When you hear “ship container,” you might picture those massive metal boxes on cargo ships, and you’d be right on point. Ship containers revolutionized global trade, making it faster, cheaper, and more efficient to transport goods across the world.

Quick Facts About Ship Containers:
Major Types: Standard, High-Cube, Refrigerated, Open-Top
Sizes Available: 20-foot, 40-foot, and more
Importance: Vital for 90% of non-bulk global trade

History, Evolution, Importance

The history of ship containers began with a simple but brilliant idea from Malcolm McLean, who introduced the concept of standardized, stackable containers in the 1950s. This innovation cut shipping costs dramatically and streamlined the process of loading and unloading goods. By the 1960s, container shipping expanded to international routes, and the Vietnam War underscored their efficiency for rapid transport of supplies.

Evolution has seen containers grow from humble beginnings to ultra-large sizes capable of carrying over 24,000 TEUs (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units). Modern container ships are marvels of engineering, with hulls designed to maximize cargo space and speed up transport.

Today, ship containers are indispensable. They account for about 90% of non-bulk cargo transported globally. From cars to clothing, countless goods journey across oceans inside these steel giants, fueling world trade and connecting markets.

Evolution of Ship Containers Infographic - ship container infographic infographic-line-3-steps

Types of Ship Containers

Ship containers come in various types, each designed for specific needs. Here’s a breakdown of the most common types you’ll encounter:

Standard Containers

Standard containers are the most widely used type for both storage and transport. They are typically 20 or 40 feet in length, 8 feet wide, and 8 feet 6 inches high. Made from durable Corten steel, these containers are ideal for dry goods, furniture, and general storage.

  • Dimensions: 20′ L x 8′ W x 8’6″ H
  • Material: Corten steel
  • Usage: Dry goods, furniture, general storage

High-Cube Containers

High-cube containers are similar to standard containers but offer an extra foot in height, making them about 9 feet 6 inches tall. This additional height provides more space, around 36.9 cubic meters, making them perfect for taller items or stacked goods.

  • Dimensions: 20′ L x 8′ W x 9’6″ H
  • Increased Volume: About 36.9 cubic meters
  • Application: Light, voluminous cargo, bulky items

Refrigerated Containers

Refrigerated containers, or “reefers,” are essential for transporting or storing perishable goods that require temperature control. Equipped with an integrated refrigeration unit, they can maintain specific temperatures, making them ideal for food, pharmaceuticals, and other temperature-sensitive products.

  • Temperature Control: Integrated refrigeration unit
  • Specialty Use: Food, pharmaceuticals, temperature-sensitive products

Open-Top Containers

Open-top containers are designed for cargo that cannot be easily loaded through the doors, such as heavy machinery or oversized goods. They have removable, weatherproof tarpaulins instead of a solid roof, allowing for top loading and unloading.

  • Design: Removable, weatherproof tarpaulins
  • Usage: Heavy machinery, oversized goods

Standard container - ship container

Each type of ship container serves a unique purpose, offering specific features that cater to different needs. Whether you’re shipping dry goods, perishable items, or oversized machinery, there’s a container designed to meet your requirements. Understanding these options helps you choose the right container for your cargo or project.

Understanding Ship Container Sizes

When it comes to ship containers, size matters. The two most common sizes are 20-foot and 40-foot containers. These sizes are standard across the shipping industry and are designed to fit a variety of needs. Let’s break down their measurements and capacity.

20-Foot Containers

Length: 20 feet
Width: 8 feet
Height: 8 feet 6 inches

Volume: Approximately 1,172 cubic feet
Weight: Can carry up to 28,200 kg (62,170 lbs) of cargo

Usage: Ideal for small to medium-sized shipments, including personal belongings, small machinery, and retail goods. They are also popular for conversions into mobile offices or tiny homes due to their compact size.

40-Foot Containers

Length: 40 feet
Width: 8 feet
Height: 8 feet 6 inches

Volume: Approximately 2,390 cubic feet
Weight: Can carry up to 26,500 kg (58,420 lbs) of cargo

Usage: Best for larger shipments, such as bulk goods, large machinery, or extensive household moves. Their larger size makes them suitable for more extensive modifications, like multi-room offices or spacious living quarters.

High-Cube Containers

For those needing extra height, High-Cube containers offer an additional foot in height:

Length: Available in both 20-foot and 40-foot lengths
Height: 9 feet 6 inches

Usage: Perfect for taller items or when you need to stack goods higher. A 20-foot High Cube offers about 36.9 cubic meters of space, while a 40-foot High Cube provides even more room.

Practical Applications

Choosing the right container size depends on what you’re shipping or storing:

  • Dry Goods: A standard 20-foot container often suffices.
  • Refrigerated Goods: Opt for a Reefer container if you need to keep items cold.
  • Oversized Cargo: Consider High-Cube or Open-Top containers for large or tall items.

Quick Stats

  • 90% of the world’s freight moves in 40-foot containers, making them the backbone of global trade.
  • 20-foot containers are versatile and easier to maneuver, making them a favorite for smaller projects and tight spaces.

Understanding these sizes and their capacities ensures you select the right container for your needs, whether for shipping, storage, or creative projects. Next, we’ll dive into the costs associated with buying and renting these versatile containers.

The Cost of Buying and Renting Ship Containers

Price Factors

When considering the cost of a ship container, several factors come into play:

  • Condition and Age: New containers, often called “One Trip” containers, are in pristine condition and cost more. Prices for new 20-foot containers start around $3,000. Used containers are cheaper, starting at about $2,475, but may have wear and tear.
  • Modifications: Adding windows, doors, or insulation can increase costs. Basic modifications can cost a few thousand dollars, while extensive changes like plumbing and electrical installations can significantly raise the price.
  • Delivery and Setup: The cost varies based on location and accessibility. Delivery fees can range from a few hundred to over a thousand dollars.

Rental Options

Renting a ship container can be a cost-effective solution for temporary needs. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Monthly Rental Costs: Renting a 20-foot container typically costs between $75 to $200 per month. This option is perfect for short-term storage or projects.
  • Flexibility: You can rent containers for as long as needed and return them when done, avoiding the commitment of a full purchase.
  • Conditions: Rental containers are usually in good condition, ensuring your items are stored safely.

Cost Efficiency

Choosing between buying and renting depends on your specific needs:

  • Buying: Ideal for long-term use or when you need a customized solution. While the initial cost is higher, owning a container offers more flexibility for modifications.
  • Renting: Best for short-term projects or temporary storage. It’s cheaper upfront and provides the flexibility to return the container when no longer needed.

Pro Tip: Always compare quotes from different suppliers and check for hidden fees. This ensures you get the best deal whether you’re buying or renting.

Understanding these cost factors helps you make an informed decision that aligns with your budget and needs. Next, we’ll explore how to choose the right ship container for your specific requirements.

How to Choose the Right Ship Container

Choosing the right ship container depends on several factors. Here’s a breakdown to help you make the best decision.

Use Case

First, think about how you’ll use the container. Different uses require different features:

  • Storage: For basic storage, a standard container might be enough. Ensure it has good ventilation and is weatherproof.
  • Living or Office Space: If you’re converting a container into a living or office space, consider high-cube containers for extra headroom and better insulation options.
  • Shipping: For shipping goods, ensure the container meets international shipping standards and is equipped with proper locking mechanisms.


The material of the container affects its durability and suitability for different environments:

  • Corten Steel: Most containers are made from corten steel, known for its durability and resistance to rust. This makes it ideal for long-term storage and shipping.
  • Aluminum: Lighter than steel, aluminum containers are easier to move but less durable. They are often used for air transport.


The condition of the container is crucial, especially if you’re buying a used one:

  • New: New containers are free from wear and tear but come at a higher cost.
  • Used: Used containers are more affordable but inspect them for rust, dents, and structural integrity. Ensure they are still watertight and secure.
  • One-Trip: These containers have been used only once, offering a balance between cost and condition.

Security Features

Security is vital, especially if you’re storing valuable items:

  • Lockboxes: These protect the padlock from being tampered with.
  • Seals: Ensure the container has proper seals to prevent unauthorized access.
  • Alarms: For added security, some containers come with alarm systems.

Pro Tip: Always inspect the container in person if possible. Look for signs of rust, structural damage, and check the doors and seals for proper functioning.

By considering your use case, the material, the condition, and the security features, you can choose a ship container that perfectly fits your needs.

Next, we’ll explore how to customize your ship container to suit your specific requirements.

Customizing Your Ship Container

Customizing a ship container can transform it into a versatile space for various uses, from offices to homes. Here are some key modifications you can make:


Proper insulation is crucial, especially if you plan to use the container as a living or working space. Without it, the container can become extremely hot in summer and freezing in winter.

Types of Insulation:

  • Spray Foam Insulation: This is a popular choice because it expands to fill gaps, creating a seamless barrier against air leaks and moisture. It’s highly effective for maintaining a stable temperature.

  • Pink Batt Insulation: After a layer of spray foam, you can add R-12 pink batt insulation for extra thermal protection. This combination helps keep the interior comfortable year-round.

  • Moisture Barriers: These are essential to prevent condensation, which can lead to mold and mildew. A moisture barrier is especially important in humid climates or areas with frequent temperature changes.


Adding windows can make your container feel more like a traditional building. They bring in natural light and improve ventilation.

Types of Windows:

  • Sliding Glass Windows: Ideal for creating a homey atmosphere, perfect for living spaces or offices.

  • Fixed Windows: Better for utilitarian purposes, such as storage or workshops, where you need light but not necessarily ventilation.

  • Ticket Windows: Useful for security booths or pop-up stores.


The standard double-swing doors on a shipping container are great for storage but might not be practical for other uses.

Types of Doors:

  • Roll-Up Garage Doors: These are perfect if you don’t have the space to swing open large doors.

  • Sliding Glass Doors: Ideal for creating a welcoming entryway, suitable for homes or offices.

  • Standard Office Doors: These can make your container feel more traditional and accessible.

Interior Modifications

The interior of your container can be customized to suit your specific needs.

Common Modifications:

  • Wiring: For living or working spaces, you’ll need more than just a single outlet. Full wiring includes a breaker box, exterior outlets, lights, and possibly phone jacks for internet access.

  • Partitions: Interior walls can create separate rooms within the container. These can be customized with doors, windows, and cut-outs.

  • Flooring: The bare metal floor is fine for storage but not ideal for living or working. Options like sheet vinyl or composite vinyl tile can make the space more comfortable and functional.

  • Climate Control: Air conditioning and heating are essential for comfort. These can be built into the container to avoid the need for external units.

  • Plumbing: Whether it’s a simple sink or a full bathroom with showers and toilets, plumbing can be integrated into your container. This is crucial for living spaces and some work environments.

By addressing insulation, windows, doors, and interior modifications, you can create a ship container that meets your specific needs, whether it’s for living, working, or storage.

Next, we’ll discuss the maintenance and care required to keep your ship container in top condition.

Maintenance and Care for Ship Containers

Taking care of your ship container is key to ensuring it lasts a long time and stays in good condition. Here are some tips on longevity, weatherproofing, and rust prevention.


To get the most out of your ship container, regular maintenance is essential. Here are some steps to help extend its lifespan:

  • Regular Inspections: Check your container regularly for any signs of damage, rust, or leaks. Early detection can prevent bigger problems.
  • Reinforcements: Structural reinforcements, like steel beams, can help maintain the integrity of your container, especially if you’ve made modifications like adding windows or doors.


Weatherproofing your container is crucial to protect it from the elements. Here’s how you can do it:

  • Seal Gaps and Cracks: Use caulking or weather-resistant sealant to fill any gaps or cracks. This will prevent water from entering and causing damage.
  • Moisture Barriers: Installing a moisture barrier can prevent condensation inside the container. This is especially important in humid climates.
  • Insulation: Proper insulation can help maintain a stable temperature inside your container. Closed cell spray foam and R-12 pink batt insulation are effective options.

Rust Prevention

Rust is a common issue for ship containers, but it can be managed with the right care:

  • Rust Removal: Regularly inspect your container for rust spots and remove them immediately using a wire brush or sandpaper. Apply a rust converter to stop the rusting process.
  • Protective Coatings: Applying a new coat of paint or a rust-resistant primer can provide an extra layer of protection. This is especially important in coastal areas where saltwater can accelerate rusting.
  • Drainage: Ensure that water does not pool around the base of your container. Proper drainage can prevent rust from forming at the bottom.

By following these maintenance tips, you can ensure your ship container remains in excellent condition for years to come.

Next, we’ll explore the security measures you can take to protect your ship container and its contents.

Ship Container Security Measures

When it comes to securing your ship container, there are several effective measures to consider. These methods ensure your valuable items stay safe from theft and damage. Let’s dive into the most common security measures: lockboxes, seals, and alarms.


Lockboxes are essential for protecting the locks on your container doors. They are metal enclosures that cover and shield the padlock, making it difficult for thieves to tamper with it.

  • Example: One popular type of lockbox is the “hidden shackle padlock,” which is almost impossible to cut with bolt cutters.
  • Benefit: Adds an extra layer of security and peace of mind.


Seals are tamper-evident devices used to secure the doors of your ship container. They come in various types, including bolt seals, cable seals, and plastic seals.

  • Bolt Seals: These are heavy-duty seals often used for high-value shipments. They require bolt cutters to remove, making unauthorized access difficult.
  • Cable Seals: Flexible and adjustable, these seals can be used on multiple types of containers and provide a high level of security.
  • Plastic Seals: These are used for lower-risk shipments and are easy to apply and remove.

Statistic: According to a UNCTAD report, using seals can reduce theft incidents by up to 75%.


Alarms are advanced security measures that can detect unauthorized access or movement. Modern alarm systems can be integrated with GPS tracking and send real-time alerts to your phone or email.

  • Motion Sensors: These sensors can detect movement inside or around the container and trigger an alarm.
  • Door Alarms: These are triggered when the container doors are opened without authorization.

Case Study: A study in Taiwan found that the use of alarms in container shipping operations significantly reduced the risk of theft and unauthorized access.

By implementing these security measures, you can ensure that your ship container and its contents are well-protected.

Next, we’ll explore the innovative uses of ship containers beyond just shipping and storage.

Innovative Uses of Ship Containers

Ship containers aren’t just for shipping and storage anymore. These versatile structures are being repurposed in creative and practical ways. Let’s explore some innovative uses:


Shipping container homes are becoming popular across the U.S. They offer a cost-effective and eco-friendly alternative to traditional housing. For example, in Texas, Rhode Island, and New York, homeowners are stacking and arranging containers like LEGO bricks to create multi-story homes. These homes can be fully equipped with electricity, plumbing, and modern amenities.

Fact: Shipping container homes are not only visually striking but also practical. They can be modified to include insulation, windows, and doors, making them as comfortable as any conventional house.


Shipping containers make excellent portable offices. They are easy to set up and can be customized to fit your needs. Whether you need a small office for a few employees or a larger space for a growing team, containers can be modified with insulation, electricity, and other office necessities.

Quote: “Shipping containers are highly modular – more can be added according to your needs, making it easy to increase your office space as your staff grows.”


Pop-up shops and temporary storefronts benefit greatly from using shipping containers. They are quick to set up and can be placed in urban locations where space is limited. For events like product launches or seasonal sales, a shipping container can serve as a unique and eye-catching storefront.

Example: A 10-foot shipping container can be perfect for tight urban locations, while a 20-foot container offers more flexibility and space for exclusive events.

Emergency Shelters

In times of crisis, shipping containers can be quickly converted into emergency shelters. They provide a sturdy and secure environment that can be rapidly deployed to disaster-stricken areas. With proper insulation and basic amenities, these containers can offer temporary housing for those in need.

Case Study: During natural disasters, mobile medical centers made from shipping containers have been set up to provide immediate medical care to affected communities. These centers can be moved and reassembled quickly, making them ideal for emergency response.

Shipping containers are more than just big metal boxes. Their flexibility and durability make them a valuable resource for various innovative applications.

Next, we’ll delve into how ship containers are used in logistics and transportation.

Ship Containers in Logistics and Transportation

Ship containers play a crucial role in the logistics and transportation industry. They make it easier to move goods across long distances, ensuring safety and efficiency. Let’s explore how they are stacked, loaded, unloaded, and tracked.


Stacking ship containers is like building with LEGO blocks. Containers are designed to be stacked on top of each other, which saves space on cargo ships.

Fact: A typical twist-lock device, made of forged steel and ductile iron, is used to lock containers together. It has a shear strength of 48 tonnes


Loading containers onto ships involves placing them in a way that balances the ship. Containers are loaded into the holds of fully cellular (FC) ships using simple metal forms called container guides. Above deck, more advanced equipment like wire ropes, rigid rods, and chains are used.

Quote: “Lashing systems secure containers to the ship using devices made from wire rope, rigid rods, or chains and turnbuckles.”


Unloading is the reverse process of loading. Cranes lift the containers off the ship and place them onto trucks or trains. The containers are then transported to their final destinations.


Tracking ship containers has been revolutionized by technology. Companies use advanced software to monitor the real-time location of containers. This helps in predicting delays and optimizing routes.

Case Study: Companies like Across Logistics use advanced software that tracks shipments in real time and provides analytics to optimize shipping routes

By understanding these key aspects of ship containers in logistics and transportation, businesses can ensure their goods are shipped efficiently and safely.

Next, we’ll answer some frequently asked questions about ship containers.

Frequently Asked Questions about Ship Containers

What are the legal requirements for using a ship container for storage or living?

Using a ship container for storage or living involves several legal considerations. Here are the key points:

  1. Zoning Laws: Check local zoning laws. Some areas may restrict or prohibit the use of shipping containers.
  2. Building Permits: You may need a permit for modifications, especially for living spaces. Contact your local building department.
  3. Safety Standards: Ensure your container meets safety and building codes. This includes structural integrity, insulation, and ventilation.
  4. Environmental Regulations: Be aware of any local environmental regulations that might affect placement and usage.

Fact: In some areas, using a container for living requires compliance with the International Residential Code (IRC).

How can I ensure my ship container is eco-friendly?

Making your ship container eco-friendly is easier than you might think. Here are some tips:

  1. Use Recycled Materials: Opt for reclaimed wood for flooring or recycled metal for fixtures. This reduces waste and saves resources.
  2. Eco-friendly Insulation: Choose insulation like closed-cell spray foam, which is effective and environmentally friendly.
  3. Solar Panels: Install solar panels to power your container. This reduces reliance on fossil fuels.
  4. Low-VOC Paints: Use paints with low volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to improve air quality and reduce environmental impact.

Tip: Bamboo flooring is a sustainable option that looks great and is durable.

What are the challenges of shipping personal belongings internationally in a ship container?

Shipping personal belongings internationally in a ship container can be challenging. Here are some common issues and solutions:

  1. Customs Regulations: Different countries have varying customs regulations. Ensure you understand the rules and have all necessary documentation.
  2. Prohibited Items: Some items can’t be shipped. Commonly banned items include hazardous materials, perishables, and firearms.
  3. Packing: Proper packing is crucial. Use sturdy boxes and padding to protect your items. Label everything clearly.
  4. Insurance: Consider getting insurance for your belongings. This provides peace of mind in case of loss or damage.

Stat: In 2009, over 11 million gross tons of new container ships were delivered, showing the scale of global shipping

By addressing these challenges, you can ensure a smoother experience when shipping your personal belongings internationally.

Next, we’ll explore the various innovative uses of ship containers.


At Aztec Container, we pride ourselves on offering custom solutions for all your shipping container needs. Whether you’re looking for a standard container or a fully customized unit, we’ve got you covered.

Custom Solutions

We understand that every customer has unique requirements. That’s why we offer a wide range of customization options. From adding windows and doors to insulating the interior, we can modify a ship container to suit your specific needs. Our team is experienced in transforming containers into homes, offices, and even emergency shelters.

Fast Delivery

Time is of the essence, and we get that. Our streamlined processes ensure that your container is delivered quickly and efficiently. We have a large inventory ready to go, so you won’t have to wait long to get your container. We also handle all the logistics, making the process hassle-free for you.

Competitive Prices

We believe in offering quality containers at competitive prices. Whether you’re buying or renting, you’ll find that our rates are among the best in the industry. We strive to provide value for money without compromising on quality.

For more information and to browse our selection of shipping containers, visit our Phoenix storage containers page.

Thank you for considering Aztec Container for your shipping container needs. We look forward to serving you!