Simplifying the Groundwork: How to Prepare a Site for a Shipping Container

No matter the scale, scenario, or span, starting a new project can be exciting. While this makes it tempting to jump straight into execution, you are certainly not setting yourself up for success without thoughtful planning and preparation. 

Shipping containers are increasingly being converted and repurposed for many creative structures outside of their typical usage. This includes a variety of permanent and temporary structures such as storage, modular homes, kitchens, off-site offices, and garden sheds. 

As some of the most robust structures available, shipping containers can resist damage from dangerous natural conditions and withstand heavy winds up to 160kph when rooted in the foundation. However, while this makes them extremely popular scaffolds for structures, they cannot uphold these safety extents without proper preparation. 

Considering the extensive and often professional preparation required for traditional structures, it is understandable that such large entities like containers also need a similar level of thoughtful preparation. Depending on the size, new shipping containers can cost anywhere between $3,800 to $7,500. So if you’re going to put the money and resources into accessing a shipping container of your own, you may as well do it properly and undertake sufficient preparation. 

While preparing the delivery site for your container could be considered the least exciting aspect of your container project, it is detrimental to its success. So much so that almost all councils treat permanent shipping container structures similarly to how they would treat any other building. 

To help you prepare a solid and stable foundation for your shipping container, no matter your intended purpose, we have created a list of essential steps to make the process a little easier. 

Importance of proper site preparation

A lack of preparation in any regard can cause many unexpected and detrimental issues, costing you money and time down the track. Neglecting preparation or incorrectly doing so can lead to problems including:

  • Sinking container, resulting in twists and flex’s in the container's structure
  • Hinge damage, where the door begins to stick or not open and close properly
  • Ventilation and drainage issues

Prepare Enough Space

Prepare Enough Space

Containers come in various sizes, including 8ft, 10ft, 20ft, and 40ft. While your intentions and purpose for the container will determine the size you require, it is also essential to consider the space you have to store it. 

Before you purchase or hire your container, measure your space. If you require a container larger than your area to complete your project, don’t settle for a smaller and compromise your goals, but rather create or source a larger and more suitable space before you have your container delivered. 

Provide Site Access

It can be easy to allow the dream of your completed project to cloud your judgement. However, it is important not to dismiss the reality of accessibility. 

If your intended delivery site is positioned in a tricky spot behind other structures, it may be challenging to have your container dropped to your site. If you aren’t prepared to splurge the extra cash to have it dropped in by a crane, you may need to reconsider your site location or create access. 

An accessible site is one where a truck can bring the container in, and you can effectively access and open the doors of the container itself. You can identify this by checking the surroundings to ensure it is clear of obstacles, inspecting the site to ensure it is compact, surveying for any sloping, considering proximity to utilities, and analysing space for growth. The last thing you want to do is spend the money on delivery only to realise you have placed the container in an inadequate spot. 

Prepare The Site

After choosing the location with the most potential and adequate access, you’ll need to start preparing the site. While the essence of stability will remain depending on the permanency and type of structure you are building with the container, the specific type of base will vary. 

1. Level and compact

No matter the type of base you choose, from formal cement foundations to crushed gravel solutions, it is essential you level and compact the area you will situate your container. 

Heavier machinery like a bobcat, excavator, and compactor can be helpful to ensure you get the best result. Together, they can help you move the appropriate amount of dirt, level out the materials and compact the surface. 

This can be completed with DIY machinery, but there are many professional, affordable and worthwhile services to help you out if you aren’t comfortable doing it yourself. It is important that you give the site some height to allow for any runoff, but the site zone remains flat. 

Concrete slab

2. Concrete slab

Building a permanent structure such as a granny flat, home or workshop must be rested on a solid and permanent foundation. You wouldn’t build a traditional house on uneven gravel, and the same goes for such a container structure. 

In this sense, a reinforced concrete slab is a great option to support your structure. Despite being an additional expense, it can save you major issues and money down the track. If a container even sinks a small amount, the entire structure will be out of level and something you will notice. 

Going the extra step and laying a solid concrete foundation is a guaranteed effective way to permanently situate a container on an otherwise soft, unstable surface. 

 3. Concrete piers

Concrete piers are slightly different to slabs and are actually one of the cheapest foundations to install. They are essentially made of concrete blocks that can be circular, rectangular, or any other stable shape, with reinforced steel foundations inside to ensure their strength. 

They are cheap and almost impossible to move once installed as the heavy container on top will prevent them from moving. In addition, like piers, they allow some space underneath the container that allows for evaporation. 

This option is not as durable for permanent, heavy-duty structures, unlike concrete slabs. Instead, it can be a suitable foundation for light storage or mobile businesses.

4. Pile foundations

Pile foundations are similar to concrete piers or footings; however, they are much more durable and stable. They can be defined as a series of columns inserted deep into the ground where the soil is denser. The columns are made of concrete materials that transfer the structure load onto the harder rocks and soil with high bearing capacity

These might be used if your site’s soil cannot support a concrete base, as the piles are more tolerant of erosion. However, as this foundation cannot be installed without professional assistance, it is typically only required for heavy, long-term container placement. 

Suppose your project is such an exorbitant one. In that case, many builders suggest taking the time to find a contractor that genuinely understands modular or container finishing and can adequately prepare the foundation specific to your project intentions.  

5. Footings

As a less permanent option to concrete piers, wooden beam footings are accessible and affordable for temporarily storing your container. They can also be useful even if you have a concrete base to keep them off the ground and away from any rain or debris, especially if the area is prone to such conditions. 

The blocks are generally quite easy to arrange, and when the container arrives on location, all you need to do is place it up onto the blocks or use a heavy-duty car jack to position them under each corner. 

Ultimately, this is a great foundation option if you just need something to get the job done for the time being. 

6. Topography and drainage

While sometimes it can be difficult to identify with the naked eye, the shape of the land and how the water flows through it are important factors to consider when preparing a site. 

You can have your land evaluated to determine whether it is suitable for such a flat structure, or if you are wary of the potential for floods, it may be worth sitting the container on a raised structure. 

Condensation within shipping containers occurs when its walls become cooler than the dew point inside it. Being made of metal, the containers' internal temperatures are prone to change, while the weather simultaneously determines their external temperature. Therefore, to allow for proper ventilation from condensation when this does occur, providing a foundation that elevates the container is ideal. 

In Summary

While it may seem mundane, spending the extra time to plan and prepare an adequate site foundation for your shipping container can save you many headaches in the future. To avoid spending the extra money and hassle after installing your shipping container, take note of proper site preparation procedures and spend the slight excess now rather than truly paying for it later. 

Many foundation options depend on your intentions and requirements, and weighing up their pros and cons can be somewhat confusing. So if you’re looking for more advice on getting started with your shipping container project, contact the team at Tiger Containers today. We specialise in shipping containers of all sizes and offer a wide range of services.