Shipping containers are a robust, interesting, quick, and cost-effective way to put a building in your yard, on your flatbed, or at your business.  You can also stack them (8+ tall at sea in hurricanes), inexpensively transport them, and have an instant rooftop deck. 

You can learn more about containerization and its impacts in this fascinating Wikipedia article.

Like other industrial detritus, shipping containers can be a bit difficult to find / move. This Instructable is to help you find and get a container or 10.

This is the first entry in a (long) series I'll do on converting a shipping container into an off-grid, open-source, affordable house. If you enjoy it, please consider supporting my Kickstarter project and/or forwarding it on. Thanks!
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Step 1: Research Regulations

If you're going to go through the trouble of placing a metal box that weighs several thousand pounds in your yard, you should start by making sure your local code enforcers aren't going to promptly make you move it.

As of this writing, I live in Austin, Texas. Codes vary substantially from place to place, so you'll have to verify for your own locale what the deal is.

Here's how I found out I'd (probably) be enforcer-free:
  1. google: austin city building code
  2. click on first result, go to some austin city webpage
  3. click on 'frequently asked questions' then 'inspections and permits' then 'permits' then 'do i need a permit?'
  4. sweet! under 'work exempt from permits':
One-story detached accessory structures, provided the floor area does not exceed 200 square feet (18.58 m2).
Please keep in mind that although you do not need a permit to build or install the structure you must still abide by any zoning rules and regulations in regards to height, setbacks and trade permits. If you decide to install electricity or plumbing systems into the structure you will be required to obtain those trade permits. Please visit the ‘Zoning’ page to find out what which regulations apply to your home in regards to structure height and/or yard setback areas."

I want to make sure I'm ok on my planned rooftop deck, so on to the zoning page. yikes: forget it. I'll just do it and take my chances. I think I'm supposed to be at least 5 feet from my neighbor's fences or something... 

If you can't avoid zoning issues through an exemption, you're in for a process.  Check out what others have done for inspiration / examples. The good folks of The Shipyard, a collection of workspaces consisting largely of shipping containers in Berkeley, California, have been so kind as to publish their use permit details. You can check it out here.
kkstroup21 days ago

Karen.b. stokes would you llike to sell your containers?

So I have bought 2 of these suckers, 40' long. I was happy as a clam with both of them, but the first one I bought apparently was used to transport oily machines, and smelled musty. Well, that musty smell got into EVERYTHING I had stored in there, including my furniture. I either had to throw it away, give it away, or burn it! I ended up with NO usable furniture, and all my books and collectibles were permeated with that stink! If I brought a book or 2 home, it stunk up the WHOLE house! There is NO WAY to get that stink out of anything! Now, since my husband died of cancer last year, I am stuck with cleaning out both of these containers on my off-grid 40 acres, and trying to sell the place so I can move back to Georgia. (I am in N. Arizona). I wish luck to any and all who buy one of these "cheap" containers.

How can I get One ,!

GeekTinker2 months ago

It is worth it to search out and buy the "high boy" sized taller containers. The added headroom in them will give you room for either storage, air vents, hanging lights, and a place to run electrical lines. The extra cost is very much worth it.

GrapeApe2263 years ago
them suckers are between $1000 and $2000. Used containers are being sold for a reason. Most have damage or rust/corrosion. Usually on the top. You'll prolly have to weld some repair panels up there. Maybe build another roof above it. A friend made a car port lookin thing with a 4 foot space to keep the hot sun off it.

Here's my dream retirement complex....
Wow!!! Cool pic! Where's that from?
Troyison Bubbamax3 months ago

It's an outdoor theater in Amsterdam.

@Amsterdamse Bos Gardens

Megaton? Very Cool =P
mikeallbay4 months ago

We deliver tons of shipping containers, we've seen crazy projects people do with the containers, Oakland port is very busy with deliveries, just in case you need help call us or search us here

Thank you
revolushn1 year ago
Not often I rue living in New Zealand, but going by our "ebay",, the cheapest I can get here (second hand), is about ND$3600 or just a tad 0ver US$3000, this is definitely one of them.. great instructable, hope the box is still going strong.
askjerry3 years ago
I live in Kyle, TX which is about 1/2 hour from Austin. I'm renting now, so i can't put one in the back yard yet. Anyway... I contacted some places in Houston about a 40' Hi-Cube (9' tall) to get a price for two (2) of them delivered here. I wanted to see what the feasibility was. This was about 4 months ago and they quoted $2600 for both, delivered on my lot from Houston.

I had made an AutoCAD drawing of a 3-unit structure... a 24 X 40 foot (7.3 x 12.2 meter) shop. I like the metal buildings... but by the time you get the concrete floor and building you are into it for $25,000 vs. $4,000 so I'll take the containers and be quite happy with it. The project may take a couple of years... but that's the plan.

Good luck!
I also live in Tx near Kyle, trying to find info about building alternatives. It seems that metal shipping containers is the way to go .
Do you have the info from the company in Houston? especially if it includes delivery , sounds very good.
Thank you.
God bless.
I looked through my archives but I can't find the email that I had. We ended up buying a house with a garage so I never got to build the structure. I found all my plans and such... but not the email or any other documentation with that information. Houston has several places that sell used shipping containers... there are so many that sometimes they want to get rid of them cheaply. Even Craig's list has them now.

Here are some to try out...

This is likely the place...

Hope that helps.
Thank you very much for the info.
I will look into those webpages

be bless.
tfreeman22 years ago
4 stars
steelnix3 years ago
Been kicking an idea around about converting a 40 footer into a pool!!!
Casey Jones3 years ago
Just a quick thought from my experiences in the trucking industry with containers, ensure any container bought is relatively odor free. Even then, make sure to keep in touch with whoever delivers the container and have it run thru a professional truck wash for an internal wash out, just in case. Expect to pay about $40 to the truck wash. I've often considered building with containers myself. Good info on the instructable, hope my input helps.
Hoopajoo3 years ago
To track a shipping container, use this website:


Some of the info on your particular trailer is:

TRIU1924017 - 20' Dry Van Container (D2)
Status : Retired
1st move from factory (Local) : 02-Feb-1996
Manufacturer : QUIC

Hope this is of some help to you. I've been looking for a 20' one for the same reason for several years, but even the defective ones bring a premium price here (4 hours inland).
liseman (author)  Hoopajoo3 years ago
thanks hoopajoo; this is exactly what i was looking for!
Let's try that URL again:
CementTruck3 years ago
I've wanted to do this for years, but I can't find a shipping company that is willing to deliver a Conex for the price you mentioned. $2K is what they want for a 20' container, plus delivery. I live a couple of hours away from the nearest ship yard and so the cost is prohibitive.

$1,300 for a 20'x8'x8.5' container is an awesome price. I couldn't build an 8' x 12' yard shed for that price.

How about if you completely coated the metal exterior with something to permanently rust proof it. (Maybe a tar based product) Dig a big hole and bury it. Make an underground house. It wouldn't be an eye sore to the rest of the world then.

I have a thing for underground houses lately. Insulation is perfect, cool in summer and warm in winter. You would have to put it in a location not prone to flooding. A customarily undesirable sloped lot comes to mind. One that isn't really useful to anyone traditionally building a house.
The is a lot of interest in burying a container as instant underground building but there are number of reasons that you should not do this including structural integrity and corrosion management.

There is a video that explores and explains all the issues here

rimar20003 years ago
Thanks for this useful info!
Wolf Seril3 years ago
Very cool. I have an inexplicable love for shipping containers.

Faved and 4.5 star'd.