While the standard 40-foot container is what most people are familiar with, there is quite a wide variety of container types and sizes available. Longer, shorter, and taller options exist, not to mention less common choices like refrigerated, open-top, platform, and tank containers.
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. Once you’ve seen the thoughtful design given to containers, you start to have a further appreciation for what they can do in their “second life” as part of your house.
With all that in mind, let’s explore the assortment of shipping container types, their dimensions, and their availability.
The standard 20-foot shipping container is popular because they are most common, easier to maneuver, and due their size can be easily combined and modified to create exceptional living spaces.
We can see the size of this shipping container below:
The 20-foot containers have one distinct advantage over the 40-foot containers. They are significantly easier to transport and maneuver. If you’re thinking of constructing a container home in a remote, difficult to access location, then the 20-foot container is probably the best bet for you! They are also less expensive than the 40-foot containers. If you are on a limited budget, the 20-foot containers will be a better choice.
However, the 20-foot containers do have some disadvantages. First, each container offers a floor space of around 144 square feet. If you need a larger space your only option would be to combine two containers together. This is doable but will require additional time, organization, and expense. Second, although individually they are cheaper than 40-foot containers, their price per square foot is actually more expensive. If you are considering constructing a large building or home, and your land has suitable access, the 40-foot containers are a better value.
The other common shipping container is the 40-foot container. The majority of large shipping container homes have utilized these containers. They offer exceptional value for money and considerable interior space. We have detailed the dimensions of the container below for your reference.
Due to the 40-foot container’s size, there is more than 300 square feet of usable space in the interior. We’ve previously shown in How Much Do Shipping Container Homes Cost, examples of homes which have been made from using only one of these 40-foot containers. Another advantage you have when using the 40-foot containers is that they represent greater value for money overall when compared to a 20-foot container. Because they are considerably longer you have the option to divide the container up into multiple rooms which you cannot do with the smaller 20-foot containers. “Heavy Tested” containers can hold over 60,000 pounds, so you shouldn’t have to worry about anything you place inside it! Of course, because they are larger you typically need fewer of them, delivering and laying them in place is quicker.
However, 40-foot containers are more expensive to transport and delivering these to remote locations can be challenging. They are also difficult to maneuver, so make sure you know exactly where you want them placed on your land before they are delivered.
If you are looking for slightly more height for your home, then a great option is a high cube container. High cube containers have the same width and length dimensions as the standard containers listed above, except they are an extra foot taller. This extra height will allow you to place all your electrical wiring, water pipes, etc., near the ceiling and still maintain a ceiling height of eight feet. However, high cube containers aren’t as common as standard containers so they tend to be more expensive.
20-foot High Cube Container Dimensions:
40ft High Cube Container Dimensions:
Open top containers are pretty self-explanatory. They are essentially the exact same as the containers mentioned above except, they don’t have a roof on them. You can get open top containers in both the standard 20-foot or 40-foot size and also 20-foot high cube and the 40-foot high cube container sizes. Open top containers aren’t typically used when building container homes because they obviously need a roof added. However, if you’re planning to give your container home a loft and thus need to add a higher roof than even a high-cube container will allow, an open top container could be a great option if you can find one.
The last variant of shipping containers we are going to discuss today is the 45-foot container, which is mostly used in the US. The 45-foot container shares the same dimensions as the 40-foot containers with regards to its width and height however it’s an additional five feet longer. We’d normally say if you aren’t desperate for the room, then don’t go out of your way to look for these. You will spend significantly more money for the extra five feet of space.
We hope you are now in the best place possible to think about selecting the container type that you will use for your container home project. One of the biggest points to understand is that your location has a large effect on the availability of different types and sizes on containers. We recommend seeing how easily the less common sizes can be sourced in your area before you spend too much time developing a design that’s not feasible because you’d have to pay exorbitant fees to have uncommon containers brought in for your project.
Remember that manufacturers have slightly different tolerance levels, normally +/-5 mm, so make sure you contact the supplier to get the exact dimensions. Uses the dimensions listed above as a general rule. All shipping containers should be made in compliance with ISO 668:2013 – Series 1 freight containers — Classification, dimensions and ratings, so take a look at the standards if you need classification information.
We’d love to know which container type you’ve chosen to use. Let us know in the comments area below.
Whether you build or buy your dream shipping container home, you owe it to yourself to be an educated consumer. Get equipped with the knowledge of how container homes should be built by checking out our floorplans and eBook for sale!