Shipping Container Buying Guide

Shipping Containers, or sea cans, are reusable rugged steel enclosures designed to transport cargo on trucks, trains and ships.  They are easy to transport, secure, waterproof, rodent proof, and fire resistant.  They are engineered to be stackable and self supporting from their 4 corner castings, allowing them to be safely placed on most flat firm surfaces with minimal site preparation.

These unique benefits also make shipping containers a cost effective building block that can be modified into just about anything.  They can be used for storage, container homes, retail stores, restaurants, portable offices, workshops, generator enclosures, water treatment facilities, complex multilevel buildings or whatever you can imagine.  Check out our Projects page to see these applications brought to life.

Built to last in the roughest conditions, these ingenious multipurpose enclosures can hold their value for decades, being repaired, re-purposed and modified numerous times before eventually being recycled back into steel.

The shipping industry is highly standardized. The base units are 20 ft and 40 ft long steel shipping containers with treated plywood floors and floor to ceiling container doors at one end. They are 8 ft wide and either 8.5 ft high (Standard) or 9.5 ft high (High Cube). By far the most available and easiest to transport, these sizes are typically the most affordable.

Other sizes include  53 ft extra long containers and mini containers ranging from 8 ft to 10 ft long.  We also cut containers down to custom lengths.

ContainerWest also offers a number of specialty products: custom built extra tall or extra wide containers for applications that don’t fit into standard sizes; Offshore DNV containers for heavy duty applications; and refrigerated containers for storing perishable goods.

High cube options are available for most container sizes. For relatively little extra cost they provide more utility, and allow 8’ ceilings to be maintained even after the installation of ceiling joists, insulation and lining.

Additional door options increase access and widen the possible applications.  20 ft Double Doors and 40 ft Double Doors have floor to ceiling container doors at each end of the container. 20 ft Open Sides have accordion style doors that open the entire side of the container. Containers with rollup doors, man doors, or container doors along the side also provide side access. We can also custom modify containers to provide the exact door configuration and any other features you require.

Because the age and history of containers varies so widely, they tend to be priced based on condition. One Trip (new) containers have the longest lifespan and lowest maintenance needs. While the lowest priced As Is containers have a shorter lifespan and higher maintenance needs.  Although we stock a wide variety of WWT (Wind & Water Tight) and One Trip (new) containers, other container conditions have limited availability and are typically posted on our Specials page.

One Trip (new) containers, are fabricated in Asia and complete one trip across the ocean, often with cargo.  They are in nearly perfect condition, but may have minor damage such as scratches or small dents from their sole voyage.  A new container can last for decades, has lower maintenance requirements, holds its resale value, is cosmetically more attractive and is easier to open & close.    Although the initial cost is higher than a used container, they provide the most value long term.  Our new containers are usually beige grey (RAL1019) in colour.

WWT containers have been retired from the shipping fleets and are typically 20 years old. They have rust, dents, scratches, mismatched paint and prior repairs. We inspect these containers to ensure they are Wind and Water Tight (WWT), meaning there are no holes and that the doors close and seal properly. We also inspect them to ensure they meet ContainerWest condition standards.

As Is containers are older or damaged units. They have more limited applications and are sold as is, at lower prices.  They provide the best value to those who either don’t mind the condition, or who are capable of performing any needed repairs.  Please call us for availability and pricing, or to determine if an As Is container would work for your application.

Buying new or used depends on your budget, timeline and application.

If you plan to keep the container for many years, want it to hold its resale value, or are planning on major modifications, buying New is usually your best bet.  Of all of the container sizes, the price difference between new and used is the smallest for a 20 foot Standard container.  Consider buying 20 foot containers new – you get significantly more value for a relatively small price increase.

Extra long containers  (53 ft long) are typically only available used.

We carry a wide variety of used 20 ft and 40 ft containers; however less common containers are typically only available new.  These include mini containers, 20 ft High Cubes, 20 ft Open Sides, 20 ft Double Doors, 40 ft Double Doors, Offshore DNV containers, extra tall and extra wide containers, and refrigerated containers.

Are you ready to purchase a container?  Please call us at 1-800-561-9530 to place your order, or submit a quote request and one of our friendly sales reps will contact you.

You will be asked the following information to complete your purchase:

  • Where you are calling from (your location)
  • The size of the container you are looking for
  • Whether the container is new or used
  • Your billing address and contact information
  • Your delivery address (if applicable)
  • Your credit card information
  • Any information you can provide about your delivery site (see Delivery and Logistics in section 10 below)
  • Preferred delivery date

The Sales Rep will use the above information to complete a sales contract.  Your delivery (or pickup) will be arranged as soon as a signed sales contract is received and payment processed.

The rental process is the same as the sales process described above, except that you will also be asked how long you plan on renting the container for.  Renting is quick, easy, more affordable than buying, and you don’t need to store or resell the container when you’re done with it.

The following aspects of renting are important to note:

  • Delivery costs to and from your site are in addition to the rental rate.
  • Our minimum rental charge is for 2 months; however you can return the unit at any time.
  • When you no longer need your container, let us know and we will arrange for pickup.
  • To ensure consistent quality for our customers, rentals are inspected prior to delivery and after return. Please take care of your rental unit to ensure no additional repair charges are incurred.

Containers are very customizable.  The utility offered by a container can be increased dramatically with simple additions such as a rollup door or window.  Basic modifications can be made to any container, just let your Sales Rep know what you’re looking for.

Some popular basic modification options include:

  • Man doors
  • Rollup Doors
  • Windows
  • Spray foam insulation
  • Lights
  • Louvers / vents

At ContainerWest we work with you to determine the best solution to your needs.  Below is an example of the process for a custom manufacturing project:

  • An estimate and quote are prepared by our application engineers and sales team
  • We work with you to optimize the estimate within the available budget
  • Once the project scope is agreed upon, you receive a sales contract
  • Work begins once the sales contract is signed and a deposit collected
  • If required, our engineers will prepare drawings for your approval
  • Our purchasing department orders materials
  • Fabrication is completed in our Richmond Facility
  • Delivery is arranged
  • Setup at site is completed

The cost of delivery is always in addition to the container price. You have the option of organizing your own trucks and delivery. Otherwise, our dedicated Logistics team will be happy to source the best available rates and handle the coordination of delivery for you.

It is critical to determine the suitability of your site for a container and for the delivery truck. The site must be easy to access, reasonably flat and firm and have enough space for the selected truck to drop off your container.  Containers are placed either directly behind the truck (tilt-deck truck) or immediately beside and parallel to the truck (crane truck).

Inform your sales representative of how you’d like the container positioned on your site, and where the doors need to be.  This will ensure that the driver loads the container with the correct orientation for your desired placement.

Also inform your sales representative of  the general site conditions and any access or site challenges such as:

  • major road construction
  • narrow, winding and steep roads
  • soft ground, mud or snow
  • overhead wires
  • obstacles such as fences, walls and poles
  • ditches and slopes

Information about your access and site helps the logistics team select the right type of truck, prepares the driver for any obstacles they may encounter, and helps make the delivery estimate as accurate as possible so you know what to expect.

Our standard delivery quotes apply to straightforward deliveries to sites with easy access. The type of truck used for standard deliveries varies by location.

Lower Mainland of BC:  a crane truck will place the container immediately beside and parallel to the truck.

All other locations: a tilt deck truck will place the container directly behind the truck.

Non-standard delivery estimates are based on the type and size of truck required and the time it takes to complete the delivery.

If the inclement weather changes your site or access conditions, such as heavy rainfall or snowfall, or the site contact is no longer available to direct the driver, please alert your sales representative before the delivery day, so the delivery can be rescheduled.

The Hazards of Shipping Containers

Over the years a couple of concerns have arisen from various regulatory agencies.

In one case there was a concern about someone getting locked inside.  This can only happen if someone else deliberately locks the door while you’re inside; the doors can’t latch on their own.  One way to prevent this is to place the door handles in the locked position while the door is open, and then lock the handle with a padlock.  With the locking gear in that position, the door cannot be closed.  Decals outlining this procedure can be added to the door.

Another concern is the dangerous, and possibly explosive, buildup of fumes inside the container.  We do not recommend storing flammables inside, and definitely not compressed gases or highly combustible substances such as gasoline or methanol.  WorkSafeBC has developed a video that illustrates the potentially catastrophic result of storing even a small amount of flammables in a poorly ventilated container.  We routinely add vents to containers and can help develop a vent solution for your storage requirements.