Business owners can save themselves unnecessary hassle by building on shipping containers, because they go up fast, come apart easily and are sturdy enough for even the toughest applications.

By Jessica Batchelor

When business owners start exploring their options for building foundations, shipping containers are not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. Although they may not be commonplace, shipping containers make exceptional foundations, as they are strong, portable, affordable, quick to install, eco-friendly, and provide added height and storage for just about any type of structure. Whether the building is permanent or temporary, made from metal or tension fabric, shipping containers can be the ideal foundation solution for a business.

Structural Integrity
Considering that shipping containers were designed with the sole purpose of keeping valuable cargo intact while traveling long distances, it should come as no surprise that they have excellent structural integrity. Because they usually travel by sea and face extreme weather conditions, shipping containers have watertight construction and sturdy, durable doors. Shipping containers are factory equipped to protect contents from water damage and withstand wind gusts up to 100 mph.

Shipping container installation is relatively quick and easy, as the containers can be simply dropped into place where building construction will occur. There is no need for pouring concrete or waiting for the concrete to dry, which cuts down substantially on construction time. Since they can be integrated into a fabric structure in a wide variety of ways, shipping containers are impressively versatile. The containers can be mounted directly on asphalt or soil, or on top of existing foundations, like concrete slabs, concrete footings or wooden beams. A fabric building can actually be mounted inside of shipping containers or on top of them. When fastened on top of a shipping container, a box beam is generally required to connect the containers and act as a flat surface for the building to be mounted onto. Shipping containers come equipped with corner fitting points that allow them to be bolted or welded together. When bolted together, containers can be disassembled later, whereas welding is a permanent solution.

Despite, their non-traditional nature, containers provide a sturdy foundation.

Important to note is that if the foundation is engineered, the containers need to be secured to the ground, which can be done effectively with many different anchoring tools. Engineered buildings sometimes require helical anchors in the containers to hold it to code. Helical anchors are spiral-shaped anchors that drill directly into the ground, creating a strong hold that is classified as temporary, but durable enough to remain permanent if desired. Other foundation-anchoring tools like penetrators, arrowheads or bullets can also be installed using a drive rod. For non-engineered buildings, the containers will not need to be secured to the ground, making for even simpler and faster installation.

Easily Transported and Economical
When a building needs to be taken down or relocated, shipping containers are just the kind of foundation a business owner wants to have. Shipping containers are, by their very design, meant to be moved and are easily transported via crane, forklift and many other modes of transportation. Once the containers have arrived at the new work site, they can be dropped into the correct location just as they were the first time and reused as many times as is necessary.

Many companies elect to have their structures built on shipping containers because they are highly economical. A used, 40-foot-long shipping container can be purchased for less than $1,000, or new for an average of $1,800. The main benefit of shipping container foundations is having extra cubic feet with minimal foundation costs. Many companies who are about to begin construction on a building already have shipping containers, so they save money on foundation costs right off the bat.1 Moreover, some shipping containers appreciate in value over time, so customers can get more than what they initially paid for them.

Shipping containers will raise the height of a building and create more internal work space. A standard shipping container measures between 8.5 to 9.5 feet high, making it a great foundation option for a building that requires high clearance. Containers can be stacked on top of one another to add nearly 10 feet of clearance at a time. This is especially useful in manufacturing and industrial applications, where vehicles must be able to frequently enter and exit a building safely. Owners of container-mounted buildings also appreciate how the containers provide not only plenty of height, but also straight, even sidewalls as well. It is possible to order pre-designed fabric buildings up to 60 feet wide that are made to fit on top of shipping containers. These containers can also be stamped engineered, if necessary.2

Environmentally Friendly
Using shipping containers as foundations is environmentally-friendly for two reasons: there is little to no excavation or ground work required and it automatically saves materials like bricks, mortar and wood. There are about 500,000 abandoned shipping containers lying in ports across the world. When a shipping container is reused, it means that nearly 8,000 pounds of otherwise discarded steel is being repurposed. Even after being used for many years as foundations, shipping containers can be refurbished and given a new purpose.

For companies that have valuable equipment or tools that cannot be easily or safely stored inside the building, shipping containers can be a lifesaver. The ends of a shipping container can be left completely or partially open to provide easy access to storage materials. Shipping containers can also be outfitted with garage doors for a more office-like environment. Some people convert their shipping containers into actual offices for convenient, onsite workspaces. When used for storage, shipping containers provide far more security than standard wood structures. Because they are reinforced with steel, containers provide the utmost protection from the elements, rodents and pests.

Industry Foundations
Shipping containers have a lot more to offer than many people realize. Many building projects come with aggressive deadlines and uncertain futures, making quick construction and ease of transport extremely important. Business owners can save themselves unnecessary hassle by building on shipping containers, because they go up fast, come apart easily and are sturdy enough for even the toughest applications. Since they also provide the maximum amount of space at a minimal investment, shipping containers should be strongly considered as foundations for any industry, no matter the region.

Jessica Batchelor is a content writer for ClearSpan (South Windsor, CT), which specializes in fabric structures for recycling centers, composting facilities and solid waste facilities. For more information, e-mail [email protected].


Geoff Ching. He has designed many fabric buildings with shipping container foundations for ClearSpan Fabric Structures.
Geoff Ching.