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Before You Begin

You Need Storage. Now.

You're out of room for business records, inventory, farm equipment, your stamp collection, or all the bargains you snagged at Costco. Or you have a huge plan for your container home/office/multi-use building/workshop. The bottom line is, you need space. And you think a container might do the trick. But how do you know for sure if a steel container is the right choice?

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9 questions you need to ask when shipping container shopping:

  1. Do I have space for a container? Standard steel container sizes: 8' wide, 8'6' tall, and either 20' or 40' long. Space needed to get the container trucked in: Usually 110-130 feet of straight clearance (including where the container will go.) Read more in Moving & Storage.

  2. What size shipping container do I need? A 20' container can hold the furnishings of a 3-bedroom home. A 40' container can hold about 24 3-foot-wide pallets (or cars and boats). The 40' is usually a better value for the money. But if you plan on moving the container around, go for the 20'—it will save you many headaches. If the 40' is the way you're headed, those come in two heights—standard (8'6' high) and high cubes (9'6' high).

  3. How do I get modifications made to my container? Containers are ready to use as soon as the driver pulls out from underneath it. But sometimes a few modifications can make a huge difference.

    Security. Containers are made of Corten (weatherizing) steel, so they‘re impenetrable. Levers work the doors—snap on a padlock and you're good to go. If your container will reside at a remote cabin or construction site, consider adding a metal lockbox to protect your padlock.

    Upkeep and appearance. The Corten steel inhibits rust, but all steel will rust eventually. A used container will already show some rust. Paint is an inexpensive option that can extend container life—and make your container blend into your site (as much as a massive steel box can!)

    Modifications. An extra door (‘man-door‘ or roll-up), a window, or extra vents are easy vendor add-ons. If you can weld, you can do it yourself with a kit! If not, we have shops around the country to help. Check out our Modifications pages for more.

  4. What container quality do I need? We offer 3 conditions—wind- and water-tight, cargo-worthy and one-trip/‘new‘ condition. Cargo-worthy and wind- and water-tight are used containers. One-trip/'new' condition is as new as we get in the US. In addition, there is ‘as-is‘ condition, but we do not sell them.

    Wind- and watertight containers: They are weather-tight, insect- and rodent-proof with no leaks or holes. In addition to this standard, Super Cubes provides containers that have been inspected to make sure that the floors are in good condition, the doors work well and door seals are in good shape, the roof is in good condition and any repairs that have been made to the container are done well. That said, the containers are second-hand and used, so they will have rust and dents, be whatever color the shipping line painted them and have shipping line markings.

    Cargo-worthy containers: These containers meet the same standards as wind- and water-tight containers, but in addition they have the structural integrity to be used in shipping overseas. If you are using the container for export, this is the minimum level you will need. In addition, you will need to have the container surveyed to show the shipping line that it is cargo-worthy. We can arrange that for you.

    We recommend this condition if you are building with containers.

    One-trip/‘new‘ containers: Manufactured in Asia; shipped to the U.S. for sale while they still look beautiful. Generally beige or gray. One-trip containers are generally rust-free and dent-free. They have the wear and tear of making only one trip over here from China. Most won't have shipping-line logos on them.

    As-is containers: These containers have known problems—a hole, bad floors, a bad roof. Generally, they are very close in price to a wind- and watertight container. Frankly will cost more to repair than are worth it. Note: An as-is container is NOT the same as a wind- and water-tight container sold ‘as is‘ with no warranties (vendors cannot warranty a container once it is delivered).

  5. How do I get a container delivered? Empty containers are stored at distribution centers across the country. Your vendor will locate an empty container as close to you as possible and then put it on a truck. A tilt-bed truck will back in and set the container down right where you want it—all you need is a straight and firm patch of ground (paved, gravel, packed dirt are all fine). A flatbed or chassis does not set the container on the ground, so be sure to know what is coming.

    Want to offload the container yourself? That can lower delivery costs—but only if you happen to own a crane, backhoe or forklift.

    Rail delivery? Not practical in most cases. Your most cost-effective solution is almost always going to be having your vendor find the closest container to you and put it on a truck. (If you see containers near a rail yard or port, be aware that they are neither empty nor free.)

    Shipping overseas? Discuss delivery with your container vendor and shipping line.

  6. What should my container cost? When shopping vendors, make sure you‘re comparing apples to apples. Look at the total price including delivery, and make sure quotes are for the same quality of container. Three tips:

    Location matters: Container prices are usually cheaper on the coasts than inland.

    Quality matters: A cargo-worthy container costs more than a wind- and water-tight container. But used 20' and 40' containers should be similar in price.

    Delivery details matter: Final costs are determined by how far you are from the closest container and by your specific delivery needs.

  7. Isn’t there just a huge surplus of containers? This is a common internet myth. Yes, millions of containers come in and out of the United States all the time. But the part most people forget is that they go both ways. We import a ton from other countries, but we also export as well. Shipping lines and leasing lines need containers for those exports as well.

    In addition, shipping lines and leasing lines can use containers for 10–14 years, increasing their return on their investment over using a container just once. We get containers that have been used just once, but those are definitely more expensive than one that has been in service much longer.

  8. What about getting a container from Craigslist or another swap site? So you found a container on Craigslist. You are seeing great prices online. You think you found the container of your dreams. It doesn’t look too bad, there were plenty of pictures and the pricing seems decent.  So do you hit the “submit” button?  Here are 3 things to consider before committing.

    1. The price is fantastic, but where is it? Is it across the country or across town? Does the price include delivery? If not, do you know how you will move it to you? Make sure you figure that part out or the transportation could negate all of your savings on the container and then some.

    2. How will it be delivered to your location? They offer delivery or you found a truck that can go from there to you. But does that include picking the container up and setting it down at your location? Will you need to rent a forklift to take it off of the truck? Be sure you know all the details because there can be hidden costs or assumptions made that can add up to being much more expensive than you were thinking.

    3. Is that really the container you will get? They posted pictures, but did they say it was for sure the container you are getting? Containers are number. The number is made up of 4 letter, 6 numbers and a number in a box (usually written with a dash and the final number):  XXXX 123456-7. The number is written on all 4 sides of the container and in 2 spots on the roof. You should be able to match that number up in the pictures with the number you are agreeing to buy. Everyone describes quality in different ways. What may be a “great container” to one person may be a “pile of junk” to another. Pictures and visual confirmation are really the best ways to make sure you are on the same page. Since your container should be close by, it is worth it to physically check it out if at all possible.

  9. Use common sense. We all have those great Craigslist finds and we all know the horror stories. Be sure to check to make sure the vendor has a good record with the site you are buying it through. Use your common sense and intuition. If it doesn’t feel right, go with your gut. You want to be bragging about your great container, not left being out of the money you spent.