Dimensions and Sizes of Container Homes (Overview Included!)

Your average shipping container sizes are a 20 foot (with 160 square foot area) and a 40 foot (with a 320 square foot area). These are the most commonly found on the market, however there are containers smaller or larger in size and these can also be combinable to a larger floor area and stacked to multiple stories. Therefore, determining what’s available in the market and how much space one needs is more essential.

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How Many Square Feet Are in a Container Home?

There are several kinds of shipping containers but the general sizes are either a 20 foot container or 40 foot container. The 20 foot by 8 feet container gives 160 square footage area. The larger 40 foot by 8 foot container totals to 320 square feet. This isn’t to say you are limited by these areas. One can easily combine multiple as they desire. Both container sizes are 8.5 feet high as your ceiling height. (1)

Options for a 20 Foot Container Home

Your 20 foot container is also referred to as the “General Purpose” (GP) container. This is used more often due to its size being easier to move around in. You could make a tiny home out of this or combine it with other structures to create a larger living area. (2)

If you get a 20 foot “High Cube” container, this means there’s an additional ceiling height of 12 inches. This gives an advantage in adding insulation, interior light fixtures and appliances without losing a habitable ceiling height. A higher ceiling gives a more spacious feeling and gives less from feeling cramped in a box.

As a side note, your 20 foot “Refrigerated Container” (or reefer) may save a few inches internally as the walls have already been insulated!

Being a smaller size, these containers are cheaper but may come out pricier per square foot than your 40 foot containers so be sure to compare them before buying!

Options for a 40 Foot Container Home

Your 40 foot container would be more the average size of a shipping container home. A single container can comfortably fit a one bedroom living situation and combining a couple can create a large living space. They will still pose the same restricted ceiling height as your 20 foot containers, as well as your cozy narrow rooms, but this can always be modified should the budget allow. (2)

If you know and feel a 20 foot container area of 160 square feet will be too small, cost wise, it’s best to size up to the 40 foot container.

Just as the 20 foot High Cube, the 40 foot High Cube gives the same area of living space but now with an added foot in height. This would definitely make it feel like less of living in a box, having ample space for wiring, lighting fixtures, insulation or even storage above!

There is also a reefer 40 foot container, but check if it comes with an industrial refrigeration unit. You’d want to remove it and patch up the big hole it made.

How Large Can Container Sizes Be?

Yes the standards in the market will be your 20 and 40 foot containers. However, there are a few other sizes out there that you may come across and might end up being more beneficial to your needs.

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45 Foot High Cube Container

This slight increase in length can create a cozy two bedroom home. These are basically your 40 foot containers with an extended corner casting of 2.5 feet on either end. This allows for this type of container to be stacked with 40 foot containers having their strength on the same points! (2)

48 Foot High Cube Container

The 48 foot high cube (HC) is for one, much longer than your standard 40 foot and 45 foot. However, it is also 6 inches wider and 12 inches (a whole foot) taller in ceiling height! This can make an enormous difference if you plan to line your walls with a thicker insulation (which certainly helps living in a metal box).It just also gives you more breathing room in general. (2)

If you’re planning on stacking these, its corner castings are at its end corners and four feet inward into the 40 foot mark, also allowing for a stack with its fellow 40 foot containers. Having a four foot extension can create an overhang or balcony on the upper floors, while shading the deck below.

53 Foot High Cube Container

If you’d like to have a more roomy setup without having to combine, cut and weld multiple containers, a 53 foot container might be the solution. This is the largest possible area and volume without having to alter anything. Do compare the prices however of say multiple 40 foot containers versus a very rare 53 foot if cost is the issue. (3)

Most 53 foot containers are more commonly found in North America, so its rarity can bring up the price. This is due to the fact that these containers were not made for sea travel but instead local shipments with the United States. Being uncommon and not a global standard, the ISO Standards do not cover these types of containers. Instead, you’d have to refer to the Association of American Railroads.

Manual of Standards and Recommended Practices: Section I (Intermodal Equipment Manual). This document includes standards and guidelines including ‘Standard M-930 Containers for Domestic Intermodal Service

Rarer Container Sizes You May Find

You may stumble upon wider containers, or those with half the height. Both of which can be geniusly used to enhance the living space of your standard containers. There are also Super High Cubes that are two feet taller than your average containers. Talk about not having to worry about your ceiling height anymore!

Watch out though as there are also shorter containers that are eight feet high instead of your eight feet and six inches height. This small variance can quickly make your space feel cramped, especially after adding in all your electrical systems.

United States militaries also make use of a five foot long container (also known as a Quadcon), a six foot, 5.5 inch long container (or a Tricon) and a ten foot long container (or Bicon). Getting your hands on these can also make some very unique container home designs.

Purpose-built containers that were not built to carry cargo may give more fantastical large volumes, but might not meet the same standards for durability as the average ones have proven.

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So How Much Space Do I Need?

Depending on your daily lifestyle, the entire family can fit in a singular 20 foot container, or may need to combine another container here and there. A 20 foot container could either be an efficient two to three bedroom home or generous one bedroom with a recreational den. (3)

If you’re looking to switch into a tiny home lifestyle, perhaps the ten footer container is enough for you. It may be similar to living in a cozy apartment.

Some homeowners opt for a second level for added privacy, or to take advantage of their captivating views. Some may purchase a second smaller container just to serve as their storage shed. You may also want a smaller container but larger outdoor deck and patio if you spend most of your time outdoors.

There are several ways to tackle what type of container size you need since the options for combining and stacking are plenty!

However, do take into consideration your current situation and how you’ll transition into the container home:

  • Will you be taking your existing furniture and appliances? Or have them custom made to better fit the dimensions of a container home?
  • Do you spend most of your time outdoors? Either on the balcony? Barbequing on the patio or tending the garden?
  • How much “stuff” do you have in terms of clothes, books, sports equipment, hobbies and recreational items. How much storage space will you need and will all your stuff move into your container home?

Try and picture the space by tapping out the square footage to see if the space is livable for you or if you’ll have to add in a couple more containers into the mix!

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  1. Shipping container homes: Cost, design, and everything else to know – Curbed
  2. Shipping Container Dimensions and Sizes – Discover Containers
  3. What Size of Container Do You Need? (secure-rite.com)