Custom shipping containers made into homes and offices are becoming more popular as a low-cost option for reducing energy usage. The process is simple: apply for permits, purchase one or more containers, and use custom shipping container modification kits to help to customize a container.
There are plenty of options for what you can make. The average 20’ shipping container can weigh anywhere from 4000-5000 lb, so there’s plenty to customize. Common modifications are available for residential, commercial, and industrial applications.
Common Custom Container Modifications
Here is an extensive guide to the standard options offered for modifying all different parts of shipping containers.
Interior and Exterior Entry Doors
The shipping container door modifications you choose will depend on the reason you’re modifying the container.
For residential units:
- Standard and heavy-duty roll-up doors
- 3-5ft personnel doors
- Metal clad wooden doors
Industrial doors are similar but are usually better reinforced, heavier, and include a deadbolt as well as a standard lock.
Available in adjustable heights of up to 9’ and made of reinforced stainless steel that bolts onto the exterior.
Windows & Skylights
While custom size windows are available, typically, shipping container windows are 2×3 foot windows with a top and bottom pane or 3×3 feet double-sized, multi-paned windows.
Custom Wall Openings & Clear Span
Wall openings are cut up to an 8’ x 8’ opening and reinforced by 2” x 2” steel tubing. A clear span uses this opening and connects one container to another to create a larger space between them.
In addition to plywood and fiberglass framed insulation, there is also rigid polystyrene panel insulation. Both types are available for purchase as part of modification kits.
Insulating paint can also add another level of protection to your shipping container, or closed-cell spray-in foam insulation is a great option as well.
Shipping containers start with 1 – 1/8” thick marine-grade plywood and are then covered with:
- Commercial grade carpet
- Steel overlay
Electrical & Lighting
From phone and data connections to overhead, porch, or floodlights, a custom shipping container’s electrical and lighting component may be one of the most difficult for DIYers and may require hiring a professional to install.
For more remote locations, consider LED lights. This environmentally-friendly option only requires a smaller portable power source to power them instead of tapping into a main electrical grid.
All ISO shipping containers have a locking mechanism for the end doors, often fastened with a padlock. Heavier cargo door locks, which look a little like a heavy wheel clamp made of steel, can be added for additional security.
Common ventilation options in custom shipping container modification kits include:
- Small vents which allow for more natural ventilation
- Slightly larger turbine or whirlybirds vents (this should include at least two intake vents to increase effectiveness)
- Large steel louvered vents
Window or wall-mounted air conditioning units provide cooling in hot climates, and high-efficiency electrical heating or heat pumps can help heat during the winter.
Businesses can purchase running water restrooms (RWR) from custom container modification companies for industrial and commercial applications. These containers are usually fully customized and ready to go.
For residential spaces, installing showers and toilets requires installing a plumbing system and then usually a drop-in shower/tub and toilet.
Before you paint, clean the surface, grind down imperfections and straighten out dents and bumps that may have occurred previously in used containers or recently during shipping with new containers.
Interior Finishing & Shelving
By using interior D rings, no additional modification is needed to the container to install the shelves. Using the D rings allows the custom shelving units to be both adjustable and removable.
Modification Kits vs. DIY
Each method has its downsides, and neither needs to be used exclusively. While DIY shipping container modifications offer more freedom, modification kits are often pre-fitted for the shipping container, which can save you time and money.
If you are better with construction than electrical, you can always buy a modification kit for the electrical portion of your custom shipping container.
Some custom modification companies also offer hybrid packages that are both DIY and a kit, so you can take all the supplies they send and install them yourself in whichever way you like.
Recommended Custom Modification Companies
Here are some of the frequently asked questions about custom shipping containers.
How hard is it to modify a shipping container?
It’s not that difficult to modify a shipping container. Traditional shipping containers are made entirely out of metal, so any modifications such as cutting or drilling require only tools for metal that any DIYer can purchase or rent.
How much does it cost to modify a shipping container?
The cost is heavily dependent on the purpose. A single used container purchased from a wholesaler can cost as little as $1500. In addition to the initial cost, there are all the add-ons to make it into a liveable space.
Modify custom shipping containers into smaller, more basic homes and offices for as little as $10,000, but like renovating a home, everyone will have a different experience depending on their own needs.
What do you put under a shipping container?
Shipping containers should have a concrete or steel foundation of some kind.
The choice of format to use is based on the ground that the shipping container is sitting on and other factors like earthquake likelihood. The structure can be a concrete slab, strips of concrete with loose stone underneath, steel piles (cylindrical solid steel tubes), or piers that are concrete blocks.