Complete Guide to Buying Shipping Containers Blog Cover

Complete Guide to Buying Shipping Containers

Posted By: December 8, 2016 In How To

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

When it comes to building your own shipping container home, one of the most important aspects is purchasing a shipping container in good condition.

Unfortunately some people think that shipping containers are “bullet proof” and any container will do.

This is a myth.

Purchasing a rusty or worn container could ruin your shipping container home build before you even get going.

In this article we cover what types of shipping containers you should use to build with. How to inspect used shipping containers to make sure you don’t buy a dud.

And finally, how much you should pay for a shipping container.

What Makes a ‘Good’ Container?

Before we get into how to inspect and purchase containers, let’s first look at the importance of purchasing the right shipping container.

This step all relies on properly planning your shipping container home.

Once you’ve planned your home you know exactly which types of containers you need to purchase- e.g. high cube or standard, 20ft or 40ft.

However, getting the right shipping container doesn’t just mean buying the right shape and size.

It also means purchasing a container that’s suitable to build with.

We will cover how to identify which containers are suitable to build with in the inspection checklist later on in this article.

However, this section’s purpose is to stress the importance of getting the right container.

You might be tempted to save a few dollars and buy cheaper containers- but this is the worst place to save money when building.

You could end up with a structurally weak container with heavy rusting.

This could make your repair bill on the containers extortionate.

Different Types of Shipping Containers

Whilst there are more than 11 types of shipping containers, when it comes to shipping container homes there are 2 main types used; the standard container and the high cube container.

I will only briefly cover the differences here.

If you’re looking for an in-depth comparison then read, should I build with standard or high cube containers.

Standard Containers

The most popular shipping container used to build homes is the standard 40ft shipping container.

By standard containers I’m referring to the traditional 8 foot tall containers.

They are generally 20ft, 40ft or 53ft length and always 8ft tall and 8ft wide.

One of the big advantages of using this type of container is that they are very common and easy to buy. Also, because they are so common they tend to be cheap and offer good value for money.

High Cube Containers

The high cube container is my personal preference.

They come in the same dimensions as the standard containers. Expect they are a foot taller.

This additional foot in ceiling space makes a huge difference.

It means you can insulate your floor and ceiling and still have the same headroom as an un-insulated standard container.

The problem with a standard container is that after you’ve insulated the floor and ceiling you don’t have much height left- high cubes eliminate this problem.

Shipping Container Dimensions

How Much Do Shipping Containers Cost?

The price of a shipping container can very hugely depending on the age, type and condition.

But to give you an idea I’ve included some ballpark figures below.

  • 20′ Shipping Container (Used: $2,100 | New: $3,000)
  • 20′ High Cube Shipping Container (Used: $2,200 | New: $3,200)
  • 40′ Shipping Container (Used: $2,850 | New: $5,600)
  • 40′ High Cube Shipping Container (Used: $2,950 | New: $5,800)

Where to Buy Shipping Containers From?

Typically, companies don’t sell shipping containers internationally because they are too expensive to deliver.

So to get the cheapest priced containers you are best to purchase your containers locally.

This way you reduce the transportation costs which can be very expensive.

My recommendation would be to find a local shipping container dealer and actually see the container in person before you buy it.

I’ve heard of too many horror stories about buying shipping containers unseen online.

Your local port should keep a list of approved dealers so you should start there.

Failing this, you can always try using eBay, craigslist or Gumtree.

If you’re purchasing from places like eBay be very careful. You should make sure you know what you’re looking at as they won’t provide you with a warranty.

Read here for more help on where to buy shipping containers from.

How to Inspect a Shipping Container

Welcome to the most important section in the article!

Before we go any further let me say, the following advice is for purchasing a used shipping container. If you’re container is new then you won’t need to inspect it as thoroughly.

This is one of the most important parts of building your shipping container home.

If you end up buying a worn-out container your build is in trouble before it begins.

When I first inspect a shipping container I walk around the perimeter of it looking down each side of the container to make sure they are straight.Rusty Shipping Containers

When walking around the outside of the container also keep an eye out for dints and rust.

On a used container you should expect some small dents and the occasional patch of light rust. Larger dents aren’t too much of a problem. But large sections of rust and corrosion are a red alert!

Check the rust and if the metal is flaking and weakened then don’t buy the container.

The last exterior check to make is the roof. Get a pair of ladders and check the roof for any signs of rust or leaks. Again any light rust is ok but any significant rust with flaking and the container should be avoided.

Once the external inspection is complete you should turn your attention to the inside of the container.

You want to make sure that the container doors are closed for a while before you inspect the inside of the container.

As soon as you open the doors and walk into the container do a smell test.

You should smell for mold and any toxic chemicals. If the container smells of mold it’s likely that there is a leak.

Next, make sure the container is watertight.

The best way to do this is to close the containers door whilst still inside- then look for any daylight entering the container.

After this check, get a torch out and take a good look around. Pay special attention to the wooden flooring and make sure there aren’t any holes in it.

Finally, check the container’s identification code is intact.

Cost to Transport a Shipping Container

If you’ve read this far, chances are you’ve inspected and purchased your shipping container.

All you need to do now is to arrange for the containers to be transported.

Obviously there will be huge differences here to the price depending on if you’ve purchased your containers locally or internationally.

If you’re purchased the containers locally then you should expect to pay around $400 for a 20ft and $800 for 40ft containers.

These prices include the unloading fee and allow for a total journey distance of 300 miles.

This means a price of around $1.33 per mile to transport a 20ft container, and $2.60 per mile to transport a 40ft container.

Transporting Shipping Containers

If you’ve purchased the containers internationally then you are going to have an expensive transportation fee.

Depending on the distance it can be anywhere from $1900+. I received a quote to transport a 40ft container from China to Miami for $5500.

If you want to reduce the cost to ship a container long distance, you can allow the haulage company to transport goods inside your container.

It’s important to remember here that before your containers arrive you need to make sure your foundations have been laid.

This will mean that when your containers are delivered they can be placed directly on the foundation pads.

Otherwise you will need to pay for the containers to be moved again once your foundation has set.


After reading this article you should now feel comfortable when you go to buy your shipping containers.

Making sure you purchase the correct shipping container will help to get your container home build off to a good start.

Get this stage wrong and you will have large repair bills before you even complete your build.

If at all possible purchase your shipping containers locally from a reputable dealer who offers you a warranty.

Finally, even if the dealer is reputable make sure to complete a thorough inspection using the process outlined above. Each shipping container you buy should be thoroughly inspected.

After agreeing a price, make sure to take a note of the container’s identification code. Then when your containers are delivered make sure the codes match.

  1. Randy Burgoyne

    I am a Builder, I had never looked in to container homes, I would like to learn more

    • Tom

      Keep reading the other great articles on our site, and consider purchasing our DIY eBook as well, which has even more information on the process of converting an empty container into a livable space.