How to Move a Shipping Container

So you’ve decided to take the plunge and build a shipping container home. Assuming you’ve purchased the shipping containers you are planning to use for your house, you’ll probably still need to get them transported to your build site.

Much to the surprise (and occasional disappointment) of many first time builders and buyers, shipping container delivery is one of the most important considerations in planning the transition to a container home.

Even those living close to a port will likely need the help of a delivery service to transport their containers to their build site. Depending on your unique situation, the cost of shipping container delivery can range from very expensive to relatively affordable.
In planning the transportation of your containers, you may have questions like:

• How to Move a Shipping Container?
• Who Can Move a Shipping Container?
• What is the Cost to Move a Container?
• Where to Find Container Delivery Services?
• When Do I Pay For Shipping Container Delivery?
• Do I need Shipping Container Insurance for Delivery?
• How Long Does Shipping Container Delivery Usually Take?
• Does Professional Shipping Container Delivery Cost More than DIY?

How to Move a Shipping Container?

As a DIY container home builder, you may be wondering how to move a 40’ foot shipping container in the most cost-effective way. Even if using a professional container home builder doesn’t make sense for your budget, outsourcing transportation may end up being the most economical way to go about getting your containers to your build site.

At StackHouse, we are more than willing to connect a DIY builder with local delivery services. Reach out to a StackHouse Container home expert today.

Who Can Move a Shipping Container?

Due to the fact that a standard 20 foot shipping container weighs over 5000 lbs. and a standard 40 foot container weighs around 8,200 pounds, they are typically transported using either a semi-truck or large flatbed trailer pulled by a large passenger truck.

If you have a commercial driver’s license (CDL), the decision to transport your shipping containers boils down to time and cost.
Assuming you have a CDL, but do not have access to the equipment required to transport a shipping container, it may make sense to look into renting a rollback truck.

If you have the time and access to the equipment required to transport containers, but lack a CDL, you will need to consider local regulations in your decision. While most states allow DIY builders to tow a trailer large enough to move a shipping container without requiring CDL, you still need to comply with Department of Transportation (DOT) limits on gross weight.

These DOT limitations are set in terms of Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). GVWR is calculated as the maximum weight a truck is capable of carrying, including the weight of the truck itself.

For example, a truck with a DOT GVWR rating of 12,000 pounds has been certified to tow a trailer weighing less than or equal to 12,000 pound minus the weight of the truck and its fuel, passengers and cargo.

Most states only require a commercial driver’s license to operate a truck/trailer combination weighing in excess of 26,000 pounds. A typical ¾ ton passenger truck capable of towing a trailer large enough to accommodate a shipping container weighs between 6,000 and 7,000 pounds.

It’s important to note weight in excess of the loaded truck includes both the weight of the empty trailer and the weight of the load being carried.

Adding the average 8,200 pound weight of a standard 40’ shipping container safely leaves around 9,000 pounds of GVWR allowance left for the trailer. Considering the average 40 foot double axle trailer weighs around 8,920 pounds unloaded, an extra passenger or some cargo in your tow vehicle could push you over the GVWR limit of a non-commercial drivers license.

Even if you are under the weight limit that would require a CDL, DIY shipping container transport still might not make sense from a cost perspective. Factoring in fuel cost, wear on your tow vehicle, time, and the fact that many DIY container builders don’t own a 40’ trailer, it often makes more financial sense to hire a professional shipping container delivery service.

What is the Cost to Move a Shipping Container?

In planning your container home build, you’re probably also wondering: How much does it cost to move a shipping container? The answer: It depends.

Regardless of whether you are planning on hiring a shipping container delivery service or picking up and delivering the containers yourself, there are a number of important things to consider.

As you can probably figure, purchasing your containers locally is likely to save you money on delivery cost. That said, this is not always the case.

Outside of the distance between a container supplier home build site, the cost to move a shipping container is dependent on:

• Container Size(s)
• Number of Containers Being Delivered
• The Number of Transportation Companies in Your Area

Professional Shipping Container Delivery Cost

As a general rule of thumb, a shipping container delivery service will charge around $4.00 per mile to deliver a 20 foot container or a 40’ container. Looking at the average cost to deliver a shipping container incurred by our clients, it’s safe to say you should expect to pay less than $1000 to get a container delivered.

It’s important to note, that shipping container delivery cost does not always include the price of unloading or placing containers on your land. While you may assume that this would be included in the delivery, some professional delivery services consider it a separate service. With this in mind, when you are deciding on a shipping container delivery service, it’s important to establish whether or not unloading is included in the quoted price.

Additional Cost of Siting Containers

If you are working with a company that does not offer container siting, you will either need to hire another company to do it or figure out a way to move the containers yourself.

The cost of ‘siting’, or moving containers from the delivery site to the exact location where you want to build can be quite difficult. Depending on the layout of your land and a few other circumstances, siting can add considerable cost to your end delivery cost.
As aforementioned, the cost of hiring professional container siting depends on the ease of access to your build site and specifics of your container home design.

Assuming there is easy access for a delivery truck on your land, a transporter with a tilt flatbed trailer may be able to slide your container directly onto your container home foundation or desired build location free of charge.

Assuming you are planning on building a multi-story container house, you need to budget for the added cost of stacking your containers. In like fashion, if your land has thick vegetation or difficult terrain, you will likely end up paying more to get your containers sited.

If this is the case for your build, you might be best off looking for a delivery service that has a swing thru truck. Swing thru trucks have small integrated cranes that can lift and set a container into an area that a tilt flatbed truck could not access. While the cranes on swing thru trucks typically have very limited range, they often end up being a much cheaper alternative to renting a crane or hiring a crane service.

Even if a swing thru track won’t be able to site your containers in their final resting place, there are still a number of cheaper crane alternatives available to consider.

DIY Container Moving Tools

If you are building a one-story container home there are a number of relatively affordable tools available that enable a DIY builder to move a container on their own. Tools ranging from container dollies to temporary shipping container wheels and tow bars are all available to help you site your containers. Seabox is a great resource for learning about and buying DIY moving solutions at a competitive price:

Container Mounting & Moving Devices

Stacking Shipping Containers With a Forklift

If you need to stack containers for a multi-story container home build, renting a forklift may help you avoid paying for a crane.

It’s important to note that using a forklift to stack containers is a risky undertaking for an inexperienced operator. Beyond the importance of experience, it’s also important to consider that not all forklifts are designed to handle a payload as large as a shipping container before choosing this route.

That said, if you are familiar with operating heavy equipment and have access to a model that can safely move containers, using a forklift to site is a great way to save money on your build.

In choosing a forklift to use, it’s usually best to go with the most capable model your budget allows. Standard 20’ containers have integrated forklift pockets spaced 69 inches apart. If you are only needing to move or stack 20 foot containers, any off-road forklift with a payload capacity of 6,000 pounds and forks that can spread to 69” or more should suffice.

However, if you are planning on moving or stacking 40 foot containers, you will need to adjust your equipment accordingly. In addition to 40’ containers lacking integrated forklift pockets, their considerable weight and size limits the available forklift models capable of moving them.
At minimum, a forklift being used to move a 40 footer should have a payload capacity in excess of 10,000 pounds and forks that are at least 8’ in length. Because you’ll be picking a 40’ container up from underneath, any fork shorter than 8 feet long runs the risk of punching through the floor of your container.

Even with the proper equipment and a skilled operator, there are still a few important things to keep in mind when moving a container with a forklift. Before you start work moving or stacking your containers, carefully consider:

• Obstacles present that could complicate the moving process
• Whether your build site is level enough for safe forklift operation
• Condition & Structural Integrity of the floors and ceilings of containers you want to stack

In stacking containers, it’s also important to insure that their corner posts are lined up. Corner posts are designed with stacking in mind, featuring a slight recess on the bottom of the container and a slight overhang on the top. When properly aligned and seated, the corner posts of a container will evenly distribute the load of the top container on the strongest parts of the bottom container.

Due to the placement of corner posts on the outer corners of a container, it’s typically much easiest to stack a 40 foot container on another forty footer or two 20’ containers. If want to stack a 20 foot container on top of a single 40’ container, you will need to fabricate additional supports to distribute the load evenly and avoid the risk of the 40’ container’s roof collapsing.

Moving Shipping Containers With a Crane

If cost is not a concern, the easiest way to move and stack shipping containers involves using a crane. Granted, there are certain situations in which getting a crane on site is more complicated than it’s worth. That said, if your land can safely accommodate a crane and your budget allows for the expense of using one, you can save time and avoid many of the headaches associated with other methods listed above.

At Stackhouse, we handle the logistics of the build for our clients, eliminating any cause for concern.

International Shipping Container Transportation Costs

If you are planning on building your home in a country that doesn’t have a good local supply of containers, or are wanting to purchase a new container to use in your build, it’s likely that your containers will be spending some time on a boat.

Surprisingly, the base cost of shipping an empty container from Shenzhen, China – Los Angeles, California can be as low as $600. However, factoring in China Export Clearance, Document Delivery, US Customs Clearance and other local charges into the equation can push this cost closer to ranges between $2,0000-$3,000 USD.

With this in mind, it’s often much more cost-effective to buy from a US suppler than attempting to import a container yourself. Contact a Stackhouse Container Home expert to learn more.

Where to Find Shipping Container Delivery Services?

While Stackhouse handles he container delivery logistics for our custom container home clients, we are also happy to connect DIY builders with the best suppliers and delivery services available in their area.

When Do I Pay For Shipping Container Delivery?

Depending on the container supplier you end up using, the answer to this question varies.

If your container delivery route involves time on a ship, or you’re using a large international shipping company to transport, you’ll be expected to pay for delivery before your containers are shipped.

If you’re working with a local container dealer or using a small land freight service to transport your containers from a large national dealer, you should typically expect to pay an initial deposit, with the remaining balance due on delivery.

Do I need Shipping Container Insurance for Delivery?

Shipping container insurance can offer some nice peace of mind during the delivery process. That said, it is important to weigh the cost of insurance against the value of the containers you are paying to transport and the likelihood of damage during transport.

Generally speaking, any time you are using a ship to transport your containers, it usually makes sense to insure them for their journey.
While many international freight companies include insurance in their quoted delivery fee, it’s important to verify you are covered. Considering the higher cost of sourcing containers internationally and transporting them by ship, the cost of insurance often pales in comparison to the potential cost of an uninsured loss.

How Long Does Delivery Usually Take?

Land container delivery time depends on the distance between your build site and dealership and the backlog/policies of the supplier.

As a general rule of thumb, most container dealers can have a container delivered within a week of purchase. Some container sellers offer express delivery for an additional cost.

If you are sourcing your containers internationally or getting them to your build site requires the use of a ship, the time between ordering and receiving your containers will likely be a few months at minimum. While some shipping companies offer similar express services to those mentioned above, the journey from China to the US takes the average cargo ship 15-30 days.

Adding time spent at the port and needed for land delivery, you should still expect to wait no less than a month and a half before receiving your order.

Does Professional Shipping Container Delivery Cost More than DIY?

As you can probably guess from reading the information above, the answer to this question is different for every build. As every build is different, the only reliable way to compare costs between DIY and professional delivery service options is by contacting shipping container dealers and equipment rental businesses in your area.

At Stackhouse, we realize building a container home can be overwhelming.

While our 2019 Shipping Container Home Guide was designed to answer most of the common questions surrounding a container home build, we are available to answer any questions that aren’t covered and plan on expanding the guide in the future.

Whether you need help sourcing containers for your DIY home build or are trying to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of hiring a professional container house builder, feel free to reach out to a StackHouse Container home expert today.