How To Purchase Your Shipping Containers

Posted By: February 20, 2015 In How To

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

So you want to build a shipping container home but are uncertain which containers you need and also where and how to buy them? Today we are going to take a look through the entire process starting at identifying the containers you will need, then looking at how to inspect the containers before finally looking at where you can buy them from and how much you should expect to pay for them.

Types of Containers

There are a variety of choices here, the most popular of which are the standard 20 or 40 foot container, or the High Cube 20 or 40 foot container. Please see the dimensions of each in the table below.

Shipping Container Dimensions

*Please note each manufacture has slightly different tolerance levels, normally +-5mm, so make sure you contact the supplier to get the exact dimensions.

You choice will be made on both the availability of the containers in your local area, and also the plans which you’ve drawn up. If you have the budget and can source them, High Cube containers make a better choice because you get an extra foot in height inside the container which makes a big difference.

Purchase New, One Trip or Used Containers?

New and ‘one-trip’ containers are essentially the same thing; one trip containers are used to ship a single cargo load and once they have arrived at their destination they are sold

Clearly the decision of whether to buy new or used containers will most likely come down to your budget, however there are a few points to take into consideration.

New or one trip containers will be in much better condition than used containers so this will make it easier to build with them; they will also have a longer expected lifespan than used containers. In addition the risk of unknown chemical contamination is greatly reduced (most used containers are treated with hazardous chemicals such as pesticides and lead-based paint).

However, you pay the price for this as discussed later on in the blog post under ‘How Much Should I Expect To Pay?’.

Used containers do offer the advantage of being cheaper than new containers and you can get your hands on them much quicker. However be prepared to expect a few dints and potentially some light rusting.

Inspecting Used Shipping Containers

If you decide to purchase new or one trip containers generally you won’t need to inspect the containers too closely if. However if you purchase used containers there are several key things to look out for:

  • Make sure it is watertight and doesn’t have any leaks (if you can see daylight coming through the container roof- don’t buy it).
  • Although you should expect typical wear and tear with the wooden flooring make sure it is still intact and doesn’t contain any holes.
  • Check the doors open freely and the locking bars work.
  • Expect some dents and very light rust, however if the container has a large amount of corrosion to the extent where the metal is weakened or worse yet, you can see through it- don’t buy it.
  • Use your nose and check the container doesn’t smell of mold (which would indicate leaks) or harsh toxic chemicals such as pesticides.
  • Make sure you get up on the roof of the container and check it for any signs of leaks or corrosion.

Finally, check the container’s identification code is intact. The identification code is broken down into 11 digits as shown below.

Shipping Container Identification Code

Owner Code: Is made up of three letters and identifies the owner. In this case ‘TGH’ belongs to the American company Textainer.

Product Group Code: Is made up of one capital letter U, J or Z.

  • U = Shipping Container.
  • J = Equipment that can be attached to a container such as a power unit.
  • Z = Trailer used to carry a container.

Serial Number: A 6 Digit number assigned by the owner.

Check Digit: is a single digital number, it’s used to cross-verify if the identification sequence is accurate.

Where to Buy Your Shipping Container?

The simplest way to purchase a shipping container is to find a reputable local dealer. Green Cube Network has a fantastic search tool to find local dealers; take a look at their tool over at:

Alternatively you can use google. Just search for ‘shipping container dealer’ and your location. For instance: Shipping Container Dealer Texas. Or another term which works quite well is ‘buy shipping container in’ and your location. For instance: buy shipping container in Queensland.

If you are still struggling to find a container try using eBay, Gumtree or Alibaba.

Note- when purchasing your containers try to purchase them all from the same manufacturer. Manufacturers have slight variations which could make working with different brand containers difficult.

For more information, look out Where Can I Buy Shipping Containers From?

How Much Should I Expect To Pay?

Clearly this will vary depending on the containers you’ve decided to buy, however we have put some estimates below to give you a rough idea.

  • Used Standard 20 Foot Container: US$2,100 | AUD$2,700 | GBP£1,350
  • New Standard 20 Foot Container: US$3,000 | AUD$3,900 | GBP£1,950
  • Used Standard 40 Foot Container: US$2,850 | AUD$3,650 | GBP£1,850
  • New Standard 40 Foot Container: US$5,600 | AUD$7,200 | GBP£3,650
  • Used High Cube 20 Foot Container: US$2,200 | AUD$2,850 | GBP£1,450
  • New High Cube 20 Foot Container: US$3,200 | AUD$4,150 | GBP£2,100
  • Used High Cube 40 Foot Container: US$2,950 | AUD$3,800 | GBP£1,925
  • New High Cube 40 Foot Container: US$5,800 | AUD$7,500 | GBP£3,795

So now you know how to inspect shipping containers to make sure they are adequate to build with and where to buy them form. You also how much you should expect to pay for the container type you’ve selected. Make sure you let us know which containers you’ve decided to buy in the comments below!

  1. Kellie

    Hi Tom,
    I am an interior design student at the Art Institute of Portland (OR). For my senior thesis I have chosen to design a small container home focusing on sustainability. I’ve learned a lot from your blog and various articles on you website. Besides more insulation in the walls, floor and ceiling what do you recommend to decrease the carbon footprint of a container home?

    • Tom

      Well there are two parts to that, the first is what you’ve suggested already: reducing ongoing energy consumption. Insulation is key regardless of where you are. Depending on geography, reducing thermal radiation absorption via coatings or shade can be very important. Picking energy efficient appliances, lights, etc. And reducing the mount of glazing (glass), although this hurts livability. The other part is in choosing materials that have less total carbon associated with their sourcing, manufacturing, and shipping to your location.

  2. Susan Boyer

    I’ve been reading your blogs and am really enjoying them. I all ready have plans and a building permit to build a house out of shipping containers, but I can’t find a contractor with experience. My architect was supposed to help me (actually I thought I was getting a prefab), but he has not performed as expected. Do you know of any contractors in the San Fransisco Bay Area with experience with shipping containers? There is one famous house in Berkeley, but the contractor for that job has retired.


  3. Linda M

    What is the difference between high cube and standard 40 ” containers with respect to using for a home? There is a substantial difference in pricing

    • Tom

      Hi Linda,

      The high cube containers are an additional foot taller 🙂


  4. Carla Gillson

    I have 72 ACRES and want to put a new container home on my acreage, but cannot locate any in Minnesota….have any recommendations?

    • Tom

      Hi Carla,

      Send us an email and we can help you out with this!


  5. Hellen


    I live in Rwanda I would like to know if there are container dealers

    And am interested in owning a shipping container house, I have liked them from your page.

    Thank you

    • Tom

      Hi Hellen,

      I would recommend you call you nearest port and they should keep a list of dealers in the local area.


  6. Nathaniel Magruder

    I have purchased 5 acres of land and I am trying to find a way to make payments on containers. Do you happen to know of places that allow you to purchase containers by making payments?

    Thank you,


    • Tom

      Hi Nathaniel,

      I would start by contacting your local container dealers and enquire directly to them.

      Let me know how you get on,


    • Clark

      Nathaniel, I have found that some banks are willing to let you take out a signature loan for the money to buy the containers. This is relatively high interest-rate, but it works. As an alternative, get a loan using the land as collateral, which would lower the interest rate. Hope this helps.

  7. Nancy Beck

    Finding property that does not require traditional ‘Stick built’ or manufactured homes has been a challenge. We have been searching Arizona for rural, if not remote land in an elevated area. (3000′ – 5500′ elevation) No utilities necessary as we are looking to live ‘off grid’.

    • Tom

      Sounds exciting!

      Have you managed to find any land yet Nancy?