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Tips and How-to's

When you think of shipping containers, you probably imagine large steel boxes that are used to haul large hazardous materials and other cargo from one place to another. While that was their sole use in the past, that is no longer the case. Shipping containers are used for a variety of structures nowadays.

About a decade ago, people started using shipping containers for their homes as a way to save money and live a low-maintenance lifestyle. In addition, shipping containers are an eco-friendly alternative to traditional houses, so everybody wins.

19 Unique Uses for Shipping Containers

When a company no longer needs a shipping container, why just let it sit there? There are many ways to put it to good use. Here is a sampling of ideas:

1. School. Building a school costs a lot of money, but education is still needed for the world’s children. So, what do you do? Third world countries and other poor areas around the world have gone about using shipping containers as classrooms, which are great for tight budgets. In addition, many of these classrooms are outfitted with solar panels, so they save money on electricity as well.



Shipping container school in Malawi
Solar powered shipping container school in Malawi

2. Hotel. Many people use shipping containers as homes, so it’s only logical that they can be used as hotels as well. These containers have been converted into hotels in many countries across the globe. Some are permanent, while others can be made to be transported to various locations.



3. Bridge. In Israel, a proposed project will turn retired shipping containers into a 525-foot long bridge. The space was once a landfill, but it is now a green space that leads to Ariel Sharon National Park.



Shipping container bridge


Shipping container bridge project from Yoav Messer Architects

4. Hospital or clinic. Can’t get to the hospital? Let it come to you. Containers can be used to create portable clinics so more people can get medical treatment. These clinics can also be made stationary and affixed to permanent locations.



5. Furniture. Shipping containers can make durable furniture for schools and homeowners. Whether you’re looking to create chairs, tables or desks, you can’t get much sturdier than shipping container material.



6. Portable toilet. Containers make great toilets for construction sites. These are seen in many countries, and their portability makes it so they can be used from one project to another with ease.



7. Movie theater. Shipping containers can provide only a temporary solution as a movie theater, but they offer a lot of recreational value in a short time.



8. Stores. In countries outside of the United States, it’s not uncommon to see stores – even entire malls – made from shipping containers.



9. Food truck. Instead of having to travel from place to place, you can keep your food truck in one location thanks to shipping containers. You can modify a shipping container to allow the roof and sides to “pop out” and create an innovative work of art that shows off your creativity. This idea also works well for small shops.



Shipping container food truck


Hobo Food’s shipping container food truck

10. Coffee bars and cafes. Save money on commercial space by creating your own café and coffee bar from a shipping container.



11. Student housing. Shipping containers are often used as student housing in other countries. Many colleges and universities stack these containers and use them as dorms.



12. Barn. Shipping containers are a natural choice for barns because of their many useful properties. They are fire resistant, so they can contain a fire. They are also water and wind-tight, so if you live in an area that has these weather conditions, shipping containers are a must-have.



13. Playhouse. Keep your kids entertained with a shipping container playhouse. You can configure it however you please. You can make it small or large and paint it any color you’d like. Add games and a TV, and the playhouse will be a perfect location for sleepovers with neighborhood friends.



14. Playground. Shipping containers are made to be stacked, so, by making some adjustments and adding some pipes as slides, you can create a unique playground for the kids.



15. Workshop or office. With limited space at home, you may not have the room to work on projects. Containers make great cubicles and workshops. With just a few adjustments, you can add windows and doors and create a private area so you can focus on work.



Shipping container turned into a whimsical workshop


Shipping container turned into a whimsical workshop by Jeremy Thompson

16. Deck or patio. While wood is typically used for decks, bees and other critters tend to ruin decks. By using a container, instead, you eliminate this problem. For a patio, create some open space or add some windows, and you’ll have a unique space.



17. Garden. A shipping container garden is the perfect place to grow plants and food that deer and other critters tend to eat. Put windows on all sides so the sunlight can get in and allow for optimal growth. This type of garden is easy to maintain, plus the extra protection will ensure your hard work and time won’t go to waste.



18. Pool. By placing a container underground, you can create your own pool. Just make a few adjustments, and you’ll have something to keep you cool this summer. 

Container sizes range from 10-53 feet in length, so you can add more containers as needed and create the size you desire. Creating your own shipping container pool also allows you to get creative and add wood, paint, and other elements to suit your preferences.



19. Sauna. As if a pool isn’t relaxing enough, what about your own sauna? Containers make great saunas.




Shipping container home with living roof by Poteet Architects

Shipping containers are perfect for a variety of buildings and work well in impoverished neighborhoods where building something from scratch would not be financially feasible. These are just some of the examples where containers have worked well. By using your imagination, you can likely find many more ways in which you could use these sturdy steel boxes.