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Types of Shipping Containers

When you’re in the market for a shipping container, it can be tricky to get started finding the right type for your needs. Even though most shipping containers used today are re-used versions of standard conex boxes (aka intermodal freight containers), once the container is re-purposed, it is available to buyers in many different types. A helpful way to think about the different types of shipping containers is to understand their different purposes:

  • Residential
  • Commercial
  • Refrigerated and Insulated

We’re here to help you get a better understanding of the different types of shipping containers. First, we’ll show you the different types based on commercial and residential purposes. Then, we’ll tell you about different sizes, industry uses, and conditions (ie. new vs. used) so you can find the best type of container for your needs.

Types of Shipping Containers 

As you look through the different types of shipping containers, keep in mind that it’s helpful to categorize the types based on purpose: commercial or residential. 

Commercial

Commercial shipping containers are reused conex boxes and sold to businesses of all different types. Oftentimes, there are shipping container suppliers that specialize specifically in selling commercial portable shipping containers to businesses.

1. General Purpose

General Purpose storage containers are also known as “dry containers” and are the most common storage containers used commercially. These shipping containers are made of high-grade steel, have swing-out doors and are fully weather-proof, making them ideal for businesses to keep them outdoors. Learn more about what features to look for in a portable shipping container.

2. High-Cube

High-cube shipping containers are structured just like general purpose containers. The only difference is that they are one foot taller in height. General purpose shipping containers are normally 8.5 feet in height, and high-cube containers are 9.5 feet tall.  They are typically used by businesses that need to store larger items and require a higher ceiling.

3. Open-Top and Open-Side

Traditional shipping containers have one set of doors that swing out on one end of the container. However, open-top and open-side containers include additional openings on the top (roof) and sides (lengths) of the containers. An open-top or open-side container can have its roof or walls completely removed. This can be a great choice for small businesses that want to house their business operations out of a container, such as an outdoor kiosk or food stand.

4. Flat Rack

Flat rack shipping containers have sides that can be collapsed down and folded flat. They tend to be ideal for storing oversized items, such as machinery or vehicles.

5. Refrigerated aka Reefer Containers

Refrigerated shipping containers (aka “reefer containers”) are designed to be temperature-controlled units that store items that need to be kept cold. Reefer containers are widely used by restaurants, food production, healthcare centers, and more. They typically use an integrated cooling unit and t-floors so that cold air passes around the cargo stored inside. They can typically sustain temperatures as low as -85 degrees Fahrenheit! 

6. Insulated 

Insulated (thermal) shipping containers are similar to refrigerated containers, but they are typically used to keep stored items warm. They come equipped with a compressor that allows them to withstand high temperatures as well as keep air at a particular temperature inside the unit.

Residential

Though they are similar in structure to commercial shipping containers, residential containers are typically designed for moving or on-site residential storage. Like commercial containers, there are storage container suppliers that focus specifically on residential and moving containers, such as Pods and 1-800-Pack-Rat.

1. Moving containers

Moving containers are typically made of steel and have roll-up doors, making them sturdy and secure while allowing easy access via the door to stored belongings. These containers can be used for local or long-distance moving and are designed to be easily loaded onto a flat-bed truck and delivered to your new location.

2. Portable storage containers

Residential portable storage containers are meant to be stored either on-site at your property or at a storage center. Like moving containers, they are designed to be portable so they can be easily relocated if necessary. Portable storage containers typically have steel walls, roll-up doors, and plywood floors.

Common Sizes

There is a variety of different sizes when it comes to types of shipping containers. Shipping container sizes are categorized by length (they have a standard height and width). The size you will need depends on the total volume of your stored items. 

  • Commercial sizes: 10-foot, 20-foot, and 40-foot
  • Residential sizes: 7-foot, 12-foot, 16, foot, 20-foot

Learn more about the dimensions, total square footage, and weight capacity of different sized storage containers.

Industries and Uses

It’s also helpful to think about different types of shipping containers based on their purposes. For instance, when it comes to commercial shipping containers, they can be used in lots of different industries. There are also a surprising amount of uses for residential storage containers (other than moving needs). Here are some of the uses and applications of shipping containers:

  • Offices: Shipping containers can be used for storage or to build an office building
  • Ground-Level Offices: Containers can be used for either commercial or residential needs, such as adding a small office to your property.
  • Restaurants and bars: Restaurants can either use shipping containers to store materials and food or to house their business operation. 
  • Retail: Again, retail stores can either store inventory outdoors (this is common with big-box retailers) or use a shipping container to build a pop-up retail shop.
  • Residential or commercial workshops: You can either add a shipping container workshop to your home or build a small workshop business using a container.
  • Converted small businesses: Tons of businesses today use shipping containers to house their operations.
  • Schools and Universities: You can utilize a shipping container classroom or use a container on-site at the school to store items.
  • Healthcare: Healthcare facilities typically store PPE, medications and vaccines, and more.
  • Trade show booths: Many businesses use shipping containers to display their company at a trade show.
  • City Fire and Police Stations: Storage containers can be utilized on-site at a fire station or police station.

Conditions

When considering the different types of shipping containers, keep in mind that since they are re-used, they can come in a variety of conditions. Conditions will definitely impact pricing, and they can come anywhere from brand new to 7-years old or more. Here are some common shipping container conditions, from newest to oldest.

  • One-Trip
  • IICL-5
  • Grade A
  • Grade B
  • Refurbished
  • As-is

Keep in mind that for most types of shipping containers, you have the option to either rent or purchase. This normally depends on how long you plan to need the shipping container. Renting is best for short-term use (less than 3 years).

Learn more about how shipping container conditions impact pricing.

Recommended Next Steps

If you are searching for the best type of shipping container for your needs, make sure to read these related articles:

If you are ready to compare prices for different types of shipping containers, 360Connect can help! Our online tool can help you find the right type of shipping container for your particular needs. Visit us here to get started!

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