Used Shipping Containers: Things to Consider

Currently there is an excess amount of unused shipping containers sitting in harbours all around the world.  Couple that with the new trend of resourcefully building tiny homes using typically unconventional house-building materials and voila! Shipping container homes everywhere.  (Read “A History of Shipping Container Architecture” here.)FullSizeRender-2Obviously, if they’re good for building homes, they are good for building lots of other structures as well.  In the Netherlands they use them to build bus stations, people all over the world have converted them into shops and offices, Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park has adopted 2 containers as their new washroom facilities ( and obviously they can be used for storage.

If you have use for a shipping container, here are some things to consider before you buy:

    • Depending on your plans, the look of the container might be important to you.  One thing I was surprised to learn was that shipping containers have hardwood flooring.  If your intent is to build a summer/lake house or you live somewhere where you don’t need insulated floors, you could easily clean up the hardwood and it would look awesome! If this is the case you would need to carefully inspect the floor of the container before you buy to look for dings from cargo or forklifts. But like bonus! Free hardwood floor!


    • Don’t buy anything you haven’t seen in person. Always schedule time to go check out the container.  When viewing it make sure your salesperson can guarantee the unit is watertight and look for signs of water inside.  This might be scary but go inside the container and have someone fully close the doors so you can look for light, if you see light holes the container is not watertight and you don’t want it.


    • These containers are built to have a 20 year life aboard freight ships on the rolling sea, when stationary they are considered to have what is called an “infinite life span”.  My point is that they’re freaking tough and they don’t have to be shiny and new to be a good deal.  Rust, dings and dents on a container are perfectly okay as long as they don’t compromise the stability and structure of the unit.  However, deep corrosion, warped frames and extensive patchwork is not okay.


    • The other considerable thing about containers is that they’re heavy.  Very heavy.  Because of this and therefor the labour and machinery involved, depending on where you live, the delivery might be more expensive than the container itself.  (If the same company you bought from is doing your delivery, always try to haggle a deal, you will always do better than the initial rate.)


  • Most used containers you will see have loads of stickers and logos on them, as well as serial numbers. By doing some research you can find out what the container was used to ship.  This could also aid in your decision to buy or pass on the container.
    I found out that one of my containers used to be the property of Hyundai, I can deduce that it was probably used to move cars or car parts.  However, you probably wouldn’t want to buy one used to ship chemicals, for example. Remnants of the container’s past could pose a health hazard as they may not be cleaned before being put on the market.
    A friend of mine was all set up to buy a container she found online, but upon viewing it she had a sense (of the olfactic kind) the unit was very obviously used to move fish.  Needless to say she passed on the fishy container.

Now that container architecture is so popular, so are container sales businesses. And some, like the containers themselves, are better than others.  Like buying/selling anything you just have to use your common sense, do lots of research and know what to ask and look for.

Used Shipping Containers: Things to Consider