Portable Buildings: A Buyer's Guide
Portable buildings are pre-fabricated structures used to provide temporary or semi-permanent accommodation where traditional building methods are impractical due to cost, time or logistical considerations.
Due to their cheapness and the speed at which they can be sited and set up, portable buildings are commonly used on construction sites, by local authorities and by businesses looking for a temporary solution while more permanent buildings are erected. Their portability also makes them useful as travelling sales and marketing kiosks or event hospitality booths.
This Buyers’ Guide will take the prospective portable buildings buyer through the various options available and offer useful tips on selecting a portable buildings supplier.
Portable Building Basics
The most common type of portable cabins are plastic coated box-shaped steel buildings of a size matching that of standardised shipping containers (e.g. 10ft by 8ft, 20ft by 9ft etc). The lightweight materials and standard dimensions makes them easy to transport, link together and stack one on top of the other. The most common brand is Portakabin. Such portable buildings are available new or used and can be modified in a variety of ways to suit particular purposes.
Many portable building suppliers can also join together one or more portable cabins to create semi-permanent structures for longer term use.
Portable Cabin Modifications
Portable buildings are incredibly versatile. They commonly come with plain white wipe-clean interiors, several windows and a door. The modifications that can be made to this basic shape are almost limitless, leading to cabins which can be used as:
- Portable Offices
Lighting and power points, heating and air conditioning, carpeted floors, partitions and even network points lead to an environment suitable for any kind of office work. For larger workforces several cabins can be joined together with short linking passageways between. Such units can be made suitable for use as surgeries, construction site offices, temporary offices for local authorities and businesses – almost anything you can think of.
- Site Accommodation
Sleeper units with heating, lighting, beds and toilet/showers are available for remote work locations – providing warmth and comfort to two people per unit.
- Portable Kitchens/Canteens
Units for use as portable kitchens or combined canteen/kitchens are available from some suppliers with all the equipment necessary for catering for a large event, workplace, school, prison or community centre.
- Portable Toilets/Shower Blocks
Most profitable building suppliers will be able to provide toilet and shower blocks to help you comply with health and safety law or simply provide comfort and convenience for your visitors. For construction sites shower blocks with drying rooms are available while portable changing rooms with showers/toilets are ideal for sports clubs.
- Security Gatehouses
Smaller portable buildings with enhanced security measures are ideal for use as security gatehouses or ticket booths. They can be provided with windows on all sides for enhanced visibility as well as high security doors and glazing.
Portable Building Logistics
Portable buildings are usually delivered on a flat bed truck with a Hiab style loading crane for moving the building into position. Such a vehicle requires a good, wide access road but can lift a standard cabin over a fence or hedge.
If the building has adjustable jacklegs it can be placed on almost any type of solid ground. If not, slab and jack foundations might need to be used to level and support the cabin.
Connection to electricity supplies and mains water/sewers will need to be completed by a trained professional – check whether your portable building supplier provides these services.
Buildings of equal size can be stacked one on top of the other and metal stairs fixed in place for access. Some buildings can be stacked to more than two deep when ground space is limited – be sure to ask your supplier if this is something they can arrange.
Anti-vandal cabins have heavy duty steel window shutters and doors and heavy duty locks to prevent break-ins and thefts occurring when the buildings are unoccupied. Anti-vandal features are highly recommended for sites which are left empty and unguarded at night.
Portable Cabin Considerations
There are a number of factors to consider when choosing which portable building to buy or hire and who to buy or hire it from.
- Purchasing a portable building involves looking at specific buildings, often listed for sale on supplier websites with pictures and prices. New buildings can often be customised and fitted out for your specific needs – at a charge from the supplier - whereas a used building will need to be taken as it comes. Be sure to check the condition of the building before purchase and, if possible, check the building for unreported wear and damage before you sign off on delivery.
- Hiring a portable building for an event should be done well in advance to ensure availability and a delivery time that suits. For longer hire periods be sure to check whether delivery and collection fees are included or if they incur an extra charge. If you’re hiring a building with complicated fixtures or fittings check that the supplier takes responsibility for their continued operation and, in the case of toilet blocks, that regular cleaning and emptying (where required) is part of the service.
Whether you’re looking to hire or buy new or used portable buildings we recommend gathering quotes or prices from as many suppliers that cover your part of the country as possible. It’s worth bearing in mind when purchasing or hiring over a long period that delivery costs will only make up a small percentage of the overall cost so don’t be afraid to look a little further afield for the best prices.
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