Seacan Usage

Sea can converted to eaterySeacans may be repurposed as storage buildings, commercial buildings or living space. 

This type of project is subject to zoning bylaws and building codes requirements, in the same manner as of other types of development. Before committing to the purchase and conversion of a seacan, it is important to learn some facts.

Quick facts

Get the essential info about using a seacan on a property in Medicine Hat.

Shipping container fact sheet

What is a seacan?
  • A seacan is typically a previously-used shipping container that is no longer certified and is being repurposed. It may also be a domestically built container that may or may not be engineered.
  • When a seacan is repurposed for supporting or sheltering any use or occupancy, it is considered a building. This includes uses such as, but not limited to storage buildings, sheds, additions, houses, offices and retail spaces.

The Medicine Hat Land Use Bylaw defines a Shipping Container as: "...a seacan or other form of container that was or could be used for transport of goods by means of rail, truck or by sea. Shipping Containers are typically rectangular in shape, are generally made of metal and vary in dimensions."

Permits required

Typical seacan dimensionsTemporary usePermanent use
8' X 10' (2.44m X 2.99m)

area: 7.3m2

• No permits required

• Must not create hazard

• No permits required

• Must have suitable aesthetics

• Must not create hazard

8' X 20' (2.44m X 6.06m)

area: 14.8 m2

• Building Permit required

• Development Permit required

• Building Permit required

 8' X 40' (2.44m X 12.2m)

area: 29.8 m2

• Building Permit required

• Development Permit required

• Building Permit required

Rules and regulations
Size and location requirements

A shipping container (seacan) may be allowed within any land use district within Medicine Hat, at the discretion of the Development Authority. The seacan size and proposed location will be assessed to ensure that there will be no adverse impact to neighbouring land, and that other requirements of the Land Use Bylaw are met.

If used as a storage building or shed, a seacan is considered an accessory building.

Some Land Use Bylaw requirements which apply:

  • For permanent use of a seacan within a residential area, the seacan must be finished in materials that are characteristic of a residential district, or screened from view, to the satisfaction of the Development Authority.
  • All accessory buildings on a site (parcel) must not exceed a total site coverage of 15% (Site coverage = area of building ÷ area of lot).
  • For permanent use of a seacan within a residential area, there is a minimum setback of 0.6m from an interior property line or rear property line, with no roof projection closer than 0.45m, and a minimum setback of 3.0m from an exterior property line.
  • Permanent placement of a seacan in a front yard within a residential area is not allowed.
  • If you have questions about the Land Use Bylaw or utility right-of-ways, contact a Planning Officer.
  • To learn more about the Land Use Bylaw, visit Zoning.

Utility lines
  • No structures (including seacans) are allowed within a utility right-of-way (UROW).
  • No structures (including seacans) are allowed over a gas line.
  • To learn more about locating utility lines, visit Line Locates.

Temporary use

A seacan may be used for a temporary purpose in any land use district within Medicine Hat, without requiring a development permit. Rules for temporary use: 

  • Temporary use of a seacan means use for a single period of no more than 30 days in one calendar year.
  • When allowed for temporary use in a residential district, a seacan must be setback a minimum of 0.5m from any property line.
  • When allowed for temporary use in a residential district, a seacan is not required to be finished in materials that are characteristic of a residential district, nor screened from view.
  • If the seacan is over 10m2 in area, a Building Permit is required, even for temporary use.

Construction/safety requirements
  • Placement or construction involving a seacan which is over 10m2 in area requires a Building Permit, whether the intent is permanent use or temporary use.
  • A seacan may be placed on the ground, provided that, at minimum:
    • all organic material is removed from the ground, and
    • the level of ground is raised with gravel to ensure proper drainage.
  • Seacans are considered buildings, therefore must have adequate separation from other buildings and from property lines.
  • If used as a dwelling unit or as a home addition, seacans require engineering approval and the dwelling must meet all the same requirements of the Alberta Building Code as a conventional building.
  • Fire rating will generally be required, although this will vary depending on the situation.
  • Seacans are non-combustable but are not fire rated. When fire ratings are required, they will apply to the existing structure and to any additional construction such as siding, roofing, studs and drywall.
  • Trade permits will be required if the seacan installation will include services:
    • Electrical Permit: Required for installing or modifying electrical systems, including alarm systems.
    • Gas Permit: Required for installing, modifying or adding to any gas system.
    • Plumbing Permit: Required for installing or modifying plumbing systems or any plumbing equipment.
    • Mechanical Permit: Required for installing or modifying heating, ventilation or air conditioning (HVAC) systems.
  • For more information about construction/safety requirements, contact a Safety Codes Officer.

Use for special events and community markets

  • Building Permit is required. Temporary structures (i.e., to be removed at a specific date) including seacans, tents, air supported structures, stages and similar structures are considered to be buildings as defined by the Alberta Building Code. Therefore a Building Permit is required before setting up these types of structures.
  • Development Permit may be required. Situations will vary, such as if the structure is put up seasonally. If you have questions, collect the details about the planned event, and then contact us.

How to apply

Contact us first

Due to the many potential uses of seacans on various types of properties, it is advisable to first contact Planning & Development Services before applying for permits. A Planning Officer can help provide guidance about your intended seacan project. Email us or phone 403-529-8374.


Apply online to site a seacan accessory building:

Apply online

New to ePermit?
See user guide

Need assistance?

  • We can help you with our online application. Contact us by email or phone 403-529-8374.
  • Or visit us in person (Mon-Fri 8:30 am-4:30 pm):
    Planning & Development Services
    2nd floor, City Hall
    580 1st Street SE, Medicine Hat
  • Whether you apply online or in person, additional documents such as a site plan will be needed. Other requirements will vary by type of project, such as floor plans, elevation plans, construction details and owner consent. If you have questions about the specific documents needed for your application, we can provide guidance.

Payment Methods

Online or phone:

  • Visa or Mastercard


  • Debit
  • Cash
  • Cheque
  • Credit Card (Visa or MasterCard)


  • Cheque

View list of permit fees:

Fee Schedule

How long will it take to approve permits?

  • Development permits: Timelines vary based on application type and the impact to the community.
  • Building permits: Typically less than 6 business days, provided that an approved development permit (if required) has been released.
Line Locates

When planning your seacan project, it is important to know where utilities are located on your property. Locates are free of charge but require at least three days notice.

To apply, visit the page below:

Line locates


Building permits are generally required for seacan projects, so you must book a City inspection. At the discretion of the Safety Codes Officer, most projects require rough-in and final inspections, depending on the complexity of the project.

Book online

To book an inspection online, use one of the following options (do not apply with both):

Web form  OR  ePermit

Please review this user guide before booking with ePermit.

Risks when permits are not obtained

By not obtaining permits for work done on your home, you are leaving yourself vulnerable to potential future legal and financial issues when selling your property or making an insurance claim. There could also be consequences if you do not correct the situation, such as:

  • Enforcement action issued by a Safety Codes Officer.
  • A fine for building without a permit.
  • Having to undo work that has been completed.
  • Future legal and financial issues when selling your property or making an insurance claim.
  • Having to do more work than was originally planned and budgeted, to fix deficiencies.
  • Potential liability to you, the homeowner, in the event of an accident.

As a homeowner, you are responsible for paying any penalties, even if you hired a contractor who assured you that permits were not required.