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Shipping Container Dimensions

Posted By: January 23, 2015 In Guides

Want to build your own shipping container home? Start Here.

The world of containers can be surprisingly daunting at times; I mean just considering shipping container dimensions we are met with such a variety of containers: 20ft, 40ft, high cube, refrigerated, open-top, platform, tank … you get the idea! So today we’ve decided to simplify this and document the most common shipping containers and their dimensions so you can make a decision about which type and size of containers you will use to build your home with.

By far the two most popular containers you will come across are the regular 20 foot shipping container and the regular 40 foot shipping container; the majority of this article will focus on these two containers.

20 Foot Shipping Container Dimensions

The standard 20ft shipping container is a popular pick for many people who decide to build a home out of shipping containers. They are 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:

  • External
    • Length: 20′ 0″ | 6.06m
    • Width: 8′ 0″ | 2.44m
    • Height: 8′ 6″ | 2.60m
  • Internal
    • Length: 19′ 2″ | 5.84m
    • Width: 7′ 8″ | 2.35m
    • Height: 7′ 9 ″ | 2.39m
    • Floor Area: 144 Square Foot | 13.3 Square Meters
    • Volume: 1,169ft³ | 33.1m³
  • Door Opening Width: 7′ 8″ | 2.34m
  • Door Opening Height: 7′ 5″ | 2.28m
  • Weight: 4,840lb | 2,200kg

Advantages and Disadvantages of 20ft Containers

The 20ft containers have a distinct advantage over the 40ft containers and that is that they are significantly easier to transport and maneuver. If you’re thinking of building a container home in a remote, difficult to access location, then the 20ft container is probably the best bet for you! They are also cheaper than the 40ft containers to the tune of several thousand dollars per container; so if you are on a limited budget then it’s likely that the 20ft containers will be better for you (they are also cheaper to transport)!

However, the 20ft containers don’t come without their disadvantages. Firstly, each container offers a floor space of around 144 square foot so if you need a larger room your only option would be to combine two containers together which would require additional time, organization, and expense.  Secondly, although individually they are cheaper than 40ft containers, their price per square foot is actually more expensive. So if you are considering building a considerable sized container home, and your plot of land has good access, the 40ft containers will be better for you.

40 Foot Shipping Container Dimensions

The most common shipping container is the 40ft container and the majority of large shipping container homes have utilized these containers. They offer exceptional value for money and considerable internal space. We have detailed the dimensions of the container below for your reference.

  • External
    • Length: 40′ 0″ | 12.2m
    • Width: 8′ 0″ | 2.44m
    • Height: 8′ 6″ | 2.60m
  • Internal
    • Length: 39′ 5″ | 12.03m
    • Width: 7′ 8″ | 2.35m
    • Height: 7′ 9 ″ | 2.39m
    • Floor Area: 300 Square Foot | 28 Square Meters
    • Volume: 2,385ft³ | 67.5m³
  • Door Opening Width: 7′ 8″ | 2.34m
  • Door Opening Height: 7′ 5″ | 2.28m
  • Weight: 8,360lb | 3,800kg

Advantages and Disadvantages of 40ft Containers

Owing to the 40ft containers size, it offers a fantastic internal space of over 300 square foot. 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 40ft containers. Another advantage you have when using the 40ft containers is that they represent greater value for money overall when compared to a 20ft container. Because they are considerably longer you have the option to divide the container up into multiple rooms which you couldn’t do with the smaller 20ft containers. “Heavy Tested” containers can hold over 30,000kg so you shouldn’t have to worry about what ornaments you place inside it!

Finally, because they are larger you typically need fewer of them so delivering and laying them in place is quicker.

However, 40ft containers are more expensive to transport, and delivering these to remote locations and be challenging. In addition they are also difficult to manoeuvre so make sure you know exactly where you want them placing on your land before they get delivered.

So there you have it, you should have a good understanding now of the dimensions of both the regular 20ft and the regular 40ft container. However as mentioned earlier these aren’t the only type of container that are available to purchase.

Other Shipping Containers

High Cube Containers

If you are looking for slightly more height for your home then a great option is what’s known as a ‘high cube container’. High cube containers have the same width and length dimensions as the regular containers listed above, except they are an extra foot (0.3m) taller. This extra height will allow you to place all your electrical cabling, water pipes etc, into your ceiling and still maintain a roof height of eight foot. However high cube containers aren’t as common as the regular containers so you tend to pay a higher price-tag for them.

20ft High Cube Container Dimensions:

  • Internal
    • Length: 19′ 2″ | 5.84m
    • Width: 7′ 8″ | 2.35m
    • Height: 8′ 8″ | 2.64m
  • Door Opening Width: 7′ 8″ | 2.34m
  • Door Opening Height: 8′ 4″ | 2.54m

40ft High Cube Container Dimensions:

  • Internal
    • Length: 39′ 5″ | 12.03m
    • Width: 7′ 8″ | 2.35m
    • Height: 8′ 8″ | 2.64m
  • Door Opening Width: 7′ 8″ | 2.34m
  • Door Opening Height: 8′ 4″ | 2.54m

Open Top Containers

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 regular 20ft or 40ft size and also 20ft high cube and the 40ft high cube sizes. Open top containers aren’t typically used when building container homes because they need modifying in order to be habitable… they need a roof!

US 45 Foot Containers

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 and spend more money for the extra 5 foot unless it’s an absolute must for you!

Some Concluding Remarks

We hope you are now in the best place possible to think about selecting the container type, or types, that you are going to be using. There are no hard and fast rules when selecting your container, however sometimes your locality means only certain types of containers are available or it means you can access a promotional price which makes the decision for you!

Also remember that manufactures have slightly different tolerance levels, normally +-5mm,  so make sure you contact the supplier to get the exact dimensions. 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.

Finally, we’d love to know which container type you’ve chosen to build with, let us know in the comments below!

Comments
  1. Jazz Queen

    Okay, you ROCK. Thank you very much for the measurement information.

  2. Glen

    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.??
    Thanks
    Glen

    • Tom

      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.

  3. Sharlo

    Hi Tom I have a 40ft high cubic container. I want to use it as extra entertainment space. I’m having a very hard time finding people that have worked on shipping containers. I appreciate all the information you are providing because it helps me do some of the work my self. Do you have info on anyone in Oklahoma city yet? Thanks
    Sharlo

  4. JR Namida

    Is there any public build videos on doing the installation of container exterior weather proofing? Was wondering if tack welding steel 2×4 studs to outside and using that for a framework to apply a closed cell foam would provide a satisfactory method to keep the desert heat from making a container an oven.

    • Tom

      We don’t know of any specific videos off-hand, but there may be some out there. Tack welding metal studs to the exterior of a container would provide a good structural support for the spray foam insulation, but it introduces thermal bridging. You want to reduce any penetrations, and certainly any metal-to-metal contact as much as possible between the inside and outside of the building. Ideas include adhesively fastening the studs, using wooden studs, etc. If you do weld them, keep them spaced as far apart as your exterior sheathing will allow.

  5. Kathleen Seabrooks

    Hi I would like to.build courtyard container home with eight 40 ft high cube container two right behind each other for more width. With floor ceiling glass windows NB and doors that open out to courtyard from eve room. Will the windows compromise the strength of the structure

    • Tom

      Kathleen, yes anytime you cut out a portion of the steel container, the structural integrity is affected. Whether you need additional support, and how much, is very specific to your design, so we recommend consulting with a structural engineer in your area who can provide further guidance.

  6. Alex

    Do you have to weld units you stack 2 containers on top of each other, or can they be bolted at the ends?

    • Tom

      Welds are generally used as they provide a stronger hold, however they can be bolted if necessary.

      Tom

      • Nik

        Hi Tom, when welding, do they have to be welded both sides, inside and out or welded outside is more than enough. Also how you would weld it underneath?
        Thanks, Nik

        • Tom

          Assuming you’re talking about connecting two containers together, we recommend welding both around the periphery of the cutout section (what you refer to as inside) and also at the corners/edges of the container (what you refer to as outside). You don’t necessarily need a continuous weld bead in both places, but you want enough welded to prevent any movement or flexing between the two pieces. You also want to ensure adequate sealing after welding to prevent moisture intrusion. As far as underneath, you’ll need to lift the containers if they are not already elevated on piles. If you choose to lift them with a jack, forklift, or other method, ENSURE you use solid pieces of material as ‘jack stands’ to hold the containers in case the jacks fail while you are underneath!

  7. Kaylie

    I’m trying to plan out a house made of shipping containers and I have a quick question:
    Are there any smaller containers out there or is there a way to cut one and reinforce one? What is the best option?

    • Tom

      Hi Kaylie,

      The smallest mainstream containers are the 20 foot ones. Anything smaller than that you’d have to cut one 🙂

      Tom

  8. Patrick

    I think I read that you can get containers with one side removed, is that correct? If so, wouldn’t that be the best purchase for joining two containers together rather than cutting?

    • Tom

      Hi Patrick,

      Yes that is correct- they are known as side doors.

      It depends on the price- in my experience they are much more expensive and it’s cheaper to do the work yourself…

      Tom

  9. Mas

    Hi Tom,
    Im doing a project by using 20′ containers and stacking them into 7x5x3 ((LxWxH), removing almost of the side panels to create a large space for 3 storey motorcycle parking building. Have you seen the similar treatment to these containers like that by stacking them horizontal & vertically that lot, and no reinforcement structure added. is that possible? how do you think? you could imagine the center containers would had no both side, front and rear panels.
    Thanks ^^

    • Tom

      Hi Mas,

      I haven’t seen an exact layout like this before, but it can certainly be done. However, I don’t think it is possible without reinforcing if you’re going to remove all the side panels.

      Send me an email with any diagrams you have and we can go through it,

      Tom

  10. Steve

    Can I take an open top 20′ and place it upside down on an open top 40′? This would give me 20′ double height and 20′ regular open top (no roof). If welded together, would it be structurally sound? As long a mfg is same, width should be same, will doors still open if upside down?

    • TexasGeek

      That’s an interesting concept. I’d like to see what you learn. I have been speaking with a container broker about also using open frame boxes to extend or elevate containers and tank containers for water reclaimation and storage. Question is how do you find ones that were used for food grade transport and not toxics. Still these are pretty rare and costly, stay in service longer. I wanted to recycle all grey water to irrigation use.

  11. Sean

    You don’t mention 53′ containers, why?

    • Tom

      Hi Sean,

      53 foot containers aren’t very common in the US which is why they aren’t covered within this particular article.

      Tom

  12. Wawee

    Hi Tom,

    If I buy a 40ft High Cube Container, cut it in half to make two 20ft High Cube Container, reinforce the cut side with steel bars and stack them 3 storeys high, will the structure strength compromised?

    Thanks

    • Tom

      Hi Wawee,

      Yes, cutting the containers in half will have an impact on the structural integrity.

      I would purchase 20ft containers and save the time and effort- you will also find this will be the cheaper approach!

      Tom

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