Shipping Container Dimensions


Table of Contents

Understanding shipping container dimensions is a crucial part of a successful build. The multitude of shapes and sizes of shipping containers (Open-top, high-cube, 48-footer, flat-rack, etc.) leads to numerous configurations that you can purchase.

While 40-foot standard shipping containers are what most people are familiar with, there are longer, shorter, wider, and taller options available. In order to properly design a shipping container house, you need to really understand the empty shipping containers that serve as the building blocks for your project. 

In order to help you find what you’re looking for faster we’ve divided this article into the following sections:

About this Article 

Our goal with this article is to give you a comprehensive guide to the shapes and sizes of these containers. This information is crucial in not only understanding the potential of these building materials but also in developing your site plans going and making detailed blueprints.

If you are interested in actually pursuing a container project beyond just looking at cool pictures for inspiration, this article is for you. We will cover everything from the basics, to container types, to more unique containers, and much more. Read on to expand your knowledge in this exciting area. 

Shipping Container Overview

The ISO Standards governing shipping container sizes give manufacturers some leeway with regard to required dimensions. This is typically done by specifying the minimum or maximum values for a particular dimension.

What this effectively means is that there can be some small variability in the dimensions of containers that are the same size and type. This is true when comparing between manufacturers but also even in different product lines from the same manufacturer. In most cases, the differences are no larger than ½ inch or so, which is pretty small given the large size of a container.

However, reefer or refrigerated containers have more variability in their dimensions as they are not all designed for the same temperature requirements and thus have different amounts of insulation.

In general, exterior dimensions are less variable as ultimately all containers need to be able to attach together. Things like door height or interior length may have a bit more variability.

Another area of variability is in the weights. For instance, some container manufacturers choose to exceed the minimum required strength, and in doing so their containers may weigh more to account for additional materials.

With that in mind, you may come across containers with differences in gross, tare, or payload weights that differ by hundreds or even thousands of pounds. As we discussed above, the ISO requires minimums for the strength, but manufacturers can exceed it.

Finally, as you’ll see below, there are MANY possible container configurations. We can’t cover every option, and even if we could, we can’t provide every dimension for each one.

Instead, we’ll focus on the most commonly requested dimensions from the most commonly used containers. And, we’ll to always provide both US units and metric shipping container dimensions for our readers around the world.


You may have come across some uncommon technical terms as you get to know more about shipping containers. Below are the definitions for a few container-related words that you’ll need to be familiar with:

  • ISO: The International Organization for Standardization creates standards for a huge number of industries and uses, including shipping containers. There are several standards relevant to containers, but ISO 668 and ISO 1496 cover the size and dimension requirements of containers. ISO 6346 covers the classification codes and markings mentioned in the section below. ISO 1161 describes the corner castings used in containers. Note that there are some oddly-sized containers that are not made to ISO container dimensions standards.
  • High Cube: A shipping container that is one foot taller than a regular container.
  • TEU: Twenty-foot equivalent unit. When talking about things like container ship capacity, the sizes of smaller containers, etc. the unit of measure is a TEU. One 20ft container is a TEU, while a 40ft container is two TEU’s.
  • General Purpose (Dry Storage): The typical shipping container you are used to seeing and what is normally used for container construction. This is in comparison to tank containers (for liquids), bulk storage containers (for particulates like grain), and flat rack containers (for large objects that won’t fit in a regular container.
  • Tare Weight (Empty): The weight of an empty shipping container.
  • Max Load (Net): The maximum weight or payload that can be safely carried in a container. May be called the net weight, as it is the different (net) of the Maximum Gross Weight minus the Tare Weight. This max load must be distributed fairly evenly across the entire floor area of a container. Small but especially heavy items may require additional workarounds.
  • Maximum Gross Weight (MGW): The maximum weight of a fully-loaded container. This is the sum of the Tare Weight and the Max Load.

There are also a few quick things to understand about dimensions as well:

  • Door Height: The height of the container doors is generally less than the interior height because of the door header, a piece of steel that spans across the top of the door opening and adds strength to the container. It’s kind of like walking through a doorway in a regular house: right above the door is a little shorter, but the rest of the room has a higher ceiling.
  • Refrigerated Container Length: Refrigerated containers usually have about two feet of their length dedicated to holding the refrigeration equipment that keeps them cool. For this reason, their interior length is about two feet shorter than you would otherwise expect.

Familiarizing yourself with these terms and concepts is going to pay dividends down the road as you proceed with planning a shipping container build. A good understanding of these basics will clarify the opportunities that come with shipping containers, help you speak a common language with suppliers and building professionals, and ensure you understand exactly what you need to achieve your goals.

Container Classification

Containers are identified by a 4-digit alphanumeric size and type code specified in ISO 6346. The first two digits are what is called the ‘size code’ and the second two digits are the ‘type code’:

  • First Digit: Length
  • Second Digit: Width/Height
  • Third and Fourth Digits: Features/Characteristics

Let’s try a few examples:


  • First Digit: ‘2’ meaning 20ft long
  • Second Digit: ‘2’ meaning 8ft 6in tall and 8ft wide
  • Third and Fourth Digits: ‘R0’ meaning Mechanically Refrigerated


  • First Digit: ‘M’ meaning 48ft long
  • Second Digit: ‘N’ meaning 9ft 6in tall and at least 8ft 2.4inches wide
  • Third and Fourth Digits: ‘G1’ meaning General Purpose Container with small vents in the upper part of the cargo space

You can look up the meaning of most of these codes with this tool.

Container Companies

As we mentioned previously, there can be slight differences in the measurements of containers from different manufacturers. While it’s sometimes hard to find the information about specific manufacturers, you may be able to find the shipping line or company that originally used the container and get relevant information that way.

Here are links to the dimension information from a few of the major shipping container companies: Hapag Lloyd, OOCL, DSV, Maersk, CMA CGM, Evergreen, Seaco, ONE, APL, and Kline. These are some of the most common company names you’ll see painted on the side of used containers.

Common Container Varieties

Now we’re ready to get into actual dimensions. We start off with common container varieties. These are the containers you’re most likely to see out ‘in the wild’ and for sale. After this section, we’ll cover other containers that are a bit less common.

Generally, these containers are quite versatile and can be used for a wide variety of applications. Most infrastruce is designed with these in mind first, and compatability with more obscure tyes may occasionally be lacing.

This versatility and compatibility is probably what made these common containers so popular in the first place. An understanding of these common variants of containers will form a solid foundational knowledge for you to build on: literally and figuratively.

20 foot General Purpose Container

20ft General Purpose Container Dimensions
20ft General Purpose Container Dimensions (Click Image to Expand)

The standard 20ft shipping container is popular due to its ease of maneuverability and lower weight. There are some people that make tiny cabins out of a single 20ft container, but more often than not, they are used as part of a larger build.

While 20ft containers are overall cheaper than their corresponding 40ft alternatives, their price per square foot is actually more expensive. For the size of the same building, you’d need twice as many 20ft containers as 40ft ones. So you’d be saving money on each container while actually spending more in terms of overall project costs.

So unless your design actually requires 20ft containers, using 40ft boxes is usually a better way to get more floor space. 

You’ll sometimes see cargo ship capacity or trade volumes stated in TEU’s. This stands for twenty foot equivalent unit, and just means the volume of cargo that could fit in containers just like this.

  • External Measurements: 19ft 10in long; 8ft wide; 8ft 6in high [6.05m long; 2.44m wide; 2.59m high]
  • Internal Measurements: 19ft 4in long; 7ft 8in wide; 7ft 10in high [5.90m long; 2.35m wide; 2.39m high]
  • Door Opening Measurements: 7ft 8in wide; 7ft 6in high [2.34m wide; 2.29m high]
  • Weights: 4,960 lbs tare; 62,240 lbs max load [2,250 kg tare; 28,230 kg max load]

20 foot General Purpose High Cube Container

20ft General Purpose High Cube Dimensions
20ft General Purpose High Cube Dimensions (Click Image to Expand)

The 20ft high cube container is similar to a standard 20ft container but with the added room of an additional 12 inches of height. This makes it easier to have interior insulation and light fixtures while still maintaining a normal ceiling height. It also opens up your whole design, and often times higher ceilings will help to make the entire interior feel much larger overall. 

  • External Measurements: 19ft 10in long; 8ft wide; 9ft 6in high [6.05m long; 2.44m wide; 2.89m high]
  • Internal Measurements: 19ft 4in long; 7ft 8in wide; 8ft 10in high [5.90m long; 2.35m wide; 2.70m high]
  • Door Opening Measurements: 7ft 8in wide; 8ft 6in high [2.34m wide; 2.59m high]
  • Weights: 5,070 lbs tare; 62,130 lbs max load [2,300 kg tare; 28,180 kg max load]

20 foot Refrigerated Container

20ft Reefer Container Dimensions
20ft Reefer Container Dimensions (Click Image to Expand)

The 20ft refrigerated shipping container is a regular 20ft container with the added benefit of insulation. If you’re planning to insulate anyway, this could be a shortcut depending on some of your other design choices. We’ve written an article on the things to think about with refrigerated containers to help you. 

In another article, we spoke about how insulation is usually integral to keeping your home at a comfortable temperature. Unless you live in a ‘perfect’ climate, insulation will probably be necessary. Therefore, if you can find a good deal and work around the tradeoffs, a refrigerated container might be a great way to save some money by eliminating the work of insulating the container yourself.

  • External Measurements: 19ft 10in long; 8ft wide; 8ft 6in high [6.05m long; 2.44m wide; 2.59m high]
  • Internal Measurements: 17ft 10in long; 7ft 6in wide; 7ft 5in high [5.44m long; 2.28m wide; 2.26m high]
  • Door Opening Measurements: 7ft 6in wide; 7ft 5in high [2.28m wide; 2.26m high]
  • Weights: 6,400 lbs tare; 60,800 lbs max load [2,905 kg tare; 27,575 kg max load]

40 foot General Purpose Container

40ft General Purpose Container Dimensions
40ft General Purpose Container Dimensions (Click Image to Expand)

A 40ft shipping container is the most common container you will find. They are big enough to allow splitting them up into multiple rooms (for example, a one-bedroom home) but they can also be combined into a home of any size. Like the general purpose 20 foot containers, their lower ceiling height could be an issue for those that want interior insulation while still having a reasonable ceiling height. 

If your design calls for more than 20ft container, it’s worth taking a closer look at your requirements. You may be able to achieve the same goals by buying 40-ft containers instead and subdividing them up into two spaces. A 40-ft container is a pretty ideal unit size for many container homes and it often ends up being the much more economical choice.

  • External Measurements: 40ft long; 8ft wide; 8ft 6in high [12.19m long; 2.44m wide; 2.59m high]
  • Internal Measurements: 39ft 6in long; 7ft 8in wide; 7ft 10in high [12.04m long; 2.35m wide; 2.39m high]
  • Door Opening Measurements: 7ft 8in wide; 7ft 6in high [2.34m wide; 2.29m high]
  • Weights: 8,333 lbs tare; 58,863 lbs max load [3,780 kg tare; 27,600 kg max load]

40 foot General Purpose High Cube Container

40ft General Purpose High Cube Dimensions
40ft General Purpose High Cube Dimensions (Click Image to Expand)

If you like the size of a 40ft container but need a bit more vertical space, a 40ft high cube container offers you the same floor area with the additional one foot of overhead room.  This gives you the extra volume for insulation, wiring, and fixtures while still being able to have an 8ft interior ceiling height.

One extra foot of vertical space may not sound like much, but with container homes, it can make a big difference. Not only will the rooms feel better, they actually are bigger and thus more capable of holding your possessions.

  • External Measurements: 40ft long; 8ft wide; 9ft 6in high [12.19m long; 2.44m wide; 2.89m high]
  • Internal Measurements: 39ft 6in long; 7ft 8in wide; 8ft 10in high [12.04m long; 2.35m wide; 2.70m high]
  • Door Opening Measurements: 7ft 8in wide; 8ft 6in high [2.34m wide; 2.59m high]
  • Weights: 8,750 lbs tare; 58,450 lbs max load [3,968 kg tare; 26,512 kg max load]

40 foot Refrigerated Container

40ft Refrigerated Container Dimensions
40ft Refrigerated Container Dimensions (Click Image to Expand)

With a 40ft refrigerated or reefer container, you get the benefits of a 40ft container along with built-in insulation. However, in most cases, this also includes an industrial refrigeration unit that you’ll want to get rid of, and you’ll have to patch over the hole it leaves. For this reason and others, you should learn more about the pros and cons of building with refrigerated containers.


  • External Measurements: 40ft long; 8ft wide; 8ft 6in high [12.19m long; 2.44m wide; 2.59m high]
  • Internal Measurements: 38ft long; 7ft 6in wide; 7ft 5in high [11.58m long; 2.28m wide; 2.26m high]
  • Door Opening Measurements: 7ft 6in wide; 7ft 5in high [2.28m wide; 2.26m high]
  • Weights: 10,780 lbs tare; 56,420 lbs max load [4,900 kg tare; 25,645 kg max load]

40 foot Refrigerated High Cube Container

40ft High Cube Refrigerated Container Dimensions
40ft High Cube Refrigerated Container Dimensions (Click Image to Expand)


If you love the size of a 40ft container and the included insulation of a refrigerated container, but you want a bit more headroom, a 40ft refrigerated high cube container might be the right choice. It won’t offer you the ability to easily embed your wires behind the ceiling like you could with a regular container where you add insulation later. But if you like an industrial look with surface mounted conduit and high loft-esque ceilings it could be a great fit.

This type of container is the quickest passport to a roomy, temperate living space with the least amount of work. It goes to show that you don’t always have to sacrifice space and open-concept design when you are building with storage containers.

  • External Measurements: 40ft long; 8ft wide; 9ft 6in high [12.19m long; 2.44m wide; 2.89m high]
  • Internal Measurements: 38ft long; 7ft 6in wide; 8ft 5in high [11.58m long; 2.28m wide; 2.57m high]
  • Door Opening Measurements: 7ft 6in wide; 8ft 5in high [2.28m wide; 2.57m high]
  • Weights: 10,490 lbs tare; 64,470 lbs max load [4,760 kg tare; 29,240 kg max load]

45 foot General Purpose High Cube Container

45ft General Purpose High Cube Container Dimensions
45ft General Purpose High Cube Container Dimensions (Click Image to Expand)

The 45-foot containers are a bit different than what we’ve previously discussed. They have the normal container corner castings 40 ft apart, but then they have two equal ~2.5ft extensions on each end of the container. These extensions also have corner castings at the actual corner extents of the container. Having multiple sets of corner castings allows 45ft containers to be stacked with 40ft containers.

Most 45ft containers you see are high-cubes with the additional benefits that an extra foot of room height brings. Thanks to their added five feet of length, 45-foot containers allow you to have a container home with slightly bigger rooms. It’s even possible to make a two-bedroom unit if you can be space-efficient.

  • External Measurements: 45ft long; 8ft wide; 9ft 6in high [13.72m long; 2.44m wide; 2.89m high]
  • Internal Measurements: 44ft 6in long; 7ft 8in wide; 8ft 10in high [13.56m long; 2.35m wide; 2.70m high]
  • Door Opening Measurements: 7ft 8in wide; 8ft 6in high [2.34m wide; 2.59m high]
  • Weights: 10,580 lbs tare; 56,620 lbs max load [4,800 kg tare; 30,480 kg max load]

Less Common Containers

The containers in this group are certainly less common than those above but are still fairly widely available in certain regions as we explain below. It might also be more difficult to integrate them into your design due to their slightly irregular sizing, but they can be just perfect for more specific needs. 

48 foot General Purpose High Cube Container

48ft General Purpose High Cube Container Dimensions
48ft General Purpose High Cube Container Dimensions (Click Image to Expand)

A 48ft container is the first container we’ll discuss that has a different width than all containers previously mentioned. With an additional 6in of width, a 48ft container is 6.25% wider than a 40ft or 45ft container. It doesn’t sound like much, but this extra width gives you just a bit more breathing room for insulation while not feeling like your rooms are too narrow. Most 48ft containers are also high cubes, so they have an extra 12in of height as well.

Much like a 45ft container, a 48ft shipping container has multiple sets of container corner castings: one set at the actual corners, and one set 40ft apart. This enables it to be stacked with 40ft containers. The two ~4ft extensions on each of the 48ft containers are similar in design to those of the 45ft container, just a bit longer.

With an additional 8ft of length and 6in of width, a 48ft container makes having a second bedroom or just bigger other rooms possible. The ~4ft extensions on each end are also possible candidates for cantilevered areas on the upper floors.

  • External Measurements: 48ft long; 8ft 6in wide; 9ft 6in high [14.63m long; 2.59m wide; 2.89m high]
  • Internal Measurements: 47ft 6in long; 8ft 2in wide; 8ft 10in high [14.48m long; 2.49m wide; 2.70m high]
  • Door Opening Measurements: 8ft 2in wide; 8ft 6in high [2.49m wide; 2.59m high]
  • Weights: 10,920 lbs tare; 56,280 lbs max load [4,953 kg tare; 25,527 kg max load]

53 foot General Purpose High Cube Container

53ft General Purpose High Cube Container Dimensions
53ft General Purpose High Cube Container Dimensions (Click Image to Expand)

The 53ft container is largest mass-produced container that you’re likely to ever see. Like a 48ft container, it is also 6in wide than a 40ft container. And like a 48ft container, a 53ft container has corner castings at 40ft, followed by two equal extensions that bring the length out to 53ft. However, the extensions on a 53ft container are about 6.5ft long each. Basically all 53ft containers are high cube which grants you an extra foot of interior clearance.

If you want to build something using only a single container, a 53ft container gives you the larger possible volume. However, depending on where you’re located, it may be cheaper to buy multiple, small containers instead of one large 53ft container. More importantly, 53ft containers have limited availability and are predominantly used in North America.

Initially, 53-foot containers weren’t built strong enough for ocean travel, as they were only intended for domestic shipments in the United States. However, some companies eventually created reinforced 53-footers that were up to the task of ocean voyages. It’s something to keep in mind when you’re shopping if you’re thinking about structurally taxing designs like bridging.

As you can see from these larger 48ft and 53ft containers, you don’t always have to make as many sacrifices as you think when building with containers. There is a tendency to believe that container homes are cramped and bare, but that doesn’t have to be the case! With some creative usage of these massive high-cube containers, you can build a home that has all the size you desire while letting your creativity shine.


53 Foot Shipping Container
53 Foot Shipping Container (Source: JOC)
  • External Measurements: 53ft long; 8ft 6in wide; 9ft 6in high [16.15m long; 2.59m wide; 2.89m high]
  • Internal Measurements: 52ft 6in long; 8ft 2in wide; 8ft 10in high [16m long; 2.49m wide; 2.70m high]
  • Door Opening Measurements: 8ft 2in wide; 8ft 6in high [2.49m wide; 2.59m high]
  • Weights: 11,070 lbs tare; 56,130 lbs max load [5,020 kg tare; 25,460 kg max load]

40 foot General Purpose Pallet Wide High Cube Container

40ft General Purpose High Cube Pallet Wide Container Dimensions
40ft General Purpose High Cube Pallet Wide Container Dimensions (Click Image to Expand)

Pallet wide containers are just a bit wider (roughly 2in) than regular width containers but not as wide as 48ft and 53ft containers. The extra width is to accommodate ‘euro pallets’.

Standard pallets in the United States and some other countries are 48in (1219mm) by 40in (1016mm). In contrast, Euro pallets are 800mm (2ft 7.5in) by 1200mm (3ft 11.2in). The slightly wider size of a pallet wide 40ft container allows it to hold 30 euro pallets, while a regular 40ft container can only hold 25.

If you aren’t planning to store pallets, this extra width just give you a tiny bit more space for your interior walls, insulation, etc. Whether it’s worth paying extra for this small bit of additional width really depends on your design. But for people, if you’re going to pay extra, you might as well go for a longer 48ft container where you also get the 6in wider width.

You’re most likely to find pallet wide containers in Europe, where euro pallets are prevalent. But they may pop up in other locations as well that trade with Europe.

  • External Measurements: 40ft long; 8ft 2in wide; 9ft 6in high [12.19m long; 2.49m wide; 2.89m high]
  • Internal Measurements: 39ft 6in long; 8ft wide; 8ft 10in high [12.04m long; 2.44m wide; 2.70m high]
  • Door Opening Measurements: 8ft wide; 8ft 6in high [2.44m wide; 2.59m high]
  • Weights: 8,636 lbs tare; 63,015 lbs max load [3,917 kg tare; 28,583 kg max load]

Rare Containers

The below containers are fairly rare but we’ll still acknowledge their existence in case you happen to stumble across one. This is far from a complete list of every possible shipping container though.

Rare Sizes

  • Different length pallet wide containers, like 20ft and 45ft long pallet wides
  • Half-height containers, which are half as tall as normal containers, and come in various lengths
  • Super high cube containers are 2ft taller than a regular container and 1ft taller than a high cube and come in various lengths and widths
  • Slightly shorter containers than are 8ft tall instead of 8ft 6in tall
  • Short containers used by US and Allied militaries
    • 5ft long (Call a Quadcon, as it takes four to make a TEU)
    • 6ft 5.5in long (Called a Tricon, as it takes three to make a TEU)
    • 10ft long (Called a Bicon, as it takes two to make a TEU)

Rare Types

  • Open Top containers that don’t have a metal roof and allow cargo that may protrude slightly above the roofline of the container. An open-top container also permits easier loading for certain types of cargo. If you’re planning to add a loft and build another roof, these containers will save you from having to cut out the container’s roof.
  • Removable Top containers have a hard, metal roof similar to a standard container, but it is removable for loading heavy or oversize cargo that is easier to insert vertically through the roof.
  • Double-Ended Containers (Sometimes called Tunnels) have container doors on both ends, instead of just on a single end like with standard containers.
  • Side opening containers have two sets of bi-folding doors on one of the long sides of the container, permitting unrestricted side access. These containers can be good for people who want to secure their container when they are gone but have open sides with lots of glass when the doors are open.
  • Tank containers are used to store liquids and are usually a cylindrical tank surrounded by the familiar rectangular shape of a traditional container frame. These containers are not really useful for construction purposes.
  • Dry bulk containers look similar to general-purpose containers, but they usually have inlets on the roof and outlets in the lower part of the door. These containers are used to store grain and other particulate materials so that they can be poured out at their destination.
  • Insulated containers have insulation that’s similar to a refrigerated container but without the actual refrigeration equipment. For most container home builders, this is actually preferred, as you most likely wouldn’t use the refrigeration equipment anyway.

Rare Flooring Materials

  • Steel floor containers are lighter and stronger than traditional containers while also being easier to clean. They also don’t have any pesticides used in the floor.
  • Bamboo floor containers look similar to the plywood of traditional containers but use bamboo as the source material instead of trees. Bamboo is a bit more pest-resistant than wood and it is much more renewable (Bamboo can be harvested in sometimes as little as 4-5 years, while trees need to grow for decades).

Container Components and Pieces


One of the signature parts of a container is its cast metal corners. The solid chunks of steel have elongated holes in them that are what the twist-lock fittings attach too. The corners are what give containers their modularity and allow them to be attached to other things and each other.

Container Corner Castings

The corner fittings themselves are made of cast steel and typically have holes in the three sides that don’t face back towards the container itself.

In general, the holes are roughly 2-3 inches in diameter (though oblong), but they aren’t all shaped alike. There is also a difference in some of the holes depending on if the corner is at the top or bottom of the container.

Position and type of corner castings on a shipping container
Position and type of corner castings on a shipping container

To see very specific measurements of each hole on each corner container, either reference ISO 1161 or find a reseller/manufacturer who sells the fittings and has detailed shop drawings available like Tandemloc or Pacific Marine.

Container Corner Spacing

Part of understanding the corners themselves is understanding how they are spaced. The exterior size of a container is slightly less important than the position of the corner fittings. The corners are the places where containers touch each other, and thus their positioning is crucial.

Spacing of the shipping container corner castings
Spacing of the shipping container corner castings (Click Image to Expand)

The most important container corner dimension is the distance between the center of the holes both widthwise (labeled ‘P’ above) and lengthwise (labeled ‘S’ above).

For effectively all containers, P is 2259mm (7ft 4.94in). For 40ft containers, S is 11985mm (39ft 3.85in). For 20ft containers, S is 5853mm (19ft 2.43in)

Wider containers liked pallet wide and 48ft/53ft models, normally still have the same P measurement. This is done by having the holes in their corner fittings moved a little bit inward.

The containers we have discussed that are longer than 40 feet (45ft, 48ft, and 53ft containers) actually have an extra eight ‘corner’ fittings that are 40ft apart in addition to the fittings at the actual corners.

stacked containers with 40ft casting spacing
2x 20ft, 40ft, 45ft, 48ft, and 53ft containers stacked, showing the ‘intermediate’ corner castings at 40ft on the longer containers (Source

The extra eight ‘corner’ fittings, sometimes called intermediate corners, can be shaped a little different than normal corners. As mentioned earlier, the longer containers can be a few inches wider, and thus the intermediate corner fittings have to position the holes inboard a bit to correctly interface with regular containers.

intermediate corner fittings
The intermediate corner fittings can be shaped a little differently to ensure the mating holes are in the right position for regular containers (Source)

The vertical distance between the centers of the holes in the top and bottom container corner fittings varies based on the height of the container. The distance is usually about 5.6in (142mm) less than the overall height, though it isn’t directly specified by the ISO.

Sheet Metal Skin

Containers are famous for the corrugated sheet metal panels that make up their sides and top. While not all containers have them (for instance, refrigerated containers have smooth exteriors), most do in order to get added strength. And while there can be some variability in the dimensions of the corrugations, most modern containers do use the same corrugation dimensions.

One thing you may not know is that the actual corrugations are different between the long sides, the short side (the front and back including the doors), and the top. Below we’ll show dimensions of all three types of corrugations.

Container Side Corrugation

Container Side Corrugation Dimensions
Container Side Corrugation Dimensions (Click Image to Expand)

The sides of a container typically have vertical corrugations.  The overall thickness of the corrugation is what contributes to the loss in the interior width of a container, which is why this corrugation, in particular, is important to pay attention to.

Container End Corrugation

Container End Corrugation Dimensions
Container End Corrugation Dimensions (Click Image to Expand)

Most containers only have one set of doors, while the other end is a solid wall of corrugated steel. This solid end has a different corrugation that is unique. However, it is oriented vertically, so it may appear similar to the side corrugation from far away.

Container Door Corrugation

Container Door Corrugation Dimensions
Container End Corrugation Dimensions (Click Image to Expand)

Every container has at least one set of doors, and the double-ended (tunnel) containers have two sets. The doors themselves have corrugations, though the number and orientation of the corrugations vary quite a bit between containers.

Typically there are two to five horizontal corrugations per door, although three is the most common and what we cover above. Usually, the horizontal corrugations are vertically centered on each door.

Container Roof Corrugation

Container Roof Corrugation Dimensions
Container Roof Corrugation Dimensions (Click Image to Expand)

The roof of a shipping container has a unique shape that is a little different than the other pieces of sheet metal. Instead of just being a flat piece of steel that is bent in only one dimension (so that the entire length of the panel has the same cross-section as the back and sides), the roof is shaped in three dimensions.

First, it has a very slight camber or convex bend in it, so the water will flow to the sides of the container. Also, the corrugations don’t go all the way to the edges of the roof, but rather end in a circle a few inches from the edge.


The floor of a shipping container is typically made of plywood (thin sheets or plys of wood veneer that are glued together, with each ‘ply’ turned 90 degrees from the one below it). As mentioned previously, some containers use bamboo or metal flooring, but this isn’t as common.

The plywood in a container home is usually about 1-1/8 in (28mm) thick and made out of either 19 or 21 plies of high-density tropical hardwoods.

The plywood is screwed into steel C-channel cross members under the floor the span across the width of the container. Container manufacturers don’t have a standard size and spacing of these cross members so we won’t give any dimensional information. However, they are typically no more than spaced less than 2ft apart and are welded to both bottom rails of the container.

The area open area under the floor and between the cross members typically has about six inches of vertical free space above ground level, which is where you can run utilities. The spacing of cross members is also affected by the presence of forklift pockets and the gooseneck tunnel.


Now that we have given you a ton of new information on different container sizes, functions, specifications, and design, you might be wondering what to with all data and details we shared. Our number one tip is to simply familiarize yourself with the options.

You need to be aware of the containers that are available to you, and we mean that in two ways. First is knowing what containers are actually being manufactured in the world. And second is determining what containers can be economically sourced in your geographic area.

A big takeaway from this article is understanding that your location has a large effect on the availability of different types and sizes of containers. Just because someone, somewhere manufacturers a certain size and type of containers doesn’t mean you can actually find any close to where you live.

Keeping this in mind will keep you from spending too much time developing a design that’s not feasible because you’d have to pay exorbitant fees or experience long wait times to have uncommon containers brought in for your project. When you start to make your own container home plans, you’ll have to factor in these realities.

We hope you are now confident in understanding how the dimensions of a shipping container relate to how it will work in your next project. The goal of this guide was to pull together all the information you might need related to container dimensions and put it in one place. This should make it easier to find specific data when you need it, so it might help to bookmark this page for future reference and share it with your friends!

Once again, remember that the ISO grants a bit of tolerance on the measurements they specify. And, some other measurements are up to the manufacturer. If you have something that requires knowing a dimension down to the mm level, it would be best to field measure it on the actual containers you purchase.

Did your project use any unique containers that we didn’t cover? Let us know in the comments below.

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35 Responses

  1. I have a customer that would like to stack containers in the same orientation, but the containers would be of varying lengths and widths…

    If you stack an 8′-6″ wide container on top of a 8′-0″ wide container (or vice versa) is that problematic? (that the corner point loads would not align, and the corner point load would be cantilevered beyond the container below it? (or vice versa – the point load would fall on the railing below it and not on the corner post?)

    Also when you stacking two containers of different lengths (53′ on 40′)… are they supposed to be centered on one another because of the extension on each side… (i.e. 40′ typical, with 6.5′ cantilever/ extension each side), or can it just cantilever out on one side (i.e. 40′ with 13′ cantilever/ extension on one side)?

    (question regarding container framing (post locations) – not how far something can cantilever…)

    Thank you

    1. As one of the pictures in the article shows, the intermediate fittings (The places on a longer/wider container like a 48 or 53 footer where the corners would normally be on a 40ft container) should have different shapes to them than regular corner fittings. This is so that they can mate to the normal 40 ft corner fitting placements. All containers are typically supposed to have an equal center to center transverse measurement of the aperture (hole) on these fittings, regardless of container size. In other words, there should be a match of corner fittings such that you could use twist locks between stacked containers of different sizes. But to answer your second question, yes they need to be centered, so the cantilever is split evenly on both ends.

  2. I have a query regarding the refrigerated containers. Can they be altered to maintain at any chosen temperature? Are there any restrictions to utilizing one? Codes? Special permits? Anything specific that would rank it the lowest on cost~time compared to other alternatives i.e. outfitting a separate container or burying one. I am designing my own home, along with smaller”vacay”starter homes for each of my 4 children. Mine of course being the main, with theirs to expand at their convenience. My hopes are to reduce our carbon footprint, teach environmental responsibility, self-reliance, and essential survival skills (horiculture, farming, trapping, canning) I will probably annoy you with future questions but hopefully some of my dreams will inspire others to believe their dreams can become their reality, just not overnight.

    1. We’d recommend you read our article about refrigerated containers here:

      Most people aren’t able to continue using the refrigeration unit, and supply their own HVAC unit that takes advantage of the insulation in the container.

      We’d also recommend you read this article that should answer some of your questions about codes and permits:

      Choosing between a normal container and a refrigerated one is a complex decision that is based on how cheap you can get one, how much time you have, what your intended design is, etc. You can see examples of people who used both in our Case Studies section here:

      Note we strongly discourage burying your container, as described in Myth #3 here:

  3. Hi, I just wanted to know, can we able to manufacture 60 feet container. If so, I also need to know – How the base frames and top frames are designed.
    Thank you

    1. That isn’t a normal size for a container, although there may be a manufacturer out there who can produce it for you as a custom size. Perhaps more difficult would be finding a shipping company would could transport it, as the infrastructure is not designed to carry containers that long.

  4. I’m considering using a 40 ft container as a bridge/tunnel to cross a 10 ft wide wet weather creek. Are you aware of anyone using them this way? My primary concern is how much loads in the center of the 10 ft span.

    1. We haven’t really seen anyone doing this, but it’s certainly possible. Given the narrow width, a container isn’t a great solution for a bridge for a car…you’d have to drive really slowly through it to avoid hitting the sides. But if you’re talking about a man-bridge, that would make sense.

      A 40-foot container is designed to support about 60,000 pounds evenly distributed on the floor. And containers are already designed to be supported at just the four corners. When they are stacked up on ships they are effectively bridges already, and the middles of the containers don’t touch each other top to bottom.

      As long as you aren’t planning to carry extremely heavy loads across the bridge, it will likely meet your needs. Obviously, any modifications to the containers like cutting out the sides for windows, etc. will reduce it’s carrying capacity.

    1. We don’t have an exact number, but in general, the roof is not designed to support any significant load. Shipping container roofs only serve to keep out the elements, but all loads are carried by the floor (then transmitted to the container below via the corner columns). If you have to get on the roof to paint, you’ll be ok. If you’re planning to turn your roof into a deck, make it into a green roof, or anything else, you’ll need to make structural enhancements.

  5. I am wanting to cut out the ent entire side panel of my high cube 40ft container and use winches to lower the panel and then lift the panel back up when I want to lock it or move it. Could you give me some guidance on how much the side wall weighs.??

    1. The side walls of most containers are 1.6mm thick. You can calculate the weight of just the corrugated paneling (without the structural beams) by multiplying the density of steel (around 8g/cm3) by the volume of steel in the wall (1.6mm x 2.89m x 12.2m) x (~150% to account for the added material in the corrugation profile). This is approximately 680kg or 1500lbs.

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