Whether you use it as a place to park your cars or work on projects, a shipping container garage is an innovative application for storage containers. Yes, container homes are great, but why stop there?
Building a shipping container garage can be fast, cheap, and relatively simple. It’s a great way to get a dry, secure automobile storage area and workplace. But they do come along with some of the common shortcomings that face many types of container buildings.
Container garages can be small and built out of a single container, but increasingly, they utilized multiple containers for a larger interior space. We’ll cover all of the options in a minute, but first, we’ll start by discussing some of the benefits and drawbacks of using a shipping container for a garage.
Like all construction projects that are based on shipping containers, the concept of building a garage from containers has qualities that are both good and bad.
Given that the simplest container garage is literally just an empty shipping container, you could have a container garage operating within minutes of delivery. For the vast majority of people who will have a garage made from several containers, construction speed can still be quite rapid. Cutting out a few walls and joining several containers is something that could likely be done in a weekend – even quicker if you have your cut-outs done offsite by your container vendor.
In general, building with containers should at least be price neutral and will probably end up saving you money. It’s a bit hard to compare costs with other types of construction unless you get specific. As an example, a 24ft by 20ft garage made from three 20ft used containers could conceivably cost a DIYer $6000 for the containers and another $1500 for a garage door, concrete for piers, and joining metal. A similar size steel building kit would run around $5500 for the kit, plus $2000 for a concrete slab foundation. In this case, both options are about equal in cost, but a container garage could quickly provide savings depending on the requirements of your climate for building structure and footings. There is arguably less labor involved in the container option as well.
One of the defining benefits of shipping containers is their portability. Depending on if/how you join multiple containers together, you can relatively easily separate them and move to another location down the road or across the county. Disassembling and then reassembling almost any other type of construction is difficult and labor-intensive, meaning cost-prohibitive. If you think there is any possibility that you may need to relocate your garage in the future, containers deserve a careful consideration.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more durable building for anywhere near the same price as a container. For instance, most garage steel building kits use 26 gauge sheet metal that’s about 0.0179 inches thick, while container walls are typically 0.0629 inches thick. That’s metal that is about 3.5x as thick! When you think about hail, falling trees, or the errant baseball, a container is much less likely to dent. And as long as it is anchored to the foundation, it isn’t going anywhere either! Other than a bit of maintenance for surface rust that may pop up, a container garage should last a long time and give you years of service.
Shipping containers at best have an interior ceiling height of 8 ft 10 in, and that’s if you use a high-cube container. If you want a high-bay warehouse, a container probably isn’t the best starting point. It’s going to be fine for parking vehicles, storing household goods, and household workshop duties. But you’ll struggle to get excessively tall items inside.
The width inside most shipping containers (neglecting the less common pallet-wide and 48/53 ft varieties) is 7 ft 8 in. For comparison, the width of a 2020 Toyota Camry is 72.4 inches (6 ft 0.4 in). If you pulled the car in straight, you’d have about 10 inches on either side of the car to get out: a bit of a squeeze! In short, while a car can fit in a single shipping container, it would only be appropriate for long-term storage, not everyday use as a garage. Therefore, you almost have to explore joining multiple containers in order to get an adequate width to park a car. With that said, if you’re parking motorcycle, bicycles, or golf carts it might just be perfect without modification.
If you have ever opened up a container’s doors, you’ve felt how heavy they are. Each one weighs hundreds of pounds! While that does make them quite durable as we discussed above, it also has some downsides. First, it’s just inconvenient to operate a door that heavy every day, especially if you’re trying to carry in groceries for example. Second, the heft of the doors gives them a bit of momentum once they start moving, and they can easily injure you or your child if you aren’t careful. Additionally, open and closing both sets of container doors requires operating four manual latches. This is something that takes quite a bit longer than an overhead door and can’t easily be automated with an opener. For these and other reasons, we recommend adding a regular garage door to the long side of your container garage.
The umbrella term of container garage is actually a bit of a catch-all. What we’re talking about in this article just as easily applies to similar structures. To give you an idea, we’ve listed a few below.
A barn can be used to store feed, supplies, and even livestock at your small farm or ranchette. For instance, by cutting a few openings in the side, you could make a container barn complete with horse stalls. And stacking one container on top of another would make for a great hayloft.
If you are looking to clear out your actual garage and need a new place to store your lawn equipment, pool toys, Christmas lights, and everything else, a shipping container shed can be a good choice. It can be locked up securely and won’t rot or leak like wood sheds are prone to do.
Given that you’re reading a website about potentially building your own home, it’s probably safe to assume you have a few tools and supplies for other DIY projects. Nothing is more satisfying than having a workshop with adequate table space and tool storage so you can quickly get to work building and fixing. A shipping container shop makes perfect sense as a home base for these household projects.
For those who are just looking for overhead cover from the sun and rain, a carport made from containers may be sufficient. Similar to a garage but without the sides, a carport from containers is a cheaper option when security isn’t as much of a concern. You can build one either by having containers themselves elevated and parking underneath or by having a roof attached between two containers and covering the gap between them.
Instead of just talking about container garages, we now want to show you some! Below are a variety of garages, workshops, and other non-living spaces built from containers in a variety of designs and orientations.
This is the most stereotypical container garage design, although a bit larger than usual. Here we have three adjacent 40-foot containers forming a floor area of 40 ft by 24 ft. Two 16 foot wide garage doors are placed in the sidewall of one container, while the others have their internal walls removed.
What you end up with a huge garage that nominally fits four cars. You can effectively cut this design in half by using three 20 ft containers with a single 16-foot door instead. This would make a 20ft by 24ft garage.
This container garage is pretty similar to the one above in concept, with a few key differences. It uses five 40 ft high-cube containers placed side-by-side to create a garage that’s 40ft by 40ft. This is quite a bit deeper than the average garage and should allow you to park two cars in tandem in each of the three bays.
With three 8.5ft wide doors in front, it’s the perfect place to store the owner’s expensive cars. Unlike the previous garage we shared that had the width of four cars, this one only attempts to fit three cars wide. This gives plenty of room to open the doors of multiple cars at once, walk around the cars, etc.
Of particular note is the interior paint job with a horizontal stripe that touches every wall. It helps to tie the five interior spaces together as one larger room and gives the space a bold and bright interior finish. The relatively muted exterior of the container’s preexisting finish gives no hint to what’s inside!
As we hinted at above, the typical way of constructing a container garage is adding the overhead door to one of the container’s long sides. This is because a garage for a car really needs more than eight feet of width, and if you place two containers side by side, the corner structures are in the way.
Nevertheless, this container garage overcame this structural challenge. As you can see in the picture, the vertical members in the corners of two 20 ft containers have been removed in order to open up a much wider entrance.
This modification is rather complex, as it does substantially alter the structure of both containers. To accommodate this change, the two containers have to be rigidly attached at the corners, and ideally, a large beam is added as a door header as well. This modification would need even further analysis if you wanted to stack other containers on top of these.
You can see from the hinges that the overhead garage door was placed at the end of the containers that originally had the swing doors. All those doors have been removed, and additional corrugated sheet metal was added. This new metal slightly shrinks the horizontal size of the opening for the garage door where the swinging doors originally were located.
The end result of this two-container garage is a 16 ft wide by 20 ft deep garage. The added garage door is about 10 ft wide. This combination gives a lot of room to park a single car and maneuver around it without fear of hitting the walls.
This garage is actually less of an example and more of a concept, as we haven’t actually seen someone attempt it. In short, instead of cutting an overhead door into the side of containers, you would use an open-sided container as the front of the garage.
Open-sided containers come from the factory with two sets of bifold doors that can be completely opened to expose the entire long side of the container. By combined one container like this with two conventional 20 ft containers, you have a new solution to entering the garage.
You’d still need to remove the interior walls between the containers as in other container garage designs, but you wouldn’t have to deal with adding the overhead garage door. You also still have the issue of heavy container doors that are more difficult to manually open as we discussed previously.
Probably the biggest downside to this idea is cost. Open-sided containers typically cost somewhere on the order of twice as much as regular containers of the same size. They are both rarer to find and more expensive to produce. This additional cost is likely why we haven’t seen a garage built in this way yet, but for the right person, this could be a good solution.
This is a unique option that has some bleed0ver from one we’ve talked about with creating larger enclosed spaces in container houses. In short, it involves building a roof over the opening between two parallel containers.
What form that roof takes and how big the opening is can vary wildly. Some people design their own by making a wooden-framed roof over the gap at about the height of the containers. Without using trusses or laminated beams it would be difficult to have more than about a 20 ft span.
Another option is using a specialized kit creating specifically for this purpose. One option is a corrugated metal arch like the one above (essentially a Quonset Hut). Another choice is a tensioned fabric awning on top of a metal structure, which is a lighter weight and more temporary solution. Still others use engineered wood or metal trusses with a traditional roof.
There are several different varieties of this option, but the key theme is that the containers are only forming the walls of the garage while an additional roof provides the top cover.
Expanding a bit from the pure auto garage to more of a garage workshop affords us the opportunity to see this great example. A single 40ft container makes up this comprehensive shop with numerous tools and an incredible amount of storage.
Yes, using a single container does make the interior a bit crowded. But if you aren’t planning on rebuilding a car inside, this could be a great size. And on the off chance you do have a larger project to work on, you could just open the doors and work on it outside, then put all your tools and supplies away safely at night in your secure container shop.
The other benefit here is that your tools and supplies are completely self-contained in a single container for easy movement. If you ended up needing to relocate your shop on your property or somewhere thousands of miles away, you could do it!
This example fits somewhere between a workshop and a man-cave. Using a 20 ft container provides enough space to do all the normal preventative maintenance work for a motorcycle and have a place to relax with friends.
The added diamond plate aluminum floor along with the Harley-Davidson interior paint scheme and other branded accessories give this space a cohesive design theme. And the director’s chairs, stereo, and mini-fridge let you know that it’s available for work and play.
Even if you don’t like motorcycles, it’s easy to see how a simple 20 ft storage container shop like this could be a great location to house the hobby or pastime you personally enjoy. And employing a few simple interior design ideas really makes the space unique and fun.
Whether you want to match your existing container house or are just looking for a unique way to get some additional storage, a container garage offers several compelling benefits over traditionally built garages.
This article helped identify many of these benefits along with several downsides as well. In the end, we think container garages can be great for a lot of people given the numerous design options examined above.
It’s also a comparatively simple introduction into container building or cargotecture for those who are interested in a DIY container project but apprehensive about launching into a complete house as their first step. With a straightforward layout yet numerous possible uses, you can get a secure, durable container garage that’s exactly tailored to your needs…and hopefully, save some money while doing so!