Despite what the name might make you believe, shipping containers are a great way to store large items on your property. They’re made of steel to protect your items and prevent weather damage, so you’ll get a lot of use out of them.
Before you commit to using a shipping container, it’s essential to find out how to use it and how much it costs. There are also benefits to renting or buying, depending on your needs. Several factors influence the overall cost, so read on to learn everything about shipping containers.
What Are Shipping Containers?
Shipping containers are large metal rectangle boxes large enough to hold various cargo. This storage method simplifies transporting goods by train, truck, or boat.
Because shipping containers are so durable, they can travel long distances safely. Manufacturers load shipping containers for overseas travel. These containers attach to trains or truck beds and can withstand any weather, including rain, winds, and snow, as they travel across the country.
There are other common names for shipping containers, including:
- Freight containers
- Intermodal containers
- Portable storage units
- ISO containers
The standard dimensions of shipping containers make it simple to attach them to trains and trucks. There are containers with different heights and lengths to use for other purposes.
Why Are Shipping Containers Used?
Companies often use shipping containers for international transportation. They make it easy to send goods on boats, trains, or large trucks. The dimensions of most shipping containers make them ideal for heavy machinery, oddly-sized items, or goods stored on pallets like fruit and vegetable imports.
Shipping items in this type of container streamlines the process. Instead of needing people to load and unload individual items, you can simply unload the container as one piece.
You can also use these structures as storage shipping containers. The metal structure keeps everything inside safe from the weather. You can stack shipping containers on top of each other without crushing anything inside.
Shipping Containers Offer Multiple Residential & Commercial Uses
People also repurpose shipping containers for residential use. Depending on the dimensions, a shipping container can make a great shed, camper, or disaster shelter. Some people use shipping containers as tiny houses or combine several containers for unique living spaces.
Some businesses are using shipping containers for more than just storage. For example, companies can use these structures for office space or convention booths. There are also many innovative bars and restaurants hosted in shipping containers.
Designers have innovated various features and add-ons that enhance the shipping container’s existing shape and structure. You can change the practical steel structure into something more innovative by adding windows and stacking them in different positions. For example, two open-top containers combined can give you a taller ceiling inside.
You can also insert dividers to make a shipping container into smaller spaces, depending on the original dimensions of the structure. Since the standard container lengths are either 20 or 40 feet, you can make several decent-sized rooms from one structure.
Reusing shipping containers in this way helps take advantage of existing structures that aren’t used anymore. Since they’re such compact spaces, you can choose to make them a permanent installation or keep them mobile.
When you compare the price of a shipping container to the costs of renting existing office space or building a new structure on your property, you’ll see that it’s a unique, affordable way to give your family or employees a large amount of space.
Different Types of Shipping Containers
If you’re looking for metal shipping containers, you need to know the various shipping container types. The standard sizes include 20-feet and 40-feet options.
The specific dimensions of a 20-foot container are:
- 22.5 feet long
- 7 feet 8 inches wide
- 7 feet 9.5 inches high
While you might think you only need to know the storage dimensions, you should also consider how you’ll load the container. The door opening for this unit is 7 feet 6 inches wide and 7 feet 5.5 inches high. It can hold over 48,000 pounds.
A 40-foot container has the same width and height as the 20-foot option, but the length is 39.5 feet. The door is the same size but can hold about 60,400 pounds of goods.
These widths and heights ensure the containers can fit on trucks and trains. The length might require special transportation, but as these are the most common options, it’s not hard to find them.
Sizes, Weights, and Dimensions of Shipping Containers
So what are the dimensions of shipping containers? Luckily, there are many different options. In addition to the standard containers outlined above, there are also:
- High cube containers
- Open-top containers
- Open-side containers
- Refrigerated containers
High Cube Containers
High cube containers are longer and taller than the standard options. They are 8 feet 10 inches tall and 40 or 45 feet long. The width is the same as the standard, so they still fit on trains and boats. Their height makes it harder to stack things during transit, but you can still stack them for storage.
Open-top containers have the same dimensions as the standard options, but there’s no lid. You can use a crane to easily load these containers from above, though there’s still a door.
If you need an open-top container for loading reasons but still want to use it for storage or transportation, you can put a tarp on top or even get a hard top for the 20-foot option.
Open-side containers have doors that fold down and allow you complete interior access. It’s easy to load this container with goods or boxes that stay in place. You can open all doors to give multiple people loading access and then close the doors when the container is full.
Refrigerated containers keep goods cold during transportation. These shipping containers are best for food or pharmaceutical products because you don’t have to worry about them spoiling in the heat.
Flats are shipping containers with collapsible sides. You can fold the sides and drive large machines or cars into the container. The driver has plenty of room to get out before you close up the sides and ship the item.
Tanks are shipping containers made to transport liquids. They’re typically not rectangular, but they have round sections or edges to keep the liquid in place. You might see tanks on the expressway as truckers transport fuel safely.
What Are the Standard Features of Shipping Containers?
Shipping container manufacturers make the structures out of durable steel, making them almost indestructible.
Weathering steel is the most common material used for outdoor metal structures. There’s no need to paint the steel because it’s already a nice reddish brown, helping it stand out without being too shiny or reflective.
Manufacturers weld corrugated panels of weathering steel to the reinforced steel beam structure. Marine-grade plywood, which is 1.25 inches thick, adds a walkable layer to the corrugated steel flooring. This layer of wood also reinforces the bottom of the container, which bears the weight of cargo during transport.
When you buy or rent a shipping container, you know you’ll get a sturdy steel structure with thick wood flooring. These qualities are the basic features of all shipping containers.
Add-on Features of Shipping Containers
You might consider add-on features when buying or renting a shipping container. You might want ramps, steps, shelving, or awnings, depending on why you need the structure.
People who need a shipping container to transport or store goods will appreciate adding a ramp to their order.
Ramps are polyethylene, making them lightweight and easy to put into the ideal position for loading and unloading. You can walk up a ramp or use a dolly to make the process easier. Polyethylene ramps can handle 1,000 pounds at a time.
You’ll need a stronger ramp if you’re loading the shipping container with a forklift. Forklift ramps can handle 10,000 pounds.
Businesses using shipping containers for storage and office space or people making them into living areas might want to add steps. Steps make it easy to get in and out of the container. You can find a specific height for the steps in case your unit is on a slab or raised foundation. Steps can be portable or permanent, depending on your needs.
People who use shipping containers for storage will love how shelving maximizes interior space. You can install shelves around the sides of the unit or run them across the interior with an aisle for accessibility.
There are many styles of shelving, and they’re easy to customize. You can even get shelving that uses brackets to keep things in place during transport.
Awnings are ideal for containers used as workshops, office spaces, or living areas. They give you an area of shade near the container. You can put awnings over the door or windows to keep the opening shaded, which cools the interior. Or you can use this add-on on the side of the container to provide a shaded space for relaxation.
You can pay for add-ons such as secure door locks and lock boxes. The door locks include varieties such as combination locks, electronic locks, and keyed locks. Lockboxes give you an additional layer of security if you’re keeping important documents or items in your shipping container.
Shipping Container Conditions
Since they’re steel, shipping containers are durable and weatherproof. You can buy or rent used shipping containers without seeing a decrease in their storage protection. Steel can dent without impacting the storage capacity inside. As long as the doors open and close securely, you won’t have a problem using a slightly dented shipping container.
Some severe damage could lead to tears in the steel panels, which impact durability and weatherproofing. Dents in the doors or around the hinges can make it impossible to lock the contents of your unit.
You might find used shipping containers that are rusty. Rust is non-toxic, so you can safely buy a rusted shipping container. However, you want to check out the extent of the rust, as it corrodes steel and can impact the durability of the structure and panels.
Rust eats away at the steel, making it look neglected, which could bring unwanted attention to your storage container. You don’t want someone trying to break into a rusty structure to get your stored items.
Spots of rust can also cause leaks since it corrodes the steel and creates openings in the panels. You don’t want to use a rusted, leaky shipping container because it’s not weatherproof, leading to possible mold growth and water damage.
Over time, more rust will develop and compromise the sturdiness of your shipping container roof and walls. You’ll end up with a useless shipping container on your hands and have to spend money on buying one in better shape.
However, not all used shipping containers have dents or rust. Before buying or renting an as-is used container, inspect it yourself. If you cannot get to the unit’s location, ask the owner to call you via video chat and take you on a tour of the container so you can see it with your own eyes.
How Long Do Shipping Containers Last?
Steel shipping containers should last 25 to 30 years. However, containers used exclusively for sea transport might only last ten years due to the extreme weather and harsh climates. Storage containers used in wet or salty climates deteriorate more quickly.
Manufacturers fine-tuned a design that was durable for a long period so companies wouldn’t have to constantly buy more containers. When designing containers, they take into consideration factors such as:
- Waterproofing for outdoor storage and sea travel
- Windproofing for train, truck, and boat transport
- Strong materials to allow for crane and machine pickup
- Unique design to keep the container as light as possible when empty
You can take steps to prevent your shipping container from rusting if the manufacturer doesn’t do it themselves. In some cases, this type of priming and paint job can factor into the price as an add-on. But you can do it yourself by applying zinc to steel in a process called galvanization. Any rust on the steel transfers to the zinc layer, so the steel stays structurally sound.
Remember to only prime and paint your shipping container once you remove all the rust. These layers protect the steel from the elements and keep your unit looking nice. This step is especially important for containers used as sheds, restaurants, offices, and homes.
Pros and Cons of Using a Shipping Container
There are many good reasons to use a shipping container, but it’s not the right solution for everyone. These pros and cons can help you understand the benefits and drawbacks.
- Containers provide durable outdoor storage that protects everything inside
- The price of used shipping containers is less than many storage sheds
- You can use climate-controlled and refrigerated containers if necessary
- There’s no ventilation in standard containers, so you can ruin fragile stored items
- You have to regularly check for rust, leaks, and dents
Buying vs. Renting Shipping and Freight Containers
When you wonder, “How much are shipping containers?” you might think renting one is better than buying one. Make sure you consider all factors in rental agreements compared to a purchase order before spending money on a shipping container.
What Is the Cost and Contract Length for a Shipping Container Rental?
When searching for shipping containers for rent, pay close attention to the agreement. The monthly fee might seem affordable for a short period, but if you need the container longer, you could end up paying more than you intended.
The average 20-foot container rental is about $100 a month, while a 40-foot model can cost anywhere from $150 to $250 a month. You might get a discount if you pay for it all in advance.
The average rental period is 24 months, but different companies have other options.
Shipping Container Rental Pros
- Renting is ideal for short-term storage needs
- You don’t have to dispose of a rented container when you’re done
- You’re not responsible for the long-term maintenance of the unit
Shipping Container Rental Cons
- Rental rates can fluctuate due to demand, so you might end up paying more to rent one
- You have to follow the contract in terms of the unit’s purposes or risk paying a fine
What Is the Cost To Buy a Shipping Container?
You’ll pay more upfront to buy shipping containers, but it’s a one-time fee, and the unit belongs to you. You won’t have to factor monthly payments into your budget. If you have the money and know you’ll use the shipping container for a long time, buying is best.
A new 20 foot container in the United States will cost anywhere from $2,700 to $3,000, on average. A new 40 foot container will cost from $4,000 to $4,300 in the United States. A new 40 foot high cube container will cost you an average $5,200 to $5,500 in the United States. Finally, a new 20 foot refrigerated container will cost $12,500 to $13,000 in the United States, on average. container, you can get one at US $12,835 (a 40 foot refrigerated container will cost more like $18,000 to $20,000).
Additional Costs: Shipping to Your Location
Before you buy or rent a shipping container, you need to think about how you’ll get it to your home or facility. But the cost is the biggest factor to think about when getting a shipping container to its destination.
When you’re looking for where to buy shipping containers, start close to your location. You want to look for containers that are nearby to keep your shipping costs low.
If you can’t find anything in your city, broaden your search a bit at a time. Keep the search within your state or region for as much as you can because these shipping costs are significantly lower.
If you can’t find a shipping container in your state, you’ll need to look elsewhere. Keep in mind that your shipping costs will increase as you expand your search parameters. However, since you need a shipping container, it can be worth the overall cost in the long run.
The prices for shipping container transportation vary. There are different prices according to the size of the container itself. Shipping a 20-foot container from a city in the same state can cost less than $2,000, but shipping it across the country puts the price closer to $5,000.
When you ship a 40-foot container within one state, your costs are about $2,200. You’ll pay about $6,000 to ship the same container across the country.
How Long Does It Take to Ship to You?
The length of time it takes a shipping container to get to you depends on where it’s originally located. With that in mind, you might choose to search for “shipping containers for sale near me.” That way, you know the containers are nearby and will take less time to get to you.
Where Can You Buy Shipping Containers?
As you research how to buy shipping containers, you can look for shipping businesses or search on Craigslist and eBay. To properly inspect a container and know everything about its history, it’s best to go directly to freight companies or shipping container manufacturers.
How Can You Compare Shipping Container Options?
Once you find multiple shipping containers for sale, you can compare several factors, such as:
- Delivery fees
You should always consider your intended use before buying or renting a shipping container. You might need something in like-new condition to use as an office space, or maybe you want to save money with a used version.
Questions To Ask Shipping Container Vendors
When you find shipping containers for sale, ask the vendor these questions:
- What is the rental period, and can I lock in a specific monthly rental rate?
- What add-ons do you include with the unit?
- How old is the container, and how was it used in the past?
- What maintenance do you recommend for the unit?
- Do you deliver the unit to me? If so, what is the delivery fee?
The answers to these questions will help you decide what type of shipping container you need and if you should buy or rent it.
Final Notes on Buying or Leasing a Shipping Container
Whether you rent or buy a unit, you can get a lot of benefits from this structure. Make sure you find the right container for your needs and inspect the unit before finishing a deal.
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