Shipping container workshops add valuable workspace to a property, but are they worth it?
Are there real benefits or would you be better off with a shed?
Turning a shipping container into a workshop is a cost-effective solution compared to sheds. A used container typically costs around $3,000, and the entire conversion project rarely exceeds $20,000. Various layouts and designs allow for full customization. Not only are containers suitable for backyard workshops, but they can also be placed in warehouses to create individual work stations.
What Is A Shipping Container Workshop?
A shipping container workshop is a modified shipping container transformed into a workspace.
Such a container is typically fully equipped with windows, doors, work benches, and cabinets. It has storage space for tools and is connected to electricity.
Depending on the workshop location and purpose, the container may also feature plumbing and could be connected to the city water line and sewer system.
Typical uses for container workshops include electronics repair, auto repair (garage) workshop, arts and crafts or jewelry workshop, portable office or commercial workshop, etc.
6 Benefits Of Building A Workshop In A Shipping Container
Here are the advantages of converting a shipping container into a workshop:
Shipping containers are made of weathering steel, a special type of metal typically used in outdoor construction and often referred to as Corten steel.
Weathering steel is much more rust-resistant than regular steel and is developed to be painted on.
Even when left untreated, the material rarely corrodes. Instead, it forms a protective layer on the outer surface that looks rusty but doesn’t actually degrade the metal.
The use of this steel type in the construction of shipping containers makes them resistant to all kinds of weather and environments, including saltwater when traveling by sea.
When used for their intended purpose, shipping containers have a lifespan of around 25 years.
However, they are exposed to fewer elements in a backyard or worksite, so a workshop could last much longer with minimal upkeep.
Shipping containers are designed to transport important cargo safely around the world, and they can hold the workshop equipment and supplies securely, too.
Converted containers have regular windows and doors that you can lock. The corrugated steel panels and frames are also hard to break into, providing an almost burglar-proof workspace.
As their name suggests, shipping containers are made with portability in mind. Their primary purpose is that of containing goods that are shipped from one part of the world to the other.
A conversion doesn’t hinder their portability. Even when connected to plumbing and electricity, all it takes is disconnecting the utilities to move the container.
This feature might be less important in a backyard, but comes in handy if you want to use the workshop for commercial purposes. You can simply move it from one jobsite to the other.
Whether you need a small workshop that fits into a small container or want to link several containers together to create a larger space, there are plenty of customization and container linking options to choose from.
The position of doors and windows, ventilation, and internal layout are also easy to personalize to suit your needs.
Converted shipping containers can be used for personal or commercial purposes. They can house a workshop, creative studio, office, or even become a cozy she-shed or functional man cave.
Placing a converted container into your backyard may also require no planning permission, depending on regulations in your area – some cities require planning permission unless the structure is temporary.
Changing the usage of the container is also easy. For instance, a container initially transformed into a workshop can be repurposed to use for an office or even transformed into a tiny home.
One of the main advantages of shipping containers vs. sheds is the cost to build the workshop.
On average, building a shed cost between $60 and $150 per square foot. So, a 20 by 8-foot shed can cost anywhere from $9,600 to $24,000.
When doubling up the length, a standard shed can cost anywhere from $19,200 to $48,000.
A used 20’ x 8’ shipping container costs $1,500 on average. Models with full-side access (open side) are more expensive, but still cost under $3,000.
Moreover, 40’ x 8’ containers aren’t much more expensive, with prices ranging from $1,700 to $3,200.
New containers are more expensive, but still cheaper than a shed. Even a full conversion would be more affordable.
The table below shows the various container conversion costs*:
|Shipping container (40 x 8 feet)
|$1,500 - $5,000
|Doors and windows
|$750 - $2,950
|$2,300 - $2,700
|$1,300 - $1,700
|$1,600 - $2,000
|$900 - $2,300
|$8,350 - $16,650
*The prices above are industry averages correct as of October 2022. They should be used as reference only. Actual prices can vary based on your location, needs, and permits required.
Commercial Vs. Residential Usage
Shipping container workshops and offices are often seen on construction sites. However, they can find their place in a backyard, too.
As explained, a shipping container workshop is often cheaper to build than a large shed. Common residential usages include:
- Woodworking workshop
- Arts and crafts
- Hobby workshop
- Home office
Businesses, especially construction companies, can take advantage of the container’s portability.
On most construction sites, these workshops can be easily hooked to the electric grid or a power generator and they don’t actually need plumbing or HVAC – vents can replace the air conditioning system, and the workers can use mobile facilities and break rooms.
However, that’s not the only way shipping container workshops can integrate into a business space.
Companies can install shipping container workshops in warehouses.
Each container can become a dedicated workstation for individual employees or teams. This can enhance productivity, especially in manufacturing.
Common commercial usages of converted shipping containers include:
- Electronic/mobile repairs
- Artist studios
- Individual workstations
8 Shipping Container Workshop Features
Container workshops can be purchased ready-to-use, but you can save up by converting your own container.
Here are a few crucial features to consider.
No matter what type of workshop you need, access to outlets and lights is crucial.
The first thing to do once you bought the container and planned the layout is to decide where you need the outlets to be, how many outlets you need, and what type/how many light fittings.
Wire up the container and decide whether you want to connect it to the grid or use a power generator – the latter is an ideal choice for mobile workshops.
You may or may not need plumbing in your container workshop, depending on what you intend to use it for.
If you need it, plan the plumbing layout right after you’re done with the electric one.
Place the sink (or faucet fixture) away from the electric outlets or switches. Ideally, you should place it at one end of the container, where you can also install a bathroom if required.
However, this isn’t a rule set in stone and you can create the layout based on your needs. Just keep in mind that a complicated plumbing layout is usually more expensive.
Mobile workshops typically don’t have a plumbing system, but that doesn’t mean that yours can’t have one. A mobile container workshop can be plumbed in the same way RVs or van conversions can.
Many people consider container insulation optional, but keep in mind that the corrugated steel panels can get very hot in summer and extremely cold in winter.
Thus, if you want to maintain a bearable temperature inside the workshop at all times, insulation is crucial.
There are various ways to go around this. You could install outside insulation if you don’t want to reduce the interior floor space.
However, interior insulating panels are the easiest to install and provide the internal space with a finished aspect.
You can decide whether to cover the insulation panels with drywall for a streamlined appearance or keep the insulation panels bare.
Most shipping containers have a smooth floor surface that may not require additional flooring. However, like the top and side panels, the bottom isn’t insulated.
Installing floors, or at least covering the bottom with plywood panels, can reduce temperature loss through it.
Floating floors installed over plywood could be the best solution if you’re looking for easy DIY installation.
Composite boards may cost more than tile, but they generally resist heavy-duty use. Aluminum, vinyl, and epoxy floors are other popular options.
5. Doors & Windows
A crucial thing to consider when designing the conversion layout is the placement of the door(s) and windows.
Installing at least one regular door is essential to ensure easy access to your workshop. Windows are optional, but highly recommended for natural light and ventilation.
If you’re not too concerned about airflow – perhaps you plan to install an HVAC unit – but want to benefit from natural light without sacrificing wall space, you could consider replacing the ceiling (or part of it) with a skylight.
Container workshop ventilation is crucial, especially in woodworking workshops or situations that involve the use of chemicals.
A proper venting system can remove the dust and fumes from the working space and bring in fresh air.
Ideally, you should install two vents, one at each end of the container. A large vent on only one side could also suffice, if your ventilation requirements are minimal.
Installing an HVAC system may not be necessary if you live in cool or temperate climates with cool, dry summers. In these zones, a space heater and vent could be the perfect combination for your workshop.
In warmer climates, however, you may want to consider an HVAC or air conditioning system.
7. Work Benches
The simplest container workshop layout sees workbenches running from one end of the container to the other, on just one side. Again, though, there is no hard rule to follow. Running them on two, three, or all four sides is possible.
Typical height should be at waist level, but this is also flexible. If you prefer working standing up (or have to due to the type of equipment you plan to operate), taller benches could be more ergonomic.
For durability, steel or aluminum worktops are the best choices. Wood or plastic alternatives are cheaper and may suit light-duty or hobby workshops.
Built-in storage options can add the final touch and more value to your container workshop.
Metal bottom and upper cabinets, drawer units, wall storage panels designed for tools or baskets, and shelves are some of the most common options.
Layout And Size Offerings
Shipping containers come in many sizes, but 40-feet Conex military shipping containers are the most common option for residential and commercial workshops alike.
Average prices vary from $2,600 to $6,000, depending on the container condition (used or new). Alternatively, if you don’t plan to do any structural changes, you can rent one for around $225 per month, on average.
A 20-foot Conex container is an alternative if you need a smaller workshop. New containers cost from $2,800 to $3,400 on average, but a used one can go as low as $1,200.
Empty, conversion-ready containers are the cheapest and a great choice for DIY enthusiasts.
If you don’t have the skills, will, or time to build your own workshop, ready-made container workshops can also be purchased from various brands or independent contractors.
In this case, layouts vary from open-space working areas fitted with electricity, plumbing, and work benches to 2- or 3-room workshops that incorporate a bathroom, breakroom, and office or main work area.
How Do You Make A Shipping Container Into A Workshop?
As mentioned, DIY conversion is the cheapest way to a container workshop:
- Find the container. Decide what container size works best for you and whether you want to buy it used or new. Used containers are cheaper, but you can’t know for sure how battered they are or how they were maintained. A new container can provide over two decades of reliable service before requiring repairs. Shop around to find the best deal.
- Get the necessary permits. If you want the workshop container to become a permanent fixture in your yard, check the local building codes and find out if you need a permit. A permit is compulsory in most jurisdictions, unless the workshop is temporary and used for specific purposes.
- Decide the layout. Do you want to keep the interior as an open space or divide it? What is the use of each room? Where do the work benches, wall outlets, switches, and fixtures go? Draw a layout of your container and place each item in its specific location. Decide the position of any windows and doors, too.
- Buy the necessary tools and materials. For a proper conversion, you need: windows, doors, vents, insulation, and floors.
- Install the doors and windows. Cut out door and window slots as per your layout. Install the fixtures or hire a professional to install them for you.
- Install electric and plumbing. Following the layout, mark the position of all outlets and plumbing on the walls. Run the wires and plumbing lines, making sure they are all insulated.
- Install the ventilation system. Cut out the holes and install the vents and ducts or the HVAC system.
- Insulate the walls. Install insulating panels or insulate the walls with expanding foam and cover them with plywood or drywall.
- Install the floor. Lay an insulating sheet or plywood on the container floor, then install the flooring type of your choice. Common options include metal, floating floors, vinyl, or plywood panels.
- Mount the outlet wall plates and fixtures. Install the wall outlets and switches in their places. Install any plumbing fixtures, such as the sink or water closet.
- Install the furniture. Mount the workbenches and storage cabinets. Bring them to the workshop and secure them to the walls with fasteners. Lastly, install the shelves or wall storage panels and bring in all your equipment and work essentials.
Shipping container workshops are a cheaper alternative to sheds. Commercial usage varies from jobsite offices or workshops to individual workstations in production facilities or warehouses. They can also be a fun DIY project if you plan to convert them yourself.
Whether you want to start with a used or new container, fill out the form at the top of this page to get custom quotes and the best deals.