Workshop office spaces, portable offices, or relocatable offices can be configured according to workplace requirements, as shipping containers come 3m to 12m in standard length. The boxes can even be joined together on site to create larger working areas or even multi-story offices.

If you want the shipping container office to be truly portable, you should include electricity and usually air conditioning. Talk to your dealer about including things like kitchens and bathrooms. You need to have the space to include computers, desks, and chairs, notice boards, whiteboards, filing cabinets and fire extinguishers – don’t forget to consider this when looking at the container size you need.

Weathered and weary, a shipping container awaits transformation from drab container into comfy office space. You’re ready to save the day, but keep drawing blanks as you think about what to do first. This article goes into detail about everything you need to consider before beginning work while providing a step-by-step-guide to turning that faded steel box into a comfortable, beautiful office space you can be proud of.

DIY Shipping Container Office

  1. Remove Stickers–Remove all stickers on the container. You may need only a razor blade. If they are difficult to remove, a heat gun or handheld hair dryer can be used to heat the stickers up. With this method, you should be able to easily pull the stickers off.
  2. Wash–Thoroughly wash the container, starting with the roof. A high-pressure power washer is best for this step. Use an acid wash like what is used on aluminum dump trailers. This will remove all the dirt and grime that has accumulated.
  3. Inspect Container–Carefully inspect the container’s exterior, including the top, keeping an eye out for moderate to severe rust. You may want to bring along a pocket knife or screwdriver to flake away blistering rust. Use the knife to remove some of the rust. If the exposed rust is bad, make note of it. Complete your inspection of the exterior, then look around inside for signs of water leaks or seepage. Note where all leaks are for patching later on.
  4. Rust–Remove surface rust with a grinder. For heavy rust, you will have to patch it. Small areas of rust can be knocked out ground to clean up the metal. These small areas can be patched with a welder using a low alloy filler. The alloys in the container steel will mix with the filler, giving it the same weathering properties as the weathering steel itself. Areas too large for filling will require a piece of weathering steel cut to fit.
  5. Primer–It is a good idea to apply primer to the container. This will help the paint to stick and last much longer.
  6. Paint–Alkyd Enamel paint is the best kind of paint to use on a container. Also, it is a good idea to use a highly reflective paint to help keep the office space cooler during warm weather. You can spray or use a roller to apply alkyd enamel paint. There are special instructions for each method, which are included below.
    1. Spraying–You will have to thin down the paint enough to get a good flow through the sprayer. Apply at least two thin coats using an even back-and-forth motion.
    2. Roller–This method does not require you to thin the paint. Before rolling, use a paintbrush to block in all corners and edges, brushing on a light coat of paint. Repeat this process of blocking in and applying paint. Keep in mind that overloading a roller with paint may result in a thick coat of paint that sags and runs, resulting in an unattractive finish. To prevent sags and runs, apply at least two thin coats of paint with your roller, allowing time to dry between the first and second coat.


It is critically important to take some time and plan for the work ahead. Here is a list of things to plan for before the actual modification begins:

  • Electrical–You will probably need electricity for lighting and office equipment. You may need a landline for telephones and/or fax. Depending on where the office will be located, you may need to make arrangements ahead of time for electrical service to your new office. As for wiring, you can wire it the same as you would a house. Just make sure you have the container adequately grounded to prevent electrical shock hazards and fires.
  • Plumbing–Unless it is absolutely necessary, you probably won’t want to plumb your office. This is expensive and, for portable offices, unnecessary. If, however, you plan for this office to be semi-permanent, and would like to have running water, then plan for plumbing.
  • Interior–Framing in walls is similar to what you would do for a regular house. The main difference is to use screws instead of nails. This makes the framing strong enough to withstand movement when the container is transported from one location to another.
  • Insulation–Most containers are insulated with fiberglass. Be sure to get the insulation recommended for your temperature zone.
  • Windows and Doors–Measure off and cut holes in the sides to the same dimensions you would in a house.
  • Ventilation–Since this is an enclosed space, you will need to ventilate it to ensure the flow of fresh air into the trailer. If you are concerned about condensation and moisture, you may want to installer turbine vents or louvre vents. Covered, roof-mount vents will allow warm, moist air to escape while keeping out rain and snow. If you don’t want to install roof-mounted vents, you can purchase louvred vents and install them in the walls. Make sure to buy the covered vents, however, to prevent rain and snow from getting inside.
  • Heating and Cooling–combination units are available that you can mount in the wall. Choose one with at least a 12,000 BTU rating to ensure it’s big enough to adequately warm your office in the winter and keep it comfortably cool during the summer.


With planning complete and all tools and materials on-hand, it’s time to start building. Here is a step-by-step guide to help you out:

  1. Cut all Holes–Measure off and cut out all holes you will need for windows, doors, heating and cooling, ventilation, and electrical supply.
  2. Frame in the Walls–using wood or metal studs, frame in the walls just like you would a house. Use screws instead of nails to ensure strong, durable frame joints.
  3. Run Wiring–Run all electrical wiring for light fixtures and outlets.
  4. Install Insulation–If using fiberglass rolls or panels, cut to fit and install between studs.
  5. Hang Drywall–Put up drywall, hanging it just like you would in your home. Be sure to use drywall screws instead of nails for greater strength and durability. Mud and finish.
  6. Prime and Paint Walls–Be sure to prime your walls first. This seals the drywall and provides a good surface for the paint to bond to. Apply 2-3 thin coats of interior paint, allowing it to completely dry between coats.
  7. Install Electrical Fixtures and Outlets–Install light fixtures and wall sockets.

Now, stand back and admire your hard work. The effort was definitely worth the result. Now you have a brand new, portable office that is ready to go!