Individuals and companies alike rely on shipping containers for a countless array of purposes. These sizable metal structures are ever-present on the road and at ports and delivery hubs across the world. Freight containers may appear utilitarian to the casual observer; however, they offer diverse capabilities that make them ever-present in a number of industries and applications outside of freight transport. In the right hands, a shipping container can serve a wide array of purposes.
The secret to the versatility of shipping containers is their construction. They’re bulky and rigid by all outward appearances, but, in fact, this heavy-duty construction makes shipping containers almost infinitely adaptable. Shipping containers come in a selection of heights and lengths, making them useable for everything from moving freight to constructing homes—and that’s just scratching the surface of a shipping container’s utility.
Shipping containers last a long time and they’re cost-effective—not to mention highly resistant to weathering and wear. This makes them an ideal starting point when experimenting with everything from transportation to construction. Today, shipping containers serve as everything from mobile refrigerators to chic office spaces, schools to restaurants. Makers even turn them into playgrounds and works of art. There’s no end to the possibilities of what you can do with a shipping container.
Don’t dismiss shipping containers as purely utilitarian objects. Imminently useful, undeniably durable and wholly customizable, shipping containers are everything you need them to be, no matter the application or industry.
Common Shipping Container Uses
Most people who rely on shipping containers use them for straightforward reasons (i.e., getting their goods where they need to go). That said, there’s so much more to a shipping container than a sturdy means of transport.
Modern users rely on shipping containers for a growing number of purposes, from field offices to playgrounds. Others repurpose containers for homes, hotels and even cabins in the woods. Of course, people also use shipping containers for temporary and long-term storage. Here are some of the most common shipping container uses today:
- Shipping: It doesn’t matter if you’re transporting goods across town or across the world, a shipping container is a perfect choice when you need it to get there in one piece. That’s why freight containers have been the world standard since the 1950s. Every year, hundreds of thousands of freight containers make their way across the ocean!
- Storage: A shipping container is the perfect storage solution. Store old furniture without concern that the elements will damage it. Keep your tools safe overnight while you’re working on a jobsite. Shipping containers provide a secure way to preserve your valued items while they’re not in your home or at your business.
- Dwellings: Looking for a striking home to call your own? Shipping container housing and apartments increase in popularity every year, and for a good reason. There’s something bold and inviting about stacked containers modified with floor-to-ceiling windows, hardwood floors, and eco-friendly options like solar panels.
Much like building blocks from childhood, shipping containers can serve all manner of creative and practical endeavors. All it takes is a vision: shipping containers are the fundamental materials to make it a reality.
Types of Shipping Containers
If you’re looking at a shipping container and only see a metal box, look closer. These marvelous structures are inherently waterproof, airtight and fire-resistant. Because they’re metal, shipping containers are sturdier than traditional construction materials and naturally immune to small and moderate knocks, bangs and collisions. They’re ready to stand up to whatever you throw at them!
Private and commercial owners customize shipping containers to suit various roles. Today’s container options include everything from the classic container style, to two or four doors, open from the side, and so much more. Depending on your intended application or your expectations for how you need your shipping container to function, there are several standard types of shipping containers to choose from.
Standard Shipping Containers
The classic shipping container is the baseline for all modern travel. In a world of cutting-edge technology and thousands of new ideas, no one has found a way to improve on a well-built metal shipping container. Several have modified them to be longer or taller; however, the general shape of a shipping container remains much the same as it was when first invented. That’s not to say there is a lack of options when searching for the perfect container.
- 10-foot: These options are ideal for small outdoor offices, guard shacks, portable battery stations and more.
- 20-foot: The 20-footer can sit on a semi rig as easily as it can on your property. Owners can also customize them easily thanks to their spacious size.
- 40-foot: Need more room to store odd-shaped or over-sized goods? A 40-foot trailer meets most needs. Longer containers work as converted offices and classrooms, too.
- 45-foot: A 45-foot container can transport thousands of pounds of merchandise overseas, or it can serve as a spacious ground floor with vaulted ceilings.
High Cube Shipping Containers
Where traditional containers clock in at eight-and-a-half feet tall, a high-cube container reaches one foot higher, to nine-and-a-half feet. Besides using the extra height for transporting larger or bulkier items, clients also rely on high cubes to store things that wouldn’t otherwise fit. For example, many construction contractors use high cubes to house everything from industrial equipment like skyjacks, forklifts and skid loaders. When you need more vertical space, high cube containers deliver.
- Supports payloads or more than 50,000 pounds
- Easily movable and stackable, regardless of the work environment
- Added airflow vents prevent condensation from forming
Side-Operating Shipping Containers
In a market dominated by a variety of end-operated shipping containers, the side-operated container stands apart. One side of these novel containers swings open to reveal the entirety of the materials stored inside. Construction crews can use a side-operating shipping container to house a mobile workshop. A homeowner can replace the swinging door with immobile panes of glass to create a sun-drenched sitting room. Side-operated shipping containers are all about accessibility, no matter how you use them.
- Side-operated containers also open at one end for maximum accessibility
- Offload specific items without removing your container from a truck or ship
- Quickly access long, large or ungainly materials stored in your container
Refrigerated Shipping Containers
Thanks to refrigeration containers (or reefers, as they’re known to insiders), manufacturers can ship perishable goods to far-flung corners of the Earth without fear of spoiled goods. Even when the doors open, heavy plastic strips maintain the interior temperature and protect the material inside from spoiling. Refrigerated containers work in more industries than just shipping. They can serve as long-term food storage for a restaurant or cold storage for a lab. Homeowners who consider themselves foodies can transform a small refrigerated container into the ultimate at-home walk-in freezer.
- Climate control capabilities offer precision temperature control
- Refrigerated shipping containers are naturally rodent and pest resistant
- Stainless steel interiors rebuff bacteria between cleaning
Insulated Shipping Containers
There’s another option for those items impacted by temperature swings or humid conditions inside the container. Insulated containers serve as the perfect solution when you’re shipping items that don’t necessarily require refrigeration but do need some protection from dramatic environmental shifts (like wine, for example). Architects constructing homes build from shipping containers often use insulated containers for their natural ability to maintain consistent interior temperatures without the help of air conditioning units.
- Low maintenance makes insulated shipping containers great cabins and vacation homes
- The controlled environment inside these containers is ideal for horticulturalists
- Some companies use insulated units to ship hazardous materials safely
Flat Rack Shipping Containers
Sometimes, you need to transport a large, oddly shaped item that simply won’t squeeze into an eight-foot-wide shipping container. You still need the weight-carrying ability of a standard shipping container, only without those confining walls. Enter the flat rack container, a type of shipping container built to carry bulky or weighty items. These stable platforms have doors on either end that fold down, rather than swing open. Though they do not have sides, flat rack containers are nonetheless stackable, much like their counterparts.
- Never worry about if something is too tall or too wide to fit into a shipping container
- Transport large items without disassembling them to fit them into the container
- Flat rack containers make side and top-loading simple for large items, like boats
Open-Top Shipping Containers
The easiest way to store your goods isn’t always from the side. When it’s more practical to use a top-loading technique, open-top shipping containers get called into action. Open-tops are the preferred choice for housing massive quantities of loose material like grain or dirt. That’s why open-tops are common in places like silos, scrapyards and quarries. Open-top containers are also the preferred way to stack and transport large, heavy items, like steel beams or lumber. They’re the go-to storage option for items loaded via crane or bulldozer.
- Open-top containers come in one of two options: canvas top and hardtop
- Without their top, open-tops weigh less and can therefore support more gross weight
- When it’s in place, a canvas top creates a near-impermeable waterproof seal.
Common Shipping Container Names
There are as many ways to refer to a shipping container as there are types of container. The proper technical term for a shipping container isn’t even “shipping container.” It’s an intermodal container. That is, it’s a storage unit transported long distances and transferred between different modes of transportation like ships, trucks and boats. Depending on the purpose you intend for your intermodal container or the environment it’s in, it might go by one of several different monikers. Here are some of the most common names and their origins.
- Cargo or freight container: These are standard-issue shipping containers, built to transport goods across long distances and through several means. When you’re thinking about cargo or freight containers, you’re typically picturing some sort of conveyance—such as at a dockyard or on the back of a flatbed truck.
- ISO container: Shipping containers must be properly regulated to ensure they’re ready for travel in any circumstances. The group in charge of those regulations is the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). So, an ISO container is one that meets the specific guidelines set forth by the ISO.
- Shipping, sea or ocean container: Planning on sending your merchandise across the ocean? You’re likely to hear the container referred to as a sea container. Dockworkers and stevedores have coined other maritime terms to refer to shipping containers. Some of the most popular include: sea van, container van, sea can or “C” can.
- CONEX box: This term dates back to the origins of the shipping container. When the US military first designed metal shipping containers and used them to ship supplies to soldiers in Korea, the operation was dubbed “Container Express,” or CONEX. Today, the term still lingers and is often used by the old-school crowd.
Need a Shipping Container?
Whatever your reason for buying a shipping container, we can help. We have helped clients that had a spike in shipping needs find boxes to rent. We’ve helped customer turn shipping containers into homes, offices, meeting spaces and even golf simulators!
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