11 Cool Ways a Container Can Upgrade Your Backyard

While you might have seen a shipping container on an industrial site or near the docks, they have a broad range of uses, and due to their structure and size, you can modify them for all kinds of purposes. Some people even live in them, and a few stacked containers can turn into practically any building you want with the right arrangements.

You might not be so ambitious about changing your life like that right now, and so we want to focus on your backyard and how you might want to enhance it. Is there a small building you want to add? Do you want a workshop all to yourself? Maybe a small space that's away from the house that you can enjoy? Do you just need more space for something? A shipping container can be perfect for you, your family, and your home.

While this certainly is not a comprehensive list of what you can do with a container, here are some of the most common options you should consider:

1. Tool or Storage Shed

Turning a storage container into a backyard storage building is not much of a stretch for the imagination, and it might be the first thing you think of when you are wondering what you can do with a container. It requires relatively minimal effort, few if any modifications to the container, and you have the freedom to place it anywhere you like without fear of needing plumbing, electricity, or anything else of the sort. All you need to do is make sure it will be in a safe place and easily accessible when you need it.

When you set your container up as a tool or storage shed, we would strongly recommend installing shelving and other storage furniture that will fit nicely into the container, ideally attaching it to the walls when applicable. The container will be more stable for it, and your tools safer. Similarly, try not to overstuff the container and give yourself plenty of room to move around. It will be safer for you, and you will be less likely to lose tools and things in the process. Just having a series of drawers and containers for screws, bolts, etc., can make a world of difference.

When setting up something like this in your backyard, no matter what you are storing in there, we recommend you get a lock or alarm system for your container, as we both know how expensive tools and equipment can be. We would hate for any of it to be stolen, and you can't by default guard it as well as your home. There are specialized options for this you should look into, and effective options are not terribly expensive. Additionally, if you have a vast yard, keeping the container either very close to the home or generally away from view can help lower the chance of any problems.

As for any other modifications or size concerns, that will be entirely dependent on what you want to store and how much stuff you have. You could make any extra space general storage or set up a small workspace for yourself, tools at hand.

2. Equipment or Vehicle Shed

Alternatively, many people might want to store equipment such as a riding lawnmower or tractor in the container as well. A shipping container is a perfect choice for doing so, given that the doors can by default open wide enough to simply drive out anything ridable and take out even the biggest yard equipment. A container can store any maintenance equipment or attachments you might have related to the equipment, leading to better organization and more peace of mind for you. That one time you need the long-range attachment two years from now, you can check your shipping container shed and get it in a minute.

Some people may also choose to store cars in shipping containers as a second (or first) garage of sorts. This generally works well, although it might not be best placed in the backyard. If you have a larger yard and have extensive equipment to maintain it, a container can protect it from the elements while allowing for maximum accessibility. With this usage, we recommend the same (if not more) security measures as listed above, as most lawn equipment is valuable, if heavy.

When setting it up, you probably will not want to make any changes to the container but will want to ensure the floors are settled well to handle what you are putting on them. You may also wish to add shelving or storage in this instance.

3. Greenhouse or Indoor Garden

While a shipping container might not be the first thought you have for a greenhouse, usually because of the glass required to make a greenhouse, you can use a shipping container for an indoor gardening space that is available year-round to you. Using a container instead of a standard greenhouse might involve a bit more work when setting up, but you will benefit from the shipping container's size and durability. It might also be cheaper, depending on what you are looking for and how you go about things.

If you want to do something a bit more experimental, you can try hydroponics in your shipping container. There is just the right amount of space in a container, and with the right connections, you can grow what you would like regardless of the weather outside. You will also need to supply water and electricity to your container and make sure the walls are suitable for the job. This is easy enough if you are willing to invest a little and get some work done to your container or backyard, and the rewards are great.

4. A Man Cave or She Shed

While you may love other people and your family, there is something to be said about having a place all to yourself. These types of spaces are commonly called man caves or she sheds, and a shipping container is the perfect size for them and can be modified to your liking.

As far as what you put into it, there are practically no limits. You can go all out and completely rebuild the container from the ground up to make it your dream den, complete with power and water, or you can just do the basic modifications, insert a few chairs and a bookshelf, and turn it into a reading nook. This is one of those times where you can just go online and let your imagination (and search engine) go wild, taking notes on what you like, trying your best to ignore what you can't afford or fit, and sketching out ideas on a nearby notebook.

We recommend just getting a standard or prefabricated container and then working with it to your liking, installing whatever you want for maximum comfort. If you want something more complex, you can get multiple containers, though it may be a little less cozy (but better for guests and parties) if you do that.

5. A Small Barn or Coop

If you have a larger yard in the countryside and want to raise some animals, why not use a shipping container (modified, of course) to keep your animals in when they want to sleep or stay inside from harsh weather? They can be just the right size, can easily be kept open for ranging your animals (well, as much as you can in your yard), and you can install whatever equipment, etc., you might need to better take care of your animals in or near the container.

You may want to alter the size of your shipping container to 10'x10' for chickens or something larger for more or larger livestock. Working with animals is also one of the purposes we would recommend looking into alternative containers as well. Containers that open from the side can be a great choice here and tunnel containers or double door containers. You will want to make sure there is a roof for your animals, of course, but outside of this, there is plenty of room for experimentation and optimization.

In terms of modifications, you will want to remove the potentially toxic default flooring and add in what you might expect from a barn or coop, making the animals as comfortable as possible with the space you have. Additionally, we recommend not keeping the steel walls as they are and adding something else in, plus installing windows for natural light. Finally, we recommend that you inspect it every once in a while to make sure your animals are healthy, happy, and safe regarding the container.

6. Swimming Pool

This definitely isn't the first idea that springs to mind for a shipping container. We wouldn't recommend it for everyone, considering there might be more affordable and effective pool setups out there, but it can make for a unique look and a great talking point. Imagine a swimming pool with a see-through siding rising above the rest of your backyard, complete with great lighting and an industrial design. You can probably even paint the sides to create a truly unique pool for your backyard, great for blending in or standing out to your preference.

Using a shipping container for a swimming pool will require a lot of work, a lot of space, and a lot of extra equipment to make sure that the pool can be easily cleaned and maintained, but there are examples of it working well, and if done properly it can last quite a while. Proper treatment will be necessary, of course, so do make sure you can afford to maintain the pool, or else you might have more of a giant, wet eyesore than a pool you and your family can enjoy.

7. A Backup Shelter

Anything can happen, and even if you are taking the best security precautions with your home, you should have a backup plan in case of a fire, break-in, or something else. Even with something as mundane as pest control (leaving you without a place for a few days), it can be helpful to have a place to rest just outside of the home but still close to it. You can keep a modified shipping container ready and well-stocked in your backyard as a backup shelter.

While it will be cramped for a larger family, a shelter should ideally be for emergencies only for shorter periods. If you have space, you can, of course, use more than one container for a shelter. As for what to put in there, it is ultimately up to you. We recommend some emergency supplies, some food, and a few places to sleep (depending on how many people are in your household), among all the other necessities you can think of.

While shipping containers are sturdy, think carefully before turning one into an outright bunker. While shipping containers are reliable and sturdy, a dedicated individual can, with the right tools, break through the walls or doors of a shipping container. If you want impenetrable, there are options out there, most of them involving burying the container or some amount of concrete.

8. A Guest Room or Space

You can easily convert a shipping container into a room, and you can use that room for whatever you like so long as you are willing to furnish it. If your home does not have the extra space for guests or you will have guests that want to keep to themselves a bit more, you can turn a shipping container into a cozy guest room where they will be a bit closer to nature and away from the hustle and bustle of the home.

ROLU, rosenlof/lucas, ro/lu, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You can naturally decorate the space as you'd like, making it as close to the interior of your home as possible or instead maintaining more of the default shipping container vibe, making for an interesting experience for your guests. We suggest adding windows at the very least, lest they fear they're being imprisoned.

If you can, you may also want to add some plumbing (and ideally electricity) to the guest space, effectively turning it into a working cottage that can charm anyone who sees your backyard. Just be sure to provide the d├ęcor on the outside to make it work.

9. An Outdoor Play Space or Center

A shipping container might not be the best start to a playground, considering corrugated steel is not as safe to run into as many of the plastics and materials used by modern playsets. However, you can absolutely use a shipping container as a center to store toys for your kids, or perhaps oversized items such as skateboards, bikes, an ATV, and more! That way, you can keep the grime and mud outside while maintaining a safe space for them.

If you feel ambitious, you can use a shipping container as a partial base for a playground or a partially indoor playground. If you are inventive, we are confident you will be able to come up with something.

Alternatively, a shipping container can be turned into something like a clubhouse for your children, giving them a space in the yard to call their own, perhaps to have friends over. It will allow you to know where your children are, provide them with a place outside of the house to control, and keep things within reach when needed. It's a perfect solution for a lackluster neighborhood, and getting your children involved in the process (appropriately depending on their age, of course) can make for a great bonding experience.

10. An Outdoor Office

More people than ever are working from home, particularly following the COVID-19 pandemic but not every home has the space built in to allow for someone to set up an office overnight. Perhaps all the rooms are spoken for, or you have too much "stuff" to fit in a whole desk setup. Working from the couch or at the kitchen counter can work for a day or two; it is not the best for long-term productivity or Zoom calls.

Shipping containers are used as offices all over the place already, so why not for you? Just be sure to think of everything you will need ahead of time and plan your office out before making any orders.

In some ways, you can think of this addition as the exact opposite of a man cave or she-shed. Instead of a place you go to escape your work and responsibilities, it's a place you go where you can focus on them entirely without the distractions of home. Even having to leave your house just a bit to get to work can change your perspective of the day, all the while being close to home for lunch or whatever you need. In some ways, you get the best of both worlds with a shipping container office.

11. A Sauna

While it can be a bit of an endeavor to install a working sauna in your home or backyard, you will be rewarded with having a sauna all to yourself, the benefits of which you do not have to look too hard to find. You may or may not wish to keep it as close to your home as possible. The size will depend on how much of a sauna you want, though you should note that for a single-family and the occasional guest, you need nothing extravagant in terms of size.

Of course, we would like to note that this project will not be for everyone and every home. It might be easier to use another medium besides a shipping container in some cases. It will be up to you to research how to set up a sauna (we simply do not have the space to go over the whole process here), but you will want stable ground not too far away from your house.

A Few Notes on Shipping Containers

All of the above ideas are great, but using them might not be for everyone. There is a lot of information out there which you should look into before making any final decisions or spending any money, but here are the main takeaways:

  • There are different options when ordering a container, so be sure you know what you are getting. We recommend the standard 20' container in nearly all circumstances, as they are the most easily found, the most easily modified, and the easiest to place in the average backyard. You may also want a standard 10' container for the smaller projects.
  • You can get a pre-fabricated container and work from there if you are effectively looking to add a room to your home or garage. Whether you place it in your backyard or not is up to you. Still, a prefabricated container can function as an office, small guest room, or one of many other things, and there will be a lot less hard work to do so you can focus on customization and decoration. We recommend looking at a few to get a basic idea and remember that you can make any modifications you like once you own it, even with a prefabricated container.
  • You can get your shipping containers, especially standard containers, new or used. A new container will be more expensive but easier to find and get a guarantee on. A used container will be cheaper but potentially trickier to get transported (depending on your dealer.) It might also have a few dents or minor corrosion, which can usually be treated but might be a problem for some. It is entirely up to you which is best, although ideally, you should be able to inspect containers before buying them or get a guarantee or return policy. Do not get left with a faulty container at risk of structural failure.
  • There are ways you can treat and repair your container to keep it in top shape and further protect it against the elements. We recommend doing this before any major renovations.
  • If you want a larger version of anything listed above or have an additional idea that requires more space, you can absolutely get and use multiple containers. You can simply put them together or potentially stack them. This is commonly done for buildings and can be done in your backyard if you have space. 

Conclusion

The only real limits to what you can do with a shipping container in your backyard are space and your imagination. It is your yard, so feel free to do whatever you like, decorate it how you like, and store whatever you want in it. You can even go for combinations of the above ideas if you think there is space for them. Why not grow a small garden right outside or near your backyard office? Regardless of what you do, we hope that the above ideas help you find a way to enhance your backyard. Good luck!