Design Life vs Actual Use of Shipping Containers
Shipping containers are only used for their main job – transporting goods around the world – for between 7 to 10 years. They can last far longer than that, with some experts estimating that they can live for 30 years or more. At Gateway Container Sales we think 30 years may be a little conservative particularly when used in construction. Let’s look at the design and construction of shipping containers before showing how their lifespans can be extended almost indefinitely…
Containers & Cor-Ten steel
Shipping containers are made from a special steel called Cor-Ten that is designed to corrode for the first millimetre or so initially, and this corrosion protects the structure for the life of the container. According to the company that makes Cor-Ten steel, it “resists the corrosive effects of rain, snow, ice, fog, and other meteorological conditions by forming a coating of dark brown oxidation over the metal, which inhibits deeper penetration and negates the need for painting and costly rust-prevention maintenance over the years.”
In addition to using this special steel, international regulations require that shipping containers are primed and painted with special weather proofing paint so they will have extra weather integrity throughout their lifespans. The combination of paint and Cor-Ten steel ensures that containers are particularly robust and can withstand the harshest weather as they are transported around the globe.
Why are there so many shipping containers?
Finance companies buy shipping containers from the manufacturers and lease them to shipping companies. This is a moneymaking venture that is too complex to discuss here. However, these finance companies dictate the amount of time that shipping containers will do their globetrotting through the financial depreciation of the boxes. After ten years they are taken out of use and are either recycled or scrapped.
Wealthy countries such as Australia and the US import more goods than they export, and poorer countries such as China tend to export more goods than they import, so containers often get left on the dockside in importing countries. In some cases, leasing companies find it easier to sell the boxes on after only a few years of use than to redeploy them to export countries. As such, though the rule of thumb is ten years, some containers may have only had a few years’ in circulation before being sold on for other uses.
Shipping container architecture
Before architects saw the value of shipping containers as new homes, offices and industrial buildings, they were either scrapped or left to rust. Architecture has been changed forever it seems with the multitude of new ways that they can be used, without resorting to melting them down for recycling.
Cut into different forms and protected with modern materials, 20ft and 40ft shipping containers have been turned into a huge variety of buildings, from garden sheds and designer houses, to art galleries and apartment complexes.
Shipping container buildings were originally designed for simplicity and cost but with modern building techniques, the original design life of the shipping container may well extend long after some of the first container homes are torn down.
On into eternity?
One of the first major building projects with containers was the Container City I project in London, England. This was completed in two phases – the first three floors were built in 2001 and due to demand, an additional floor was added in 2003. This building and its sister project Container City II may last for many years to come.
Where a building is considered to be ground breaking in terms of design, they are often kept for posterity. As such the shipping container buildings in question may well live 100 years or more! This is a tad beyond the depreciation life of the container that is dictated by leasing companies, and far beyond the lifespan that they were built to travel the world aboard ships, on trains and trucks.
Got an idea for a long lasting shipping container project?
If you have an idea as to what you want to do with shipping containers then why not talk to Gateway team? We have many years of expertise in selling, modifying and hiring shipping containers and can connect you with architects and builders to bring your project to life. Get in touch with us today and we will happily discuss your requirements.