Things to Consider When Building Your Own Shipping Container Office

The idea of taking a shipping container and transforming it into a fully functional office isn’t a new one. For example, prolific American author, publisher, environmentalist, and counter-culture icon Steward Brand famously made his own container office in the early 90s. He details the process in his modernist construction book titled How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built. He even built this office just so that he could have a place to write this very book. There are many popular examples of architects and visionaries following similar courses. 

British firm Urban Space Management has built projects called Container City in England that utilize numerous used shipping containers to create an entire office and living ecosystem that is compact and affordable. And these projects date as far back as the year 2000. 

From classrooms to artists’ workspaces, coffee shops, pop-up malls, and VIP lounges at music festivals, containers have been transformed from mundane storage units to vibrant commercial outlets in so many creative and inspiring ways. 

Benefits of Shipping Containers 

Most, if not all, of the architects and project leaders behind these conversions, extoll the virtues of shipping containers. They have been described as an eco-friendly option since you are recycling old containers and repurposing them into workplaces. Used containers are also seen as an affordable option, as the cost of acquiring an old container is comparatively low, and you have less work to do in terms of the build since you already have a structure to work with. This means lower build costs for outlay on materials and the cost of man-hours that go into the build. Once completed, the container-based office is also quite the looker. It stands out from the crowd and fits right in with contemporary architecture trends, offering particular appeal to the younger crowds and fitting right into urban environments. Lastly, since these containers comprise a strong metal shell that’s built to last, maintenance is minimal, and the life of such constructions is quite long. 

Tips to Consider When Building Your Own Shipping Container Office

The advantages of going down this particular route are plenty, but before you plan a new project, you should understand its demands as completely as possible. If you plan on building some portable office shipping containers, there are a few factors that you need to take into account. 

Follow this list of tips to help ensure that you stay on the right path when it comes to a container to office conversion build.   

  • New or Used – You can either pick up an old container or buy one brand new. The former’s cost will be less, obviously, but it may also be in significantly worse condition. Battling the elements on a cross-continental sea journey is bound to take a toll on the container. So, run the numbers and see if going new with minimal retouching is the sensible option, or going used with a little extra upkeep makes more sense. 
  • Visual Inspection – Whether you land up on the new side of the table or the used one, a visual inspection of any potential container you are looking to buy is an absolute must. Double-check the container’s quality and condition, and look for the ISO certification to ensure that what you’re buying is the real deal and not a cheap knock-off. 
  • Size Matters – A wide variety of shipping container dimensions are available in the market. The length can range from 10 feet to 40 feet, although the width and height usually remain 8 feet by 8.6 feet. You need to assess your requirements and figure out how much space you will need to operate your office. This assessment will then inform the size of the container you finally choose. 
  • Location, Location, Location – Before you make your final decision on the container’s size, you need to finalize your location. Check to make sure there are no obstructions overhead when finalizing your site, and make sure there’s enough room, not just for the container, but also for the delivery flatbed truck to come in and drop off the container. Also, make sure that there’s a clear access road available to the site, or you may have to resort to setting up a crane – which will add to your cost. Lastly, make sure you choose a piece of land that is as flat as possible and offers a firm base for your container office. 

  • Code Checks – Different states in the country have different coding and zoning requirements. Make sure to do your research to see what paperwork you will need and what hurdles you will need to clear before you can set up your container office. Make sure your container is compliant with all building and safety regulations that the local authorities have put into place. 
  • Plan Before you Mod – Remember, the container has a finite amount of space, so you can’t go crazy with the number of furnishings and fixtures you plan for your new office because it may not all fit within the container. Also, plan for access points like additional doors, and figure out if you want to keep the container’s double doors in place or not. Don’t make any modifications until you have a blueprint in place because once you make a change, you can’t go back unless you do a weld-job, which will drive costs up. 
  • Start with a Clean Slate – This point is of particular significance if you have opted for a used container as your base. This container may have been used to store chemicals, have dirt residue from its time as a storage unit, and have chemical-laced paint to protect it from extreme conditions. All of this needs to be stripped back and cleaned out to ensure non-exposure to chemical elements that could cause a health risk when you start working out of this office container.  
  • Don’t Go Cut Crazy – The walls of a shipping container are a structural element that provides support to the entire construction. So, every time you cut through the walls, you compromise the container’s integrity. This is why you need to figure out how far you can go with modifications without putting yourself or any of the container’s occupants in danger. If you need to make extensive modifications, make sure you include support elements to reinforce container structure. 
  • Insulation Implications – Depending on the location you choose you may need to consider insulating your container. After all, metal heats up quickly in sunlight and rapidly cools in the colder climes, so you need to take steps to ensure that you don’t get uncomfortable when working out of the container, and insulation is the way to do it. 
  • Plumbing and Power Considerations – All offices need electricity these days, whether it’s to power overhead lights or computers, printers, and Wi-Fi routers. So, plan out the electricals in advance when working on the project blueprint. If you need plumbing, that needs to be planned out too. Everything from a basic sink to a fully functional bathroom is possible as long as you have space and the infrastructure in place.   
  • Mapping out HVAC An HVAC or heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system will help with temperature control and keep you comfortable in your new office. So, whether you get clever with windows and skylights or install a window air-con, or go for a more modern automatic climate control system, you need to plan the room to install it and run the wiring if needed.  
  • Stack for Room – You may also want to consider stacking containers on top of each other to create more space. This will mean more precision welding to join the two containers, but they are built for stacking on top of each other, so you know they will fit well together. A multi-story container office may also require more zoning permits, so make sure to conduct due diligence. 

If you keep all these things in mind, your shipping container office project should be a success. If all of this does seem a little daunting to you, you can always consider buying a pre-crafted container office and saving yourself the hassle of building one yourself. Either way, once you have a shipping container office to work from, you’ll never want to go back to the banal and commonplace option of a brick and mortar building again.


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