We are considering increasing storage for machinery and equipment. Can you offer any advice on the use of shipping containers as storage facilities?

From Lisa Topham, park and gardens manager, Charlecote Park, Warwickshire.

A: Providing you pay attention to security, new and good-quality used or second-hand shipping containers are a great way of providing extra storage space on site. A container in good condition can provide years of service, costs relatively little and can be relocated if and when necessary.

Newer containers are usually made from high-tensile rust-inhibiting Corten steel and have a good lifespan. They come in a range of sizes but nearly all are 8ft wide. The commonest lengths are 8ft, 10ft, 20ft and 40ft. The majority will be the 8ft 6in standard height, ideal for driving machinery straight in. The big 40ft containers tend to be 9ft 6in high, giving extra headroom for taller kit.

Some containers will have doors only at one end - with the benefit of just one access point to keep secure. It may be sensible, however, to opt for a container with doors at both ends if you are looking at 40ft units. Some containers also have side access.

If you are looking to save money by purchasing a used or second-hand shipping container, you need to make sure the container is in first-class condition. It must be wind and water tight and be structurally sound. The container's previous use will largely determine its condition. You should also ask about the age of the unit. Note that the doors and roof areas tend to be the weak points. If possible, inspect before purchase. Do not go for an ex-refrigeration container or the box trailer from a lorry.

You should be aware that condensation can occur in shipping containers that are not insulated. If you want to store documents, clothing or grass seed in the unit, as well as machinery, be prepared to use desiccants, insulation or a dehumidifiers to remove moisture from the air. Conventional shipping containers do not have locks - only locking bars - so you will also need to arrange for a lock box or cowl to be fitted. A lot of suppliers are also geared up for conversions. Windows can be added, or the unit made suitable for office purposes, chemical storage or canteen facilities.

Prices will vary with size, age and condition of the container. You can expect to pay £1,000 to £1,200 for a 10ft unit and perhaps £1,300 to £2,000 for a 20ft container in good condition. I have seen 40ft containers priced from as little as £700 for a unit in low to middle condition up to £4,700 for one in pristine condition. An internet search on "shipping containers" will reveal dozens of suppliers but remember that delivery will be extra so try to find a container for sale nearby or use a company with a depot in the Midlands.

Most suppliers of shipping containers will deliver the unit to site. You need to discuss access and positioning of the container because the supplier is like to crane the unit into its final position.

It is also worth noting that many suppliers of shipping containers also offer purpose-made storage containers supplied with locks and some, such as Containers Direct, additionally offer flat-pack containers, modular buildings and timber cabins.

A final tip - do not forget to discuss the new storage facility with your insurance company and organise any necessary changes to the policy.

- Sally Drury has reported for HW and its forerunner GC&HTJ for 28 years and has spent more than five years testing machinery for HW and What Kit? The advice in this helpline is independent.


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