Ministry of Startups shipping container conversion v1.0

[this document is work in progress, over the next few weeks we’ll be adding / editing as we try to complete the project].

Our container has arrived at our pub in Canning Town.

Yes another container conversion… yawn I hear. We’ve all seen them, everywhere from Boxpark Shoreditch to Cargo at Bristol’s Wapping Wharf etc, however when we needed some extra space at the pub for a gin distillery in the yard we thought we’d also give it a go.

We’re going to share what we learn along the way, hopefully we’ll research enough to limit any big costly mistakes… but then again research time is a chunky expense as we probably never really properly account for our time as a “cost” in projects like this, as it’s always fun to learn, isn’t it?

What type of container to convert

There’s a lot of information on the web about this, and in a perfect world if money wasn’t an issue I’d have gone with a ISO 20ft side opening high cube. However luckily they’re nearly twice the price of a standard ISO high cube and I couldn’t justify it, this decision in hindsight seems to have also saved me on an expensive glazing bill (however I still think it would have looked amazing and might revisit the idea if we have spare cash in future).

Why get a ISO / CSC container? If you want to be able to stack the containers this is important, I’ll let this german site (in English) explain the engineering aspects of containers “The Container Handbook: Cargo loss prevention information from German marine insurers“, not quite Harry Potter but still worth a read.

Where to buy from?

I’ve been to meet with the team at Bullman’s, I think it must be where boxpark also get theirs from as there were some of Roger’s containers onsite.

It wasn’t the cheapest quote I got (£2,175), but it’s close enough for us to get to from our pub in Canning Town and therefore I was able to go and be nosy which gave me a bit of confidence when transferring quite a chunk of cash.

[Update 13/02/19] Maybe it was a genuine mistake by Bullmans, I’ll let you decide. I feel a little hard done by as we went to site to see the containers as it’s only a short ride from our pub. All the containers we were shown were in perfect condition, yet the one that arrived at our site had taken one hell of a knock. I’d like to think I’m not a complete numpty, and did expect a few knocks and scraps, but felt that it was a little cheeky on their behalf. So the lesson has to be select the exact container, get photos of the condition, and hopefully it’ll arrive in the condition you expect (obviously allowing for a bit as they’re lifted, delivered and placed onsite). I feel really stupid as there are so many websites that say that container sellers do this all the time, I just felt that having been to meet Bullmans that they wouldn’t intentionally do this to a small business like us as they seemed like a really good bunch of people on the day we went (…another life lesson for me).

[Update: 15/02/19] Spoken to Bullman’s: They advised that although quite a dent to the corner post it is within the guidelines for ISO container allowances and therefore perfectly safe to stack up to those limits. They also did apologise. They have also promised that if we buy subsequent containers from them that they’ll give us a discount to compensate for this (let’s see if that ends up being true as we’re buying another few soon so I’ll keep you informed as to whether they keep their word). I think payment on delivery is the way forward, this might be ok if you’re a big company and they know you’re good for it, but if you’re one of the small guys like us it might be harder to get a supplier to do this?

Shipping container glass doors

We are going to pop in to see AluK as they’ve got a studio in Shoreditch which is a short walk from our offices, they manufactured their BSC94 Aluminium glass doors for Cargo and their shipping container conversions at Bristol Wapping wharf.

We’ll also try Schuco, Reynaers who provided the glass to convert a shipping container at Cambridge University, and Affordable Aluminium Solutions as they supplied the doors for Boxpark Shoreditch.

[Update: 17/02/19] I truly don’t think this bit should be this difficult, a container is an internationally standardised unit with very set dimensions. I think there should be an off the peg solution with website with drop downs and BUY NOW buttons… ok off we go… now I’ve got side tracked, we’ll hack together a site next weekend called Selfbuild.House.

Cutting windows in a shipping container

Sadly folks if you’re looking for info on installing windows then I currently don’t have much knowledge to share, as structurally I don’t want to make any physical changes to the container. As we’re currently only using 20ft high cubes the big glass doors at the front of the container will hopefully provide more than enough light internally, I’ll let you know if I change my mind!

Insulating a shipping container

Bloody painful to find any real information or advice on the web about this aspect (it was supposed to be the source of all knowledge? pppffttt)… that is my main comment.

You’ll read a lot of fairly pointless info about U values and R ratings (American version) if you do try searching, arrrggghhh! Everyone has some advice / thoughts on what they recommend to use, but not much actual advice on depth to use to meet regulations etc

None of the insulation companies seem to want to give any real statement on the U-value for their product, the line I keep hearing is “the requirements vary from area to area, each local authority has different criteria”… this by the way seems absurd as you’d expect authorities across the country to follow a standard practice, unless maybe they’re equally just as confused. Also it’s not really answering my question, so when I re-ask it I get an edited nil response “it depends on a number of other factors”, it’s feels like I’m chatting with politicians not wanting to answer a question. So to help you in advance there is no point asking them what depth of insulation you require of their product as they won’t answer it.

After a fair amount of reading I’m pretty set on selecting closed cell spray foam as being the most effective insulator for the project, there are a few posts on the web about potential “health risks” that relate to the method of installation. So it’s worth keeping an eye on the news relating to this, but there didn’t seem to be anything substantial in terms of research and its been used as a method since the 1980s so I’m not that worried.

I then also spotted that Icynene closed cell was used to insulate the containers for Boxpark Croydon, and that they use a water based agent to install which accordingly makes it safe(r). So if Boxpark and their architect BDP which is a major global architectural practice think its the best product to use then I’ll run with it as they must have done their due-diligence.

[Update 17/02/19] I’m still not sure of what depth will work / meet building regs, and frankly I’m bored of reading about it. So in true Ministry JEDI fashion (Just Eff’ing Do It) we’re going to guess and then edit if later if we’ve under done it. So at this moment in time the plan is to install 50mm metal stud and insulate to that depth. As container walls are corrugated this will mean that there is an additional 48mm of space to insulate, this will mean the depth will range from 50-98mm around the container (so an average of 74mm).

As we’re putting a glass door on one end the surface area of 52 square metres needs to insulated. This was confirmed by the first company to visit to quote, they laser measured the unit and said 52.66.

Shipping container electrics and heating