Selecting containers

The most commonly available shipping containers are the 20' and 40' dry containers, but there are other variations that are also interesting. A standard container’s interior height is 7'57/64" In most areas this will fall just shy of minimum residential interior height in the code. The 40' HQ or hi-cube container is a better choice due to its 8' 915/16" interior height, the additional height will only enhance the sense of space.

Remember that there are all types of cargo containers, some are made of Coreten steel, but some are made of lesser materials, even plywood. There are shipping containers built to varying standards, ISO, ASA and ISO land containers. ASA containers are most likely to have been land containers as almost all marine containers today are ISO. ASA and ISO containers also use different corner castings and will not interlock together. Some are in good shape, some aren’t.

Other container sizes such as 8', 10' and 53' long are also available. These smaller units may be useful building blocks for your design if you need to add just a wee bit more space here or there. A 20' GP weighs about 5,000 lbs. A 40' GP weighs about 8,250 lbs. A 45' GP weighs about 10,500 lbs.

Dry containers usually have a wood floor that is 1 to 1.5 inches thick.  Refrigerated containers have a ridged slotted metal floor that allows the air to circulate. The wood floors are treated with insecticides and other chemicals. You need to be aware of this fact if you plan to refinish the wood floors. These chemicals will be circulated in the dust generated by a sander, so when sanding the floor protective respiratory equipment is a must. Also remember the floors may not take a finish if the have ever had any sort of oil or chemicals spilled on them.

When selecting containers you will be faced with several options in regards to condition, quality and price. The least expensive containers will be the most used ones that have spent the longest time in service. They will have varying degrees of dents and rust, faded paint and a logo on the side, generally they are ugly as hell. On the other end of the spectrum there are containers called one-way containers. These containers are built to make just one trip across the ocean. Therefore they are in better condition that a container that has spent 7 or 8 years on the high seas. Sometimes they are sold as “like new” or “as new”.<

There is a good reason used container prices and quotes are all over the map, it’s because every used container is an individual, and different from every other used container. Please don’t believe the $500 container is the best value. If you insist on going for the cheapest container possible it is imperative that you inspect it in person, or at the very least get high quality photos of every detail of it along with full age documentation.

Realistic U.S. prices for good used 20' ISBU shipping containers suitable for building ranges from $1200-$1800. For a good used 40' ISBU shipping containers range expect to pay $1800-$2700. Deliver is usually extra depending on distance but expect a minimum of $125 to $150 for a local roll off delivery. Delivering empty containers long distances can get very expensive, very quickly, so make sure your quotes are solid before you commit.

During the process of selecting your containers you should find out their age, and request documented proof. Also inspect the floor to determine if it needs to be replaced. The floor isn’t difficult to replace, you just want to know if it needs to be in the budget.

Determine the paint used, is it a latex or epoxy paint coating. One-way containers are usually painted with latex and lease trailers are usually epoxy. Avoid buying containers that have been repainted, you want to see the unit in its original condition so you can better assess its value and any possible damage, fresh paint is usually camouflage to disguise a unit in poor condition. Scrapes and surface corrosion are OK. At any rate the walls of the ISBU will never be seen once the exterior sheathing is applied.

What you don't want is corrosion. If you see a container that has a scaly corrosion, which is obviously eating the steel, avoid it. While some rust oxidation is normal where the unit has been scraped, corrosion and especially scaly corrosion where the metal is obviously being eaten is not. Avoid these containers, it’s possible they are not even Corten steel and the cost to replace and patch the corrosion is usually not worth discounts.

It is important to check to see if the unit is square and not twisted so it will sit flat and connect to other containers properly. Measuring the top, and sides diagonally accomplishes this. Each top diagonal measurement should be the same to within 1/4 inch. All 4-side diagonals should measure within 1/4 inch also.

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