Should You Build With New or Used Shipping Containers?



We often receive emails asking whether to purchase new or used shipping containers. Deciding whether to build with new or used containers doesn’t need to be a difficult decision, because we’ve put together the perfect guide to help you.

Types of Shipping Containers

Before you decide whether to buy new or used, you need to decide on the type of containers you are going to buy. Choosing the correct shipping container for your home is something that should be well researched.

The most commonly used shipping containers for homes and offices are either standard or high cube containers.

However, there are other types of shipping containers such as: car carrier, dry storage, flat rack, insulated, open top, open side, and tunnel containers available.

I’ve seen some homes built using insulated containers, however the majority are built using standard or high cube containers. In fact, during our interview with 23 shipping container homeowners, the biggest thing they recommended was building with high cube containers.

As a side note, if you are thinking of building your container home with a swimming pool, open top containers make the perfect pool!

High Cube Containers

The difference between a high cube container and a standard container is the height and cost of them. High cube containers are a foot taller which allows more volume, space, and a higher ceiling for your home. This appeals to a lot of people who like high ceilings, want stairs, chandeliers, or extra lighting like ceiling windows or a sunroof.

The extra space involved in a high cube container is normally a plus for your home, but remember it also means more work for you to construct and insulate the containers.

They can be purchased either 20-feet long or 40-feet long. We wrote an article on shipping container dimensions to detail the various sizes them come in.

Standard Containers

Standard shipping containers are also either 20 or 40 feet long, but only 8 feet 6 inches tall.

Shipping Container Docks

They are the most commonly used containers by freight companies because most freight forwarders, cargo ships, and semi’s can handle the size of these containers.

The good thing about this is, you can find a used container easily. Because of how popular they are, these are cheaper than other specialized containers.

Shipping a standard container to your construction site or home location is cheaper than the charge for transporting a high cube container. However, with that benefit, the down side is standard containers are only about 1,700 cubic feet whereas the high cube container is over 2,500 cubic feet.

Once you have decided on which style you are going to use, let’s talk about the advantages and disadvantages of using new or used containers.

Advantages of New Shipping Containers

A brand new shipping container will cost upwards from $2,500, depending on where you buy it from and the size and style chosen.

The massive advantage of a new shipping container is the peace of mind you’ll have when you sleep in your container home. Knowing that it has never been sprayed or treated with harsh chemicals to protect it from the seawater and that it wasn’t used to carry toxic goods provides peace of mind.

A new shipping container also gives you the choice of how it is made and the size of the container. You can also customize the inside of your container such as installing a custom wooden floor the way you want it. This saves you time modifying the container when you receive it.

Laying Wooden Floor in Shipping Container

Image From Larry Wade

The often unspoken benefit of buying new containers is their availability. Because you’re buying them brand new, you can order exactly what you want. If you are buying used containers you sometimes have to take what you’re given. It’s sometimes difficult to find used high cube containers.

Finally, new shipping containers will typically come with a guarantee of at least 10 years. If something goes wrong with your new containers (i.e. paint corrosion), it will be covered by the manufacturer.

We talk about this more in how long will my container home last?

Disadvantages of New Shipping Containers

New shipping containers can cost up to three times more than a used shipping container. Although this money isn’t recoverable, it is the cost of knowing that your containers have never been used.

Another disadvantage is that it can take up to three months to get a new shipping container delivered from China. A used container can be bought the day you are looking for it and be shipped to you within a week of purchasing it. For people living in port cities, it could be possible to have your used shipping container delivered within a few days.

Finally, and possibly the biggest disadvantage is they are not Eco friendly. You are not recycling or reusing the container. You are making a shipping container just to use to construct your building.

Advantages of Used Shipping Containers

Used shipping containers can be bought from $1,000 on up, depending on location and size. You can find indicative costs for containers here.

Constructing with used containers reduces your costs, but there are drawbacks to used containers.

The second advantage of used containers is they are very easy to find and buy. There are millions of used containers traveling across the ocean at any time.

Arial Shipping Containers

If you were to go to eBay or Craigslist you would find a shipping container ready to be shipped to you today. Because there are so many used shipping containers, finding one to your preference and near you is easy and gives you the perk of being able to start constructing your home sooner than if you were to buy a new one.

Read our guide on how to purchase used containers for more information.

One of the biggest advantages of used containers is that they are an Eco-friendly choice. You are removing an item that would otherwise be left to take up space and spread toxins into the environment. Taking it to your place and reconstructing it into your home or office allows you to help the atmosphere and surrounding environment. Many governments give tax breaks or credits when a home is green, giving you another incentive to build with a used shipping container rather than a new one.

Disadvantages of Used Shipping Containers

Unfortunately used shipping containers are not always the correct answer.

An older shipping container may be rusted, have a damaged door, or be in a bad condition due to pesticides, chemicals, and certain paint used for it to survive the oceans.

To avoid this, make sure you see purchase shipping containers in person. Whenever that is not possible (i.e. you are buying them online), it is recommended that you ask for a video or zoomed in pictures so you can see what you are buying and know how much work you will have.

The other disadvantage of used containers is that you don’t know what they have been used to transport. There are no international regulations requiring freight companies and cargo ships to report exactly what is put into each container or record exactly what happens throughout its journey.

The lack of history involved in buying a used shipping container sometimes makes it a gamble. However, if you thoroughly inspect the containers beforehand and sandblast them once you’ve received them, they should be satisfactory to use for construction of your building.

You should now hopefully know whether you are going to buy either new or used shipping containers. The next step in your journey is laying your containers on foundations.

Let us know your thoughts about building with new and used containers in the comments below

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