Shipping Container Conversion FAQs

Shipping containers have been around since the 1950s, and, from the very beginning, enterprising people have been re-purposing them for a variety of uses. However, it’s only in recent years that the idea of a shipping container house or commercial building has really picked up steam. Part of this is due to the rising cost of conventional real estate in many parts of the country as well as to an increasing focus on recycling and green building techniques. For these reasons and more, shipping container buildings are starting to pop up with higher frequency in all corners of the world.

Naturally, this has caused a lot of people to have questions, particularly when they see newer builds — the best of which are barely distinguishable from traditional buildings. Because of this, we’ve prepared this exhaustive set of shipping container FAQs. Read on for answers to some of the most common questions our team and our customers receive.

Got a question we haven’t answered here? Get in touch with BMarko Structures directly — one of our team members will be happy to help. You can also check out our Gallery page to see some real world examples of the work we can do and some of the ways an old shipping container can be transformed into a functional working or living space.

Details & Specs

What are the exterior dimensions of a shipping container?

Shipping containers come in several different sizes. The majority used in building construction are either 20 or 40 feet long by 8 feet wide. Standard shipping containers are 8’ 6” high, whereas high cubes add an extra foot of clearance, to stand 9’ 6” tall.

What are the interior dimensions of a shipping container after the walls have been installed?

  • A modified 20-foot high cube container is approximately 19′ long by 7′ wide by 8′ 7″ tall, measured from the interior. This translates to 133 ft2 of floor space
  • A modified 40-foot high cube shipping container measures 39′ long by 7′ wide by 8′ 7″ tall, providing 273 ft2 of floor space

The interior dimensions of a completed shipping container building will vary according to a number of factors, including the type of wall and insulation used. It is also possible to modify an existing container to make it longer or to attach multiple units together to create more floor space. Really, the possibilities are endless — the shipping containers themselves are simply the building blocks for the completed structure.

 

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What are shipping containers made of, and how much do they weigh?

Shipping containers are made from an exceptionally strong 14-gauge corrugated CORTEN steel shell. As a result, each container can withstand a static weight of up to 213,000 lbs. — making it possible to stack them nine-high and create a multi-story space.

Their floors are made of 1-1/8″ thick marine-grade plywood.

The overall weight of a shipping container will impact the transportation and site preparation requirements necessary to get started on your build. Typical tare (empty) weights for a shipping container are:

    • Standard 20’ — 4,189 lbs.
    • Standard 40’ — 6,799 lbs.
    • High cube 40’ — 6,393 lbs.

However, our modified shipping containers are not delivered to the site bare. To expedite the build process, we perform all of the modification work ahead of time. When you contact BMarko Structures, we’ll work with you to ensure all logistical considerations related to site preparation and delivery are taken care of ahead of time.

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Shipping Container Buildings in Action

What types of building are shipping containers typically used for?

Because of their versatility and their modular nature, the possibilities for building with shipping containers are practically limitless. At BMarko Structures, we specialize in projects such as:

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Shipping containers can be standalone buildings, or they can be added on to an existing structure. Shipping containers also make great retail spaces, press boxes or equipment storage areas in athletic facilities and roadside concession stands.

How long does a shipping container building last?

While many people think of shipping container spaces as temporary alternatives to brick-and-mortar buildings, with today’s advanced technology, they don’t have to be. Shipping containers are designed to withstand the rigors of life at sea. As a result, they make an excellent modular base for a building that will stand the test of time — even in parts of the country that experience extreme humidity, heavy rains, wind or other harsh weather conditions. When outfitted with the proper insulation and HVAC technology, a shipping container building is a comfortable year-round space for both living and working.

The average lifespan of a shipping container building varies according to the amount of work and modifications done to it. Even a bare bones modification — without insulation, exterior cladding or other features to protect it from the elements — can still be counted on to last anywhere between 10-25 years, if properly cared for. More comprehensive builds, that have been specifically designed with longevity in mind, may last 50 years or longer.

What are the benefits of a shipping container building?

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Shipping containers have emerged as a popular alternative to conventional construction buildings for a number of reasons. Some of the main benefits of a shipping container home or office include:

Speed: A great benefit to a shipping container building is that the construction process is much faster than that of conventional properties. Like all modular buildings, most of the work is done ahead of time, so what’s delivered to your site is ready to go without a lot of additional work. Besides streamlining the build process, this saves you money by reducing your reliance on contracted labor, reduces the impact to the environment on the job site and requires less paperwork and disruption than conventional construction.

Aesthetics: While it’s entirely possible to make a shipping container home or commercial building that looks like a normal space, often their unique look is a major selling point. Many start-ups, trendy retailers and hip restaurants love the urban aesthetic a shipping container building offers, particularly when contrasted with a comfortable, well-appointed interior. Because of their clean geometric lines, shipping containers can also be the basis of an ultra-modern home for an art gallery or design firm. While many people think of modular construction as a design limitation, the fact is that, with a little imagination, a shipping container home or business can be almost anything you want it to be.

Green credentials: Many builders today will work to incorporate recycled materials into their projects, but few builds take it as far as a shipping container house. When you choose to use a shipping container instead of brick or wood, you are using something that would otherwise end up in a scrapyard, while also preventing deforestation and reducing the overall environmental impact of the build process.

 

On a day-to-day basis, a shipping container home or office can be just as environmentally friendly as a conventional building — if not more so. Because of their flat roofs, shipping containers are also an ideal candidate for solar energy and heating. They can easily be outfitted with energy-efficient appliances, windows and insulation, keeping your heating and cooling requirements low. For these reasons and more, many shipping container builds easily qualify for LEED and other certifications.

 

For more information about the benefits of shipping container construction, get in touch with a BMarko Structures representative today. We’d be happy to explain in detail why so many customers are choosing modular buildings for their residential and commercial needs.

The Build Process

How do I source a shipping container, and what do I need to know to find a good one?

When you work with BMarko Structures, we’ll source the right raw materials for your project. We have several suppliers we trust that offer affordable prices on quality building supplies.

There is no universal standard for grading shipping containers. Some sellers use the A, B and C classification system, with “A” representing the best condition and “C” representing a unit that will require additional work. Because these standards are somewhat subjective and are not enforced by an independent body, it is perhaps more useful to think of shipping containers using the following schema:

• New shipping containers that have made only one trip overseas. These are typically in the best condition, with no dents or other damage to the shell or floor. Naturally, these are the most expensive to buy, though they require the least amount of work to prepare.

• Used shipping containers that are between three and seven years old. These are still in cargo-worthy condition and have no significant rusty or welded patches. Imperfections are usually cosmetic and can be easily refurbished for use in a modular building.

• Retired shipping containers that have reached the end of their life at sea. These often require considerable work to restore to good condition, but they are still waterproof and windproof. They are the most cost-effective option to buy, though the expense of repair is not always worth it.

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Finding the right shipping container for your project requires understanding the trade-off between purchase price and estimated cleanup costs. Our team has the experience and expertise necessary to help you make the most of your budget.

How much does a Shipping Container Cost?

Speaking of budgeting, one of the most frequently asked questions about shipping container construction is that of cost. Is it really worth it to purchase, restore and modify a shipping container when compared to the traditional route? The answer is typically yes, though certain projects offer greater cost savings than others. Your wallet will benefit the most when building simple, industrial spaces that don’t need a lot of bells and whistles. Buildings such as storage spaces, warehouses and concession stands are all much more affordable when you choose modular shipping container construction.

In a well-appointed home or office space, things like wood flooring, appliances and HVAC systems will all drive up the cost of a build. However, these expenses are necessary in any type of building where people live or work. With a modular shipping container home, you’ll still save on the cost of raw materials — many home builders will put these savings toward upgraded appliances and other investments that translate to lower utility costs or greater creature comforts. In these cases, while the cost of a shipping container home may end up being comparable to a conventional build, you’re getting more for your money and ultimately a better space to live.

What is required to prepare a site?

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Shipping container buildings or housing don’t require any special lot preparation that wouldn’t be necessary for a conventional build. The ground itself should be level and strong, and it should be cleared of any rocks and other debris. Containers should also be placed on higher ground to avoid flooding and to facilitate proper drainage. Laying a foundation of pavement, cement or gravel is recommended, though containers can also be placed on individual concrete blocks to keep them elevated.

Other than that, the biggest concern is usually ensuring that the trucks containing the modular units can get in and out of the area easily. Because of the disruption involved and the possibility of things changing during the delivery, we recommend waiting until after the building has been delivered to start on any landscaping or gardening projects.

How long does the build take?

A shipping container construction project can be completed in as little as half the time of a conventional build. It’s also easier to predict with accuracy how long a job will take. With a shipping container building, the majority of the work is completed before individual modules are delivered to your job site. This greatly reduces the risk of unexpected delays slowing down a project. It also allows us to exercise greater quality control, as we can fully inspect and test every component as necessary before it is delivered to your property.

Faster build times also cut down on labor costs, adding to the savings. For a detailed quote and timeline for your project, get in touch with BMarko Structures to arrange a meeting with one of our representatives.

Modifying a Shipping Container – Life in a Shipping Container

Which parts of a shipping container can you modify?

One of the best things about converting a shipping container house or commercial space is the endless opportunities for customization. Unlike an older home or building, you’re not bound by the limitations of design or layout. And compared to a custom build using conventional construction techniques, the savings afforded by going modular give you more room to spend on upgraded appliances and other premium components.

Here are just a few of the choices our customers have when ordering and customizing their shipping container building:

 

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  • Shipping Container Colors: Shipping container buildings already have a distinctive exterior look. A limitless pallet of colors accentuates this uniqueness and allows you to put your own personal spin on your building. Choose a lighter color to reflect the sun’s heat and make your property seem larger. You could also select a darker color for a more imposing look — or throw out the rulebook altogether to mix and match colors as you see fit.
  • Shipping Container Doors: Shipping containers can be modified with a wide range of door options depending on your needs and your budget. Choose from conventional insulated metal doors or add an aluminum/glass sliding storefront entryway for additional convenience and elegance. When it comes to adding or modifying the doors on a shipping container structure, there are very few practical limitations to worry about.
  • Shipping Container Windows: A bright, sunny space is one of the most desired characteristics of a home or office. Shipping container buildings afford you great flexibility to capture the most sunlight. In a shipping container, adding additional windows is easier than with conventional housing. Multiple size and shape options are also available, as are high-efficiency windows that provide a tighter seal and keep your utility bills low.

 

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  • Shipping Container Flooring: Shipping containers come with marine-grade plywood flooring which can be polished or cleaned up as necessary. Many customers prefer the rough look and feel this offers. Alternatively, we can add tile, laminate, hardwood or several other types of conventional flooring.
  • Shipping Container Roofing: A shipping container roof presents a number of opportunities for upgrading. For additional ventilation, add a vent or turbine that lets air in. For a brighter, lighter space, add a flat or domed skylight — you’ll also save on your heating and lighting bills.
  • Shipping Container Locks & Security: A container building can be equipped with all the same security features as a conventional home or office. Door locks are standard, though it’s also possible to add sophisticated modern security features such as video surveillance, access control systems and intrusion detection alarms.

 

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  • Shipping Container Electricity: All shipping container buildings can be wired for electricity as well as phone, internet, cable and all other amenities available in your area. Shipping containers provide an ideal platform for solar conversions as well, whether you want to go off the grid entirely or simply heat your water and offset your monthly energy usage.
  • Shipping Container Plumbing: There’s no reason why a shipping container building can’t be outfitted with a full modern bathroom or kitchen. In fact, one of the reasons why shipping containers make a great choice for restaurants is that they can easily be modified with additional sinks, washbasins and other necessities for cooking and cleaning.
  • Shipping Container Heating and Air Conditioning: Complete climate control solutions are available on any shipping container building. Both wall-mounted and ducted AC systems can be installed, as can high-efficiency electrical heating and hot water units. Roof mounting a compressor or HVAC unit is a great option for saving space on your property.
  • Shipping Container Insulation: Insulating your space keeps it warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer and quieter and more comfortable all year round. Several insulation options are available for shipping container homes and office buildings, including closed cell spray foam that can help you earn LEED certification or credits.
  • Shipping Container Lighting: When you’re looking at lighting for your shipping container building, you can choose from a wide variety of options — from conventional ceiling fixtures to stylish recessed lighting, there will likely be a lighting system that will fit your style and tastes.
  • Shipping Container Accessibility: The design flexibility of shipping container buildings allows for more organic integration of accessibility features such as ramps and loading zones. We’ll work with you to ensure any commercial property meets or exceeds ADA and related guidelines.

 

The greatest opportunities for modifying a shipping container building come by modifying the containers themselves. Individual units can be stacked side by side to create a great, open concept space, or they can be placed one of top of the other for multi-story convenience in a smaller lot.

There is no limit to the amount of potential combinations. You even have the option of building your dream space slowly over time — the beauty of modular construction is that expanding your space doesn’t require tearing down what you’ve built already. Additionally, a fast and easy build process ensures renovations don’t significantly disrupt your life or your business, either.

Does it get hot?

One of the biggest misconceptions about shipping container buildings is that their steel construction makes them extremely hot and stuffy during the summer months. The fact is, any type of building that’s poorly constructed and improperly insulated can get unbearably hot.

One of the reasons people think this is a problem inherent to shipping containers is that, until recently, they were generally only repurposed for storage and warehouse spaces, where comfort is not a primary concern. With proper insulation, adequate airflow and the right HVAC appliances, a shipping container office or home can be just as comfortable as any other type of construction.

Are shipping containers subject to local building codes?

At the moment, the International Building Code (IBC) — the main document outlining the standards that have been adopted by most municipalities — does not cover shipping container buildings and houses. Some municipalities have drafted their own rules, while others have not. Your best bet when building a shipping container home or office is, first, to check with your local bylaw office and, second, to build to the same standards set out in the IBC for conventional structures.

One of the benefits of working with a professional modular shipping container builder is that you will be better positioned to meet any current or future regulatory challenges that come up.

Are shipping containers flood/wind resistant?

Yes, in fact, in most cases, a shipping container house or commercial space will be more resilient to floods and other natural disasters than older properties built to the standards of yesterday. Shipping containers are designed to stand up to the elements and can withstand winds of up to 175 mph. They are also obviously more fireproof than wooden frame homes and are less likely to suffer from termite or mold infestations.

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How do I maintain my shipping container building?

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The most important part of maintaining a shipping container building is to be vigilant about checking for rust. Just as you would look for cracks in the foundation of a conventional building, be on the lookout for corrosion and take action as soon as you notice it. Surface rust can easily be sanded down and painted over before it spreads. If that’s no longer an option, a patch can be welded over the affected area.

 

Other than that, you care for a shipping container building the same way you would for any other property. Keep your yard clean and free of debris, service your appliances according to their regular maintenance schedules, tend to any leaks or other plumbing issues quickly and make sure you have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors installed at all times.

Working With BMarko Structures

What are the first steps?

Once you’ve read this FAQs page and checked out our gallery of recent conversions for inspiration, your first step should be to call one of our representatives for a free consultation. We’ll meet with you to go over your requirements and your vision for the project. We can then put together an action plan outlining the next steps. Every project begins with the preparation of an accurate estimate and timeline for completion, which we endeavor to stick to from start to finish.

What makes BMarko Structures different?

When you work with BMarko Structures, you are working with a team of professionals that strives to offer exceptional service every step of the way. For every build, we provide a detailed floor plan and 3D model — basic steps that are provided by any conventional architect but are quite frequently overlooked in the world of shipping container modular building.

As well, we provide more ways for our customers to create functional, livable spaces that will serve them well for years to come. Some of the options we offer that other modular shipping container builders don’t include:

• Continuous welding — Continuous welding is a more labor-intensive process than spot welding, but it provides better weatherproofing on important structural reinforcements and opening cutouts.

• Closed cell spray foam insulation — Closed cell spray foam is one of the most efficient types of insulation on the market today. It offers high R-values in a compact package, which saves you interior space while keeping your property more comfortable year-round.

• Ducted air conditioners — Ducted air conditioners are similar to central AC units used in conventional homes. However, ducted air conditioners often provide better, more effective cooling across multiple rooms, without necessitating the installation of additional units.

• Drywall and MgO Board finishing — BMarko Structures offers additional interior finishing options including both traditional drywall and Magnesium Oxide Board, a premium product that is waterproof, fireproof, insect resistant and does not degrade over time.

Where are you located?

While the BMarko Structures head office is located in Atlanta Georgia, we serve customers throughout the country. Modular shipping container units can be delivered nationwide, and we can coordinate with local contractors to ensure that installation goes smoothly.

If you can’t visit us in person, we will be happy to arrange a consultation over the phone or via Skype. Give us a call at (678)-666-3688 or email [email protected] to get started today.

Address

BMarko Structures, LLC

535 Hurricane Shoals Ct Suite 200

Dacula, GA 30019

Contact Info

(678) 666-3688

Phone Hours

Monday - Friday

8:30AM - 5:30PM (EST)