How to Finish the Interior of a Cargo Container

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Cargo containers can be converted into sheds, workshops, storage buildings and homes.
Cargo containers can be converted into sheds, workshops, storage buildings and homes. (Image: Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

Idle conex shipping containers are being repurposed as storage buildings and homes. Ranging in length from 20 feet to 40 feet, they're 8 feet wide and about 8 feet high inside, room enough for a compact living area. Finish the interior simply and functionally for use as a storage area or workshop. You can be fairly elaborate if you want an inexpensive solution to high housing costs by framing out the interior, hanging drywall and installing flooring. In either case, insulate your container to reduce condensation and mitigate temperature changes. Start with a detailed plan and turn a utilitarian shipping container into an attractive building.

Things You'll Need

  • Project plan
  • Doors
  • Windows
  • Spray-on insulating foam
  • Sheet foam insulation
  • 1/2-inch plywood
  • Metal hat channels
  • Steel studs
  • Welding apparatus
  • Magnesium oxide drywall
  • Drywall tape
  • Joint compound
  • Sandpaper or orbital sander
  • Drywall cutter
  • Electrical outlets
  • Built-in counter tops with laminate (optional)
  • Built-in cabinetry (optional)
  • Interior wall paint
  • Wall covering (optional)
  • Floor covering
  • Trim moulding and stain
  • Electrical and plumbing fixtures
  • Finishing hardware

Plan your work before you begin. Determine where you will install electrical outlets, plumbing fixtures and interior partitions. Make a detailed drawing that includes measurements and locations. This is your project plan. Install your windows and exterior doors. Insulate both the exterior and interior of the container to prevent moisture condensation which can lead to rust and mold. Fill in the gaps around windows and doors with pieces of sheet foam insulation. Install a 1/2-inch thick plywood floor over the container's original flooring. Place metal hat channels for electrical wiring along the vertical support beams and the walls.

Use the welding apparatus to attach the steel studs to the interior walls of the container. Frame out interior partitions using the studs. Cover the studding with magnesium oxide drywall and use the drywall tape and joint compound to cover the joints. Smooth the joints with sandpaper or an orbital sander. Cut holes in the drywall for the electrical fixtures. Install electrical outlets and the bases of lighting fixtures. Build or install counter tops and cabinetry. Apply a laminate to the counter tops if you've built your own.

Paint the walls or apply wall coverings, such as wallpaper. Lay the flooring coverings and make cut-outs in it to accept plumbing fixtures, such as a toilet, bathroom and kitchen sinks, and floor drains. Use the trim molding to cover the places where doors, windows, floors, counters and cabinets meet the walls. Stain the molding. Install the plumbing fixtures and the finishing hardware, such as door hinges, door knobs, cabinet latches and towel bars.

Tips & Warnings

  • Simplify the interior finishing if you're going to be using your building for storage or as a workshop. Insulation, framing and some work benches or shelving may be all you need.
  • Include a ventilation system using roof vents to promote good air flow.
  • If you intend to occupy the container as your residence, you will permits from your local building authority and will need to comply with their minimum building standards and regulations.

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