Which Portable Building Should You Choose?
Portable buildings fulfill a variety of uses and which one you choose depends on your site requirements, size requirements and need for mobility.
Steel buildings, modular buildings and office trailers are all considered portable buildings. However, there are significant differences between each that will help you determine which meets your needs. Here’s a quick rundown on each, with estimated costs.
Steel buildings are assembled on-site from a kit. As a result, you are not limited by size because the building is shipped in parts. You can build something as small as a storage shed or as large as a military barracks or equestrian arena. Other uses include:
Steel is a durable material and will certainly withstand the elements more than more the wood, wood composite and vinyl that comprise other portable structures.
Most steel buildings, however, are more stable when constructed on a concrete slab, which could severely limit their portability and compromise integrity in future construction. If you choose to purchase a steel building for use as a portable building, consider anchoring it in level ground and skip the foundation. You will need to factor in the time it takes to disassemble, transfer and re-assemble the building. You will also need a truck that accommodates the size of the kit. Further, the process may require several people or a hired crew every time you move it.
Fabric walled buildings are perhaps the most portable version of a steel building available. These are ideal for large spaces and are certified for wind and snow load. These cost about 30% less than conventional steel portable buildings.
Cost of a steel building can range from $16 to $125 per square foot. But the most common prices are $20 to $30 per square foot.
Modular buildings are almost entirely manufactured in a factory and shipped to the site. While this fact places certain limits on transportability, it is common for several modular structures to be connected on site, to create a larger or multi-level building. Many classrooms, offices, dormitories, medical labs, coffee/food stands and retail stores are modular and have a more traditional look, as they are built from wood, wood composite and vinyl. These materials are more susceptible to rot and cracking, which is something to consider if you plan to move the building frequently.
Most modular building retailers offer the convenience of customizing your building for wheel mounting and crane lifting. They will often fit smaller portable buildings with forklift pockets.
Cost of a modular building: $50 to $100 per square foot - commonly $55 to $90.
Office trailers are manufactured entirely in a factory and delivered to your site. You can expect to work within a limited size range when choosing an office trailer for your portable building. Office trailers are well suited for residences, small labs, and construction sites and are often used for temporary large-scale worksites as in crisis response, for example.
Office trailers are the most portable option, as they can be towed in whole, from site to site. This method of transport limits bumps and other types of impact that could damage the structure and the integrity of the materials. Unlike steel and modular buildings, office trailers can be rented or purchased which provides greater flexibility if your needs are temporary or unclear.
Cost of an office trailer: $100 to $500 per month rental fees; $20,000 and up to purchase.
- Quick Tip: Check your local zoning codes before purchasing or renting a portable building. You may need a permit. Also, ask your retailer about product certifications and inspections.