requires rebar work

  1. Self Contained metal barrel
    1. Inexpensive
    2. Self-contained
    3. No forms required
  1. Stem or pony walls (creates the basement effect)
    1. good idea for sloping ground, or hillside terrain
    2. Provide extra storage, unless you have it backfilled
    3. More costly
  1. Solid concrete slab or traditional poured footers
    1. A solid slab is the most expensive option.
    2. Most stable 
    3. Be sure to lay a moisture barrier and use a concrete sealer like Ghostsheild to prevent efflorescence.
  1. Wood beams
    1. More people find it easier to work with wood, especially if you have limited construction knowledge.
    2. Termites, moisture can cause failure.
    3. Not suitable for tropical climates unless you have access to treated lumber.

Things to think about when choosing your foundation for your containers

Cost shouldn’t be your only concern.

  • Of course, some footing options cost more, such as a solid concrete slab.

Stability & Safety

Be sure your container is attached securely to your foundation.

Prevent Rust

  • Gravel beds, allow water to filter without creating mud. It also keep plants from accumulating around your shipping container.
  • If you opt for a solid concrete slab, don’t forget you still need a moisture barrier.
  • Decide which is the best Footing height, depending on flooding and land movement.

Potential Hazards

Try to anticipate hazards, and build accordingly.

  • Flooding
  • Hurricanes/Typhoon
  • Tornados
  • Earthquakes
  • Landslides
  • Soil Density problems
  • Sinkholes

* If you think the potential hazards are too significant to set up your containers safely, then it’s wise to seek the help of a qualified engineer or architect 

Why did we decide on 55 gal barrels as footers?

  • Level ground

Some people want to put their containers on a hillside. This kind of terrain creates problems if you’re going to buy ready-made or precast-type foundation blocks.

Our land is flat, so using 55-gallon barrels wasn’t a problem.

  • Easy to set up and purchase

Where we live our options are limited, so the convenient and quick options aren’t readily available.

Steel barrels are self-contained no forming required. And easy to obtain, we bought our barrels that have only been used one time, from a local hardware and supply store.

They serve as forms that you don’t have to remove.

  • Higher off the ground 

Our friend asked us, ‘Why is your container house so high off the ground? Does it flood on that land?” I know having our shipping containers on barrels is reminiscent of mobile home living. 

The one shipping container we purchased was left abandoned for ten years. It was only a foot off the ground, so the grass and weeds were overgrown, causing rust and bug issues. So we didn’t want to have any more problems like those.

Suppose you opt for setting your containers lower to the ground. In that case, a gravel bed is an excellent idea to keep moisture off your shipping container.

Building higher off of the ground gives you easy access to plumbing.’, the ability to undercoat your container efficiently, and in case of flooding to prevent damage to your house.

The extra height allows for additional storage underneath your container.

  • Secure

Since the barrels are metal, it’s easy to weld the skirting and anchor plates to them.

  • Inexpensive option

Supplies and Cost 

1155-Gallon Steel Barrels90 USD
11Bags of cement73 USD
22Sacks of Sand11 USD
Large Rocksfree
11Steel I-beam Scrap60 USD
total224 USD

Land Prep and Barrel Set Up

  1. Cut down any trees or foliage that might interfere with your containers.
    • * make sure you comply with any local laws regarding arbor conservation
  2. Compact the soil
  3. Use a Laser level to ensure your barrels are all at the same height.
  4. Dig down and partially bury the barrels.
  5. Then fill your barrels.

Barrel placement

Lessons Learned

We didn’t set up our three front barrels, thinking the crane may not reach the back corner.

In hindsight, it wasn’t a problem for the crane.

Not doing so In turn, created more work in joining both containers and leveling the height.

I’m not going to lie. Since my husband is a welder, we are using a significant amount of welding on our project. I realize not everyone has the same experience and paying a welder may be very costly.

However, if we had not welded the anchor plate, we would have decided on the bolt-up method; this requires a bit of planning. You need to ensure that you set your anchor bolts in the cement for proper alignment with the plate’s hole.
If you always wanted to learn to weld, now is your chance.  MIG is the simplest welding to learn, and you will have plenty of opportunities to practice. Caution anything structural make sure you have a professional help you!

We wanted to update you guys on our progress. After living in the house for a few months now, we realized that we need to add floor supports to the long open span between the kitchen and bedroom. We opened the wall about 16-20 feet. We noticed the dishes rattle every time we walk near the kitchen. We will post pictures when we’ve in stalled the floor jacks. We decided against doing more barrels since it would be difficult to do at this point.


Vestil FJB-16 Basement Floor Jack, 12″ – 16″ Height Range, Max Weight Capacity (lbs.) 9738

We bought 3 of these to stabilize the large open span.

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