Used Shipping Containers

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

used shipping containers in holiday cottage

See above - The second hand shipping container used on this getaway cottage shows obvious signs of wear and tear, yet was still selected for the project as it maintained its structural integrity.


If you’re thinking about sourcing used shipping containers for a building project, you have several ways to buy them, but also a few considerations in terms of the quality and what to look out for.

Before they were discovered as a great modular building material shipping, freight containers spent their life being shipped, trucked, railed from place to place safely moving goods.

As a shipping container they have a work life of roughly 20 years, but as a modular building material their life can be extended indefinitely!

Buying 2nd Hand Shipping Containers

As with buying anything second hand, a used cargo container is not going to be spotless and shiny and you need to expect to find some signs of wear and tear.

Our best advice is to actually inspect, in person if possible, the cargo container that you are wanting to purchase.

If you cannot get to the location to visually inspect the container you are going to buy, you’ll want to see some decent photos which give you an idea of the condition of the container (inside and out), prior to purchasing.

Here's some other potential issues and questions to consider..


  • Age – the age of the container gives you an idea of how much wear and tear it may have experienced. Every container has a unique serial number, known as the ISO number or reporting mark, so that it can be tracked while in transit and to ensure that they meet ISO standards (which are international). This number when tracked, will also tell you the age and owner of each and every shipping container.

  • Dings and dents – some dents should be expected, so as long as they don’t impair the structural integrity, or the quality of finish that you require.
  • Toxic materials - has the container been used to ship hazardous waste or toxic materials? It is likely that the container will need some treatment to get it to habitable standard, but how much is too much?
  • Rust – containers that have been on long haul shipping routes may have rust spots, but they are constructed of non-corrosive steel and are designed to last at least 20 years. Deep areas of rust and corrosion should be avoided, and when inspecting, look carefully for areas that have be freshly repainted to hide such issues.

  • Alignment – is it square? Generally shipping containers will be decommissioned once they have structural damage, but these may still find their way to the market. Check that doors open cleanly, and that the unit isn't warped or out of alignment.


All of the above will influence the finished quality of your container conversion (assuming that is what you want the containers for).

Minor dents may not be an issue if you are going to be cladding your container inside and out, but if want exposed steel, either inside or out, then you my be better suited in spending the extra money on a new container, but getting the colour and qnd quality of finish that you require.

Cost of A Used Container

Quality and size will influence the price, and you will need to factor in any transportation required (see more below).

Ballpark figures for good quality used containers (although you can get them cheaper) are in the range of

  • Standard 20’ used shipping container US $2000 plus
  • Standard 40’ used shipping container US $3000 plus


High cube units are often preferred for building as they have an extra foot of height, allowing room to tuck services into the ceiling space. 20 foot high cube containers are less common, but 40’ HC or HQ units are readily available.

  • High Cube (HQ) 20’ used shipping container US $2500 plus
  • High Cube (HQ) 40’ used shipping container US $3500 plus


Getting the Container to Your Site

Depending on where you live, you may have to spend a decent sum of money to have your container transported to a warehouse to be modified, or direct to your work site. This amount is going to vary widely depending on how far the container needs to be transported.

Delivery /haulage/freight costs must be factored into your costings, and take into consideration the access to your site. Delivery trucks can come with side or rear cranes to life the container off the truck and onto your site, and different sized trucks will come at varying prices. The more remote and difficult to access your site is, the more you can expect to pay.



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