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8 Advantages of Building Structures Using Shipping Containers

Oct 14, 2019

Today’s shipping container industry has a global market, with origins that can be traced back to China in the 1980s. At the time, the largest container manufacturer in China pioneered the production of shipping containers and then started supplying international clients including Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Europe around 1993. By 2007, 82% of the world’s supply of shipping containers came from China.

The market size of the shipping container industry is quite large, valued in the billions of dollars. From its estimated market value of $8 billion in 2015, the figures are expected to hit the $12 billion mark by 2023. Some of the world’s biggest economies like Asia Pacific and the US contribute to the year on year growth of the global shipping container market.

Shipping containers are certified by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to ensure that manufacturers comply with size and type specifications as well as other regulations.

The fact that these aluminum and steel containers are extremely sturdy and durable, making them ideal for shipment, storage, and handling goods of different types and sizes. Shipping containers are suitable for businesses that need an efficient method of organizing large loads of cargo to be transported to faraway places or countries abroad via sea freight.

One challenge that the use of shipping containers pose is transporting them back to their origin after the cargo has been unloaded. Since it costs a lot to ship them back to where they came from, many of them sit unused in ports or yards. Fortunately, there are a host of other uses for shipping containers, one of the most popular being constructing homes and other buildings.

The Advantages of Using Shipping Container Buildings

Instead of leaving them to rust in a yard, old shipping containers have better uses when they’re converted into living spaces and other types of structures. Here are several benefits of using shipping containers as “building blocks” for houses, offices, shared spaces, or even schools and research facilities.

1. Strength and structural stability

Cargo or shipping containers are made of heavy-duty materials like aluminum and steel, which make the containers one of the strongest building materials. With such an extraordinary strength, each container can bear heavy loads of furniture and equipment of roughly up to 62,000 pounds (31 tons) and still keep the integrity of the structure.

In addition, since shipping containers are built for carrying valuable cargo over rough seas and oceans, they can withstand strong winds, heavy rains, unpredictable waves, and other harsh weather elements. Shipping containers don’t easily leak or topple over, making them a resilient structure for areas that are prone to floods, hurricanes, and even earthquakes.

2. Ease and speed of construction

Unlike traditional residences and buildings, which can take months to years to complete, shipping containers that are converted as a shared space are faster and easier to build. What makes this possible is that shipping containers come with a main structure. Having walls, floors, and ceilings already in place reduces the amount of work to be done.

Depending on the size, specifications, and complexity of the project, there’s a good likelihood that a container can be transformed into a serviceable structure within a few weeks or months.

3. Affordability

A number of factors are responsible for why shipping containers are considered cost-effective in building different types of structures. For one, many used shipping containers are considered recycled materials. Since they’re no longer shipping worthy, they can fetch low prices as raw materials for a different purpose—in this case, to construct living or working spaces.

Moreover, it only requires a few 20- to 40-foot shipping containers to come up with an adequate amount of floor space. This means incurring only minimal costs in the purchase of building materials, not to mention eliminating the need for a whole team to do construction labor from scratch.

4. Off-site construction

Most of the construction work involved in transforming cargo containers into buildings can be done off-site. This can be advantageous if building on-site isn’t possible or practical due to some restrictions.

It could be that the future site of the building to be constructed is in a remote area, where water or electric facilities are not yet fully developed. It’s also possible that the location is too far away from the contractor, so shipping the materials and supplies is better off done in one go instead of moving the day-to-day logistics back and forth.

With off-site construction, container residences and pop-up shops are fitted with the necessary modifications in a fully equipped workshop or factory before being transported to the actual site.

5. Eco-friendliness

Container homes and buildings are environment-friendly because they prevent wastage of steel and instead allow it to be repurposed.

Reusing a single shipping container with 40-feet dimensions involves recycling about 3,500 kg of steel, requires only approximately 400 kWh of electricity in fabrication work, and reduces the use of the third largest carbon dioxide emitter, cement—all of which contribute to a cleaner and more sustainable environment.

It’s also worth noting that recycled shipping containers help to diminish the eyesore that comes from seeing tens of thousands of abandoned shipping containers in major ports worldwide.

6. Aesthetics

Shipping container architecture has been gaining traction because of the unique style and personality that can come out of the finished product. Whether you’re trying to gain perspective from first-time homeowners or modern-day design and idea creators, structures that use cargo containers are an attractive option.

One only needs to be creative enough to turn a rugged-looking, repurposed container into a building with a new identity or character. In fact, one of the more popular uses of shipping containers is for art studios, which enables the formation of a community of artists in particular cities.

7. Easy relocation

Shipping container structures can be built with portability in mind instead of being a permanent fixture on a piece of land. In this kind of scenario, owners of portable homes or offices don’t have to worry about leaving behind their comfort zone or familiar environments in case they need to pack up and move to a new location.

There are just a couple of things to remember when designing a portable container home or office. For starters, its containers should be bolted to the foundation and the rest of the structure to make it easy to separate one component from the other.

It’s also important that there’s minimum cutting done to the containers, or it might be difficult to stack and transport them to another location without running into safety hazard issues.

8. Long shelf life

Because of their durability and functionality in a wide range of applications, shipping container buildings are capable of providing as many as 30 years or more of good use for its tenants.

Already you can find shipping containers that have been turned into a school in Africa as well as a research base for India’s National Center for Antarctic and Ocean Research stationed at the icy cold continent.

These educational facilities could definitely use the ability of shipping containers to withstand the negative impact of wear-and-tear or dangerous weather conditions over time.

A Few Things to Consider with Shipping Container Buildings

Despite the idea that shipping containers are safe and practical to use as building materials, there are a couple of issues that need to be addressed when taking advantage of this trend.

1. Insulation and Temperature

In its crudest form, shipping containers are large boxes made of steel, which makes them good conductors of heat and cold. This means the temperature inside a shipping container building could easily become too hot in summer but then reach freezing levels in winter.

Using the right type of insulator is the best remedy to control the temperature from being too low or too high. Some of the considerations when choosing which insulator to use are the local climate, age, and size of the container, and the type of building being constructed.

2. Harmful Chemicals

It’s not impossible for shipping containers to have wooden floors that have been treated with potentially harmful chemicals that protect them from getting damp due to the ocean’s saltwater. Some containers might also have seen through chemical spillage when used as storage. Needless to say, these chemicals can be a health hazard to people occupying the building.

Best to ask the shipping cargo’s manufacturer about the kind of treatment solution used on the container, replace the treated flooring with safer materials, or go for a container that was never used to handle or store poisonous substances.

3. Rust and Corrosion

Old shipping containers are prone to rust due to dents or scratches that were sustained while the containers were being used for their original function. In such cases, the containers need proper refurbishing to fix the dents and scratches.

Cargo containers may also rust when steel reacts with water and oxygen, so it’s important to keep the containers as much as possible in mostly dry weather. Regular care and maintenance will also help keep rust at bay over the course of its lifetime.

4. Finding the Right Contractor

While the use of shipping containers for buildings is getting a good amount of attention from home or building owners, there may still be a shortage of experienced contractors who can take on the project. You’ll need someone who has expert knowledge and skills not only in structural and systems integration but who’s also committed to complying with local building regulations, especially when it comes to dealing with health and safety hazards.

This can entail doing a lot of research and legwork as well as seeking referrals from your community, but at least this gives you the best possible chance of finding the most suitable contractor.

Key Takeaway

Shipping containers come with loads—literally and figuratively speaking—of benefits when used appropriately to put up homes and buildings. They provide a great alternative to traditional construction materials and methods because they’re affordable, sustainable, flexible, and durable.

The main similarity between traditional and shipping container architecture is that there should be effective preparation and documentation—from planning to sourcing of materials and execution. 

Shipping container supplier BSL Containers manufactures brand-new, ISO-certified shipping containers and also offers used shipping containers that are worthy to be converted into residential and office spaces.

Check the complete lineup of BSL’s products for all your shipping container needs.