The Start-Up’s Best Friend: The Shipping Container Office

Shipping business

As a start-up business you want to watch your cash flow. One way you can save on start up costs is by having a home office rather than renting out expensive office space.

A trend that has been growing in popularity in recent years is creating home office space out of shipping containers.

No longer is the humble shipping container used just for transporting or storing cargo. These days both new and used shipping containers are being modified for all sorts of purposes, such as roadside kitchens, on-site offices for construction sites, granny flats and home extensions.

The advantage of building a home office out of a shipping container is that you can still establish independent office space while saving on leasing costs. And there’s no commute to work and back each day, which means more time and more savings.

I recently had a shipping container modified for my SEO business, where it now blends in quite nicely with the landscaping in my front yard.

In this post I’ll very briefly run you through the process of having the office constructed, as well as some of the pros and cons.

Check Local Regulations First

Before even considering building a home office from a shipping container, it’s best to check with your local council or governing body with regards to whether you can legally build a shipping container office in your area. Different areas have different zoning laws, so it pays to check this out first.

Buying the Right Shipping Container

You have the option of purchasing a brand new shipping container to modify into a home office, or save yourself some money and buy a used cargo container that’s in good condition.

I ended up buying a used shipping container, and if you decide to go the second hand route, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Used shipping containers are graded so prospective buyers can have an idea of the condition it’s in beforehand. The most common quality grades are A, B and C. Both A and B containers are pretty good quality, while C grade tend to be dented and a bit rusty.

To save even more money, but still getting a container in good condition, I chose a B grade shipping container for my office project.

The container had some minor rust and a few small dents, and the paintwork wasn’t crash hot. But none of that really mattered, as the container was being repurposed and refurbished anyway. The condition and quality was easily good enough for my intended purpose, so buying a B grade used container is yet another saving for start-ups.

If you can find out some history on a container you’re thinking of buying, then that’ll be good. Chances are you won’t gather much information on it though. Try asking the supplier the following questions anyway:

  • What’s previously been transported or stored in the shipping container?
  • Has the container held pesticides or toxic chemicals?
  • What about dangerous goods or explosives?

Questions like that. It’s always good to know what’s previously been inside.

Another important thing to consider is what size shipping container you’ll need for your home office. There are 3 main sizes:

  1. 10ft
  2. 20ft
  3. 40ft

The 20 footer is by far and away the most versatile and popular, and it’s the one I chose.

The Shipping Container Modifications

When I purchased my B grade shipping container, the supplier also happened to be an expert in container modifications. We quickly came up with an office design and got started.

Something to keep in mind when planning your modifications is not to go overboard with slicing the container up. Shipping containers by nature are super sturdy and strong, and you really want to maintain that aspect as much as you can.

With the help of my supplier’s professional designers, we managed to come up with a home office that was light and airy without compromising the strength of the container structure.

When a container is going to be your home office, you definitely want some insulation. You can opt for the traditional style of insulation, like is used in houses, or go for the spray foam option which is more expensive.

Spray foam insulation has some advantages, such as:

  1. The foam is super easy to apply
  2. It insulates as well as acts as a barrier against moisture
  3. It uses less room than traditional insulation

Delivery and Setup of My New Office

I have a large front yard area, so that’s where I located my shipping container home office. It’s not absolutely necessary, but I had a concrete slab laid to ensure a stable base. Once the container arrived, it was quickly positioned on the slab and the electricity was connected to it.

To make it blend in better with the rest of the yard, some minimal landscaping was done, along with a small awning to add some shade over the container office entrance door.

Shipping Container Home Office – Pros and Cons

The main reason I say building a home office from a shipping container for start-ups is a fantastic idea is because of the cost. Building a conventional office, or agreeing to a long term lease on office space can be mega expensive.

You also help the environment when you repurpose a used container and prevent it from going into landfill.

Because much of the structure’s construction is already done, it actually doesn’t time much time to get the conversions completed. This also saves money, and with a home office, you really don’t need any plumbing, just power.

Sometimes my home office feels a little bit narrow, but that’s about the only real criticism I have of shipping container office space. Big windows help offset that though.

If you have your shipping container home office expertly modified, it won’t look dodgy. Mine actually looks really cool and has become a regular talking point when clients come to visit. I’m more than happy with the results, the fact that I get to work from home, and all the money I’ve saved.

It’s an option definitely worth serious consideration for start-ups.

Many thanks for Tiger Containers for their assistance.

About Mohit Tater

Mohit is the co-founder and editor of Entrepreneurship Life, a place where entrepreneurs, start-ups, and business owners can find wide ranging information, advice, resources, and tools for starting, running, and growing their businesses.

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