Taking a cargo container and turning it into something else – living quarters, emergency relief shelters/centers, storm shelters, etc, is a very popular idea.  You can picture what you want it to look like in the end, but how do you get started on your project?

1)      Standard or Insulated/refrigerated? Containers come in either standard steel box or insulated/refrigerated box.  In order to pick the best one for you, think about what you are going to do with it.  If you are going to modify it (add doors, windows, or any other cut outs), then steer clear of the refrigerated/insulated containers.  They are difficult to modify due to the loose insulation in between the container walls.  Standard steel containers can easily be framed and insulated to provide the necessary insulation once your other modifications are done.

2)      Shipping overseas or not? If you are shipping the container overseas, then you will want to plan your modifications accordingly.  Containers that are being shipped on cargo ships must be cargo-worthy or sea-worthy, meaning they are structurally sound enough to handle having other container stacked on top of them.  If you cut up a container, you reduce the structural integrity of the container, so you want to make sure you are keeping that in mind with your plans, or plan on modifying the container once it arrives at its destination.

3)      Is there a container already designed for your need? There are specialty containers – containers without a top or with removable steel top, 20’ containers with doors that open the full 20’ side of the container or flat-racks, containers that have no long walls or roofs.  While these containers are generally more expensive than standard containers, you may find that they fit your need so well; it is worth the extra money.  However, be warned that some of these containers are not all that plentiful, so you may also end up paying for shipping long distances.

4)      How complicated is your design? If you are planning on creating a home or living quarters complete with electric and plumbing, stacked containers or other complications, be sure to get an architect or engineer involved.  Even though containers make great building blocks, you are still creating a living space that needs to be safe and up to code.  They may up with structural issues you have not considered which can save you headaches down the line.

5)      Are you doing to modify the container yourself or have it done? Containers are easy to modify yourself if you have the right tools.  Primarily, it requires a cutter and welding tools and the know-how to go with them.  Kits are available for adding on basic additions like doors, windows, AC/heat, skylights, etc.

If you don’t want the hassle of doing the work, have it done for you by a qualified container shop.  Then your container can arrive ready to go (or at least part-way there) depending on what your plans entail.

Containers are incredibly flexible building blocks.  Let your imagination loose to come up with fun ideas.  Share them with us!  Or share pictures of projects you have already done to inspire others!

Cargo-worthy containers can handle being stacked
Cargo-worthy containers can handle being stacked
Inside a refrigerator/insulated container
Inside a refrigerator/insulated container
Open-top 40' container has a tarp roof
Open-top 40' container has a tarp roof
20' open side container opens on one full 20' side of container
20' open side container opens on one full 20' side of container
40' office and storage
40' office and storage