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What Type and Size Storage Containers Are Available?

Originally designed to transport and ship cargo around the world, storage containers come in a wide variety of sizes and types. The industry employs standards as far as sizing, with 20' and 40' long units being the most common container sizes. There are also numerous types of storage containers, including:

  • Standard/ISO
  • Insulated
  • Refrigerated
  • Flat rack
  • Open top

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As container use expands to include residential applications and light commercial, the available sizes has also expanded. Although, contracted may be more accurate, since many vendors now offer units as small as 7'. Homeowners looking to store furniture during a remodel or move represent a fast-growing new market for storage retailers and rental companies alike. These smaller units are geared mainly toward residential clients, but some commercial clients have use for smaller storage containers, as well.

Standard/ISO Shipping and Storage Containers

Around the world, standard, or ISO, size containers (20' and 40' long) are the most common. This is due to storage containers' origin as shipping supplies, and the industry standardizing many aspects of shipping to ensure that, no matter where a package originated, its destination had the facilities to handle it.

These containers hold anything that doesn't require temperature control. This means dry goods – clothing, electronics, furniture – but not perishable items, as these require a controlled environment (typically refrigeration).

High Cube Storage Containers

Like standard containers, high cube containers typically come in 20' and 40' lengths, with 40' being the more common. Height and width dimensions vary, but high cube units are typically around 12" taller than their standard counterparts, making them ideal for storing larger items and a popular choice for heavy equipment. For example, you often see high cube containers on construction sites, used to store forklifts and other heavy equipment.

Interior height on a high cube, 40' container averages around 8'10", with a door height of 8'5" and exterior height of 9'6". Even when you find units longer than 40', the other dimensions remain roughly the same.

You find high cube containers most often in construction and landscape industries, but also converted for use as offices and modular homes.

Refrigerated Containers

Refrigerated storage containers maintain a designated temperature, typically between 20 degrees below zero and up to around 75 degrees, depending on the user's need. These units include insulation and typically rely on an electrical system to maintain proper temperature.

You can use a refrigerated container inside, such as in a warehouse, or outside, as their rugged design helps them stand up to harsh conditions. So long as you have an appropriate power source, you can set up a refrigerated storage container (or a "reefer container" as they're sometimes called).

Once again, the most common sizes are 20' and 40' and you can even find high cube models. You most often find these in the restaurant industry, but they're also popular in other industries where temperature affects product quality, such as florist shops and flower stands, concessions, and paint storage.

Open Top Storage Containers

Open top units are designed specifically to hold items too tall for most storage containers, or those loaded via crane. Most units include a removable tarp covering the opening and are typically either 20' or 40' long. Common applications include construction and landscaping sites, as these units are ideal for storing loose, bulk materials.

Flat Rack Shipping Containers

You typically see flat rack units for shipping and storing oversized cargo, as these allow you to load items from either the top or the sides. You nearly always find these in 20' and 40' lengths, with common applications again being construction and landscaping.

Insulated Storage Containers

Though all refrigerated units are insulated, not all insulated units are refrigerated. In fact, many insulated containers began life as refrigerated units whose refrigeration capabilities no longer function. Wind- and water-tight, these storage and shipping pods are a popular choice when handling items sensitive to extreme temperatures, but do not require a constant, set temperature.

Common sizes are 20' and 40' and applications include storing food, beverages, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals.

Mobile Offices

Many jobsites and even commercial businesses that require temporary office space are turning more and more to storage containers as a viable option as opposed to old school trailers and mobile units. Common standard features include doors and windows, fiberglass insulation, electrical panel, and window-mounted A/C units. Common upgrades include baseboard heating and extra security features such as a lockbox.

As always, 20' and 40' units are the most common.

Customizing Your Storage Unit

Customization and modification help you create the perfect container to fit your particular needs and requirements. Not all dealers offer the same options, so talk to multiple suppliers to determine which ones can meet your needs.

  • Entry doors: Additional entry points make it easier to access your stored items. Options include roll-up doors, personnel doors, and security swing arm doors.
  • Flooring: Standard flooring is appropriate for standard applications (hence the name). Some projects have different requirements. Options include steel overlay, vinyl, and commercial carpet.
  • HVAC: Climate control options include window A/C units, through-wall HVAC, ventilation and air duct systems, rooftop turbine vents, fixed louver vents, and exhaust fans.
  • Insulation and finishing: When interior climate matters, insulation makes a significant impact. Options include fiberglass insulation with paneling, polystyrene foam paneling, and closed cell spray foam.
  • Lighting: You can add interior and exterior lighting, including receptacles, overhead lighting, LED lights, flood lights, and porch lights.
  • Locks and security mechanisms: One of the reasons to place items into a storage container is to keep them safe and sometimes a padlock just doesn't cover it. Other security options include cargo door locks, security swing arms, and a lock box.
  • Paint: Protect the unit's surface and improve its appearance with enamel paint.
  • Shelving: Help organize your stored items with shelves.
  • Windows and skylights: Add natural light to your container with windows and skylights. You may also add security bars to windows to help keep items safe.

Many vendors offer a variety of modifications, meaning you can turn the standard 20' and 40' unit into the custom item perfect for your needs.

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Author: Ashley Smith


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