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Company Repurposes Shipping Containers into Living, Working Environments

SG Blocks is helping architects, developers, builders and commercial clients build durable and sustainable structures using code-engineered shipping containers.

Over the years, commercial and residential buildings have become more sustainable. This shift is somewhat due to new regulations and requirements and an increasing demand for “greener buildings.”

One company paving the way for more sustainable construction is SG Blocks, which repurposes shipping containers into code-approved building blocks that can be used for a wide variety of environments, including residential, industrial, commercial and retail.

According to SG Blocks, these structures are environmentally green, strong and impervious, scalable and reconfigurable, mobile and portable and highly energy efficient.

Waste360 recently sat down with Paul Galvin, chairman and CEO of SG Blocks, to discuss the rise of modular construction and how these sustainable structures can help save both time and costs.

Waste360: Tell us about SG Blocks and its offerings.

Paul Galvin: SG Blocks is the premier provider of code-compliant construction. We repurpose shipping containers into code-approved building blocks that are used for residential, industrial, commercial and retail applications.

It’s also important to note that in March 2017, the engineers at SG Blocks got a technology approved by the International Code Council (ICC), and that was the first time in history that the ICC approved a recycled material (shipping container) for secondary use in the economy.

Waste360: What is GreenSteel and how it can be customized?

Paul Galvin: GreenSteel is the structural core and shell of an SG Blocks building, and our entry level delivery method includes the procurement of containers; the required openings for doors, windows and mechanical, electrical and plumbing connections; full side walls; structural steel reinforcements; and a fresh coat of paint in a color of the customer’s choice. Once the units are delivered to the building site, they are offloaded and prepared for a local general contractor to complete the finishing touches.

It’s through the precise design, the knowledge of the containers’ tolerances and the engineered strength of the containers that SG Blocks is a leader in the use of containers in construction.

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The process at SG Blocks is as much deconstruction as it is construction because you’re starting with a module and customizing it to fit your needs. Depending on the functionality of the space, you’re removing doorways, windows and side walls to create living or working spaces.

The container itself is a unique and robust building frame, and it is essentially earthquake and hurricane resistant. A large percentage of our population live in at-risk areas, so offering these strong structures that don’t cost an arm and a leg to build and maintain represents a real step forward in sustainable construction.

Waste360: How can using recyclable materials for construction help save time and costs and improve air quality?

Paul Galvin: Construction itself is a big vertical in our economy; it’s multi-trillion dollars in nature, but it’s an enormous polluter and slow integrator.

One statistic of traditional construction is that 30 percent of supplies for a high-rise project are either lost or wasted, and at SG Blocks, we are trying to reduce that amount and reduce the amount of time spent while your project is undergoing site construction.

For example, we can take the shipping containers approved by the department of buildings, modify them and fit them out to about a 90 to 95 perfect completion level so that when your foundation is reviewed and approved by the local department of buildings, we can start to deliver a finished module (320 square feet) every 20 minutes instead of just beginning construction. This allows your building to be rapidly erected, and the only thing left to be done onsite is closing, connection of utilities and connection of your base building to the infrastructure that was designed for it.

So, you ultimately save money by building in a controlled environment and paying a manufacturing wage. In a controlled environment, people are repeating the same buildable functions over and over again and becoming experts at reducing the number of unique modules needed to complete a building for manufacturing efficiency.

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Waste360: Tell us about the maintenance that comes along with the shipping containers and how long they are expected to last.

Paul Galvin: The containers are made out of COR-TEN steel, which is highly oxidized because they are engineered to be battered at sea and to undergo a lot of saltwater and erosion. They have a natural rusting process, and the steel provides a layer of protection that will allow them to still stand in 100 years.

We actually have been working with a financial institution that has been willing to underride 50-year mortgages on container-based projects by SG Blocks because of the longevity of the steel itself, which is a testament to the technology, and it reduces a barrier for people to make green decisions when buying a home or structure because the financing reduces some of those upfront payments.

Waste360: Can you explain the permitting process for a shipping container building project?

Paul Galvin: Modular construction is permitted and reviewed at the state level, and the site work is done by the local municipality. Each state doesn’t necessarily have its own structural engineers, but there are a group of professionally trained engineering companies that represent each state, do the project inspections and ensure the structures are 100 percent compliant before they are shipped to the site. Once the structure is delivered piece by piece to the site, the local municipality signs off on it.

Waste360: Can you talk about some of SG Block’s recent commercial projects?

Paul Galvin: At the beginning of the year, we built the NBA’s first training academy in Africa, which will train young and potentially up-and-coming pro basketball players for the NBA’s international arm.

Currently, we’re designing a series of affordable housing projects that will help reduce the barrier to homeownership and apartment rentals by reducing the cost of construction measurably during modular processes and by allowing the landlord to start collecting rent in half the time.

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We’re also working on a seasonal restaurant and bar that will be located in front of Pier A in Battery Park in New York. It’s in its final stages, and those interested in visiting can watch our website and social media for the announcement of the opening.

As with all of our projects, there are real savings and benefits to everyone involved. So, we’re hoping to see more and more developers and entrepreneurs select SG Blocks and container construction for midrise projects in urban America where they are needed.

Waste360: How do you think modular construction will change how buildings are made in the future?

Paul Galvin: I think modular construction is starting to take off in urban America, but it’s been largely in play in Europe for quite some time. A traditional builder in urban markets is building at a price of $500 to $600 per square foot, and that’s unsustainable for majority of businesses and households.

At SG Blocks, we are looking to deliver a better product, at a more competitive price, that can save time and costs. We believe modular construction is the way of the future, and that is what we are out to prove.

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