Choosing The Right Shipping Container: The Ultimate Guide

Choosing The Right Shipping Container: The Ultimate Guide

If you're new to shopping for shipping containers, it can be overwhelming to navigate through all the details and specifications. However, selecting the right container is a straightforward process that revolves around five key elements: size, spec, type, condition, and budget.Next, we will provide a detailed introduction for your understanding:

1.Container Sizes:

Shipping containers come in standard sizes, with the most common options being 20 feet and 40 feet in length. Other sizes like 10 feet and 45 feet are also available but less common. Consider the amount of space you need for your specific purpose. For personal storage or small projects, a 10-foot or 20-foot container might be sufficient. For larger-scale needs like construction, retail, or conversion into living spaces, a 40-foot container is often more suitable.

2.Container Specs:

Container specifications refer to the structural features and materials of the shipping container. Pay attention to the following specs:
Material: Most shipping containers are made of durable and weather-resistant steel.
Wall Thickness: Thicker walls provide better insulation and strength but reduce internal space.
Door Configuration: Containers typically have double doors at one end, but some have doors at both ends or on the sides. Choose a configuration that suits your access requirements.

3.Container Types:

Shipping containers are designed for specific purposes. Here are a few common types:
Dry Van: Standard containers with no special features.
Reefer: Refrigerated containers for transporting perishable goods.
Open Top: Containers without a roof, suitable for loading oversized cargo.
Flat Rack: Containers with collapsible sides used for transporting heavy or oversized items.
Tank Container: Containers designed to transport liquids or gases.
High Cube: Taller containers offering extra vertical space.
Select the container type that aligns with your specific needs.

4.Container Conditions:

Containers can vary in condition based on their previous usage. Here are the main categories:

New: Brand new containers with no prior use.
One-Trip: Containers that have made only one trip for cargo transportation.
Used: Containers that have been in service for several years but are still in good condition.
As Is: Containers sold in their current condition, which may have visible wear and tear.
Consider the intended use, budget, and desired lifespan of the container when choosing a condition.

When shopping for shipping containers, keep these key elements in mind:
Determine the appropriate size for your needs.
Consider the specifications such as material, wall thickness, and door configuration.
Choose the container type that suits your intended use.
Decide on the condition based on your budget and the expected lifespan of the container.

SolidBox, the leading online marketplace for buying and selling shipping containers, can assist you in navigating these factors and finding the right container for your requirements.


20ft vs. 40ft: Picking the Right Size Shipping Container

The size of a container can dictate other aspects of your purchase, such as condition (new vs. used) and cost. Therefore, it’s a great place to start when trying to determine how to pick the right container.
The two most popular shipping container sizes available for purchase are 20ft and 40ft. While there are other sizes available, such as 10ft and 30ft containers, they’re less common and can therefore be more challenging to source.


20ft Shipping Containers

A 20ft shipping container is designed to carry heavy cargo like machinery, sugar, paper, cement, and steel. It weighs 5,181 lbs when empty and can hold up to 62,016 lbs of cargo. The internal volume of a 20ft container is 1,172 ft3, which is equivalent to 200 standard mattresses, two compact cars, or 9,600 wine bottles.

Here are the dimensions of a 20ft shipping container:
External: 20’ L x 8’ W x 8’6 H
Internal: 19’4” L x 7’8” W x 7’10” H
Door: 7’8” W x 7’5” H


40ft Shipping Containers

A 40ft shipping container can carry double the volume of a 20ft container but not as much weight. It is commonly used for bulky yet lighter goods like cotton, electronics, and consumer furniture. The empty weight of a 40ft container is 8,267 lbs, and it has a loading capacity of 63,383 lbs, which is only 2.2% more than a 20ft container.

The internal volume of a 40ft container is 2,385 ft3, which is equivalent to 400 standard mattresses, four compact cars, or 19,200 wine bottles.
Here are the dimensions of a 40ft shipping container:
External: 40’ L x 8’ W x 8’6 H
Internal: 39’6” L x 7’8” W x 7’10” H
Door: 7’8” W x 7’5” H


Standard vs. High-Cube: Picking the Type of Shipping Container

Once you’ve decided what size container you need, you’ll have to choose between several different types of containers. This will largely depend on what you’re planning to use the container for. 

The most common containers are called “standard containers, also known as general purpose containers. Most standard containers are either 20 or 40 feet in size, with the dimensions listed above.

High cube containers, on the other hand, look just like standard containers but have a height of 9’6 — a foot taller than their standard counterparts. The additional height causes them to look like cubes when viewed from the back or front, hence the name.

Both standard and high-cube containers offer several different options when it comes to the quantity and placement of doors. Choose a container with doors that open on both sides (called a “double-door container) or opt for one that opens along the entire width of one side (called an open-side container).

Finally, if you’re planning to use your container to store or ship perishable or heat-sensitive cargo, you’ll want to go with a “reefer container. These are refrigerated and insulated.


New vs. Used: Picking the Right Condition Shipping Container

Now that you know what type of container you need and how big it should be, it’s time to decide if you want to purchase a new container or upcycle a used one.


One-Trip (New) Shipping Containers

One-trip containers (also known as “new” containers) are units that have only been used once to ship a single load of dry cargo on their journey to the U.S. These are the newest, nicest containers you can buy.
One-trip containers are built to last 25-30 years and don’t require any upfront maintenance or painting.
One-trip containers are ideal if:
Your container will be placed in a highly visible area (e.g., visible by neighbors, and customers).
Your container will be used to build a dwelling, such as a tiny home, office, or cabin.
Your container will be associated with an upscale, customer-facing business, such as a winery or public park.


Cargo-Worthy (Used) Shipping Containers

Cargo-worthy containers are used shipping containers that have typically been in service at sea for around 12-18 years or longer. These containers meet all the requirements for international shipping and exports, including passing a CSC inspection. The CSC inspection ensures that the container can safely carry its intended cargo weight and can be stacked and transported on container ships. SolidBox can coordinate the certification process at an additional cost when you purchase a container from them.

Cargo-worthy containers will exhibit signs of wear from their years of transporting goods at sea, such as dings, dents, scratches, and patches of surface rust. If you plan to use the container for international shipping, a cargo-worthy container is necessary.

SolidBox ensures that all their cargo-worthy containers are inspected for structural integrity and offers a two-year condition guarantee.

When choosing a cargo-worthy container, consider its ability to meet international shipping standards, its condition, and the guarantee provided by the seller. 


Wind & Watertight (Used) Shipping Containers

Wind and watertight containers are among the most budget-friendly shipping containers you can purchase. Like cargo-worthy containers, wind and watertight units are typically 12-18 years old — sometimes older — and have been retired from shipping. Unlike cargo-worthy containers, wind and watertight units no longer meet the structural requirements for international shipping (i.e., they are not recommended for stacking).

All used containers will show significant signs of wear. This includes dings, dents, and patches of surface rust. However, they also have intact floors, properly sealing doors, and are guaranteed watertight — that means no holes or leaks. SolidBox also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee on these containers.

Wind and watertight containers are ideal if:
Your container’s primary function will be storage.
Your container will be modified for non-dwelling purposes.
The aesthetic of your container is not a primary concern.


Shipping vs. Storage: Picking The Right Specs for Your Shipping Container

In addition to size, specs also matter. There are two specs you can choose from when purchasing a shipping container — shipping and storage.

Shipping Spec Containers

Shipping spec containers primarily spend their time on trucks, being opened and closed while still on the chassis during loading and unloading at factories and warehouses. To facilitate this process, these containers are equipped with lower handles, also known as "locking gear," which can be easily accessed by individuals standing on the ground.

Storage Spec Containers

Storage spec containers are typically kept on the ground. Because of this, they are equipped with a lockbox for security, forklift pockets for easy maneuvering, and higher handles that can be easily opened at ground-level — an advantage if being used for storage or as a dwelling.
Choosing a container condition will ultimately depend on your budget and how you plan to use your container.

If you’re looking for the most economical option and don’t care much about aesthetics, or if you’re planning to turn the container into an additional storage space, wind and watertight and cargo-worthy containers are both great options.
If you’re shopping for a container you can use to ship and sell overseas, choose a cargo-worthy or new container.  And if you want a container you can easily turn into a dwelling, office, or storefront with minimal exterior work, choose a new container.

Figuring out how to pick the right container requires a clear understanding of your needs, intended purpose, and budget. If you take the process one step at time, beginning with choosing a size, then type, then condition, you’ll find the shopping experience can be short, sweet, and simple.

If you still have questions about choosing a shipping container, ask a SolidBox container consultant for buying support.

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