The Complete Overview of Buying Shipping Containers


Complete Guide to Buying Shipping Containers Blog Cover

When it comes to building your own shipping container home, one of the most important elements is purchasing a shipping container in good condition.

Unfortunately, some people think that all shipping containers are so strong that any container will do.

Purchasing a rusty or worn container could ruin your shipping container home before you even get going.

In this article, we review the types of shipping containers that are available,  which ones you should consider, and why. We will also address how to inspect used shipping containers. Finally, we will give some guidelines on how much you should pay for a shipping container.

What Makes a Good Container?

Before we get into how to inspect and purchase containers, let’s first look at the importance of purchasing the right shipping container.

This step relies on properly planning your shipping container home.

Once you’ve planned your home, you have already decided on whether to buy a 20-foot or a 40-foot container and whether to choose a standard or high cube container.

Getting the right shipping container doesn’t just mean buying the right shape and size. There is more to consider in determining whether a shipping container is suitable.

We will cover how to identify which containers are most suitable in the inspection checklist, later on in this article.

This section’s purpose is to stress the importance of getting the right container.

There is always a temptation to cut corners a bit by buying less expensive containers to save a few dollars. However, this is not recommended. You could end up with a structurally weak container or one with heavy rusting. Either of these could make your total building costs spiral out of control because of having to do extensive and expensive repairs.

Different Types of Shipping Containers

While there are more than 11 types of shipping containers, when it comes to shipping container homes there are two main types used:  the standard container and the high cube container.

We will briefly cover the differences here, but if you are looking for a more in-depth discussion, we cover it in this article.

Standard Containers

The most popular shipping container used to build homes is the standard 40-foot shipping container.

By standard containers, we are referring to the traditional containers that are 8 feet tall. Generally, these are available in 20-foot, 40-foot or 45-foot lengths. Standard containers are 8 feet 6 inches tall and 8 feet wide.

One of the big advantages of using a standard container is that they are very common and easy to buy. Also, because they are so common they tend to be inexpensive and offer good value for the money.

High Cube Containers

The high cube container is preferred by many. They come in the same dimensions as the standard containers, except that they are a foot taller at 9 feet.

This additional foot in ceiling space makes a significant difference. It allows you to insulate your floor and ceiling while having the same headroom as a standard container without insulation. The problem with a standard container is, that after you’ve insulated the floor and ceiling, you don’t have much height left. High cubes eliminate this problem.

Shipping Container Dimensions

How Much Do Shipping Containers Cost?

The price of a shipping container can vary a great deal depending on the age, type and condition.

But we have included some ballpark figures below.

  • 20-foot Standard Shipping Container      (Used: $2,100 | New: $3,000)
  • 20-foot High Cube Shipping Container   (Used: $2,200 | New: $3,200)
  • 40-foot Standard Shipping Container      (Used: $2,850 | New: $5,600)
  • 40-foot High Cube Shipping Container   (Used: $2,950 | New: $5,800)

Where to Buy Shipping Containers

Now that you have an idea of which containers you’d like to source, the next decision is where to find them. Your choices vary depending on your location, the container type you desire, etc.

Luckily, we have an article that goes into all the details you need to know to answer Where Can I Buy Shipping Containers? Instead of summarizing that information here, we’ll just refer you to that complete post so you get all the information you need.

How to Inspect a Shipping Container

The following advice is primarily for purchasing a used shipping container. If your container is new, you won’t need to inspect it as thoroughly, but you will still need to do a quick inspection.

As you launch your project, it is vital that you take the time to thoroughly inspect your shipping container. Not taking this step can result in problems that will have to be addressed at one point or another. Often these issues can lead to costly repairs.

Initially, walk around the perimeter of the shipping container. Look down and along each side of the container to make sure all sides look straight. Also, look for any damage, dents or rust.

On a used container you should expect some small dents and the occasional patch of light rust. Small dents or small patches are usually not too much of a problem, but any large sections of rust or corrosion and/or large dented areas are a red alert! On small patches of rust, check to see if the metal is flaking and weakened. If so, don’t buy the container.

Rusty Shipping Containers

Another exterior check to make is to inspect the roof. Climb a ladder to check the roof for any signs of rust or leaks. Again, any small patches or light rust can be dealt with, but if there is any significant rust with flaking, then the container should be rejected.

Once the external inspection is complete you should prepare to inspect the inside of the container.

If possible, plan your inspection so that you can examine the inside of the container after the doors have been closed for a while. This allows you to properly perform a smell test.

As soon as you open the doors and walk into the container, do the smell test. It is helpful to have another person with you for this process so that you have a second “tester”. You are smelling for mold or any toxic chemicals. If the container smells of mold, there likely is a leak somewhere.

If your shipping container has passed the previous tests, the next step in your thorough inspection is to make sure the shipping container is watertight.

The best way to do this is to close the container doors while still inside. Look for any daylight entering the container.

After this check, using a flashlight, take a systematic, detailed look around.  Pay special attention to the wooden flooring and make sure there aren’t any holes.

Finally, check that the container’s identification code is intact.

Cost of Transporting a Shipping Container

Once you’ve finished your complete inspection and purchased your shipping container, you will need to arrange for the containers to be transported.

Obviously, there will be huge differences in the price depending on the proximity of the container to your land. If you have managed to purchase the shipping containers locally, then you should expect to pay around $400 for a 20-foot container and $800 for 40-foot containers.

These prices typically include the unloading fee and allow for a total journey distance of approximately 300 miles.

This translates to a cost of around $1.33 per mile to transport a 20-foot container, and $2.60 per mile to transport a 40-foot container.

Transporting Shipping Containers

Shipping containers purchased to be delivered to an international location will have a much more expensive transportation fee. Depending on the distance, it can be anywhere from $1,900 on up. We received a quote to transport a 40-foot container from China to Miami for $5,500.

One way to reduce the overall cost to ship a container long distances, is to allow the hauling company to transport goods inside of the container.

Finally, remember that before your containers arrive, you need to make sure your foundations have been laid.

This will mean that when your containers are delivered they can be placed directly on the foundation pads. Otherwise, you will need to pay for the containers to be moved again once your foundation is set.


After reading this article, we hope you feel more confident about buying your shipping containers.

Making sure you purchase the correct shipping container will help to get your container home construction off to a good start.

Purchase your shipping containers locally from a reputable dealer who offers you a warranty, whenever possible.

In conclusion, even if the dealer is reputable, make sure to complete a thorough inspection using the process outlined above. Don’t leave anything to chance about your new building.

After agreeing on a price, make sure to take a note of the container’s identification code. When your containers are delivered, make sure the codes match.

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