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Should You Choose Steel Buildings Over Shipping Containers?

Prefabrication is back in vogue, as are steel-framed buildings, but one of the most popular trends when it comes to temporary metal buildings does not use a kit-built frame but instead relies on converted shipping containers.

Whilst they have been an architectural novelty for two decades at this point, it has really taken off in recent years, with the most notable example of a shipping container structure being FIFA’s Stadium 974, a stadium made out of shipping containers.

A lot of businesses have started to adopt them, but stripped away of the fascinating novelty of taking a used shipping container and repurposing it, are they actually all they are cracked up to be?

In fact, given the inherent limitations of living and working in storage containers not meant for human habitation, are they in fact more trouble than they are worth?

Narrow And Squat

Shipping containers are typically marketed as versatile since they can be stacked on top of each other to add practically limitless height and there are multiple different options in terms of length.

However, because they need to conform to ISO regulations to make them usable as shipping containers, they are exceptionally limited in terms of width and height, mandated to be just eight feet (2.438 metres) wide and eight feet, six inches (2.591 metres) tall.

This can sound like a lot, but when you factor in the need to add walls and floors to make it usable and even, it means that some compromises will need to be made to fit everything you need into the limited space.

Insulation is a particular issue, as it either needs to be fitted to the outside of the container or takes valuable width.

By contrast, a kit-build steel building typically has the versatility to add as much space as you need, without the need for compromise.

More Limited Than You Think

The counter-argument to issues of space and height is that a shipping container can be easily modifiable. Whilst a container is inherently quite narrow, you can place two next to each other, remove the side walls and fit them together to make a wider building.

This is true, up to a point. Shipping containers are designed to stack, after all. However, each part you cut out of the container affects its structural stability, and without adding any compensatory measures can cause the structure to collapse.

It can get somewhat complex compared to a steel frame building, which is designed to be open plan and easy to provide a considerable amount of interior space.

False Economy

Shipping containers have often been marketed as being exceptionally cheap. They are a standard-issue structure, can be placed rather than installed and can be purchased for a pittance, especially if they are bought used.

However, there are a lot of hidden costs involved with a shipping container conversion. If you need more space you need to carefully plan your expansion. The width and height often necessitate specialist furniture and used containers often need to be decontaminated first.

Buying an easily-installed steel building cuts out a lot of the complexities.


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