One of the benefits of using shipping containers as a building medium is that a lot of the work of building a floor, walls, and roof is already done for you. However, because of that, containers are big and heavy!
After committing to purchasing shipping containers, the next big step is figuring out the logistics of the delivery and offload at your building site. Shipping container transport is usually not something most people have the equipment to do, so you’ll naturally need to pay someone to help you.
But don’t think that hiring someone to make the delivery will fix everything! Before they ever show up you’ll need to think through things like maneuver clearance, overhead obstructions including trees, insurance coverage, and company/equipment selection.
It can seem like an unnerving task but if you follow the steps in this article you will be getting your shipping container delivered in no time.
We’ll look at generally how much it costs to transport a shipping container and the key things you need to consider when arranging your delivery.
The distance that the shipping container movers have to physically carry your container is a big determinant of price.
If you’ve purchased used shipping containers, then, chances are you purchased them locally. It’s likely that if you purchased brand new shipping containers, they will be coming from Asia. This has big implications for the delivery cost.
We spoke with shipping container suppliers to get an idea of delivery costs. Typically, there is a fixed cost just to initiate the delivery, which will include distances up to a nominal distance of something like 50 miles.
They explained that to transport a 20-foot container would typically start at several hundred US Dollars and a 40-foot container would be a bit more.
Distances further than that would add an additional per-mile fee, generally around $2.00/mile, for the total distance that the container is being transported.
The price may or may not include the charge for unloading the container, depending on what you need and the company’s policies.
If you have purchased new containers, then chances are they are coming from Asia. This means you have two choices.
You can either ship your containers empty and pay the full delivery cost or you can allow your containers to be used to transport cargo and pay part of the delivery fee (these are known as one trip containers).
If you pay to ship them from Asia to the US, it is extremely expensive. It can cost thousands of dollars depending on the number of containers you are shipping and the distance.
The cheaper option is to allow a freight company to use your containers for a single shipment of goods (also known as one trip).
If you do this, then the freight company will pay to ship your container to your local port. You will need to arrange this with them and find out exactly when they are next delivering to your local port. If you live near a busy international port, they will likely be shipping there multiple times a month.
All you will need to do is pay for the delivery of your containers from your local port to your plot of land.
If you already have a container in your home country and want to ship it somewhere else internationally, the same general rules apply. The assumption would be that you’ve already done some of the conversion to a shipping container home while in your home country.
Therefore, you wouldn’t really be able to fill the container with cargo (unless it was your own), and you’d be forced to pay the full price that is unsubsidized by the carrier. The cost of shipping a container overseas like this will therefore be pretty high.
Another factor that can significantly alter the cost of delivery is the size of the shipping container which you’ve ordered.
We mentioned above that the difference between delivering a 20-container and a 40-foot container is nearly double. There is one more option in the US. There are 53-foot containers which are not as popular as 40-foot containers. They do provide over 100 square feet of additional floor space each, though.
These 53-foot containers are even more expensive to deliver because of their length. They don’t fit on regular rollback trucks and require a more specialized truck to transport them.
Note that usually, freight companies don’t charge more for transporting high cube containers since they are the same length as standard containers.
The only way to get an exact quote for shipping your container is to contact a freight company for a quote.
How do we find a freight company?
Whenever possible, buying the containers and arranging their delivery from a single supplier is preferred. If this isn’t possible and you are transporting shipping containers from a local port, a good place to find a freight company is uShip.
uShip is an online marketplace for shipping services. Here you can create a job advertisement and then people bid for your work.
If you purchased your containers abroad you will need to use an internal freight company such as Maersk Line to transport them. You can use World Freight Rates’ freight calculator tool to get a quote.
If you’re wondering how to move a shipping container yourself, the answer is most likely that you can’t. In addition to the commercial driver’s license and insurance you’d probably need, more importantly, you need all the right equipment.
If you are buying your containers locally and have a commercial driver’s license, you could hire a rollback truck and transport the containers yourself. This would save you several hundred dollars. However, for most people, this isn’t practical.
If you are using an international freight company such as the Maersk Line, then you will need to pay in full before your containers are shipped.
If you are transporting your containers locally and are using a smaller freight company, you normally pay an order deposit and then pay the remaining balance once the containers have been delivered.
Getting containers delivered from a local supplier is by far the quickest way to get your hands on shipping containers and start construction on your building. You will typically have to wait at least a week to arrange the delivery and then your containers are on site ready to convert.
Unfortunately, the international delivery of shipping containers is much longer and can take up to several months.
It takes approximately 35 days for a container ship to go from China to New York. If you add to this, time to order and load your containers, then time to take your containers from the port in New York to your plot of land, you could be looking at 2 calendar months.
Before you consider insuring your shipping containers, the first thing you need to consider is how much your containers are worth.
If you are constructing your building using a single, used, 20-foot container that you purchased for $1,000 it probably isn’t worth the additional fee to insure the container while it is being transported.
However, if you’ve just purchased several brand new 40-foot shipping containers which are being shipped from China for more than $5,000 each, then it’s definitely safer to insure them.
Most major freight companies will normally include insurance as part of their fee to transport the containers and the companies that don’t will provide the insurance as an optional upgrade.
With the strange container cargo insurance rules, it’s definitely worth insuring your containers if they are going to be traveling by sea.
It’s best to clean and insulate the underside of the containers before you place them because the bottoms are more accessible. This can be accomplished by hoisting the container in the air with the crane or other offloading equipment you’re using to get the containers off the trucks.
Sandblast the underside of the container to clean it and spray at least 1” of closed-cell polyurethane foam to insulate it.
These steps can be undertaken after the containers have been sited, provided that you have a raised foundation such as concrete piers. Nevertheless, it’s typically easier to do it beforehand. The one downside to this is if you plan to have a lot of utilities running underneath the container (such as your water pipes and sewer drains). The insulation might get in the way of their placement. So, be mindful of that to keep from having to scrape off insulation later! It’s not always possible to complete this step. It isn’t 100% required, but if you can, it’s worthwhile.
Siting your containers means placing them on and fastening them to your foundation while offloading is the process of getting them from the truck to the foundation.
By far the most common option is a tilt bed trailer which just slides the container off. If your foundation is ready, a skilled driver can back right up to the foundation and let the container slide off straight onto the foundation pad. If your foundation isn’t ready when your containers arrive, or isn’t easily accessible, you are going to need to look at some other options.
Courtesy of Larry Wade
If your site includes other buildings, creeks, trees, hills, etc. you’ll need to carefully think through how vehicles and equipment will enter, move around, and leave your site. Especially when multiple containers are involved, it can be an intricate ‘dance’ to get everything arranged in the right way for successful offloading.
Regardless of which method you and your delivery company go with, you need to plan how the equipment will maneuver on the site long before it ever arrives.
Let’s talk through some of the different ways shipping containers may be delivered to you, and discuss some things to be aware of for each of them.
The most common way of offloading a container is to slide it off the back of a truck or trailer. The vehicle will have a hydraulically-actuated tilt bed, and after reaching the correct angle, friction will no longer hold the container in place and it will start to slide off the back until the corner of the container hits the ground.
A skilled driver will then slowly drive the truck forward, letting the front of the container slide further down the tilt bed until it is resting on the ground.
Things to consider
Another option is a truck that has a side loading device. This enables the truck to pull up beside your foundation area and offload the container directly off the side.
Things to consider
The average forklift you see in a warehouse isn’t able to pick up a container, but there are some larger models that can handle the weight. In most cases, you’ll need a “rough terrain” model (like this one), as your building site will not accommodate a forklift made for smooth concrete floors.
As the forklift is a separate piece of equipment from the truck that carries the container, we also need to discuss the two ways of bringing a forklift to your building site:
Things to consider
Another interesting offloading method is the hydraulic lift jack, where the container (with the aid of removable hydraulic legs) picks itself up off a trailer, then lowers itself to the ground after the trailer drives away. Note that this method does not allow for moving the container horizontally. The container just goes straight down from where it sat on the trailer.
Things to consider
An option that’s very similar to the hydraulic lift jack is the mechanical lifting jack. It effectively does the same thing, but instead of using electricity to power a hydraulic pump that actuates a hydraulic cylinder, the power comes from you! Specifically, you manually actuate a chain hoist to lift and lower the container.
This makes the mechanical option simpler and cheaper than the hydraulic alternative, with the downside of being slower. But if you’re not moving containers every single day, it might be an option to think about.
Things to consider
A crane is what many people commonly associate with container offloading. They offer a lot of flexibility but can be expensive to have on site, especially if you aren’t near a major city. The crane itself is a vehicle, and an additional truck/trailer will be needed to separately transport the container. For a build with one container, this may not be cost-effective, but with more containers, the impact is lessened.
Things to consider
A truck-mounted crane offers many of the benefits of a regular crane, but without having to transport the crane separately from the container. The truck-mounted crane is smaller than a regular crane, so some capabilities will be reduced. The majority of truck-mounted cranes can only transport 20ft containers on the truck due to overall length. The benefits of truck-mounted cranes are reduced as more containers are used in your build, and a traditional crane or other offloading option may make more sense.
Things to consider
Once you’ve placed the shipping container on the foundation, you need to join the container to the foundation block.
Due to the weight of shipping containers, you could just place the containers on the foundation block and be done with it. However, without secure attachment, the container could move in very high winds, floodwaters, impacts from a large vehicle, etc.
That’s why we recommend that you permanently or semi-permanently mount them. Your options include:
There are quite a few ways to deliver your containers and place them on site, but they don’t all work equally well for every situation. It’s important to have an understanding of the various options and their pros and cons in order to have a successful build.
Let us know below how you decided to transport your shipping containers.
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