Storage Shed VS Shipping Container. Which is better for storage?
If you need home or small business storage, which is your best option? To build a shed or small barn on your property or buy a used shipping container?
In this article, we will go through the pros and cons of each option and see which is better for people needing to store household belongings.
Spoiler: In short, a shipping container for storage is a FAR better option for most household and small business storage needs.
Now, let’s get into the reasons why and the details.
There are several criteria with which we will compare shipping containers and storage sheds:
Different types of use
Size of storage space
Difficulty of setup
What different storage uses do you need?
Most residential homes have a backyward shed. Your dad probably kept his tools in one and puttered around in there on his days off.
Homeowners with yards will need to store yard and garden maintenance equipment, seasonal stuff like lawnmowers, weed whackers, snow shovels and snow blowers and so on.
If you have a garden, spades, hoes, pots, hoses, top soil and fertilizer all need a dry space to be stored all year round.
Do it yourselfers will have multiple tools and spare construction materials that need to be kept someplace.
Small business owners often do not have sufficient space inside their homes to store inventory – like in the case of people who sell goods online and ship from their home based businesses.
Other independent businesses like construction, home renovation, landscaping, and logistics need secure, affordable and easily accessible storage for their equipment and inventory.
Pros of using a Conex container for storage
Steel sea containers having been gaining popularity as a way to keep your storage close to home, and since it is a one-time purchase, there are zero ongoing rental costs.
A shipping container has several advantages over other forms of self storage and here are the key advantages of choosing to buy a cargo container for storage:
Durability – Plain and simple, a metal cargo container is more durable than a wooden or vinyl storage shed.
Shipping containers are constructed of 14 gauge Corten steel made to withstand all weather conditions and maintaining a water tight, sealed environment. This means your container can endure some of the worst weather for several years. How long do shipping containers last?
You can expect to get a minimum of 10-12 years from your container.
Low Maintenance – A significant reason for the popularity of using shipping containers for storage is that containers can be bought new or used, and last years with little maintenance required. The 14-gauge Corten steel means the Conex boxes are very low on maintenance and long service life. More traditional wooden sheds need regular maintenance and a new paint job every few years to slow rot, mold, termites and weather damage.
Over the life of a wooden shed, factors like molds and cracks will need to be addressed.
see our article on shipping container maintenance: Advice on Maintaining Your Shipping Storage Container
Security – Due to the heavy duty construction of shipping containers, they offer a far higher level of security than the majority of the models of sheds typically seen in backyards. The heavy gauge steel of a shipping container will keep out even the most determined burglars.
A thief equipped with a crowbar and hammer can gain access to most sheds without much difficulty. By comparison, to get through the heavy doors and walls of a steel cargo container a very determined thief requires power tools, make a lot of noise and need a significant amount of time.
Heavy duty doors and are easily equipped with lock boxes and high quality locks to secure entry.
If you are storing valuable items, that extra level of security could be the most important factor in picking a shipping container instead of a shed.
Size – It’s rare to see a really large conventional shed. In fact, larger sizes are limited at most hardware retailers.
According to mega retailer Lowe’s website, Medium and Large sized sheds measure approximately 90 to 120 square feet (medium) and from 144 to 288 square feet (large).
A 12 foot shed would measure 12’ x 8’ (96 square feet) x 7’ with 672’ cubic feet of storage space.
For size comparison, the 20FT Long x 8FT Wide x 8FT Tall Container has a volume (Storage Space) of 1,172 cu ft (33.2 M3) – much greater than the average storage shed.
Shipping containers come in a wide variety of sizes.
The standard sizes of ISO shipping containers are:
8ft (2.43m) wide, 20ft (6.06m) in length and 8.5ft (2.59m) high ceiling
8ft (2.43m) wide, 40ft (6.06m) in length and 8.5ft (2.59m) high ceiling
* Tall shipping containers called high-cube containers are available at 9.5ft (2.89m) high ceilings.
Difficulty / Ease of set up – We are comparing convenience and time of getting the storage unit setup and ready to use.
The delivery of your shipping container is very simple when compared to that of a shed. The container is just delivered by truck to the spot you have on your property and you are ready to load your items inside. It does not require specialized knowledge or labor unless you are looking to hook up electrical power.
Storage sheds either must be DIY assembled from a Prefab kit (if you bought something at Home Depot or Lowe’s) or Buy with installation option and the service of having it assembled on your property.
The DIY may save you some money, but take several weekends time to put together and require you to have the required tools.
In the case of a conventional wooden shed, you can build a storage shed yourself or pay a professional do it for you. Building a traditional wooden shed is a much more involved process which will certainly require more than a single person – which will likely cost more money in labor. If you’re having your shed built on your property, it could take weeks for the builder to complete the project. And unfortunately, there is a risk of having structural errors if the shed is not put together correctly.
Moisture protection – Storage containers are engineered to be completely waterproof on long sea voyages. They are made from waterproof steel with gaskets on doors so anything kept inside will remain secure and dry.
Cool factor – Shipping containers are a bit of a novelty not seen every day, and your house guests will get a kick out of it.
Protect against pest problems – Keep rodents and bugs out of your storage space.
It seems inevitable that bugs and possibly rodents ARE going to find a way to sneak into your shed. Mice and rats love to find a way into wooden storage sheds and make their homes in cold weather. Historically, rodents infesting ships was a major problem and the solution was the watertight construction of a sea container. Steel cargo containers are clearly superior when it comes to keeping out pests.
Environmentally friendly – Have you heard of the new green phrase “adaptive reuse” or “upcycling”? Definition: reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original.
A real bonus to using a shipping container is to repurpose an empty shipping container into something useful. Due to the USA trade deficit with the rest of the world, shipping containers have been piling up near US ports. Repurposing into storage space is one of those uses.
Portability– If you have to move someday, you can easily transport your container with you. It’s as easy to load it on a truck and move as it was to originally deliver and set it up. If the day comes when you no longer need the storage space, you have the option of reselling your shipping container and recovering some of your money.
Pros of having a shed – Probably the number one advantage of the more traditional wooden or more modern vinyl shed is the style. Some designs can add can add a nice look to your yard and you can choose one that matches the paint style and design of your home. The shed can be as attractive little addition that matches your house.
Cons of a shipping container storage shed– It is worth mentioning that while a shipping container will provide a unique look to your yard, some homeowners may simply prefer the more traditional look of a wooden shed.
What about the Cost?
Cost is what really matters to many people in making a decision.
Short answer…the per square foot cost of shipping containers is lower than sheds on average.
Buying a storage shed is going to come either pre-built or assembled on your property – depending on the model you buy.
A container comes as is and you simply open the doors and start loading it with your storage items as soon as it is delivered.
Both options are likely going to cost you a few thousand dollars each,
There are 2 ways to look at the cost of shipping container vs a shed.
1) Cost per square foot of storage spaceFor comparison, a Conex container measuring 20’ long x 8’ wide x 8.5’ tall may cost costs $3,500 (prices may vary).
This calculates to around $21.71 cost per square foot.
To compare, a common sized 12′ x 12′ shed may be priced over $4,000 and some larger models closer to $6,000.
With a price of $4,300 that comes out to to almost $30.00 per square foot.
The shipping container is a clearly cheaper option with a cost saving of over $8.00 per square foot compared to
prefab shed prices at your local big box hardware store.
2) Total cost – including installation and / or building
Both cargo containers and sheds are one time purchases. There are some ongoing, periodic maintennace costs on a shed and less on a shipping container. Now having a wooden building is where the costs can vary widely. In general, buying a prefab shed is cheaper than having a wooden shed built.
The Lowes website says that if you purchase a Lowes shed and have someone build it for you, you may end up paying more than the price Lowe’s charges for assembly. The website also compares the cost of buying a prefab shed vs. a conventional wooden building: “Average cost for a person to build your shed (labor and materials) will be around $800 – $1500 so for a complete
and finished 8×12 gable will be $4500 compared to our $2500”
Sheds – Is it better to buy a prefab shed or build one?
There are several important factors to consider when answering this question.
Cost – In general, the overall cost of buying a shed is higher than building one yourself. The biggest advantage of building your own shed over buying a prefab is the cost savings. Since you are providing the labor of building the structure, that will save you money. In short, the cost is higher because you are paying for the convenience factor.
You must calculate the full cost of building when you compare the price. Do you have the tools that you will need to the build a sturdy, proper wooden structure? If not, then you are going to have to add on the cost of purchasing whatever tools that you require.
Labor cost is added to have someone else to perform the work of putting the shed together. If you lack the expertise to competently build a solid shed, then buying is probably the wiser way to go.
Less hassle and headaches – Having a shed delivered and set up by the store staff – ready to use – will eliminate all of the hassle of planning, buying materials, getting the tools and dealing with a construction site in your yard for a month while the shed is being built.
Time – There is very little time involved in buying a shed. Heading down to a big box store on the weekend and asking a few questions, selecting a prefab shed and having it delivered to your property can all be done in a day or 2. You can also pay to have the store’s staff assemble the shed for you saving even more time.
In contrast, building a traditional wooden shed is a lot more time intensive. You will need to invest several days (or weeks!) of time and effort to build even a basic structure. If you work a regular job during the week, you may only be able to build on the weekends, stretching out the overall time to complete the shed build.
If you are an experienced carpenter and enthusiastic about building your own shed, then this is less of a consideration.
Another factor to think about is the time of year that you need the shed. Building a shed in the middle of an East coast winter is not really practical and you may have to postpone building a shed until the warmer weather. With a prefab shed, you can buy a shed and quickly set it up no matter what the weather.
Do You have the construction knowledge needed?
Not everyone has the in depth building expertise and tools required to build their own shed from raw materials. And depending on where you live, building code issues may require you to have a building permit to put up a wooden shed on your property.
Buying a shed eliminates this factor – unless you are going to have to assemble a complicated refab kit. Large retailers selling pre-built structures will be able to answer any questions and provide the service you need to put your shed kit together.
So what is the conclusion? Which is better for storage – shipping container or shed?
If you skipped the article to get right to the answer to the question here it is:
Shipping containers are the clear winner due to advantages in:
Cost – The price per square foot is significantly cheaper
Durability – Containers are stronger and last longer, are more resistant to rot, mold, and pests
Security – Containers are much more difficult to break into and will keep your items safer from theft.
Size – Largest shed on Lowes website (I searched!) was 12-ft x 10-ft = 120 sq feet. The most common size shipping container – 20-ft x 8-ft = 160 sq feet. 33% bigger. If space is a factor, the container is much larger.
Shipping containers are typically taller and some bigger items need high ceilings.