Shipping Containers

Shipping containers were once designed with the sole purpose of transporting goods. But over the years, the industry has found creative uses for these sturdy structures. This has resulted in an architectural boom as commercial enterprises discover ways to house everything from families to retail buildings in these long metal boxes. Manufactured in a wide variety of sizes, intermodal freight containers offer a wealth of convenience and flexibility for a number of industries.

Shipping containers are also known as intermodal freight containers. Depending on the mode of transport, the industry will often narrow down their descriptions further. A durable, closed steel box will often be referred to as a sea or ocean container, Conex box, sea can or ISO container. Regardless of its name, these containers can be moved easily from one method of transportation to another without having to unload or reload.

Affordable Housing

With real estate prices soaring across the country, there is renewed interest in building affordable housing using steel intermodal containers. Shipping container architecture is commonly referred to as ‘cargotecture.’ Builders and developers have been looking for environmentally-friendly solutions as more homebuyers become aware of their ecological footprints. When upcycling shipping containers, thousands of kilograms of steel are saved.

The use of containers as a construction material is popular for a number of other reasons:

  • Inherent strength: Made from steel that provides optimal protection from extreme weather like tornadoes, hurricanes. and even tsunamis
  • Low cost: These simple steel structures are easily mass produced, making them cost-efficient compared to other building materials
  • Wide availability: From used freight containers to secondhand container vans, these steel boxes are easy to purchase and come in a number of different sizes

There are numerous advantages to shipping container homes. Due to their uniform shape, containers can be stacked on top of each other. They essentially work as modular elements that can be combined to create larger structures. Their strength and durability mean container homes can easily hold a standard family of four, plus furniture and other household appliances. Furthermore, those who live in expensive cities such as Toronto or Vancouver could explore shipping container homes as an affordable alternative.

Refrigeration Facilities

With space becoming more and more limited as communities expand, businesses are looking for innovative ways to create bulk refrigeration facilities. Cargo containers are the perfect shape and material to store mass inventory that requires cooling solutions. Due to the wide range of container sizes available, ice plants and blast freezers can be customized to suit your needs.

A refrigeration system is directly installed into the steel structure, which is then hooked up to an external power source. The structure is also outfitted with dense foam insulation. Also known as reefers, refrigerated containers can maintain temperatures as low as -35°C.

To ensure your shipping container is modified correctly for refrigeration use, it should have the following features:

  • Aluminum or stainless steel exterior with washable interior walls
  • Dense foam insulation in floors, walls, ceilings, and doors
  • Fire-resistant construction with rust-resistant hardware
  • Forklift pockets that allow for easy transport and handling

Retail & Dining Centres

Modified shipping containers are changing the face of retail. These structures can range from barebone units with simple flip windows to fully finished retail centres with food-grade interiors and elaborate shelving features. Because shipping containers are inexpensive, weatherproof and easy to transport — businesses are using pop-up shops as a low-cost alternative to traditional brick-and-mortar structures.

Business owners like to use shipping containers as retail space because of their design flexibility. Whether it’s a multi-story shopping mall or a sprawling food court, these modular elements can be stacked and configured to suit the businesses needs. Shipping containers can be expertly modified to offer the comforts and amenities of regular buildings. They can house washrooms, kitchens, spa facilities, and even swimming pools.

Toronto’s Evergreen Brickworks features a welcome hut made from a repurposed 20-square-foot shipping container. The structure was designed and painted by architect Levitt Goodman. Many guests are delighted by the artistic rain chain that directs excess water into a barrel on the side of the hut. There is also a container cafe on the grounds nearby, aptly named The Sipping Container.

27 Boxes in Melville, Johannesburg is one of the world’s most popular retail destinations made entirely of shipping containers. The design also incorporates garden plants, rolling lawns, and brick and concrete accents for a rich and eclectic feel.

Self-Storage Unit

From bulky furniture to family heirlooms, shipping containers work well as self-storage units. Durable and waterproof, they are a safe and secure place to store your valuables. Shipping containers, also known as sea cans, are often repurposed into indoor and outdoor storage lockers. These lockers can be outfitted with a high-security lockbox for increased security. They often allow for drive-up access so users can avoid the inconvenience of having to enter a storage complex. Offered in a wide variety of sizes, these self-storage units are helpful for keeping:

  • Household goods during a move or renovation
  • Commercial goods, excess inventory, or confidential business documents
  • Tools, construction materials, and other contracting equipment
  • Lawn mowers, snow plows, and other seasonal gear

For optimal performance, container providers should ensure all units are climate-controlled to protect valuables from wind, rain, and snow. Many users are concerned that shipping containers suffer from condensation buildup. To solve this, storage providers can spray ceilings with a urethane spray to prevent excess moisture. The units should also be outfitted with rubber seals to keep rodents and vermin from entering the space, and additional vents to prevent sweating during seasonal changes.

Washroom Facilities

Shipping containers, sometimes referred to as Conex boxes, are often repurposed into washroom facilities. Portable toilets are a necessity in areas where people tend to gather, like beaches, sporting events, and outdoor festivals. Freight containers can provide sanitary washroom facilities on short notice and in remote locations. They are ideal for large events because the setup is relatively easy and cheap. Because of their durability, container washrooms can also work as permanent fixtures.

Here are some examples of portable washrooms made from shipping containers:

  • Portable Water Restroom – 20-foot shipping container has separate toilet facilities for men and women and also features a running water system
  • Portable Office with Toilet – Unit offers 2-in-1 solution combining a remote office location with toilet facilities
  • Sanitation Station – 40-foot shipping container houses a series of portable toilets in a trailer-like design with climate-control features

Portable Classrooms

An increasing number of schools are using shipping containers to expand their facilities. In many developing countries, there is a rising shortage of high-quality schools and not enough space to build them. Shipping containers offer a cost-efficient way to create these institutions in a manner that is modular, compact, and environmentally-friendly. These steel structures can be easily transported wherever they’re required. They can also be fully customized based on classroom size and students’ needs. Many container schools also include computer centres, libraries, and science labs.

Shipping containers can be modified to look and feel like a learning facility by:

  • Painting exteriors with mural-like designs
  • Hanging bright, attractive artwork in the interiors
  • Installing bookshelves, tables, and other classroom fixtures
  • Adding lockable doors and windows for added safety
  • Installing electrical wiring for light fixtures, heating, and A/C

Bright Kid Foundation is an organization in South Africa that provides ‘instant classrooms’ made of 40-foot shipping containers. The Edutainer® is the country’s solution to the problem of inadequate educational facilities. Each portable classroom is outfitted with windows, electricity, and cheerful interiors that can hold up to 25 children. Converted containers are especially useful for building schools in remote areas of South Africa. They are delivered across the country by land, water, and rail. So far, the Bright Kid Foundation has built more than 350 Edutainers®. Over 57,000 preschool children have graduated from Edutainer® schools


Modified shipping containers are also a popular solution for those people looking for a workspace. Shipping container offices have become a viable solution for those looking for home offices, temporary set-ups or even space-saving permanent options. There are many examples from around the world that express what can be done with shipping container offices and a creative outlook.

A great example from within Canada is a Vancouver construction organization that feels their offices should reflect their work. They turned to shipping containers in order to house both their head office and offices for their job sites which shift roughly every four months.

From washroom facilities to housing units, shipping containers offer a number of innovative uses. In a time of heavy consumer waste and depletion of natural resources, recycled containers could be the answer to the world’s environmental problems. Their compact and stackable nature also provides space-saving solutions for citizens and businesses alike.

For more information on modified shipping containers, please call Secure Container at 416-817-3216 or contact us here.