Shipping Containers



We get lots of questions about shipping containers. One of the largest sources of traffic to this site is from Pinterest boards that focus on container buildings.

We chose to build with shipping containers because we didn’t have any money. Our entire property is “encumbered” by our mortgage which meant that we could not get a loan to build the studios. We had to build them with available cash, which wasn’t much. The plan was to bootstrap the project by buying one container, building it out, then renting it. We’d use the cash from that unit to buy the next one, and so on. Containers were well suited to this approach because they could sit untouched for a few months while we saved up money without rotting away.

We had purchased the first two containers and had just finished moving them into place when received a small inheritance. That little cushion of money allowed us to move forward with the entire project at once. This was very fortunate, but it did make the case for containers a little weaker.

Our design called for removal of one of the long walls from each 20-foot container. Stephen did the first two with a Sawzall and would strongly encourage you not to do the same. The second two units were done by a guy with a torch which was much better in every way.

Insulating the units meant building wood stud and sheetrock walls. This works well, keeps the spaces comfortable and quiet, and makes it easy to hang things on the walls. We realized, however, that the effect was that we had enclosed our shipping containers nearly entirely in a wood frame building. We probably would have been better off just using wood frame construction from the start.

The containers look cool, provide nice big doors and a helpful loft, but we won’t use them in our next studio building. (We’ll use structural insulated panels, SIPs, instead.)

Our conclusions about containers are that you should consider them if:

  • Your building will end up being waaaaay out in the boonies where there are no hardware stores or power supplies. Build it out in town then haul it to the wilderness where you can drop it into place.
  • You are not planning to do much alteration to them. Cutting off walls to put multiple containers together is hard and expensive. It also degrades the structural integrity of the engineered container which means you’ll need to fortify it (like we did) with a big piece of steel.
  • You are planning to bury it in the ground, stack them up high, or in some other way take advantage of the natural strengths of the engineered container.

Other then those cases, we’d probably try to wave you off of using containers.

If you have questions or would like to rent a studio, please e-mail us or call Thedra at 646-269-4132.