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Building a Shipping Container Cabin – Part 3: Shipping Container Selection

22.06.2014 - Posted by Updated On 22.06.2014    

If you've been following along in our series so far, you'll remember that we're building a very basic container cabin. In the first part, we decided on what features the container cabin needed, in the second part we designed our basic layout. The cabin is actually going to be constructed from two 40' high cube shipping containers, equipped with both a storage and recreation area, and individual walled off compartments to sleep up to 24 people. Each sleeping compartment will have two bunk beds, and two windows for ventilation and sunlight.

The core component of the container cabin is, obviously, the shipping containers. When selecting the right shipping containers there are a few different factors that need to be considered.
1. Budget: Are you operating on a blank check budget, or are you looking to get the most value for your investment?
2. Size: What size shipping containers do you need?
3. Paint: Do you plan on repainting the containers, or will you leave them painted as they are?
4. Flooring: Will you be refinishing the floor? If so, what with?
5. Walls and Doors: Will you be cutting apart the walls; will you be opening/closing the doors frequently?

Budget: First, let's address financial matters and address the budget. For this project we selected two used 40' high cube containers. We could have gone with new containers, but after they're cut apart to add windows and man doors, the entire container would need to be repainted to match. Since there are already plans to repaint the containers, it saved around $4000 to go with used containers over new/one trip equipment. The secondary factor in this decision was availability. In Denver, shipping containers tend to sell quickly and there were no 40' high cubes in available to us.

Size: After several discussions with our client, we knew that we needed as much room as possible. Sleeping areas came first, and having a recreation area and ample storage was a very close second. 40' shipping containers were the only option, and we were able to buy 40' high cubes for a small amount more. The extra foot will be appreciated by the person in the top bunk, or possibly converted into overhead storage space in the future.

Paint: If you're cutting doors and windows into the container, you're going to need to repaint the areas around the windows. The steel frames around the windows will be exposed, and it will most likely be a different color than the container shell. Factor in sealants and other touch up spots, there's a good chance the entire unit will need a fresh coat of paint. While going with a new container will reduce the amount of work required to paint the container, for us the extra expense just wasn't there so we went with used containers.

Flooring: New containers will provide clean, smooth flooring. Used containers are a hit or miss when it comes to flooring. If the container has been recently repaired, you may be in good shape. One of the containers we chose had solid, clean flooring; while the other had a large steel plate in the middle.
The plate was covering up some damage, and given that our final floor surface was going to be linoleum, we needed to address the steel plate and screws. We covered the container floor with Masonite to build it up to the same height as the steel plate, and touched up all of the screws to make sure there were no holes, or screws topped backed out of their holes. shipping container flooring shipping container flooring #2

Walls and Doors: Given the number of windows that we were going to install, the first container was rejected due to the terrible condition of the one side wall. There was just no way to install a window without a great amount of effort to clean up the damage. Luckily, our driver had some room in his schedule and was able to return the container and we selected a better one. If you plan on installing doors and windows, it's best to know exactly where they're going and inspect the containers to know if the walls will be suitable. The doors were less of an issue in both containers. With a little encouragement and grease they were swinging smoothly and would work quite well. The final two containers that we were left with were solid containers, but they weren't going to win any beauty pageants; however, they didn't need to come in first because of the graphic design plans that are already in the works.

rejected container
accpeted container
accepted container #2

In summary, make sure that you go into your container cabin project with a clear understanding of what the target outcome is, and what areas you can save on vs. what areas are worth making an additional investment in. Be sure and inspect the containers, new or used, and get the best value for money the first time.

If you're planning a container cabin, or any project that uses shipping containers as a core component, feel free to contact any of the sellers on with your questions and they'll point you in the right direction to find the best shipping containers, at the most affordable price.

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