If repurposed shipping containers are on your radar as an alternative to stick-built business structures, you’ve probably seen some of the cool assets today’s companies are creating. In restaurants and retail, major brands are using containers as drive-thru stores. In hospitality, gorgeous pop-up hotels now bring affordable lodging to big cities. And in high-tech industries, containers are filling critical roles as mobile laboratories, IT rooms, sensitive equipment storage, and more.
But when you go beyond the novelty of building with boxes, there are actually some very compelling advantages (financial and architectural) to working with repurposed shipping containers. Here are four:1. Building Costs
Every year, millions of steel shipping containers are abandoned in port city graveyards. After delivering imported goods to the U.S., the empty units aren’t worth the price of a return trip. So they gather in massive numbers—in cities like Long Beach and Savannah—only to attract rodents and overwhelm communities. And the availability of these containers is growing each year.
This makes shipping containers, as building materials, extremely cost effective. Container prices vary, depending on size and condition, but one-trip units generally cost between $1,000 and $2,000. Compare that to the cost of a simple backyard shed, which averages nearly $3,000 (just for standard wood walls, roofing, and flooring), according to the CNBCE program.2. Building Strength
Log-cut lumber can vary tremendously in terms of quality and strength. In fact, experts say, “pieces may differ in strength by several hundred percent.” Accordingly, wood products need to be categorized and stress graded, before they’re applied in specific projects. But this doesn’t guarantee that every load is sorted and rated correctly—or that every contractor is making appropriate decisions.
Shipping containers are uniformly comprised of Corten steel, or weathering steel. To produce it, iron is smelted in a blast furnace. Materials like chromium, copper, silicon and phosphorus are added to make the end product less brittle. These alloying elements create a much higher capacity for loading than that of the original iron. Shipping containers are designed to carry between 20,000 and 30,000 tons.3. Building Weight
Steel has a uniquely high strength-to-weight ratio. The “dead load” metric (or the weight of the building components) is low, as compared to other building materials. This allows more weight capacity for “live loads” (for example inhabitants, livestock, heavy equipment, etc.) and makes steel a more attractive material in situations where heavy buildings could be dangerous—for example, high rise construction or construction in earthquake-prone areas.4. Ductility
Ever wondered how a repurposed shipping container might hold up against a hurricane or an earthquake? People tend to assume that all portable structures are equally lightweight, and therefore equally vulnerable to extreme weather. But shipping containers fare much better than the average trailer or modular unit.
According to the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Ohio State University, steel can withstand significant deformation before failure, “thus providing [superior] reserve strength.” Steel’s ability to deform under stress is known as ductility. Well-designed steel structures (e.g. repurposed shipping containers) tend to have more ductility and energy-absorbing capacity, which allows them to better resist the shock of earthquakes.
Want to learn more about the strength and durability of repurposed shipping containers? This guide speaks to extreme weather zone for oil and gas applications, but the container property information applies to all audiences. Check it out: