Construction sites are unlike any other type of workplace in the world. They require flexibility and come with the absolute knowledge they are temporary. You do not have the luxury of setting up a permanent office or base on a site, and even the longest jobs will have shifts or unexpected events come along. Not only this, but most sites are at the mercy of the weather, current events, and other forces of nature. Furthermore, while they are not permanent, jobs can take months or even years to complete.
For all these reasons and more, we recommend that you consider utilizing one or more repurposed steel shipping containers on your construction site. They provide semi-protected spaces and give everyone just a bit of structure while working on the project. Whether you need storage, workspace, or something else, a modified container can probably fill the need.
While these containers are primarily used for shipping and transporting goods or equipment, people have discovered many potential uses for them due to their durability, relative portability, and ease with which you can modify them. You probably have seen a few on construction sites already if you are not using one in some form already.
While this certainly is not a comprehensive list of potential uses, and you might be able to think of a few more purposes for a steel shipping container, here are some basic ideas you should consider:
Tools are expensive, and even the most basic hammer or screwdriver can be valuable and hard to replace quickly. Organization is vital, and keeping tools in top shape is just as important. Having a proper place to put them (like a reworked steel shipping container) can make a world of difference. We have a simple question for you: how are tools currently handled on the site and stored off-hours, and can that system be improved? If the answer is yes, we recommend using a steel shipping container as a base for tool storage in the future.
If you are on an extensive site and have many or multiple sets of tools, you might want to create two or more tool storage areas, especially if you have larger tools that should have their own spaces for easy and safe access. If it is a much smaller site and you do not feel you need or have space for a full container, a 10' storage container can make for a great shed-like structure for your site.
We recommend that you do not necessarily just pack everything in there and call it a day when creating tool storage. Instead, we recommend installing secure shelving in your container or at least finding another way to make sure the tools do not come loose with any vibrations or minor impacts that can occur regularly on a construction site. Also, clearly label all of the tools and spaces. A bit of preparation in this regard can make your site much more efficient.
You will want to consider security as well. You do not want criminals running off with your tools to pawn them off later. We recommend the security measures you would typically use, but there are also locks explicitly designed for shipping containers. There are alarm systems that work excellently with containers, and a bit of deterrence can go a long way.
If you are looking for ideas for organization, we recommend searching online for some examples and then modifying what you find for your own purposes. Small outfits can probably copy something like a home tool shed or workshop with a bit more space for tools, and larger ones may want to go heavy on the bins and shelving for organization among larger teams.
On top of tool storage, you may want to store some equipment and machines used on the job as well. It is unlikely you will be able to fit a bulldozer into a standard shipping container. Still, there might be other pieces of equipment that you would like to keep safe from the outside world that would fit, such as smaller compactors, jackhammers, scissor lifts, forklifts, single man lifts, compactors, and effectively whatever you think can fit in one. You can do the measurements beforehand and compare them to the size of a standard container.
You can equip a steel shipping container with a ramp if need be. Much like any tool or material storage, you can make a container even more secure with specialized locks, electronic systems, or cameras. You will also want to make sure all the equipment can be quickly loaded and unloaded, so much like a tool storage container, do not overpack it and give clear instructions to your team on how they should use it.
Perhaps most helpfully, any attachments or extra parts related to the stored equipment can be placed safely inside the storage container while not being used. How important this will be to you depends on your priorities, budget, and available space. Most construction equipment is designed to be ok out in the world for a bit. As such, the container might be best for more sensitive or mid-sized equipment that you should store inside when not being used. With larger machines, sticking to the tried and true method will likely be your most efficient option.
Much like tools and equipment, construction materials can benefit from proper storage, especially if the elements can harm them. Even if not, having good organization and easy access always helps. If you have valuable materials that you need to keep on-site but want to keep out of the public eye and away from potential hazards, then a steel shipping container is the way to go.
The good news with this usage is that there is little work to be done to the container if you are just going to use it for material storage. Many of those exact same materials were probably transported in a shipping container in the first place. All you will need to do is find a place for it, make sure it is correctly assembled, secure it, and load the goods as required. You should ensure that it is accessible and not overly packed. The key is simply accessibility and perhaps not going over a weight limit if the container needs transporting while full later.
We usually would not recommend using non-standard containers for purposes outside of shipping; you might want to use an open-top or side-door container for those larger jobs and materials (think large pieces of lumber or steel beams). Handling goods can be tricky if you do not think about it, so put in some time before buying a container to figure out exactly how you will use it and how your workers will be able to get things in and out. For example, needing a grasp on both ends of a beam will not be easy if only one side of the container or beam is accessible.
Alternatively, if you want to make a modification or two, a rollup door would be a good idea. You don't need to have space for the door to swing out, you can secure it more easily, and less energy and force are required to get it open. Don't fill it to the brim in this case, though, so the door can properly open up.
Perhaps the most common or at least the most well-known use for a shipping container on a construction (or any work) site is having it converted into a sparse if usable mobile office. A place where plans can be made and kept, meetings can take place slightly away from the noise of machinery, and simply providing a place employees can go to report progress or problems to their supervisor. It can also help keep people away from the bustle of the site if they are not working construction yet still need to be nearby.
Based on how large the worksite is and how many office spaces you want, you can use either a 20 foot or 40 ft container for this (or multiple containers of each for the vast sites.) In either case, it will be a worthwhile investment that will keep you and your files and plans in a better place or simply allow you to use a computer more easily on-site. Cubicles, heating, and air conditioning can easily be set up inside the office, and there are plenty of options for office setups that come prefabricated.
When getting a mobile office or general building such as this for your site, they will likely require some modification. You can either have the container modified yourself if you want something more custom, but more often than not, we recommend that you get a prefabricated option from a provider. Any company that sells them has made many of them before and knows exactly what they are doing. It will probably be cheaper than handling everything yourself, even if your team has the expertise.
Just make sure that you have a good spot for it and that the office remains easily movable so you can use it again on the next site (getting more for your investment.)
If the architect is on-site or you need to check the plans for any reason, this mobile office can also be the perfect spot. You can view whatever materials or screens you need to, letting you plan better, double-check the designs and current progress, and simply be a better manager. You know the importance of a workstation or office for these purposes, and some additional filing cabinets or screens for viewing can make a world of difference or even allow you to catch an error early.
If you need a larger space, we recommend that you use a separate container for this. You can make the room bright (through windows or lighting) and easy to navigate.
This setup can also be great during the early stages of construction, allowing for calls to be made without the noise of construction in the background (you may want to add some soundproofing to the container, which due to its construction often takes in a lot of outside noise).
Having a break area inside a shipping container also allows for a climate-controlled break or lunchroom, which can be incredibly helpful during either the dead heat of summer or the colder winters. Of course, you should never put your employees in danger due to the environment and might consider suspending operations in the most extreme of circumstances. Still, a cooler or warmer break area can take the edge off and keep people from becoming exhausted (and thus more easily distracted and inefficient) all the faster.
Some things you may want to include in the break area include:
If you have a limited area or not too many employees, you can use a smaller container for just a few of the appliances above and place some seating outside if that is allowed. You know the regulations in your state and the best setup for the site.
Turning a shipping container into a set of bathrooms is not as hard as you might think, though few companies and organizations think to do it. You can set up a container more quickly than other buildings, and while plumbing and installations are needed, those would need to happen with any building.
As you well know, construction workers and supervisors have to use the bathroom too. While portable toilets are always an option, they might not be the most loved thing on your site. If you want to provide something a bit more permanent for longer jobs or want just to avoid the portable toilets that have plagued you so far, investing in converting a shipping container into a set of toilets and bathrooms can be an excellent option. Several companies do so ahead of time, allowing you to just buy the container without worrying so much about conversion.
Furthermore, while it is a bit of an investment, you can take the container to the next worksite once the job is done and keep reusing it. It is an excellent option for many worksites, and you can mitigate the costs.
As for exactly how to get this done, you may need to do some planning as getting a plumbing connection or water supply can be difficult. Getting around the use of running water might be something you want to plan for. If this is not possible and you do not feel the need for a more extensive structure, then the portable toilets might be something to stick with, if ideally finding high-quality ones.
While people will not be able to put together an entire building inside a steel shipping container, some jobs might be a bit more delicate and best done with minimal distraction and little outside interference. They might be trimming or craftwork or carefully sanding down an edge before installation. There are so many potential jobs here that you and we combined wouldn't be able to list them all.
For these jobs, an outfitted shipping container can be ideal if you want something on site. Even off-site, a shipping container can be set up as a perfect workshop area instead of investing in setting up an entirely new building. Also, the new building would not be portable.
Alternatively, a small work area might be helpful if there is work to be done, but the main site is taken up or unavailable for some reason. Perhaps other steps are being done simultaneously, or a potential problem is being looked at and addressed. An alternative work area can provide some leeway.
Finally, you can easily equip a steel shipping container with a power outlet and get them hooked up (so long as you have an available hookup and supply of power you can use, of course). Proper lighting is essential, and quickly accessing power for tools can make many jobs much more straightforward.
In any event, having a shipping container repurposed into a general indoor space or workshop opens up your options. It can allow you to get jobs done safer and faster, so long as you are approaching the matter confidently and intelligently.
Even with all of the above recommendations, you know your workforce and your site best. You know which of these options would be the most useful or the least applicable. In any case, we hope that the above list of ideas has given you a few thoughts on how you can use a shipping container to improve your site and improve both employee morale and general work efficiency. Containers are available, durable, and affordable, so look into getting one (or a few) today so you can get started on the modification process.