Having a separate workshop where your tooling, work and development can be both separate as well as protected is an ideal situation.
Many who have had to try and operate a workshop in a combined facility or customer interface knows how frustrating it can be with sharing space, having equipment be misplaced, struggle to keep an area safe from accidental harm and similar.
As a result, when a workshop facility can be isolated and contained in its own environment, that is a huge plus. On the other hand, some facilities can be expensive, especially with a new build.
They are far more secure than a traditional garage or shed, and the startup cost is far less than laying a full foundation and standing up an entire building, even a small one.
Shipping Containers as an Alternative Build Workshop Space
Shipping containers essentially involve those large metal container boxes that are loaded on ships and trains to move large amounts of good securely.
They are regularly seen at ports and train stations as well as on semi-trucks moving across interstates. Shipping containers tend to be secured with lockable doors on one side, and they can either be bare containers on environmentally controlled (refrigeration) equipped.
For the purposes of a workshop space, the bare containers work best. Containers also come in a couple of different sizes. There are at least seven different shipping container sizes ranging from small boxes to a length of 40 feet at least.
They also vary in standard size of 8’6” height to high cube size that adds on a foot to 9’6”. Given the selection, some thought in which container would work best for your location footprint is worth the trouble.
The Benefits of Using a Shipping Container
First off, shipping containers for workshops are great for security, especially if your workshop needs to contain lots of equipment and tooling that you do not want to see get up and walk away mysteriously.
Shipping containers tend to be so secure, many larger consumer stores park them outside on the edge of their parking lot to use as extra inventory storage space.
They are far better than a flimsy shed; the high-grade steel used to make the entire shipping container box provides an absolute water-tight containment that also resists fire (not heat, however).
The only weak point to a break-in is at the doors, depending on what kind of a lock mechanism is used. Look for the right one, and shipping containers protect their content extremely well.
Shipping containers as workshops can be moved around. Let’s say you look around and picked a location and things worked out and your workshop was set up.
Then, a year into it you realize the location was not the best choice and the unit needs to be relocation. No problem. Unlike a building which would have to be torn down, you can simply use a crane to pick up the container and relocated it to a different spot with a new placement.
And, if you ever need to dissemble the workshop and get rid of the container, they tend to sell and move very quickly, easily trucked out without any further cleanup needed.
Shipping containers as workshops are designed to be customizable. In fact, some military bases overseas use them as protective shelters and offices on forward operating military bases.
They can be outfitted with interior walls and floors, lighting, ventilation and more. Shipping container windows can be added as well. Others are stacked for multi-level facilities and customer features.
- Cost Savings
Cost-wise, your operating or capital budget gets a big plus. Shipping containers for workshops are normally very plentiful and typically run a price point of $1,000 to $6,000 to outright own one, depending on new or used condition.
Sometimes there can be a shortage of units, as has been the case in 2020, when shipping gets disrupted and boxes pile up in certain ports and do not circulate.
In these instances, the price can go up due to lower inventory, but these issues are uncommon. In terms of investment value, shipping container workshops will easily last 10 years if not longer if taken care of and maintained.
Shipping containers can be used for either personal use, office or commercial/business functions. Just remember that if you place one as a commercial facility or office, then you will need to make sure its installation and connections are performed according to your local building codes, especially if for commercial use.
That includes both general construction permits and codes as well as fire safety requirements.
For the most part, containers will get a high grade because they are so darn rigid, durable and fire-resistant, but you will still need to confirm fire-suppression systems, exit points and zoning requirements.
If you used near your house for private purpose, you make still need code requirements if you ever plan to sell the house and property. Otherwise, the container will need to be removed before selling the house.
Options and Choices for Your Workshop
When going through the initial build of your workshop on paper, you are going to want to make sure the basics are included:
Identify how your electricity is going to be provided and hooked up in a shipping container. Where your light fixtures will be placed and whether you will use grid power or solar power can make a difference.
Your workspace is going to take up interior space, especially if you want to have a workbench. Draw out a few designs to consider different shipping container options before settling on one choice.
Shelving and cabinets are a must so you can take advantage of the upper space above your workbench and in the high corners and levels of your container.
Also, consider the exterior of your shipping container and where it will be placed. Will you be on an incline or flat level? Will it be next to a house?
Will you need a cement pad placed first or leave the container on bare ground? If the shipping container workshop will be stacked or elevated, you will need stairs or a ramp to access it safely and regularly.
You also may need to consider plumbing for extended use as well, i.e., a working bathroom or lab sinks if planning to do a lot of wetwork in your workspace.
Workshop planning can be a bit of challenge in incline areas where flat ground can be limited. On the other hand, flat areas are robust for multiple shipping container workshops and workshop clustering.
Your shipping container workshop planning will more often dictate the size of container that you ultimately choose than anything else.
Again, as noted earlier, there are at least seven different size types that can be turned into shipping container workshops by people. The most common shipping containers are either 20-feet long or 40-feet long for extended space.
They are all shaped rectangular in shape except for the smallest box available which is not practical for more than a small storage shed. Also, note that your height clearance will need to be at least 10 feet as the high cube sizes are 9’6” in height.
The easiest placement for people and workshops tends to be in more open areas as shipping containers must be lifted with cranes or dragged in and out of place.
Common DIY Layout Steps for Shipping Container Workshops
Given your shipping container choice will dictate how much space you can work with, you can pretty much assume as a starting point that you will need to line the floor way, walls and ceiling with insulation and plywood for a minimum interior surface.
This also gives you the ability to anchor various shelving and brackets to the surfacing later on inside your shipping container workshop. Suppliers can help if you tell them what your customizations are for.
Electricity and Plumbing
Plan your electricity and plumbing as well as any data wiring first before anything else. Your overall property layout can impact this availability.
Install your grid and piping customizations as needed and then build your furniture and shelving around these channels afterwards. It is much easier, provides a straight-line approach instead of kinked and bent connections, and it is a lot less work overall.
With the power, data and plumbing lines installed consistent with your property, then you can put in your first pieces of furniture.
Floor drainage in a shipping container workshop may be necessary if you anticipate spillage on a regular basis. Simply leaving liquid on the floor with end up rotting the floor and creating a hazard inside your workspace.
Because the container is sealed, the water and moisture will stay inside underneath the flooring until removed or evaporated otherwise.
Most shipping container workshops will have a work bench at upper waist level. Some even need a sink. The sink due to plumbing connections should be at the end of a workshop container as well as the bathroom if needed.
This creates the shortest run and isolates your water connections to just one side of the container. Your workbench can be a segment or as long as the container, depending on what you need.
However, the workbench will take up almost half of your movable spaces in the container where it is place. So, plan for storage containers underneath the bench as well as storage above it to take advantage of the wall space above.
The extent of your finishing and customizations could be very professional or just basic with wood and no more. It is really up to you what is desired. Just plan to do the work up front as it can be almost impossible to finish after the fact, including painting.
Absolutely plan for ventilation in shipping containers as well. While a shipping container workshop can be very resistant to weather being steel it can get hot or cold inside, depending on the outside temperature and how that affects the container surface.
A ventilation system and air conditioning can easily balance out that steel temp problem as well as remove fumes or smells from work product while using the unit.
Remember, various chemicals and materials are intended to be used with air flow. If working in a cargo container space without air flow, you could end up creating a risk for yourself simply because of how air-tight a container workshop can be on its own.
This applies even if just using a workshop as a hobby space.
Get more cost effective ideas and details from home video projects online as well as similar inspiration from website blogs and business owners.
Some workshops are so detailed out, they might as well be another home. And others are as plain as it gets. Get in and get out after the work is done.
Workshop space ideas are as varied as people are different. But there is always a way, and customization options and projects are plentiful. There are also prefab plans one can use as well.
These plans go through features, suppliers, insulation, spaces, floor and ceiling options, look and finish issues, customizations, and even styles for workbenches. Just be careful of copyrighted plans; some expect a license use fee with rights reserved.
A shipping container workshop can be great for cost-effective solution for utilitarian facilities, workshops, extra storage space benefits and even living containers in otherwise harsh environments or where tight budgets are in play.
However, the extent of how well shipping containers provide a solution depends a lot on planning up front and how you want to utilize the unit as your workshop.
Spend a good amount of time on your needs and then translate that to your container size and interior design.
Anticipate your exterior placement and all the hookups for your workbenches and features that will be needed as well, including their proximity to the container.
And finally, do not forget the related legalities with zoning and building permits businesses and hobby residential functions need. The last thing you want to deal with after finishing everything is ending up having to remove the container because the local city orders it out.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can anyone buy and use a shipping container?
Generally, yes. As long as you can pay for the container to buy it, there usually are no restrictions on who can buy a container.
Can containers be recycled?
If you find that you no longer need a container, it can be resold back to a shipping company. You may need to do some legwork to find a buyer, and you will need to strip it out and repair any holes or gaps made to use it as a facility (i.e. windows, wiring holes, plumbing holes, etc.).
Will my container be taxed as land property?
The answer depends on your local jurisdiction and their definition of a structure or fixture for tax assessments as well as building codes. Check with your local tax assessor to be sure as the rules vary from town to town.
Can shipping containers be joined for multiple units?
Yes, as long as you have a welder or the necessary tools to create passages, containers can be joined for multi unit housing and space containment. They can also be stacked and secured as well, but you may need to be in compliance with local building codes, so check first with your city to be sure what’s required.