When Jack Steenhof calls the recently built Days Inn hotel at Sioux Lookout, Ont. “the largest steel shipping container-based hotel in North America” he’s hedging his bets—it may be the only shipping container-based hotel in North America.
"Steel shipping containers have been used to provide accommodation in resource sector camps, and in some student residences in Amsterdam, but it’s not a common practice for permanent hotel buildings," says Steenhof, president of Steenhof Building Services Group in Orillia, Ont.
Sioux Lookout features a highway, railway and busy airport and is a hub of resource development, in addition to being a popular tourist destination. Recognizing that the area was underserved by hotels, Steenhof partnered with Ladacor Ltd., a Calgary company specializing in modular construction using surplus sea shipping containers, to finance and build a two-storey, 60-room hotel. The finished hotel would demonstrate the success of the building technique.
"There’s an imbalance in trade in Canada, so often we wind up with surplus shipping containers," he says. "It makes no economic sense to send them back empty, so there are plenty of them available."
Steenhof performed the role of prime consultant, providing architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical and civil engineering services.
Ladacor procured about 130 shipping containers and finished the interiors to about 80 per cent, including windows, doors, drywall, insulation, and most plumbing and electrical work. Each set of rooms would be made up of three containers, with the middle container serving as two washrooms, one for each set of accommodations. Containers placed end to end would form the hallways, while other containers would form the laundry and storage rooms.
Before the containers arrived by flatbed truck, Steenhof prepared the site using the Utilidor system, a steel grill foundation system he developed. Supported by steel piles sunk to bedrock, the system would be used both as a foundation and also to create space between floors for utility service. A mini Utilidor would support the second-floor modules and provide additional utility space.
Bradanick Construction Services of Orillia was retained to build the hotel, which involved moving the container units into place, welding the containers to the foundation, providing drywall and insulation, making service connections, roofing and finishing the exterior. Modular assembly began in November 2013, with construction requiring 21 workers at the peak of activity.
"Rather than running both hot and cold water to each room, we just ran cold water and supplied each room with individual water heater tanks," says Steenhof. "Each water connection served four rooms, so we were able to establish water connections in about 90 minutes. Once we made the electrical connection to the main line, we had instant power for each module."
The exterior of the building was finished with rigid insulation, faux stone around the foundation and vinyl siding to the top of the second floor. A prefabricated entryway made of Douglas fir was assembled in three days. In addition to being virtually soundproof and fireproof, the hotel can easily be expanded, either outward or upward, using more Utilidor components and steel shipping containers.
The hotel opened on Dec. 9 after about 13 months of active construction.
"We were happy with the construction scheduling and costs, especially considering this was a pilot project" says Steenhof. "We were able to build this hotel for between $115,000 and $120,000 a door. In a future project we might trade a sloped, trussed roof for a flat roof and use a different sized shipping container to create a more traditionally sized smaller hotel unit and eliminate the corridor module. We estimate we could bring in future hotels for under $90,000 per door. We’ve already seen an incredible interest in building this sort of hotel from franchisees and owners at other hotel chains."