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Modern Storage: How a Shipping Container Can Be Your New Garage and Shop

We’re using a shipping container garage as a storage solution at the off-grid RV camp we’re building. We’re excited about the potential and how we’ll be using it. However, while container garages can be convenient and incredibly useful, they’re not for everyone. There are pros and cons that you should consider before you shop around for a shipping container garage.

Today, we’ll walk you through how a shipping container could be your next garage or workshop.

Let’s dive in!

We Got Our Shipping Container Garage! Off-Grid Camp Build - Part 2

What Is a Shipping Container Garage?

Whether you call it a container garage, shipping container shop, or something else, they’re all the same thing. These structures are repurposed shipping containers. People typically use them to haul goods across land or sea. Our shipping container made one trip across the ocean before we bought it.

While it will take some modification, these durable, portable, and sustainable structures can be beneficial. They come watertight and secure, and for the price per square foot, its hard to beat one of these containers. With some blood, sweat, and creativity, you can turn them into versatile and functional spaces.

You Can Buy Used or Nearly New Shipping Containers

Unfortunately, you can’t shop for a shipping container at your local Walmart or Costco. However, you can find them online. Many companies sell new and used shipping containers. They’ll even deliver.

Typically, people consider containers that have only made a single trip across the sea as still new. They’ll likely show minimal signs of use and be in like-new condition. These are also more expensive as they’re free of rust, are cleaner, and overall nicer units.

The internet will be your best source for finding containers near you. Typing “shipping containers near me” into Google will likely return various possibilities. However, you should proceed with caution and beware of scams, there are a lot of them out there.

Facebook Marketplace or other online listings can be sketchy. You want to ensure the person selling it can sell it and is real. If not, you could buy into a scam and purchase stolen property. Make sure you’re purchasing from a reputable individual or business and use common sense. When in doubt, trust your gut. We bought from a local guy who we talked to before hand and saw our container.

Pro Tip: Need somewhere to store your gear? Check out Our Review of the Harbor Freight Portable Garage.

Shipping containers are no longer just for sending big packages overseas. Use one as a garage!

Is It Cheaper to Build a Shed or Buy a Shipping Container?

While a shed may look nicer in your yard, it’s usually much more expensive for what you get. Depending on the shipping container’s age, size, and condition, it can be anywhere from $1,800 to $8,000. On the other hand, a standard-sized shed will typically cost you $4,000 to $6,000. However, a shed only provides approximately 144 feet square feet, while a shipping container offers more than 300.

Another strike against using a shed is that the process typically takes longer. Once you order it, you may have to wait for the manufacturer to build it. Once they make it, you’ll need to wait for them to arrange the shipping and delivery to your location. However, shipping containers are ready for delivery almost immediately.

When considering these two options, it’s evident that shipping containers are the ideal choice. Do they look the best? Absolutely not. However, a shipping container offers the biggest bang for your buck and maximizes storage space.

Benefits of a Shipping Container Garage

There are several benefits to choosing a shipping container garage for your storage. Let’s examine why you should consider this route.

Durability and Strength

One of the most significant benefits of choosing a shipping container garage is its durability and strength. They can withstand some of the harshest conditions and exposure to the elements. The rain, wind, and snow won’t be anything to worry about. Whatever you’re storing will be safe and sound.

With very little maintenance, these structures can last upwards of 25 years. However, the lifespan of your shipping container will significantly depend on the condition when you receive it and the environment where you’re storing it. Regardless, most sheds and other storage options won’t fare nearly as well as these structures during the same period.

Security

Shipping containers have an incredibly secure construction. Unless you make significant modifications, they usually have a single entrance and no windows. This limits the opportunities thieves would have to get to your property.

Additionally, their solid construction and locking mechanisms are challenging to get into. Someone up to no good would likely need to use special tools to get into your container. Since it would usually generate noise and attract attention, they’ll be less likely to risk getting caught. 

Cost

Using a shipping container for storage or other practical purposes is very cost-effective. While they’ll typically cost you several thousand dollars, it’s one of the best deals for what you receive. Some estimates are that shipping containers are approximately $8 per square foot cheaper than sheds.

However, it’s also crucial to consider how you plan to use it. It can get expensive if you plan to modify your shipping container significantly. Please research before signing on the dotted line and becoming a shipping container owner.

Mortons on the Move installing shipping container on their property
We leveled out the perfect spot before installing our shipping container.

Ease of Installation

Installation of a shipping container garage is effortless. All you generally need is a flat place to place it and a path for a vehicle to reach it. Whoever delivers it will put it as close as possible to where you want it. 

In most cases, there’s very little site prep necessary. If you already have a flat spot, you could have a container on your property before you know it.

You don’t have to worry about construction delays or supply shortages causing many issues. It can be a relatively stress-free and straightforward storage solution.

Environmental Friendliness

We look for any opportunity we can to minimize our impact on the environment and recycle. Since most shipping containers previously hauled cargo and other goods, this is an opportunity to reuse them. Repurposing a shipping container is a great way to recycle and reduce the carbon footprint compared to new construction.

We love spending time outdoors and making choices that protect the environment. While a newly constructed storage shed or garage can look nice, it can feel wasteful. It’s good to know that we’re choosing an option that’s better for the environment.

Pro Tip: Need somewhere to store your rig? Discover Why Your RV Deserves its Own Carport and why it would benefit you to have one.

Footings for shipping container
Shipping containers don’t need foundations, but If you want it to be level and possibly run utilities to it footings are a good idea, we are pouring footings for our unit.

Disadvantages of a Shipping Container Garage

While shipping container garages sound great, there are a few disadvantages. Before committing, it’s essential to understand the negative aspects of this option. Let’s take a look!

Fixed Sizes

When you shop for a shipping container, your options for sizes will be very few. This is mainly because cargo ships want to use every inch of space. A uniform size allows them to stack the containers without worrying about stability.

Typically, containers are 8 feet wide and 10, 20, or 40 feet long. This allows people to easily haul them worldwide on trains, semis, and cargo ships. So you’ll have to work with what you have regarding the sizes. However, some get creative and stack or connect them for multiple spaces.

Insulation and Ventilation

Shipping containers are nothing more than solid metal boxes. While it will keep the weather elements on the outside from getting to your stuff, it can create issues inside. The struggle with condensation can be challenging. In general, lighter-colored containers tend to be easier to moderate. 

You’ll need to install insulation and ventilation systems yourself. Ensure you factor these into the overall costs. However, newer containers tend to come with more vents than older versions. Additionally, you can opt for refrigerator containers. These are more expensive but come with insulation.

Tom from Mortons on the Move with dog in shipping container
Keep in mind you’ll need to install insulation and ventilation into your shipping container.

Maintenance and Rust Concerns

While shipping containers can last an incredibly long time, you’ll need to do some maintenance to help them out. The exterior paint and protective coatings can weaken as the container sits exposed to the elements. If you leave this untreated, rust can develop.

Because these containers are metal, rust is a significant concern. Moisture and salt can eat away at the surfaces of the container. This can cause issues with its appearance and ability to protect your stuff. If you live near the ocean or in moist environments, you may experience these issues sooner than in other parts of the country.

Permit and Zoning Issues

Unfortunately, some people have issues with permits and zoning requirements for shipping container garages. This isn’t usually a concern if you’re like us and in a rural area. However, many urban areas have code and zoning departments that prohibit using a shipping container shop as storage. If you live in one of these stricter locations, your only options may be a traditional shed or garage structure.

Aesthetics

Permit and zoning issues typically result from the container’s aesthetics. Few people will be excited to have a neighbor with a big metal box in their yard. Unless you take good care of it, the aesthetics can go downhill quickly.

Your neighbors may not like the industrial look or feel that it diminishes the area’s property values. We understand that they’re not always as attractive as other options. Luckily, this isn’t an issue we must worry about on our off-grid property.

Pro Tip: No storage? No problem! Find out What Is a Toy Hauler RV and how you can use it to store all your toys.

We're Building An Off -Grid RV Camp - MOTM Is Back!

Is a Shipping Container Garage Worth It?

A shipping container garage can be a fantastic option you should consider. While we would love a big fancy barn or garage, this option is cheaper, more creative, and environmentally friendly. We look forward to finding unique ways to maximize our shipping container to help us enjoy off-grid life.

Would you consider using a shipping container for a garage? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

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About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

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Suvane

Sunday 10th of September 2023

I'm leaning toward having one buried using it as a "root cellar " when we are away for an extended period of time and also as a safe place to go incase a fire rages up the mountain we are on and we are unable to evacuate

Kevin Benninghoff

Sunday 10th of September 2023

Great story! We own a 8by 20 container in southern AZ by Quartzite . Our property is over an acre and we pull our 5th wheel over for winter months. We have all our yard things in container and then at the very end we put our side by side in last. We live the extra storage. Ours came out of San Diego and was delivered to us. Love your stories! Have great Sunday! Take care! Kevin

Steve H

Sunday 10th of September 2023

Thanks, great article! As an environmentally-conscious engineer, I have also looked at containers for building. Although I am in a semi-arid climate, but with winter snow and spring rains, the rust issue with steel containers is still a concern. So I have priced high-cube aluminum containers. Not as readily available as steel and more expensive, but potentially requiring less maintenance and easier to modify. However, most aluminum containers are 53' long, so specialized transport and more land are required. I am still in the "design" stage, so have not yet purchased a container.