Container News

Lots of people come to our site and see shipping container homes and fall in love with how incredible they look and also how affordable they are. But one question normally lingers in the background of their thoughts- ‘Is living in a shipping container home safe?’.

I’ve received quite a few emails about this as well. People use the word safe in many different contexts. For instance, I get emails from mothers asking if a shipping container home is safe for her family to live in. I also get emails from people who want to build a shipping container cabin to use in the wilderness and want to know if it’s safe from people breaking into it…

So today we’re going to look at exactly how safe shipping container homes are and whether you should be thinking about living in one.

Question: Do Shipping Container’s Container Harmful Chemicals?

The most common safety question people ask is do shipping containers contain harmful chemicals? I think a lot of these concerns come from a well wrote article over at Arch Daily on the pros and cons of living in a shipping container home.

If you haven’t ready to article yet it’s well worth the read.

For those of you too busy to read it Brian highlights two key concerns:

  1. Wooden Floors used in the majority of shipping containers are treated with hazardous chemical such as pesticides (this keeps pests away).
  2. Some shipping containers are coated in paint which contains harmful chemicals such as phosphorous and chromate.

Now, Brain rightly raises these concerns however like most things there is more to this than first meets the eye.

If you are purchasing and building your home with new shipping containers, then you don’t need to worry about these concerns because you can specify to your manufacturer that they don’t treat the floors and don’t coat the shipping containers with hazardous paint. Simple.

However using new shipping containers to build your home increases the cost and also depletes the environmental kudos you were gaining through re-cycled used shipping containers.

So, we now need to address second hand shipping containers. If you purchase your containers second hand then there is a good chance that Brian’s concerns hold true for your containers. They will very likely have been treated with these harmful chemical, so we can you do about it?

Firstly, you can contact the original manufacture of the container and enquire whether the floors have been treated with hazardous chemicals. To do this you can use your shipping containers unique identification number to track who manufactured the container- more about this here.

If your flooring has been treated with hazardous chemicals what can you do?

Well we spoke with Larry from Sea Container Cabin who converted his used shipping containers back in 2010.

To protect himself from the chemicals sprayed on the wooden floor he used a non-breathable flooring underlayment (see below).

Shipping Container Home Flooring

This underlayment was laid straight over the original wooden flooring and then Larry laid his titles on-top of the underlayment.

If you want to be completely sure, you could even remove the original wooden flooring and replace it with marine plywood from your local hardware store.

Remove Harmful Paint Coating

Now onto the harmful paint coating which is often used on second hand containers. This coating is used to protect the container from saltwater whilst they are in transit across the ocean. It’s vital for containers when they are being used to transport cargo- but obviously not great when we are using these containers to build homes.

Again the first thing to do is contact the manufacturer of your shipping container and find out exactly what paint has been used (more on that above).

If your containers have been coated with harmful chemicals you will need to use spray foam insulation. You would need to spray this foam insulation on the internal walls of your container and doing so will create a complete vapour barrier. This will prevent any lingering fumes from harmful chemicals oozing inside your new shipping container home!

Question: Are Shipping Container Homes Hurricane Proof?

I’ve received emails from several people who live in natural disaster hot spots asking me if shipping container homes can withstand hurricanes.

These questions are no doubt inspired from the photo’s we has seen of hurricane Katrina. In the photos it shows wooden homes which have been completely annihilated by Katrina, however lying on top of the wood are completely intact shipping containers.

Palms Trees In Hurricane

Shipping containers are designed to be stacked up to nine high when fully loaded with over 26 tons of cargo in each container. It’s not surprising these containers stood up to the test of Katrina.

We are now seeing a spate of shipping containers being used as emergency disaster housing- this is because they are so tough. The most well-known occurrence of this being in New York.

In April last year (2014) New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the Post-Disaster Housing Prototype Program. Guess which prototype won the program?

You guessed it… A Shipping Container Home.

New York aims to use shipping container homes as stackable apartments which can be used as post-disaster housing. The fact that these homes are stackable makes them perfect for densely populated areas such as New York.

You can read more about the post disaster housing program at the Daily Mail.

Whilst I’m not currently aware of any shipping container home which has faced a hurricane, we certainly know that shipping containers can withstand hurricanes.

We have already spoken about Todd Miller’s shipping container home in ourGraceville Container House: Case Study; however for those of you not aware he decided to build a shipping container home using 31 containers!

The home was placed on 9 meter deep micro-pile foundations, the piles were capped with concrete piers and  the containers were then anchored down on top of these concrete piers. Whilst the house was featured on Grand Designs Australia Todd mentioned that his home was now cyclone proof due to the foundations and anchoring used.

What’s also interesting about this example is that he built his home is known flood planes in Queensland. The local planning authority approved the home to be built in this area because in Todd’s plans it showed that the home was flood proof.

Question: Are Shipping Container Homes Secure?

I have received this question a surprising amount of times. When I’ve dug a bit deeper and asked questions back, the people who tend to ask, ‘are they secure’, are planning on using them as a cabin in the wilderness. Hence they want to be able to leave their shipping container home for months on end without having to worry about whether someone has broken into it or not.

To answer this question let’s consider what a shipping container is originally built for. Shipping containers are made to be an air tight impenetrable storage solution which is used to transport goods around the world.

In fact when shipping containers were first used in the 1950’s the amount of ‘lost’ (stolen) cargo dropped significantly as we discussed in: A Complete History of the Shipping Container.

Before shipping containers, goods were placed on ships as break bulk cargo. This essentially means goods were either in sacks, crates or barrels. ‘Light-handed’ labourers were known to steal these goods and it was often known as the ‘price-of-shipping’. However when shipping containers came on the scene in the 1950’s the number of stolen goods dropped massively. This was because shipping containers could be locked by the owner before they were even loaded onto the ship.

So as standard, shipping containers are one of the most secure storage facilities you will come across. However when people convert the container into a home, they often cut away metal and change the structure of the container- hence reducing its security value.

A shipping container converted into a home is just as secure as a traditionally built home.

However, if you want to make your shipping container home even more secure, for instance if you are planning on using it as a cabin in a remote location- you should leave the original structure of the container in-tact.

To do this you would need to fit windows and doors behind the original shipping container doors.

This way when you leave your shipping container home- you can also lock the original shipping container door to seal your container up.

Then when you are staying over in your cabin, you can leave the original shipping container doors open to let light in, yet you will still have you retro-fitted windows and door closed, like a regular house.


The most popular package and contains both ‘How To Build A Shipping Container Home: The Complete Guide’ and the ‘Shipping Container Home Plans Package’ which contains 20 unique shipping container home designs including floor plans and elevations.

It’s been over 10 years since the first shipping container home was built in the US, and more than 20 years since the world’s first shipping container home was built.

Since then shipping container homes have grown from strength to strength.

And this year we are expecting to see a record number of container homes built.

Within our blog we normally focus on building advice, however today I’d like to take the opportunity to address the critics of shipping container homes.

One of the largest critiques of container homes is that it’s a short lived fad and will die out- well to that I say not likely! Containers have been used now for over 2 decades and they aren’t going away anytime soon…


Step 1: Wall Panels

The very first task it to make the wall panels.

To do this, large steel sheets are cut down into 8 foot x 3 foot sheets. The sheets are then sandblasted and corrugated. The sheets are corrugated to add strength to them and this is what gives shipping containers their wave like texture.

Step 2: Floor Frame Assembly

After the wall panel is complete, the floor frame needs assembling.

The floor frame is predominantly made up of I-beams. Two longer I-beams are laid out perpendicular to each other. Then smaller I-beams are welded in between the longer I-beams to create a raft like base.

We see shipping containers everywhere now- they’re being used as homes, swimming pools and coffee stores. With this, it’s very easy to forget where shipping containers came from, and what their original purpose was/still is!

We have already discussed the 20 ways shipping containers changed the world and also how and who invented them.

We know that shipping containers come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and today, we want to look at exactly how shipping containers are made.

In a modern world where many things are made by machines now, it was amazing to see this isn’t the case with shipping containers.

Before we go any further, we want to thank Big Steel Box for the video which they have produced- the photos you see below are from the video.

Step 3: Doors and Corner Posts

The front and back of the container now needs making.

Again, like the side walls, the doors are mainly made out of corrugated steel. Once the corrugated steel has been cut to size, it is encased in square steel tubing. The doors are then sanded smooth again to remove any rough welding joints. The famous corner posts are then welded to I-beams and then the individual doors are welded in-place inside the I-beams.

Step 4: Completing the Box

The shipping container really starts to take shape now, as the door frames are craned into position on top of the floor frame. The door frame is welded down and then the wall panels are also craned and welded into position. Finally, the roof panel is then lowered down onto the container and welded, completing the carcass of the container.

Step 5: Painting and Priming

The container is then wheeled into the paint workshop and primed. Priming (undercoating) is the first layer of paint to be sprayed on the container and it is a preparatory coating. This ensures that additional layers of paint stick better to the container; it also provides an additional layer of protection for the container.

Once the primer has dried, the container is spray painted several times. Multiple layers of paint are used to ensure the container is protected against the harsh elements of sea travel such as salt and water.

Step 6: Flooring

The next step is to fit the wooden flooring on top of the floor frame.

Six plywood panels are used to floor the container. However, before they are fitted, the panels are varnished with a protective coating. This protective coating makes sure that bugs and other pests aren’t present in the wood. Once the panels have dried they are placed inside the container and screwed down into the steel floor beams.


 The first step when the shipping container has arrived at its destination is the washing down of the unit. We have discovered that a high-powered spray brush does the best job. These ISO shipping containers can be quite dirty upon arrival. Now, besides the obvious dirt, grim and grease that you will find, you must clean the floor and all the hidden corners. During the wash and scrub of the shipping container you will discover most if not all, the rusty spots. Some rust spots will be worse than others and you may even have some holes in the container. No worries, this is a heavy gauge steel shipping container that probably has a long seaworthy history and many dents from shipyard brawls. The repairs required on the rust spot and holes are very easy with the welding. My advice is to have a can of spay paint handy and spray all the newly discovered rust you find during the cleaning process.

During the wash down do not be afraid to spay the insides of the shipping container and create puddles of water on the shipping container floor. These floors have seen worse and are seaworthy heavy-duty plywood that is impregnated with chemicals and treated to sustain water damage.After the washing of the shipping container then you will turn your focus to sanding down the rust spots. This can be done with any sander you use for wood, even though a more heavy duty sander would get the job done quicker.
After we spot rust then we begin to spot prime the shipping container. We do not prime the entire shipping container, just the areas we sanded. These steel shipping containers already have a solid primer and several coats of protected paint.

Now we are ready to paint.
This is a small inexpensive spay gun that does an excellent job and is easy to clean.

We learned that the spay painting of a shipping container worked best with to people and quick even strokes under a strong sun.
We also discovered that two coats were required. This was perhaps because in most spay guns you have to weaken the pain with some thinner so the flow is quick. Regardless, two coats is always better than one.
What about rust and corrosion? 
Shipping Containers are used for international ocean transportation where there is plenty of humidity and saltwater. The shipping container is made from a special, non corrosive “Corten” steel. Standard ISO shipping containers are coated with a ceramic insulation paint which makes these steel boxes virtually rust proof and also prevents mildew and mold.When paiting the outside of your shipping container you will want to research some of the latest high R-Factor paints on the market.What is an R-Factor Paint? Also know as R-Rating paints and ceramic paint

A living unit made out of shipping container is not only mobile but is extremely strong, modular, cost-effective, eco-friendly and fast to build. It is equipped with power, water and adequate ventilation. This is an ideal unit for resorts, farm houses, open spaces and roof tops.

Contact AZ Containers at 877-292-6937 to see how the most basic steel box to a customized, climate controlled storage or workspace with windows, we’ll have your solution on it’s way to you fast.

This man wanted to build a self-sustained and off-the-grid home out of two shipping containers.

He wanted all of the comforts of a home and to be able to live in it comfortably up to a year or more if need be.

To do this he ordered two sea containers and welded them together to make one awesome cabin.

Water is heated using solar power or by wood stove if necessary. Access to water is by well.

The two containers combined add up to a 40′ x 16′ floor plan so about 640 square feet of space inside.

Traditionally, container housing has popped up on the margins of places, in this case near a construction site in Havana, Cuba. It's easy access for a quick fix on many contructions site. 


Contact AZ Containers at 877-292-6937 to see how the most basic steel box to a customized, climate controlled storage or workspace with windows, we’ll have your solution on it’s way to you fast.

Shipping containers are now such a thing that in Denmark, they are putting them in glass cases. I have had a troubled relationship with shipping containers since I was ten, when my dad went into the container biz. They were made in the USA and Canada then and were really expensive; you wouldn't think of living in them. But every now and again he would get sent a photo of some shipping container in Africa that fell off a truck and had windows and doors cut into the walls.

I had some fun with them in University, designing a summer camp for temporary use that folded out of a forty footer. Because you would never actually use a container empty; the dimensions are lousy for people and the flooring was treated with insecticides and the paints were designed to last through ten years on the high seas, so are seriously industrial. It may have been a really bad career choice not sticking with containers, but my moves into modular construction and tiny homes were not too successful either.

Perhaps the lesson is that when it comes to housing, technology, or lack thereof, is not the fundamental problem. After watching all the coverage of shipping container schemes with some bemusement, I asked Does Shipping Container Architecture Make Sense? a few years ago, but now, in response to the same architectural competition I covered here, Architect Mark Hogan of OpenScope Studio comes up with his own list of questions.

SSA Marine’s terminal in Oakland has announced that it will make night operations permanent following a three-month trial.

The port’s Oakland International Container Terminal (OICT), which launched the late night gates trail on June 27, is open Monday to Thursday from 6pm to 3am for truck drivers to haul cargo.

According to the port, following the trial launch about 1,300 container transactions nightly migrated from day to evening, with the average transaction time for truck drivers falling from 96 minutes in August to 79 minutes last week.

Additionally, 30% of trucking companies at the port reduced congestion surcharges for picking up containers, with the port saying night gates “will continue to take pressure off busier daytime operations”.

A survey made by the port to cargo owners showed that 74% of those asked opt for night gates, the main reason being lesser terminal crowding at night.

According to the results, 65% of the surveyed said that transaction times improved thanks to night operations. “That is important because cargo owners have lobbied hard for faster container-handling,” the port said.

Scott Taylor, CEO of GSC Logistics, which is among the largest trucking companies at Oakland, said: “The system is working and customers are paying less. Things are better and we are saving time.”

To finance night gates, the terminal will continue to charge customers a US$30 fee, which is applied to all loaded import and export containers.

According to the port, OICT’s neighboring terminal TraPac said that it was also experimenting with night gates, but did not reveal whether it will institute regular night hours.

Contact AZ Containers at 877-292-6937 to see how the most basic steel box to a customized, climate controlled storage or workspace with windows, we’ll have your solution on it’s way to you fast.