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How to Add Plumbing to a Shipping Container Home

Alexander is a professional engineer who specializes in the construction of affordable houses and structures using recycled materials.

Plumbing in a Shipping Container Home

Plumbing in a Shipping Container Home

Plumbing, just like adding a connection to electricity and gas, takes time and dedication to ensure that the water line is secure, sewer systems are up to code, all piping has been connected, and water is free-flowing in your shipping container.

When people initially started investing in cargotecture and living in container homes, some of the more technical elements posed major drawbacks. Now, the process has been simplified enough for those who want to do it themselves.

If you're looking to add plumbing to your shipping container, you are in the right place. Here you'll learn about the best way I've found to connect water passageways in your perfect shipping container home.

Water Hook-Up Process Overview

There are many factors that go into making the water supply connection. They include:

  • Cost: The costs lie in the ground excavation, labor, buying the PEX/copper pipes to pull the water, and the invoice from the water contracting company.
  • Responsibility: Your responsibility as a prospective client of the water company is to design and hook up the water correctly.
  • Water supply and speed: You have the choice to look into nearby water providers who can offer a clean and uninterrupted water supply.

After you have studied the above information, you can move on to filling out application forms with your chosen provider. Waste, water services, and sewer connections will require a separate application, but it may be through the same company.

Forms for permitting will likely include the following information:

  • The site location and layout plans that show the proposed point of entry for your main water line.
  • Planning reference number for planning permission; plans to dig have to be approved through the city before moving forward with the connection.
  • Details of any water recycling systems and/or sprinkler systems you intend to use. This will be used to roughly estimate the amount of water you will be connected to so you get the right connection.
  • A land risk assessment if the new supply pipes need to cross any potentially contaminated land. The security of other line users has to be kept in mind during the process.
  • Contracted plumbers to carry out the plumbing installation and lay the supply pipe from the boundary to your stop tap.
  • Details of the plumbing installation

After pulling permits, you may need to schedule an inspection to oversee the groundwork. The supplier may want to organize a site survey to assess the extent of the work and make sure they can meet the statutory supply requirements.

All these details the supplier will be looking at have to comply with local water supply regulations for the safe and efficient distribution of water, preventing waste, contamination, and misuse. The final stage of installation will have to be ascertained by an accredited contractor or by the supplier who inspects the supply pipe and the plumbing installation prior to connection.

Step 1. Design Your Plumbing Routes

When you're creating a plan for your shipping container home, the drawings should show the routes and connections intended to be used for the waterline. They will most probably be installed at the back of the house, and underground to protect it from breaking or damage.

Step 2: Find the Plumbing Line

The plumbing line within the area is located. The line will most probably be beneath the area you've placed the container on. Using either the engineer or a water company contractor, the line is identified and marked for the next step.

Step 3: Dig the Main Line

Back at the container, dig the pathway where you want to run your main water line. Remove any debris from the trench. Be careful that your line isn't running on top of any roots, as this can change the slope of your line over time, creating a belly in the line. If you're within city limits, be sure to investigate the need for any plumbing permits well in advance of digging a line.

Time to dig a trench for the line.

Time to dig a trench for the line.

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Step 4. Connect to the Water Supply

This is the main area of concern regarding this topic. You have to be concerned about how water will be flowing in your home. The total costs you will incur to have the water line actually connected to your shipping container home can be high if done improperly.

Ask the water contracting company to temporarily shut off the water supply so you can connect your water line. Cut directly to the pipe and add your line securely so that there are no leaks detected. If you're using a copper line, you'll likely need to solder it in. With PEX, you'll need a crimp attachment. Pass your secure pipe underground and straight to your shipping container home. Backfill the site.

Step 5: Installation of Plumbing Pipes in Various Areas of the Home

Once you can see the plumbing line has successfully been added to the house, you'll connect to other portals such as the kitchen sink, bathroom, toilet, and other water outlets.

For piping purposes, most engineers or modification companies will use the PVC tube to hold incoming and outgoing water. Shipping containers may not have the luxury of installing heaters but with a solar panel, the water can get hot for use. Tankless water heaters are also an option when you're short on space!

In order to secure the tube to the shipping container, you could weld small metal hooks to the container and use a steel cable, wrapped around the tubing and then fed through the hooks. This will hold them in place without much hassle.

Just because most companies or engineers use the PVC tubing doesn't mean you are completely restricted. There are various other tubing options you can go for, depending on the use and your budget.

A good example is copper tubing. It comes highly recommend, since it's very strong and can withstand pressure from the incoming water supply. This could be a great replacement since there have been reports of long-term health issues and problems associated with the use of PVC tubing, especially for children.

With such reports, you can also expect environmental hazards which go against the eco-friendly nature of shipping container homes.

Service Block: Where Most of Your Water Goes

Similar to any brick and mortar house, there needs to be an area that will receive the electric and water service for the entire house. In this case, it's a module that stands in the middle of the container.

The service block receives power and water from the floor of the container. In my case, the service block is attached through a hole in the one-inch thick marine-grade plywood floor. The service block contains a mini kitchen, toilet, shower, hot water heater, small vanity with sink, and two small closets. This makes a very compact and efficient unit accommodating pretty much everything one needs.

It acts like an infused box line that will operate where and how water will be distributed throughout the shipping container home. It's not necessary but for a compact home such as this, it may be more helpful than you think.

Bathroom Connection

The bathroom will be dictated by the design of the bathroom in your shipping container home, in accordance with your personal preferences. The size and the location of the sink, toilet, and shower all need to be considered.

Because the shower tends to take up as much water as the kitchen, you can place it close to the central line of the water supply. This will enhance your water pressure experience.

The Toilet Connection

The toilet uses just as much water as the shower and kitchen. Hence plumbing is a major factor. It will have a huge sewer line to cater to the cistern and exit line to cater to when you flush the toilet.

For the shipping container, you should invest in a good quality toilet system like a high-end commercial model. Something powerful and durable for use. The connection should also be strong like it can shoot up to 25 feet high and 150 feet away through a 3/4 inch pipe.

This will allow you to have at least a good inflow and outflow of water in your bathroom and toilet.

There are many varieties of inlet and outlet pipes one can use.

There are many varieties of inlet and outlet pipes one can use.

Kitchen Connection

Kitchen functionality also depends heavily on water. This is where the cooking and cleaning happens, after all! It will have one entry tubing that receives clean water from the water sewer, and one exit tubing to release the sewage.

Other Exterior Uses

You could have water storage areas where you save water from the sewer line in readiness for that dry day. In case you may have reported having other water uses like a greenhouse.

The plumbing line should be connected to the main water line but should be pointed to the outside. No need for an exit tube because there's no cycle of in and out with exterior uses.

The Sewer and Septic

The last part of the plumbing is sewage. After using water to cook, clean, and bathe, it has to be drained safely somewhere. Plumbing works to ensure the sewage is disposed of in a clean manner to maintain a clean and healthy environment.

You need to source a sewage line in the neighborhood. Research the costs incurred to have the connection done. If you'd prefer, you can also create your own biodegradable septic tank to manage your waste.

A good technique for sewage is a divided septic tank connection. For example, the wastewater is connected to the small tank behind the toilet, which includes two sinks and a shower. Once the small tank fills up, the macerating pump automatically starts and pushes everything far away to the septic tank.

As for the vent, there is only one, and it goes up a few feet from the toilet tank and then backs down through the floor. This seems to work just fine, and you can be assured not to detect any odors from inside or outside.

Be sure your plan is well laid out before putting things together!

Be sure your plan is well laid out before putting things together!

Step 6: Inspection and Tests

Once everything is put together, it's time for a quick test to see whether the plumbing line is working. Check the water supply pressure and also test if the water is draining well in the sink or flushing in the toilet. Put a solution of soap around the connections to test if there are leaks—bubbles will form around the connection if there is a leak. From that central line, ensure that all pipes and taps are working well and arrange for an inspection.

Installing plumbing can be confusing.

Installing plumbing can be confusing.

Winding Down

By law, a home can only be termed as a home if it features crucial elements like the bathroom, kitchen, sewage systems, and toilet. These are all the things that modify a simple cargo structure into a shipping container home. The ability to have free-flowing water in and out is what makes the idea of cargotecture even a possible replacement for the brick-and-mortar home.

Lucky for you, you now know what's essential to add the water connection to your home. Follow the right procedures and remain on the right side of the law.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Alexander Okelo


Alexander Okelo (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on March 21, 2020:

Hey, Richard. I'm glad the article was of help to you. Thanks for stopping by.

Richard from Texas on March 17, 2020:

Good article. I have had an interest in shipping containers for living in for a while. This is really informative.

Thanks for [pstomg

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