Should You Build With New or Used Shipping Containers?

Posted By: June 9, 2015 In Guides

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

One of the most popular questions we receive here at Container Home Plans is: ‘should I purchase new or used shipping containers to build my home with?’.

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 and thought out.

The most common container type for a home is a regular or high cube container.

However there are also 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 regular 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 regular 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 space 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 at either 20 foot or 40 foot long. We wrote an article on shipping container dimensions to detail the various sizes them come in.

Regular Containers

Regular shipping containers are either 20 or 40 foot long.

Shipping Container Docks

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

The good thing about this is, you can find a used container anywhere and because of how popular they are, it is cheaper than other specialized containers.

Also, getting a regular container shipped 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.

So now 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. First up, new containers.

Advantages of a New Shipping Container

A brand new shipping container will range from $2,500-$5,000, depending on where you buy it from and the size/style.

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

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 fitting 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 container you sometimes have to take what you’re given. It’s sometimes difficult to find used high cube containers.

Finally, new shipping containers will come with a guarantee- this is normally at least 10 years. This means if something goes wrong with your new containers (i.e. paint corrosion), you will be covered by the manufacturer.

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

Disadvantages of a New Shipping Container

As mentioned earlier, a new shipping container ranges from $2,500-$5,000 making it up to three times more expensive than a used shipping container. This money isn’t recoverable and this is the cost of knowing what your containers have been previously used for…

Another big disadvantage is new shipping container’s take a long time to get delivered as they are shipping 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 trading cities, it could be possible to have your used shipping container delivered within a few days.

Whereas new containers can take upwards of 3 months to be delivered from China.

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 build your house with.

The shipping container would only be used for your home, rather than being reused after it had been used to transport freight around the world.

Advantages of a Used Shipping Container

Used shipping containers can be bought for anywhere from $800-$2,000 depending on location and size. You can find indicative costs for containers here.

This will mean you can build your home far cheaper, however as we will discuss later, there are drawbacks to used containers.

The second advantage of used containers is they are very easy to find and buy.

At any point in time around 6 million of these containers are travelling across the ocean- leaving between 14 and 19 million at a port or unused.

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.

The biggest advantage of used containers however 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. With taking it to your place and reconstructing it into your home you are helping 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 a Used Shipping Container

Unfortunate used shipping containers aren’t a panacea.

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 encouraged to 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 lottery when buying used containers. However, if you follow throughly inspect the containers beforehand and sandblast them once you’ve received them they should be good to build with.

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