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Starting From Scratch: Shipping Container Basics

Look around you… take a moment to consider the origin story behind each item you’re seeing: the device you are on, the clothing you are wearing, or the furniture that supports you. Where did it come from? How did it get to be in your environment? The answer will more often than not involve a shipping container. They would have likely been involved in moving the raw materials from their source to the manufacturing process, as well as moving the end product to you, whether in a storefront or front door. The building block for the global trade network, these boxes continue to show their many uses, extending far beyond shipping purposes. We’ll break down the basics of the steel container and explore their multi-functional nature.

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W H O

Before we get into the basics of the container world, we can take this opportunity to introduce ourselves a bit. As a small team based out of Santa Barbara, California, Swell Containers takes care of your shipping container needs, large or small. With years of expertise in this realm, we’re always happy to answer questions, be there to bounce ideas off of, or help dream up your next project with you. Building a shipping container home? Need additional storage space for your home, or business? We’re here to help — teamwork makes the dreamwork, as they say!

W H A T

So what are these steel boxes, anyways? Also called an intermodal container, the Maritime Industry Guide explains “the term intermodal refers to the utilization of more than one transportation modes to transport necessary cargo shipments from one location to another. In the maritime sector, cargo transportation operations have benefited tremendously, thanks to the intermodal shipping container, which allows for easy cargo movement between road, rail and water transportation networks.”

Created in the early 19th century to improve shipping efficiency via unitized loads, they’ve become the foundation in the global trade world. Here’s a short video illustrating the history behind intermodal containers.

Ever heard of the saying about a smile being a universal language, without any need of translation? Shipping containers are the same way — being a global staple, they have standardized measurements no matter where you are. We’ve broken down a few of the most popular options available in the market below.

Measurements:

The most common boxes on the market are offered in two heights -- 8'6" (Standard) or 9'6" (High Cube). The most common lengths are 20' and 40'.

Types:

For our purposes, we are describing what’s called Dry Freight — these make up the bulk of 20’ and 40’ containers across the globe. As you start exploring these containers, you’ll find two main options, One Trip (New) and Cargo Worthy (Used).

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So we’ve covered what they are, but what are they used for beyond shipping?

Tiny Living:

You may have arrived here because you’re part of a growing group of people interested in tiny home living. We’re with you there! According to a survey conducted in late 2020 by Investment Property Exchange Services, eighty six percent of Americans said they would buy a tiny home as their first home (IPX 1031). And we can see why…your options are limitless when you start modifying one or more of these boxes into a container home, office, retail space, coffee shop, shaping room— the list goes on. There is a lot of inspiration out there for this type of trending buildout, which has exploded in popularity over the last ten years.

Storage Galore:

At their core, containers were designed for storage. Their job is to keep cargo safe from the elements while out on the high seas or exposed to the elements in any way. Naturally, this makes them an incredible option for personal storage, as they are guaranteed watertight and lockable. Additionally, they are stackable and movable, adding to their advantages. We’ve had clients use them for everything from business inventory to emergency aid supplies, or simply just additional home storage.

W H E R E

Coastal California based, with a national reach — we’ve worked all over the country to get you what you need. Our containers come from all over the world, and just where they’re coming from depends on what the market is doing. Feel free to let us know what you need or request a quote and we’ll connect.

W H Y

Why choose shipping containers for your next project? Well, we may be biased, but think they are pretty neat. Here’s why:

  1. You’re going green — shipping containers are environmentally friendly building blocks by being a closed loop system. Conserving natural materials and diverting waste from landfills by using a pre-existing structure is one of the biggest pros for us!

  2. You’re choosing longevity — you’re choosing one the sturdiest, most secure options out there by utilizing a container. They are designed to last, having to withstand the elements, be it sun, rain, snow, humidity, and wind. They are IICL (The Institute of International Container Lessors) certified to guarantee the highest standards . Bottom line, these boxes will last.

  3. You’ve got options — a blank canvas in many ways, these boxes can be modified to add windows, doors, ventilation, AC, insulation, and more. They stack on top of each other, they can be combined in different ways to form bigger spaces, you name it. For both storage and living or work spaces, they’re a multifunctional dream!

  4. You get an investment — as a commodity, the price of a container is constantly in flux. They can appreciate over time, providing an equity opportunity. Long term viability is always a thumbs up in our book.

  5. It’s universal — containers are pivotal to the world market. They’ve modernized how we get commodities from point A to B, and they’re here to stay. Being standardized across the globe, it makes it simpler for your next project or shipping need.

You did it! Your crash course it complete. You now know the low down on shipping containers and their uses. Hopefully this answered some questions and got you excited on the world of options that presents itself when you remember to think outside the box.