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Cost Comparison: Mobile Office Trailers vs. Shipping Containers

3 min read
May 15, 2019
Cost Comparison: Mobile Office Trailers vs. Shipping Containers
Paige Welsh

When it comes to offices for oil rigs and other industrial sites, businesses often choose between ground level offices (GLOs) built from shipping containers and mobile office trailers. There’s a case to be made for each option depending on the circumstances. Ground level offices prove more cost effective if the business plans to relocate the structure over many years, while mobile office trailers are a good solution when they won’t have to make long journeys on the road. Here’s why.

  New 20-foot Container-based Ground Level Office New Similarly Sized Mobile Office Trailer
Upfront Cost $15,275  ~$14,000
Accessory Costs n/a $600 for OSHA compliant stairs
Maintenance $20 a year to touch up paint and caulking; $40 annually for HVAC maintenance $300 to replace tires every three years; $600 every ten years to replace axle; $100 every three years to repair vinyl siding; $40 annually for HVAC maintenance
Lifespan 25+ years Variable
Cost of Transportation $2.50-$5.00 per mile $2.50-$5.00 per mile plus variable permits

Upfront Costs

The price quoted in the table above assumes the office is built using a one-trip 20-foot shipping container, and includes built-in windows, doors, lighting, climate control, insulation, and interior finishes. The mobile office trailer price is based on an average of prices we found for a similarly sized structure. Neither includes a bathroom in this example.

Contrary to popular belief, the upfront costs of a shipping container-based ground level office are comparable or even greater than that of an office trailer. However, other cost considerations may make a container the better long-term choice.

Interior of container office, an alternative to mobile office trailers

Set Up and Accessory Costs

This cost analysis also assumes the user is an industrial company with readily available resources for set-up. For instance, it’s reasonable to assume that an oil and gas company creating a man camp has access to jacks and a forklift or crane. When the appropriate equipment is available, the only added cost is a set of OSHA compliant stairs for the mobile office trailer, which costs approximately $600.

If the business does not have access to the necessary equipment, the price goes up for both options. Trailers must be jacked and blocked. Either purchasing a jack or hiring a service to set up a trailer will cost a few hundred dollars. Ground level offices must be removed from truck beds either via a tilt bed, crane or forklift. Renting a crane or forklift can cost up to $1000.

Depreciation Schedule for Tax Purposes

Both ground level offices and office trailers have a depreciation schedule of seven years according to the IRS. To be clear, a depreciation schedule is not a measure of the actual longevity, but an aspect of accounting.

Maintenance

Container-based mobile offices offer considerable savings in long-term maintenance. In addition to having sturdy steel walls, they don’t require a chassis and the associated maintenance for the tires and axles. 

  Container Office Mobile Office Trailer
Three Year Maintenance Cost ~$180 ~$520
Six Year Maintenance Cost ~$360 ~$1040
Twelve Year Maintenance Cost ~$720 ~$2680

Life Span Comparison

The life span of an office trailer depends heavily on how often it is relocated. An office trailer could easily spend 20+ years in good condition sitting in one place. However, every minute on the road takes its toll. An office trailer relocated just twice over gravel roads would have noticeable wear and tear.

Shipping container-based ground level offices are much more resilient and will stay in working condition—even with regular relocation—for 25+ years.  Shipping container offices also do better in rainy and snowy climates. The steel is tight against most leaks and won’t let water seep between vinyl or paneling.

Mobile office and lab ready for transport on a trailer

Cost of Transportation

The cost of each delivery will depend on the distance. You can estimate about $2.50-$5.00 per mile as a base price. Generally, deliveries to more remote areas will cost more. The greatest cost difference between trailers and container-based GLOs is the possible requirement of oversize load permits. Because shipping containers are designed to fit snugly onto truck beds, they usually don’t require oversize load permits.

Office trailers that exceed standard limits in width or height will need a permit. The costs will vary with location, but a few hundred dollars is normal for in-state transit.

In summary, an office trailer is a good solution for short-term use in mild climates, while shipping container-based offices are a good fit for companies planning to put their offices through many years of intense use.  When durability is a concern, turn to shipping containers. To learn more about containerized offices and shipping container comparisons to other modular structures, check out the following:

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