All About Shipping Container Dimensions

Cargo ship loaded with shipping containers

Shipping containers have never been more important than they are in our post-COVID world. During the pandemic, as people relied heavily on shipping to order the things they needed during lockdown and people in the shipping industry fell ill with the virus, shipping containers took days or even weeks to unpack and put back into circulation. As of 2022, we are still behind as shipping container turnaround times are still slow.

The shortage of shipping containers has had a ripple effect. With real estate prices high, many people covet shipping containers to convert into homes. Shipping container dimensions are also of interest to shippers who want to estimate how much cargo a container can hold. So, what are shipping container dimensions and when can we expect the shortage to end?

What Are Shipping Container Specifications?

Shipping containers come in more than one size, but the most common size, which allows for consumer goods of many sizes to be shipped efficiently, is a container that’s eight feet wide and either 20 feet or 40 feet long.

Why Is There a Shortage of Shipping Containers?

Anybody who’s searching for a shipping container to buy or rent may be alarmed by the difficulty of obtaining containers and the price for doing so. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, companies could rent a shipping container for less than $2,000 according to a CNN report. But as of September 2021, prices had increased by more than 600%–if people were able to find a container at all.

The typical height of a shipping container is eight feet, six inches, making them large enough to be converted into tiny homes. Most people who attempt a conversion buy a shipping container that’s been in use for 15-20 years and then retired. In 2022, all shipping container weights and sizes are in short supply, with many sitting empty in ports around the world.

What Are Shipping Container Inside Dimensions?

Whether you’re looking for a shipping container to ship products that you sell or manufacture, or you want to undertake a shipping container conversion, it’s useful to know the internal dimensions of shipping containers.

20 Ft Shipping Container Dimensions

First, let’s look at the inside dimensions of a 20-foot container. The container as a whole would measure 20 feet long, eight feet wide, and eight feet, six inches tall.

Using these numbers, the area of a 20-foot-long shipping container would be 160 square feet. According to CNBC, the average size of tiny houses sold in the United States is 225 square feet, which would make a 20-foot container a tight fit for most people.

By volume, which is the metric that would matter most for somebody who wanted a container to ship products, simply add the height and multiply all three measurements together. The volume of a 20-foot shipping container is 1,360 cubic feet.

40 Ft Shipping Container Dimensions

The area and volume of a 40-foot shipping container make it suitable for shipping large items or for creating a comfortable, if small, living space.

At a length of 40 feet and a width of eight feet, the area of a 40-ft container would be 320 square feet, making it slightly larger than the average tiny home.

By volume, a 40’ container provides an impressive 2,720 cubic feet of space. When you factor height into the equation, a large shipping container can hold a surprising amount of products.

Shipping container being lifted by a crane.

What Are Shipping Container Door Dimensions?

Anybody looking for a shipping container to purchase or rent may wonder what the dimensions of a shipping container door are. The size of a shipping container door may determine which products can be shipped in it as well as what will happen to your personal belongings if you convert a shipping container into a living space.

Regardless of their length, all standard shipping containers have the same size door. The standard height of the door opening of a shipping container is seven feet, four inches. 

The standard width of a shipping container door is seven feet, seven inches. That means that the total area of door space, which can be used to calculate whether an item can be moved into the container, is 55.56 square feet.

How Much Can a Container Hold?

If you want to know how much of a specific type of cargo you can fit inside of a shipping container, follow these steps to calculate the possible container loading:

  1. Note the container dimensions. These depend on the type of container and there are several standard sizes typically used in shipping.
  2. Measure the size of each item that should fit in. Typically the contents would be in boxes or shipping pallets, so the outer dimensions (width, height, and depth) are what you need for this calculation.
  3. Iterate through various alignments of the boxes or items until you find an optimal arrangement until you find a satisfactory one.

Unfortunately, container loading calculation in general is a hard problem, meaning there is no optimal approach and achieving optimal stacking of the contents inside a container is a matter of checking all possible stacking arrangements. However, in the simple case where you need to fit a number of boxes or pallets with the same dimensions, an optimal stacking is easy to arrive at and you can use our shipping container loading calculator to do just that.

In container loading calculations one should mind that sometimes filling the container to the brim might be suboptimal if the stacking order is too complex to follow by the staff, so sometimes you’d prefer putting fewer items in for the sake of simplicity of loading and unloading it from the container.

How Comfortable Is It to Live in a Shipping Container Home?

One of the two things driving the shipping container shortage is their popularity for tiny home conversions. The living space is minimal–as noted above, 160 square feet for a 20-ft container and 320 square feet for a 40-ft container. What does that mean in terms of living space?

Width of Shipping Container

For anybody considering a shipping container conversion, an eight-foot width might not seem like much. It might surprise you to learn that the width of a king-size bed is only six feet, four inches. In theory, the owner of a tiny home could still sleep in comfort.

It’s also worth noting the existence of the extra wide shipping container as an option. An extra wide shipping container has a width of 10 feet, which provides additional horizontal living space.

A 20-ft extra wide container would have interior space of 200 square feet, while a 40-ft extra wide container would have interior space of 400 square feet. Either option would have more living space than a converted school bus.

Why Is There a Shortage of Shipping Containers?

There are two key issues that have contributed to the ongoing shortage of available shipping containers. The word ‘available’ is key because the problem is mostly related to the turnaround time for shipping containers.

  • The global demand for products that need to be shipped has increased significantly.
  • The speed with which containers move has decreased while the time to load and unload them has increased.

The CNN article cited above pointed out that sometimes, ships loaded with containers may sit in port for seven or eight days before the containers are even unloaded onto the dock. Additional time is then needed for containers to be unloaded and sent to their next destination.

How Much Does a Shipping Container Cost?

Regardless of shipping box size, there has been a significant increase in the cost, both for rentals and purchases of shipping containers.

The cost of renting a 40-ft container has increased from less than $2,000 to $14,000 or more. The purchase price of both new and used containers has also increased. Used containers used to be available for less than $2,000 yet many companies that sell used containers are now charging $5,000 or more for an unfinished container.

Anybody interested in taking on a shipping container conversion will need to factor the increased cost into their plans. It can cost tens of thousands of dollars to convert a used shipping container into a livable home. The costs may include the following.

At the low end, costs start at about $10,000 and may go as high as $175,000 for larger container homes with lots of amenities.

How to Cope with the Shipping Container Shortage

Whatever shipping container specifications you want, you’ll need to research and compare costs to find the best deal for your business or your shipping container conversion. For a conversion, the best bet is to buy a retired shipping container because the cost will be significantly lower than for a new shipping container.

This entry was posted in DIY, Lifestyle and tagged , , , . By Aimee Parrott