Constucting a Shipping Container Building: A Real Story
In the past, we’ve showcased the designs and advantages of container buildings. The ‘containers’ in question are metal, oblong modular units, once used to carry manufactured goods from abroad and into North American ports. Since ports don’t return them to where they’ve been shipped from, they tend to pile up. But, as we’ve seen, the use of containers for housing and commercial spaces has been an important effort in taking these containers, and re-imagining their use.
But what does a project like this really entail?
The epic software group is a Woodlands, Texas multimedia development company that needed to build a new video production studio. They chose to build it using upcycled, recycled and sustainable building materials, including shipping containers. They called the new building the “epic Creative Co-Op” and used 11 upcycled shipping containers destined for the scrap yard. The company chronicled the building on the epic software blog, and you can follow every step of the construction process from concept to creation at that link.
Vic Cherubini is the president of epic software, and this is what he had to say about the building, and how they decided to create it from shipping containers.
Over the past few years we have experienced a large increase in business. More of our clients have asked us to create videos of their products and services for use online. Our current building was not designed for video production, so we decided to build one specifically for this purpose. Getting a loan for a commercial building in 2009 was all but impossible, so we needed to find a way to finance it ourselves. We turned to the some architectural students from the University of Houston for ideas.
They gave us the concept of building with Cargo Containers and recycled materials. We then found vendors with excess or slow moving inventory willing to give us a super deal on their building products. We also found some manufacturers who had new products to try out on the building. We also bought materials from the Habitat for Humanity Resale shop, and Craigslist. By taking a non-traditional approach, we realized we could make our dream a reality.
Barriers to our shipping container building project
We were concerned about the getting permits and conforming to commercial building codes. We were worried about running out of money, and our lack of knowledge of the building process. As we got into the project, it turned out these challenges were not as problematic as we thought. We hired a structural engineer, a building consultant, ADA (Amercial Disability Act) Engineer and involved the Fire Marshal early in the process, so when it was time for inspections – we passed each one with no problems.
We managed our resources carefully, and did not need any outside financing. One interesting thing that happened is when we finished the building and had our banker tour it, she said the bank would be willing to handle the financing if we decided to build another container building! We just may take her up on her offer.
Our best moments, and worst moments during our container building construction
Every time we hit a milestone it was exciting. Watching the foundation being poured, seeing the containers being hoisted into place, when the roof was complete (and the structure was watertight), and when we got our first tenant to signed their lease prior to completion were all high points. The low point came at the end of January, when we experience a very serious fire.
A welder had ignited a spark in the cellulose inside one of the studio walls which we thought had been extinguished. It smoldered in the wall, undetected, for 3 days, then flared up. While no one was hurt, and none of the container units were damaged, the studio section of the building (traditional wood frame) had to be completely rebuilt. This put us two months behind schedule and delaying two of our tenants from moving in. We rebuilt the studio (and actually improved it the second time). That resulted in another high point – the first video shoot we hosted in the new studio for a local TV station.
Building a container building – my advice to those just getting started
Taking on a big project like this is scary at the outset because there are so many problems that need to be solved, and if not handled correctly, any of them can sink the job. The good news is there is plenty of help out there.
Building and materials experts willing (and in many cases will do it below their standard rates) to help with a unique project. Do lots of research before you start the job. Online resources may require some digging, but they are there. Some of our vendors have become clients as they got a chance to see our work first hand. Look to develop long term win-win relationships and you should be just fine.