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Transforming a container into something new and cool is really getting popular right now. Recently Jetson Green, a website devoted to helping people find out more about sustainable and green projects, posted a "10 Things to Consider Before Using Shipping Containers for Your Next Project". While we agree, people do need to consider many factors to decide if containers are the right way to go, we take issue with some of their unfounded claims as well.
Let's take a point-by-point look at what they say and clear up some fact from myth.
1. Containers are hard to get and expensive to transport long distances unless you live near a port. - Some fact, some myth. Containers are expensive to transport long distances, but they are very easy to get and they come out of cities throughout the United States. Chicago, St Louis, Kansas City, Memphis, Atlanta, Dallas and Minneapolis are all container hubs, just to name a few inland locations. However, there are parts of the country (pretty much the whole Mountain time zone) that don't get as many containers and so it is expensive to truck them into there. However, even in those areas, there are local vendors who have done the work of bringing containers into those areas.
The bottom line - you don't know until you ask. Get quotes and see what it really costs in your area for the kind of container you want.
2. Don't bother with websites that send your info to multiple companies for quotes because you won't get any answers. Myth. As a company that pays for each lead we get, I can promise you we get back to EVERYONE. Now, if you do not put down your phone number or email correctly, well, we can't get back to you. Or if we leave you a voicemail because you screen calls from people you don't know and don't listen to the voicemail. But most of the time, we get an email address as well. My rule of thumb - a call/voicemail and a email on the day we get the lead, a call/voicemail about a week later. Granted Super Cubes doesn't get every lead out there, but even still, in talking to other companies that use those services as well, we all work hard to get back to people in a timely manner because otherwise we're just throwing money away.
The bottom line - container vendors are not paying for those leads to ignore them. There is no cost to you, so what do you have to lose. Just make sure you check your typing.
3. You can build a structure the same size and same integrity as a 20' container for less. Perhaps yes, perhaps no. It really depends on what you are building. If you are looking for just a 20' container to use as is, it may be cheaper or more expensive depending on if you are doing the work yourself, if you will be adding any other features to the structure, where the container will be placed, etc. If you are using the container as a building block to a larger project, it is entirely possible that the container will cost you more. But if you are plopping down a container to store your boat at your cabin, maybe not.
The bottom line - you need to get a quote on both to really know.
4. Containers are very secure - it takes a blow torch or dynamite to get into them and they are too heavy to take away with you. True! That is the beauty of them! And if you want additional security because the most vulnerable part of a container is the padlock, you can also get a lockbox which protects your padlock.
The bottom line - that is one of the main selling points of a container.
5. If possible, get tiltbed delivery. True! Even with a 20' container, you're talking about 5,000 pounds of container. If you can have it dropped on the ground, that will save you money. If that is not possible, or the spot you want it cannot be accessed by a tiltbed truck, there are several work-arounds to getting your container in position depending on the size of the container and your constraints.
The bottom line - tiltbed delivery saves you a huge headache and expense.
6. Rust is the main concern with a container so get a good paint job. Mostly true. Rust is the main long-term concern with a container. However, if you are not moving your container around too much, the rust will take some time to form and cause a problem. There are a few solutions - invest in a good paint job with the appropriate paint to protect your container or keep an eye on your container and do routine maintenance as needed. if you see rust forming, the easiest way to help your container is to grind the rust and immediately apply an appropriate paint to it. Also, some people will put roofing tar on the roof for an extra layer of protection from the elements.
The bottom line: rust is something you should keep your eye on.
7. Containers get very hot or very cold depending on the outside temp, so you must get good insulation and ventilation. First half - true. Second half - false. It is true, the containers will magnify whatever the outside temperature is. So, a cold Minnesota winter day will mean a very cold container. I steamy hot Florida summer day means a toasty warm container. But, simply adding insulation and/or ventilation is not going to change that. Picture your container like a cooler you use for picnics. It is insulated. If you pack that up on a summer day with your food, but don't add any ice, will it naturally be cool when you get to your picnic? Even if you leave the top off so it can "ventilate"? Of course not.
But more importantly, think about what you are using your container for? If it is just basic storage, chances are you are fine not doing anything to the container. Most everything in your home has come to the US in one of these containers. Which means sitting on top of a hot ocean for months before getting to the store where you bought it. Did it damage your goods? Nope. Now, if you live in a humid area and you are worried about condensation, there are some easy fixes there. Use desiccant products (available in hardware stores) to suck the humidity out of the air. They come in various forms from buckets with pellets to suck out the humidity to more complicated products. Since they don't need a power source, you can use them anywhere. Also, if you have antiques and want to protect them, put a cover over them to protect them from condensation.
But let's say you do need to keep your container a steady temperature. Then by all means insulate it. But don't bother with the ventilation, instead, install an HVAC unit to actually do something about the temperature. Using the cooler example. You either have to add ice or add something hot to get the inside temp where you want it and have to keep working at it to keep it there. Just pushing more summer air through a cooler will not cool it down.
The bottom line: Containers will stay hot or cold depending on the weather unless you actively do something to change that. Insulation is not enough.
8. Containers are a green material. Our trade deficit makes them pile up here. Point number one - true. Point number two - FALSE. Containers can be used as a green material, particularly when you go for the used containers over the one-trip containers. Used containers generally have been in service for 7-12 years and have been all over the world. They can make a great green material for a project.
One-trip containers are slightly different. They are built with the intention of being used once to make it to the US only to be sold in that "like new" condition. Technically, they are recycled.
However, they are not "piling up" in our country. This myth needs to go away. Let's do the math. Containers are made of steel. Steel is not cheap. Shipping lines invest money in making a container they can use for 10-12 years. They will continue to manage their inventory so that they make the most of it during that time frame. Once they have recouped their cost of the container, and before the container loses its value, the shipping line will sell the container. That is where your local container company comes into play. We buy those containers in various cities throughout the US. Between the economy not being as strong as it once was and the shipping lines being more efficient with managing their fleets, there is not a surplus in containers. In fact, most container depots that service the shipping lines are nowhere near their capacity that they were at in the early 2000's. So given that there is tighter control on supply and a greater demand for containers for uses other than shipping overseas, there is no "piling up" of them.
The bottom line: containers have intrinsic value and a growing demand for "after-market" uses such as building homes, cabins or other fun projects. They aren't piling up to given away for free, but are in fact, a part of a larger industry. However, used containers do make for a green building material.
9. Don't cover up a container from the outside, show it off. Opinion - neither true nor false. for some people, the draw of the container is the industrial look. For others, there are other factors at play. Some people cover them up from the outside to use up every precious square inch of space on the inside. Others have to cover up the container because of zoning laws. And others are incorporating the container into a larger project where it will get covered up as part of a larger design. Whatever you choose to do, it is right (as long as you're zoned for it!).
The bottom line - you should do what is right for you. Embrace the iconic look of the container or cover it up, whatever works for you.
10. Most container projects online only show a computer rendering of what the plans will look like or completed projects were very expensive. Mostly true, but don't let that scare you. So many projects don't make it past the planning stage. Container projects are no different. Many innovative designs never make it past the images you see online, but that doesn't mean they can't inspire you for your project.
Many of the projects that you see online were expensive. But that is true of most of the very cool, innovative buildings that are featured online that were not made from containers. But I am going to stand up here for Jetson Green and point out - if you want something super cool that is going to take a world-class architect to design, it will be expensive. But it would be that way if you didn't use containers as well.
There are some projects pictured online that clearly didn't cost as much. Those are usually projects that were chronicled by the individuals who did the work themselves. Many of those projects were more reasonable in price. The 2-bedroom cabin pictured here is a perfect example of that. These pictures have been shared everywhere and the design is so simple that it can be very easily replicated by anyone with welding and carpentry skills.
But we also want to take a minute to point out that if you are going to design and build your own project, you really should have a licensed architect or structural engineer go over your designs. You do not want the project to collapse and hurt anyone. Get the sign-off from the pros and stay safe. But even doing that, your project doesn't have to be something featured in architectural magazines. It can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.
The bottom line: There are a lot of great ideas out there that won't make it off the computer screen. And fancy projects come with fancy price tags. But not all projects need to be that way.
Have you been thinking about a container project lately? Is there questions that you've been held up on that you need some help with? Have you gotten into a container project and found issues you wish you had figured out ahead of time? Please post your answers below!