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The Ultimate Guide to Shipping Container Dimensions & Container Sizes

The Ultimate Guide to Shipping Container Dimensions & Container Sizes

Are you looking to explore the world of shipping containers? Whether you’re designing an ambitious project or just need a way to transport goods, understanding the different types of containers and their dimensions is essential.

This guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the basics of container sizes, from common terminology to accurate measurements.

We’ll also look at some of the more uncommon types of containers and their unique characteristics.

To make it easier, we’ll also provide a description of each type, so you can find the perfect container for your needs.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information available. With this guide, you’ll be able to become an expert on shipping container sizes in no time.

brown wooden framed glass window

Key Takeaways

  • Shipping containers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. If you are unsure of which size to choose, it’s important to understand the various dimensions, materials, and accuracy of each type.
  • The most common container sizes are the 20-foot and 40-foot units.
  • You may also find the 45-foot, 48-foot, and 53-foot sizes, but these are less frequent. 
  • Familiarizing yourself with container sizes and dimensions can help you plan your container home plans better. 

The Basics Of Shipping Container Size 

Shipping containers come in a variety of sizes and dimensions. Typically, they range from 10 to 53 feet in length, while the heights and widths can differ.

Choosing the right container size for your home depends on factors such as your space requirements, budget, floor plans, and design vision. 

Working with professionals experienced in container home construction can help you make the best decision based on your specific needs.

brown cardboard boxes under blue sky during daytime

Terminologies You Need To Know

Shipping containers have their own special terminology. Knowing and understanding these terms can help you better understand the complexities of this industry.

Learning and understanding these terms is an important step in navigating the shipping container industry.


Understanding ISO shipping containers is crucial for a safe and successful shipment process. You must be aware of both the specific size requirements and the container’s structural integrity.

ISO standards are internationally recognized and must be followed for all types of shipping containers, regardless of the destination. 

Every shipping container, whether small or large, must adhere to stringent safety protocols set by these regulations. 


Intermodal simply means that a shipping container can be used in a variety of ways. This includes railways, trucks, as well as various sizes of container ships. 

Any container conforming to ISO standards and possessing the familiar corner castings is classified as an intermodal shipping container.


The term Conex, sometimes spelled as Connex, is short for “container express,” which refers to the comprehensive shipping system that was made possible by the invention of containers several decades ago. 

It’s worth noting that a Conex box is simply another name for a shipping container. 


TEU stands for Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit, and it’s used to measure the size of shipping containers.

A TEU is equivalent to a 20ft container. This means it’s 20 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 8 and a half feet tall. This unit is useful for standardizing different container sizes and making calculations easier. Another example is a 40 ft container is equal to two TEUs.

General-Purpose (Dry Storage)

General-purpose or dry containers are some of the most versatile containers available. They are designed to accommodate many different types of goods that do not require temperature or atmospheric controls.

Tare Weight (Empty)

The tare weight refers to the weight of the container when it is empty, without any cargo inside. 

Max Load Capacity (Net)

The maximum weight or payload that a container can safely carry is known as its net weight. This is calculated by subtracting the tare weight from the maximum gross weight.

Maximum Gross Weight (MGW)

MGW is the total weight of a fully loaded container – it includes both the tare weight and the max load capacity. The exact MGW depends on the shipping container’s dimensions and size.

Non-Standard Containers

Non-standard containers can be very appealing with their unique dimensions and sizes, but they come with certain drawbacks.

For example, when choosing a 10ft or 12ft wide steel box, it may seem like these larger widths would offer better features. However, this isn’t always the case.

Every container is designed according to international standards, and by opting for non-standard containers, you risk sacrificing other key aspects of container performance.

Some Caveats Of Shipping Containers

While shipping containers have gained popularity as a sustainable and cost-effective option for building homes, there are some caveats that need to be considered, such as:

Dimensional Accuracy

ISO Standards govern the sizes of shipping containers, but there can be slight variations in dimensions. Variations in the size of shipping containers, such as reefer containers or open-top containers can be as little as ½ inch.

Exterior measurements usually remain the same due to attachment requirements. However, the interior space may differ. A container’s capacity can vary depending on its design and insulation level for temperature control.

Weight Accuracy

The variance in weight is often due to manufacturers exceeding the minimum strength requirements set by the International Convention for Safe Containers.

This could result in a difference of hundreds or even thousands of pounds in gross, tare, or payload weights.

Door Height

If your furniture is taller than the standard door height, it may not fit inside a used shipping container. This is because the interior height of a container is greater than the door height due to a steel header at the end of the container.

This means that while the container has more vertical space, getting items through the door can be tricky. To avoid any problems, factor in the door height of all the furniture you want to place in your container home when planning. 

Refrigerated Container Length

Refrigerated containers, commonly known as reefer containers, have approximately two feet of their overall length reserved for housing the refrigeration equipment responsible for maintaining the cool temperature inside.

As a result, the interior length of these containers is generally about two feet shorter than what one would typically expect.

brown wooden table and chairs

Common Types Of Shipping Container Sizes And Dimensions

With their sturdy construction and easy availability, repurposing standard shipping containers into livable spaces has become a popular choice for those seeking unique and eco-friendly housing solutions.

If you plan to embark on a container home project, you may want to familiarize yourself with the various sizes and dimensions of shipping containers commonly used in the construction process.

Standard Containers

Standard containers are the most commonly used type. They have uniform dimensions, typically measuring 20 or 40 feet in length, 8 feet in width, and 8.6 feet in height.

These containers come in different variations, including those specifically designed to transport dry cargo, such as electronics, clothing, or food products. 

Their robust construction ensures that goods are protected from external elements, such as moisture and extreme temperatures.

With their wide range of customization options, standard containers can be transformed into modern, comfortable, and sustainable living spaces. 

20-foot Container Dimensions (20′ std)

A 20-foot standard container is a great choice for projects needing maneuverability and that are on a budget.

Here’s a breakdown of the external and internal dimensions, as well as the door opening dimensions and weights:

External DimensionsInternal DimensionsDoor Opening Dimensions
Length19 feet 10 inches (6.05 meters)19 feet 4 inches (5.90 meters)
Width8 feet (2.44 meters)7 feet 8 inches (2.35 meters)7 feet 8 inches (2.34 meters)
Height8 feet 6 inches (2.59 meters)7 feet 10 inches (2.39 meters)7 feet 6 inches (2.29 meters)
Tare Weight4,960 pounds (2,250 kilograms)
Maximum Load Weight62,240 pounds (28,230 kilograms)

For home projects where space is a must, this type of container is ideal. However, keep in mind that modifications such as cutting through the container walls will increase costs.

40-foot Container Dimensions (40′ std)

The versatile 40ft shipping container is a popular choice for container architecture. While its lower ceiling height can be a downside, narrow rooms can also be a benefit. They can add to an efficient minimalist lifestyle.

Here’s a breakdown of the dimensions and sizes for this container

External DimensionsInternal DimensionsDoor Opening Dimensions
Length40 feet (12.19 meters)39 feet 6 inches (12.04 meters)
Width8 feet (2.44 meters)7 feet 8 inches (2.35 meters)7 feet 8 inches (2.34 meters)
Height8 feet 6 inches (2.59 meters)7 feet 10 inches (2.39 meters)7 feet 6 inches (2.29 meters)
Tare Weight8,333 pounds (3,780 kilograms)
Maximum Load Weight58,863 pounds (27,600 kilograms)

You can make the most of these containers by creatively subdividing them into several rooms. Whether you are looking to make a cozy one-bedroom home or a studio apartment, these containers can provide ample space to do so.

The decision between two 20ft containers versus one 40ft may come down to cost efficiency. If your design requires more than one 20ft unit, you may be able to save money by opting for a 40ft instead.

The 40-foot standard container offers a wide range of possibilities. Its ample space can be adapted to fit a variety of needs, while its cost-efficiency can help you save money.

High Cube Containers

High cube containers offer additional height, measuring 9.6 feet in height instead of the standard 8.6 feet. This extra vertical space provides more room to accommodate bulkier or irregularly shaped goods. 

Their additional height provides more design options and enhances the living experience inside these innovative dwellings.

With a touch of creativity, a high cube container can be transformed into a unique, sustainable, and eye-catching home.

20-foot High Cube Container Dimensions (20′ HC)

The 20-foot high cube container is the perfect choice if you’re looking for extra space and headroom. Compared to a standard 20ft container, this model has an additional 12 inches of height.

This extra space can be used for a variety of purposes, such as interior insulation, light fixtures, or even aesthetic design.

If you’re looking for the measurements of a 20-foot high cube container (20′ std), here’s everything you need to know.

External DimensionsInternal DimensionsDoor Opening Dimensions
Length19 feet 10 inches (6.05 meters)19 feet 4 inches (5.90 meters)
Width8 feet (2.44 meters)7 feet 8 inches (2.35 meters)7 feet 8 inches (2.34 meters)
Height9 feet 6 inches (2.89 meters)8 feet 10 inches (2.70 meters)8 feet 6 inches (2.59 meters)
Tare Weight5,070 pounds (2,300 kilograms)
Maximum Load Weight62,130 pounds (28,180 kilograms)

The increased ceiling height can create an illusion of a larger interior space, allowing you to explore more creative possibilities. 

Not to mention, these high-cube shipping containers are also incredibly functional and versatile. Whether you need a spacious yet compact structure or a more spacious living area, the 20-foot high cube container is the perfect option.

45-foot High Cube Container (45′ HC)

The 45-foot high cube container offers extra space and headroom compared to traditional containers. With five extra feet of length and an additional foot of height, this container provides a spacious interior.

Here’s a table presenting the dimensions and sizes of a 45 ft high-cube container

External DimensionsInternal DimensionsDoor Opening Dimensions
Length45 feet (13.72 meters)44 feet 6 inches (13.56 meters)
Width8 feet (2.44 meters)7 feet 8 inches (2.35 meters)7 feet 8 inches (2.34 meters)
Height9 feet 6 inches (2.89 meters)8 feet 10 inches (2.70 meters)8 feet 6 inches (2.59 meters)
Tare Weight10,580 pounds (4,800 kilograms)
Maximum Load Weight56,620 pounds (30,480 kilograms)

It has corner castings on both 40ft and 45ft extents, allowing it to be stacked with standard 40-footers.

This type of container is a great choice for those looking to create a two-bedroom home. With a little creativity, the extra space and headroom can be used to create larger rooms without sacrificing portability or stackability.

The 45-foot high cube container is a versatile option that provides plenty of room for comfortable living. Whether you’re looking for a larger space or you simply want an extra foot of height, this container is the perfect choice.

Refrigerated Containers

Refrigerated shipping containers, also known as reefers, are specially designed for transporting temperature-sensitive cargo.

The primary advantage of reefers is the ability to create a climate-controlled environment within the container.

The built-in refrigeration systems allow for precise regulation of temperature and humidity levels, making reefers ideal for regions with extreme climates or locations where you want to maintain a consistent temperature within the home. 

20-foot Refrigerated Container Dimensions (20′ reefer)

The 20-foot refrigerated container, also known as a reefer, offers a unique advantage for those looking to insulate their space. 

Here’s the breakdown of the container’s dimensions and sizes. 

External DimensionsInternal DimensionsDoor Opening Dimensions
Length19 feet 10 inches (6.05 meters)17 feet 10 inches (5.44 meters)
Width8 feet (2.44 meters)7 feet 6 inches (2.28 meters)7 feet 6 inches (2.28 meters)
Height8 feet 6 inches (2.59 meters)7 feet 5 inches (2.26 meters)7 feet 5 inches (2.26 meters)
Tare Weight6,400 pounds (2,905 kilograms)
Maximum Load Weight60,800 pounds (27,575 kilograms)

This type of container comes with built-in insulation, potentially saving you time and money. It is ideal for those living in harsh climates, as the insulation helps maintain a comfortable temperature inside.

However, before you choose this option, you should consider the tradeoffs. While it may seem economical upfront, ensure you’ve found a good deal, as these containers can be pricier than regular ones.

Additionally, their dimensions may be different due to the added insulation layer.

If you plan and choose wisely, a 20-foot reefer could make your project easier by eliminating the hassle of insulating the container yourself.

Take the time to weigh the pros and cons to make the best decision for your home project.

40-foot Refrigerated Container Dimensions (40′ reefer)

A 40-foot refrigerated container, or ‘reefer’ as it’s commonly known, is a highly versatile option for building insulated spaces. It provides the same capacity as a standard 40-foot shipping container with the added benefit of insulation.

Here’s a table showing the dimensions and sizes of this particular container. 

External DimensionsInternal DimensionsDoor Opening Dimensions
Length40 feet (12.19 meters)38 feet (11.58 meters)
Width8 feet (2.44 meters)7 feet 6 inches (2.28 meters)7 feet 6 inches (2.28 meters)
Height8 feet 6 inches (2.59 meters)7 feet 5 inches (2.26 meters)7 feet 5 inches (2.26 meters)
Tare Weight10,780 pounds (4,900 kilograms)
Maximum Load Weight56,420 pounds (25,645 kilograms)

Before choosing this container, you should consider first the practicalities of using it. Most come with an industrial refrigeration unit that will require removal, leaving behind a hole that needs to be patched.

The decision ultimately comes down to personal preference and practicality. This type of container can offer a great solution for your needs; just be mindful of the pros and cons.

blue steel door under white clouds during daytime

Less Common Containers

If you’re looking for a truly unique container, there are a few rare options available that are all highly versatile but not as commonly found.

  • The 48-foot High Cube Container (48′ HC)
  • 53-foot High Cube Container (53′ HC)
  • 40-foot Pallet Wide High Cube Container (40′ PW HC) 

These irregularly-sized containers may present a challenge to your design but could be the perfect solution for more unique projects.

Other Shipping Container Types

When it comes to storage containers, there is a wide range of options available to choose from. Some of the more rare types of containers include flat-pack, open-top, and removable-top containers.

Flat-pack Containers

These containers fold flat when not in use, allowing for efficient storage and transportation. However, they are less sturdy and don’t meet ISO standards, so they are only recommended for basic storage purposes.

Open Top Containers

These containers lack a metal roof, allowing cargo to protrude slightly above the container’s roofline. They are useful for certain types of cargo and can be modified easily by adding a loft or another roof.

Removable Top Containers

Similar to standard containers, these have a removable metal roof. This feature enables easier loading of heavy or oversized cargo through the roof.

Side-opening Containers

These containers have bi-folding doors on one of the long sides, allowing unrestricted side access. They are suitable for secure storage with open sides when the doors are open.

Insulated Containers

These containers have insulation similar to refrigerated containers but lack the refrigeration equipment. They are preferred by many container home builders as they offer insulation without unnecessary equipment.

Container Materials

When it comes to storage containers, steel and wood are the most common materials used. Let’s take a closer look. 

Steel floor containers are a great choice for those seeking something lightweight, strong, and easy to clean. They don’t require any pesticides, unlike wooden floors, making them a more eco-friendly option.

Bamboo floor containers offer another green alternative – they are renewable, pest-resistant, and less prone to damage.

Aluminum shipping containers are non-ferrous, non-magnetic, rust-proof, and have other unique qualities that may be worth considering. Although they are not as robust as steel containers, they still have their advantages.


With this guide, you now possess the knowledge to make informed decisions about the appropriate container size for your specific needs.

Whether you opt for the standard 20-foot or 40-foot container or decide to explore the elevated possibilities of high cube containers, the world of container home construction awaits, offering endless opportunities for unique and sustainable living spaces.

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Container Home Hub is not a shipping container home construction company. While we do our best to make sure our information is accurate, please contact a professional shipping container home builder for information. Container Home Hub is also a blog and does not independently sell shipping container houses and/or shipping container house plans. Container Home Hub currently uses advertisements from a third-party advertising site in addition to occasional affiliate links.