Work sites in the mining, mineral exploration, oil and gas, construction, natural resources, and research industries are often located in remote areas that tend to have harsh climates and less than optimum conditions. Such work sites tend to be geographically isolated, and not easily accessed by road – often requiring days of travel and using a number of methods to transport equipment, materials, supplies, and personnel.
Whether it is a small mineral exploration team scouting potential sites for future mining projects, or the establishment of a man camp for oil field operations, projects in these locations can be designed to operate for short periods of time (days, weeks, or months) and require a high degree of portability or solicit bids for establishing permanent workforce accommodations and on-site infrastructure to support full-time production efforts lasting years or decades.
This is a guide is for informational purposes. If planning a camp, we recommend contacting your state or country’s governing agency for rules and regulations related to using modular buildings for establishing temporary remote camps or permanent workforce camps.
The Need for Remote Camps and Modular Structures for Workforce Housing
Remote work sites can be so far removed from civilization that it’s impractical for workers, if not outright impossible for commuting and being able to work long shifts and meet the physical demands of remote jobs. In order to ensure a high-level of worker productivity, as well as attract and retain skilled work crews, companies recognize the need for providing safe and comfortable job site housing.
Whether it is prefabricated bunkhouses, living quarters, temporary worker housing, construction site housing, or employee housing, remote camps can quickly be established using modular structures to provide not only workforce accommodations but kitchen and dining facilities, as well as recreational facilities.
Read More About "The Challenges of Mining in Remote Areas and Extreme Climates"
Examples of Remote Field Camps and Extreme Site Conditions
When planning a remote camp, special consideration needs to be given to the climate, location, and the duration of the project. Real-world examples of different remote camps can illustrate the wide range of extreme conditions which some remote workforce camps must endure and withstand.
Remote Alaska Camps: Where the Yukon River Meets the Bering Sea
Mike Smith, owner and operator of Alaska Minerals Inc., has been providing the mining, construction and reclamation industries with remote camp systems for decades. The most remote work camp that Alaska Minerals operated was at the Western terminus of the Yukon River, about 20 miles from the Bering Sea. Equipment was transported from Anchorage to a small town on a river in the heart of Alaska. From there, a barge carried the equipment almost 800 miles to the site.
Mike and his crew had to fly in on a float plane from Bethel to set up the camp. The nearest supplies and provisions for the 18-person camp were only accessible via a 90-minute float plane flight from Bethel.
Providing remote camps and expediting services to isolated locations in Alaska requires a high degree of portability and durability. Equipment and portable buildings need to be compact and designed to withstands the rigors of being setup and taken down on a frequent basis, as well as endure transportation over harsh terrain.
Remote Camps Above the Arctic Circle in Northern Greenland
The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology operated a 12-person camp with a workshop and storage facilities on a remote site in Northern Greenland while conducting ice sheet research for nearly a decade. Located above the Arctic Circle, the research camp and its inhabitants were subjected to extreme arctic conditions, including temperatures as low as -60 degrees F and winds up to 110 miles per hour. The modular structures used to build the research camp were engineered to meet snow loads of 200 pounds per square foot. Depending on the season, scientists, researchers and staff experienced either 24 hours of sunlight or lived and worked in the winter darkness. Another consideration for polar camps, is extreme solar radiation. Because there is less atmospheric ozone above the poles, more UV radiation reaches the surface. Camp facilities and infrastructure must be specifically designed for use in Arctic climates to withstand prolonged exposure to high solar loads as well as function in extremely low temperatures.
When it comes to remote camps and research stations, few places on Earth are as remote as the Arctic and Antarctica.
High-Elevation Mount Everest Base Camps
There are two base camps on Mount Everest. The base camps are located approximately 12 miles from the summit of Mount Everest. The South Base Camp of Mount Everest, in Nepal, is situated at an elevation of 17,598 feet. The North Base Camp of Mount Everest is at an elevation of 16,900 feet and is located in China's Tibet Autonomous Region.
It is a short window between April and May when most climbers tempt their fate to climb Mount Everest. Mountaineers wishing to stand on the highest point on Earth – an elevation of 29,030 feet, typically start their journey in March, arriving at the Mount Everest base camp in late March where they spend time acclimating, preparing for their summit, and waiting for a break in weather when conditions at the peak are optimum.
Such remote base camps, which are located at the very edge of what the human body can withstand, need to be engineered for portability and designed to hold up to freezing temperatures, snow loads, frequent avalanches, sudden storms, and hurricane force winds.
Remote Camps for The Hottest Place on Earth
It’s not just cold weather camps in remote locations. Mining and mineral exploration companies operate in humid tropical jungles as well as in scorching hot and bone-dry deserts around the world. If there are valuable resources to be mined in remote locations, there is a need for modular structures for workforce accommodations.
Known as the hottest place on Earth, the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia is visually stunning and described as being “out of this world”. Its unique terrain is something you’d expect to see in a sci-fi movie, but in reality, it is a deadly place to conduct mining, exploration and drilling operations for any sustained period of time. With an elevation of -330 feet below sea level, temperatures can soar as high as 125 degrees F and routinely exceed 100 degrees F. Formed as a result of diverging plates in the northern part of the Afar Triangle, the Danakil Depression requires building solutions designed for extremely high temperatures, unrelenting solar loads, and the ability to withstand the sand-blasting effect of strong desert winds.
A Zinc Mine Threatened by Windy Conditions and Corrosive Sea Spray
The world’s largest zinc mine is located in the DeLong Mountains of the western Brooks Range of Alaska. A 52-mile road is used to haul the ore to crushing and processing facilities, where it is then transported to the mine’s port site on the Chukchi Sea by way of overland conveyors. The port site is located approximately 90 miles north of Kotzebue, Alaska and above the Arctic Circle. Travel to the remote zinc mine is done by air, or during a 100-day shipping window.
In this particular location, snow falls for more than half the year and winter storms can bring hurricane force winds of more than 100 miles per hour as well as blizzard and white out conditions. Being located on the coast, mining equipment, mine site infrastructure, and the material handling systems are subjected to not only severe winter conditions, but a continuous blast of corrosive sea spray.
When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation learned of finely ground ore escaping from uncovered conveyors into the surrounding environment and ocean, the mining company was fined civil penalties and risked being shut down if not corrected in 30 days. The mine’s environmental supervisor quickly set out to develop a solution to control the “fugitive dust”.
Building a mile-long conveyor enclosure out of timber would take too long. Metal buildings when exposed to the sea spray would quickly corrode and the hurricane force winds would “rip the panels right off” as stated by one of the material planners on the project.
It was decided the best solution for designing and building a conveyor belt containment system was to use engineered fabric structures capable of withstanding the corrosive sea spray and meet the wind and snow loads for safety and durability.
This particular mining company also chose to build a mining camp capable of providing workforce accommodations for 500 employees and contractors, workshops, equipment and repair facilities, and more than 50,000 square-feet of warehouse space using engineered fabric structures.
Learn More About "Fabric Buildings For Mining Facilities"
Planning a Remote Work Camp
The above examples highlight some of the challenges associated with planning a remote work camp and how to choose the best type of buildings for workforce accommodations in remote locations. Each remote camp, be it for mining, mineral exploration, oil and gas, construction, or for the science and research industries, is unique and requires a high degree of planning, including knowing the extreme climate conditions, understanding the terrain and logistical issues of getting equipment, supplies, and personnel to the site, and the building requirements of the remote camp project. Perhaps just as important, if not the most significant aspect of planning a remote work camp – relying on proven experience and building technology from a company capable of engineering modular structures specifically designed to meet the functional challenges while providing lifesaving technology in the most extreme environments.
Whether you are working with an engineering, procurement, construction management (EPCM) firm, as part of an EPC contract, or whether your site director, operations manager, or lead scientist is working with a consulting firm or directly with suppliers, it is essential to follow these steps for successfully planning and designing a remote camp or modular buildings for workforce accommodations in remote locations:
- The planning and engineering design of the remote camp project must be completed to ensure a full and comprehensive solution for providing workforce accommodations and support infrastructure needed to carry out the requirements of the operation, including meeting local or international regulations and building codes for safety.
- Procurement of all the equipment and materials needed for the remote camp project is done at the right time to streamline operations and minimize risk by utilizing strict quality control processes to ensure equipment arrives safely, has all the necessary parts, and is tested for quality and compliance. In such remote locations, it’s not as simple as going to the local hardware store if you forget a bag of bolts needed to assemble a critical piece of equipment!
- Oversee and manage the construction of worker housing as well as other camp facilities to ensure they are completed per the designed engineering specifications, meet safety and environmental regulations, and to deliver a functional and complete camp system on-budget and on-time.
Do You Have An Urgent Camp Requirement? Talk to a camp specialist by calling (907) 344-1565 or send us an inquiry describing your remote camp system by clicking here!
Remote Camp Rules and Regulations
Different countries have different regulations for remote work camps, and different agencies that regulate, enforce, and oversee the establishment and management of permanent or temporary structures used by employees as living quarters. The overarching goal of all these governing agencies is to ensure potential risks to human health and the environment are managed accordingly.
There are many terms used to describe remote camps. Below is a listing of a handful of governing agencies (by country) and the terms they use to describe remote camps:
Remote Camp Regulations in Canada
- The term “Industrial Camp” is used by the British Columbia Ministry of Health to describe camps where people are employed or accommodated and used for forestry, saw mills, mining, canneries, and oil and gas activities. There are different regulations established for small and emergency camps occupied by less than 5 people, used for emergency purposes, or not occupied for a period of more than 7 days.
- The Worker’s Safety and Compensation Commission of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut uses the term “Camps” in their Camp Set Up and Management Codes of Practice document (PDF), published in accordance with the Safety Acts and Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) regulations. The guide provides information to properly equipping field camps or rented accommodations for field workers with adequate working, eating, and sleeping arrangements.
- The province of Alberta’s Public Health Act uses the term “Work Camps” to refer to “one or more buildings established to accommodate persons who are employed in mining, lumbering, construction, drilling, resource exploration or any other similar industry.”
- Environmental Health Services (EHS), which is part of Yukon Health and Social Sciences provides educational, consulting, inspection, surveillance, and enforcement services to individuals, businesses, and governments interested in establishing a “Camp Facility” in the Yukon.
Camp Management Standards for the United States
- “Temporary Labor Camps” is the term used by the United States Department of Labor and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Created by the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act, this agency is responsible for enforcing health and safety laws at the federal level.
- States may have their own governing agency, like the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in Alaska for ensuring “Remote Temporary Camps” engaged in “commercial recreation (guided hunting, rafting, wilderness fishing, etc.) or industrial activities (mining, exploration, labor, construction, etc.)” are permitted and adhere to further and specific management policies to protect Alaska’s natural resources, the environment, as well as human health and safety.
- The Mexican Mining Law Regulations and Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution regulate mining issues. The application of the Mining Law and its regulations is the responsibility of the Federal Executive (President’s Office) through the Ministry of Economy and the Dirección General de Minas (Mexican Mines Bureau). All mining activities, including the staking, maintaining, exploring, exploitation, and temporary occupation of a proposed area require a mining concession – a written agreement between the operator of the mining project and with the Public Registry of Mines (“PRM”).
For more information or guidance on planning a remote camp to comply with local, state, or federal regulations, we recommend you contact the agencies above. If you plan to establish a remote camp in a country not listed, please research and contact that country’s governing agency.
Additional Considerations for Planning a Remote Camp in Alaska
Because of the numerous agencies that are responsible for regulating remote camps around the world, this guide will focus on how to plan a remote camp in Alaska as an example throughout this and the next couple of sections.
As previously discussed, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is responsible for the conservation and protection of natural resources, the environment, and human health and safety in Alaska. The DEC is also responsible for ensuring camp operators are permitted and adhere to policies and act responsibly.
When it comes to planning a camp in Alaska, the DEC considers a camp with a daily maximum of 24 people and operates for less than 14 days a short-term camp that does not need specific review or approval. Camp operators of such camps are encouraged to follow best practices outlined in the “Temporary Camp Practices – Consolidated Application and Worksheet” document (PDF) available on their website.
Small Temporary Camps in Alaska
The DEC defines a small temporary camp as having a daily maximum of 24 people that operates for more than 14 days. In Alaska, the DEC designates an area as “remote” if it doesn’t have year-round access to a road system, and at least 25 miles to the nearest community or paved highway.
Solid Waste and Wastewater Regulations for Temporary and Remote Camps
Small temporary camps will need a privy or toilets of some sort that either incinerate or compost human waste, minimizing the environmental impact. If any other type of human waste system is used, such as a septic system or holding tank, plan approval may be necessary.
In addition to wastewater, gray water must be treated and disposed of properly, regulations vary according to the amount of gray water produced and the duration of the camp. Gray water is the wastewater from sinks, showers, baths, laundry, and kitchens.
Solid waste not disposed of in the privy or toilet must be taken to a transfer station unless the camp has a DEC permit to construct an on-site landfill. Burnable waste — including paper, cardboard, and food scraps — can be burned on-site, but only in a fire pit, burn barrel, or burn box.
Potable Water and Food Service for Remote Camps
If the camp is in an area where the federal government provides oversight, such as in a national park or military reservation, federal food safety requirements apply, rather than Alaska Food Code.
The minimum requirements for camp food service are as follows:
- A certified food protection manager (CFPM) oversees the camp.
- On-site food workers must have food service training and an Alaska food worker card.
- Food must be from an approved source and served immediately after preparation.
- Facilities for cleaning hands, equipment and utensils, and the kitchen are required.
- All aspects of food service, including cooking, drinking, and hand-washing, must use potable water.
Adequate potable water is necessary for remote camp facilities. Most small temporary camps use a surface water source. The optimal source is moving water, as opposed to a lakeshore or other still water source. Surface water must be filtered, disinfected and must adhere to National Sanitation Foundation standards.
Surface water can be treated with a variety of processes to remove contaminants, including media filters, reverse osmosis, micro-filtration, or ion exchange. Next, either chlorine or UV treatment is used to disinfect the water to the state’s drinking water standards before transferring to a potable water storage tank. The water tank must be large enough to supply two and one-half times the hourly demand.
A water supply that is capable of delivering 35 gallons of potable water per person per day is required. Modular structures providing camp accommodations must be no further than 100 feet from a water supply if water is not piped to the structures. Facilities for heating water are required.
Large Temporary Camps or Remote Camps for Permanent Workforce Accommodations
The DEC defines large temporary camps as having more than 25 people, or that operate for more than 14 days. Large temporary camps or large remote camps for permanent workforce accommodations in Alaska require special permitting, authorization, and approval to operate. Wastewater disposal, food service, and drinking water must have engineered plans submitted to the DEC for approval.
How to Calculate the Size of a Remote Camp
OSHA regulations have a more direct impact on the particular details of a work camp, such as dimensions and measurements. These regulations are not specific to Alaska and pertain to all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and certain territories and jurisdictions. Regulations such as these dictate the size and number of various facilities, affecting camp size.
When calculating the size of a remote work camp, keep in mind that all supplies and equipment will need to be stored on-site and in adequate facilities. Pharmacies, groceries, and hospitals will generally be at least a day away, if not more.
Determining the Level of Camp Accommodations
According to Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation, each occupant in a room must have at least 50 square feet of floor space and at least a seven-foot ceiling. In rooms where workers cook, live, and sleep, a minimum of 100 square feet is required. Beds and storage must be spaced no closer than 36 inches apart and must be at least 12 inches from the floor.
The floors of the shelters must be made of wood, asphalt, or concrete. Wood floors must be elevated at least 12 inches from the ground.
All living quarters must have windows that make up at least one-tenth of the floor’s area. One half of each window must be able to be opened. All exterior openings of camp housing facilities must have screens, and the screens must be self-closing.
Remote camps may offer different levels of accommodations for directors, supervisors, managers, and laborers. Mike from Alaska Minerals typically operates small remote camps, under 25 people. When he gets requests for single-person sleepers and two-person sleepers, he provides a 12-foot by 20-foot modular building configured accordingly.
Hygiene Facilities for Remote Camps
When it comes to planning hygiene facilities for remote camps, it’s important to know the regulation that toilets must be accessible without a worker passing through sleeping quarters and must be within 200 feet of each sleeping unit, but no closer than 100 feet. Hygiene facilities for remote camps must have a window measuring at least 6 feet squared, with screens. Rooms with toilets may not be used for any other purpose. More than 15 people may not share toilet facilities, and a minimum of two toilets is required for any shared restroom facility.
When it comes to portable restroom facilities, the Alaska Shower-In-A-Box™ and Alaska Latrine-In-A-Box™ systems were developed for rapidly deployable military operations. These types of hygiene facilities are ideal for use in remote work camps. These units contain the necessary plumbing with fast connections. Handles allow the portable shower and portable toilet systems for remote camps to be easily carried into place. They are also designed to be stacked and equipped with forklift pockets, making loading and unloading an easy process. For larger camps, we typically recommend containerized hygiene facilities.
One laundry tub per every 30 people is required, as well as facilities for drying clothes.
Kitchen and Dining Facilities for Work Camps
A properly constructed kitchen and dining hall that are separate from sleeping quarters are required for remote camps.
It’s important to take into account how many people will be sitting at a time. For example, in a 500-person camp, will all 500 camp workers be eating their meals at the same time, or will they be split into two shifts, so the remote camp requires a 250-person dining facility?
When determining the size of a kitchen and dining facility for a remote camp, consider the space needed for serving, easy access for personnel, equipment, and food, the number of tables and chairs, and a location for tray return, recycling, and waste disposal.
For remote camps in muddy or dirty locations, it may be required to incorporate a mud room with hand-washing stations. Large work camps should consider a mine dry facility, providing workers a separate facility to return to after a dirty day of work to shower and clean before retreating to community areas or their living quarters.
Heating Requirement for Work Camps in Cold Weather
In Alaska, if a camp operates in cold weather, per DEC regulations - heating is required. Living structures for workforce accommodations must be capable of maintaining at least 70 degrees F.
First Aid Facilities and Medical Clinics for Remote Camps
First aid facilities that are approved by a health authority are required for remote camps in Alaska. A trained person must be in charge of the on-site medical facilities. Because medical care is often hours or even days away, the medical clinic is responsible for providing first aid and emergency treatment to injured workers.
Depending the size of the camp, the medical clinic may be a single-bed medical shelter with basic first aid services, or if for a large permanent camp with hundreds of workers, it could be a mobile field hospital – complete with on-staff doctors to carry out more advanced levels of patient care.
Additional Camp Facilities
In addition to dormitories and workforce accommodations for providing on-site living quarters, dining facilities, field kitchens, and restroom buildings, many remote camps need additional building solutions to support their mining, mineral exploration, oil and gas, construction, or research operations.
Recreational Facilities and Indoor Sports Centers for Remote Camps
To keep morale high, companies operating large work camps in remote locations can include facilities for personnel to relax, unwind, or exercise. In such remote locations, the environment is often extreme enough to prevent outdoor recreation. Recreation facilities, indoor sports centers, gyms and fitness centers are a great way to attract and retain valuable workers on remote projects.
- Media room with television or internet service
- Weight and fitness room
- Quiet space for prayer or meditation
- Massage therapy
- Indoor sport courts for indoor tennis, basketball, etc.
- Indoor sports fields for indoor soccer, football, etc.
- Community or multipurpose room for activities
Learn More About "Gymnasiums and Athletic Facilities"
Equipment Storage and Maintenance Facilities for Remote Camps
The industries that tend to utilize remote work camps have big equipment, such as earth movers, drills, rock crushers, and large haul trucks, among others. This equipment will need storage and maintenance facilities to extend their useful life, especially in extreme environments. Heat and cold can both be hard on heavy equipment, as can wind-blown sand and saltwater. Climate-controlled facilities are crucial to the proper functioning of equipment in such remote environments.
Fuel Storage Facilities
Diesel-powered generators provide the power supply for virtually all remote camps. In order to determine what size generator you will need for your remote camp, we recommend you make a list of the appliances and electrical equipment a typical worker would have, multiply that by the number of workers in the camp, and then determine the starting and running wattage for each of the appliances and fixtures. Add all the wattages to determine the generator size you need.
If operating a remote camp, we recommend storage facilities to safely store the fuel safely away from main area of the camp.
Just like the remote zinc mine in Alaska, some remote camps can only be accessed by plane. If the project requires a remote camp to operate year-round, in order to keep aircraft protected from the elements and above freezing temperatures, temporary hangars or permanent aircraft hangar facilities can be used. The type and number of aircraft to be stored, as well as the required maintenance and repair space, will determine the size of the aircraft hangar facility needed.
Read More About "Renting Versus Buying Your Aircraft Hangar"
Remote Camps and Modular Building Options for Workforce Housing
Remote camps commonly rely on trailers, shipping containers, steel buildings, wood-built structures, and concrete and brick-and-mortar buildings to house their workforces, but each of these has its own drawbacks. Technological advances in materials and engineering have transformed the Quonset Hut and prospector tents of the old days into modern modular structures that are extremely portable, long-lasting, and durable. Engineered fabric buildings are proving themselves to be a great asset for quickly establishing temporary or permanent camps and workforce housing solutions in hard to access and remote locations.
Trailers for Workforce Housing Accommodations and Man Camps
Trailers are modular buildings that can be insulated to protect against the hot and cold weather of different environments. These buildings are prefabricated and are generally transported one or two units at a time on a flat-bed 18-wheeler tractor-trailer. If being transported by a freight company, the transport fee can be upwards of dollars-per-mile, depending on the regulations, conditions and length of the trip. Due to their size and the inability to transport more than two construction trailers at a time, this modular building solution can quickly become a logistical nightmare when transporting to remote sites, especially to remote camp locations without road access.
Extensive site preparation, permitting, and inspections are needed for the installation of trailer camps. In addition to requiring foundations, as well as the installation and pre-arrangement of utilities, additional land must be prepared for the arrival and maneuvering of numerous 100-foot-long semi-trailer trucks. If not equipped with tilt-trailers, cranes or forklifts will be required on-site to unload the trailers from the flat-bed and place on the foundation.
For areas only accessible by port, fees can quickly compound with a daily demurrage charge of $75 to $150 per container, per day. Should a remote camp using trailers experience a delay, the cost for storing containers either at the terminal or in a container yard generally increases over time.
When it comes to permitting construction trailers or individual site trailers, it depends on the municipality in which the trailers will be located. There is some ambiguity with trailers being classified as a building versus being considered a temporary and mobile structure. As such, trailers used for remote camps and workforce housing may not meet building codes. It is the responsibility of the camp operator to do their ‘homework’ and follow the rules of their local municipality to determine if an individual site trailer or construction trailers are allowed on their remote site with or without a permit, and to ensure it will meet building codes for safety.
Repurposing Shipping Containers
Shipping containers are modular, are made of steel, and have standardized sizes. The most common shipping container size is 8 feet wide, 8.5 feet tall, and either 20 or 40 feet in length. Originally designed to create a secure and standard intermodal container without the need for unloading or reloading goods, and capable of being stacked and transported by ship, rail, or truck.
High-cube shipping containers are available with a height of 9.5 feet.
Containers are referred to by many names, including:
- Freight container
- ISO container
- Shipping container
- Intermodal container
- Sea container, sea can or ocean container
- CONEX box
A report in 2012, estimated 20.5 million shipping containers were in use worldwide. Roughly 90% of the world’s shipping containers are made in China.
Standard 20-foot shipping containers have an empty weight of 4,850 lb. and share the same logistical issues (described above) as using individual site trailers for remote camps and workforce accommodations.
Repurposing used shipping containers may sound like a practical solution. The reality is steel is a great conductor of heat and cold. Controlling the interior temperature of steel containers for construction site housing or employee housing requires adding insulation. When properly insulated, especially in hot and cold climates, the interior living space is reduced. Windows that meet work camp regulations will need to be cut-out and installed. Heating or cooling systems will need to be added.
The time to make these modifications and meet building codes as well as temporary work camp regulations make using shipping containers for remote work sites impractical. Additionally, CONEX boxes for sale have typically been used for 10-years or more and are at the end of their operational life. Unless you are purchasing new shipping containers, there will likely be lots of upkeep and maintenance.
Metal or Steel Buildings
Steel buildings are another prefabricated building solution sometimes used for establishing remote work camps. They can be set up in a shorter period of time when compared to concrete buildings, as well as traditional brick-and-mortar construction.
Steel buildings require extensive site preparation and foundations. Trained technicians and skilled labor are needed to property construct a steel building. You will also need machinery and equipment (like a backhoe or a front loader), to move the heavy metal pieces into place.
A typical steel building that measures 8-feet wide by 8-feet tall by 8-feet long (an 8’ x 8’ x 8’ steel building) that is IBC-compliant weighs approximately 2,215 pounds. So, shipping a large number of modular structures for workforce housing and remote camp facilities made using steel buildings can be expensive.
Like shipping containers, metal buildings are great conductors of heat and cold. If operating a remote work camp in a hot or cold climate, expensive insulation packages will need to be installed to increase energy efficiency and maintain a comfortable interior living temperature.
Perhaps one of the biggest disadvantages to metal or steel buildings is the inability to be easily taken down and relocated as the needs of a project change. For this reason, steel buildings should be considered a semi-permanent or permanent building solution.
Upkeep and maintenance on steel buildings is comparable to repurposed shipping containers. Oxidation and rust are a steel building’s worst nightmare. If the remote camp is located on a coastal area where sea spray is present, an alternative building solution should be considered. The corrosive sea spray will quickly eat away protective coatings, exposing the metal structure to salt. Metal repair work needs to be performed once this happens to remain structurally sound and safe for human occupation.
Buildings made of wood can be built to provide strong and durable structures for remote camps. Just as your house was most likely designed by an architect, planning committee, or development firm, approved and permitted by a governing agency, and then constructed using licensed and bonded home builders and contractors, many of the same rules apply when building wood structures for remote camps.
Wood buildings need to be designed to meet building codes and constructed per regulations to be safe, structurally sound, and weatherproof. Unless you have hired an experienced and licensed builder or have one on staff, a wood structure slapped together with 2 by 4 wood, encased with plywood sheets and a covered roof with tarps will not meet building regulations and could put workers’ safety and lives at risk.
One of the many disadvantages to building camp structures out of wood is that it is heavy, and the timber used for wood buildings is large and difficult to transport to remote sites. Wood buildings also have long construction timelines. In extreme heat or cold climates, this can be labor and time intensive and also put builders at risk of heat stroke or frostbite.
In locations with variable weather – especially for climates that experience large fluctuations in relative humidity, timber used to build wood frame buildings can shrink and swell. Though it depends on the type of wood and how it is treated, the volumetric shrinkage for most wood species is typically within the range of 9% to 15%. Overtime, the continual shrinkage and swelling of wood could result in a weakening of the structure.
Depending on the location of the remote camp, wood buildings may have issues with termites and other pests. Special consideration should be made in determining the type and quality of wood used in such locations.
Though it is easier to take down, relocate, and re-use a wood frame building compared to a metal building, this is a time and labor-intensive job that can take days, weeks, or months depending on the size of the work camp and number of modular structures. For this reason, and for the purposes of this guide, we generally consider wood buildings as semi-permanent or permanent structures.
Concrete Buildings and Concrete Tilt-Up Construction
Although robust and resistant to rot, concrete tilt-up construction and concrete buildings requires extensive pre-construction and site work, as well large concrete foundations. Whether pre-cast concrete or poured-in-place concrete, delivering concrete materials to a remote location is logistically and financially unfeasible. For comparison, an 8-foot wide by 8-foot high by 8-foot long precast concrete building that is IBC complaint weighs approximately 19,000 pounds!
The construction timeline for concrete buildings is long – on order of months to years, depending on the scope and size of the building or site infrastructure required. Constructing buildings made of concrete, requires the use of heavy equipment and large crews of skilled workers.
As previously discussed, the weather in remote locations isn’t typically optimum, and in some cases may only allow concrete construction work to be performed during a short seasonal window. Weather can wreak havoc and interfere with the construction of concrete buildings. Cement needs to be stored in dry and weatherproof buildings. Rain, snow and cold temperatures can all affect the pouring, curing and performance of concrete buildings. Strong winds and sudden storms pose a safety risk when erecting concrete tilt-up walls prior to bracing.
Once built, a concrete building is there to stay. The logistics and costs to relocate a concrete building can quickly exceed the cost of constructing a new facility. For this reason, concrete buildings aren’t a good solution for remote camps and modular structures for workforce accommodations.
Similar to concrete buildings, structures made from traditional materials like brick-and-mortar do not offer fast construction times, require extensive site preparations, foundations, large work crews, and heavy equipment. The logistics and expense of transporting bulk materials to remote sites makes conventional buildings a highly unlikely or good choice.
Additionally, brick-and-mortar buildings are typically very heavy and require certain soil densities or degree of compaction for construction. In remote areas, this may not be feasible either because the soil type or properties will not support the weight of a traditional building and could lead to significant and dangerous amount of settlement. Or, other variable factors such as a change in water content could result in fluctuations in soil volume and deterioration. If considering constructing a conventional building in a remote location, is advisable to hire a geotechnical engineer or civil engineer to perform soil tests. This is especially important, if you intend to build a facility in a seismically active area.
Advantages of Engineered Fabric Buildings for Remote Work Camps
While the idea of using a fabric material to cover a frame system isn’t a new concept, advances in technology and material engineering allow companies to develop long-lasting and innovative building solutions capable of meeting any functional or environmental challenge. Engineered fabric buildings offer many unique benefits when it comes to the planning, designing, and construction of modular buildings for workforce accommodations and remote camps.
What is an Engineered Fabric Building?
It’s important to note that simply tensioning a fabric material over a metal frame doesn’t qualify as an engineered fabric building. While many companies produce such tensioned fabric buildings and use ‘blanket’ engineering statements to claim their buildings will withstand up to a specified wind or snow load, is not only mis-leading but dangerous. Relying on a non-engineered structure of any sort, in a remote location and when exposed to extreme elements like searing desert or frigid arctic temperatures and hurricane force winds puts workers and staff lives at risk.
So, what differentiates a typical tensioned fabric building from an engineered fabric building? For the purposes of this guide, we will use the definition provided by Alaska Structures, the world’s leading supplier of engineered fabric buildings for remote camps and modular structures for workforce accommodations. According to Carolyn Bishop, Director of Commercial Programs at Alaska Structures:
"An engineered fabric building is a custom-designed building solution that meets local or international building codes. We take a unique approach during the consultation and planning process to ensure we have a thorough understanding of how the customer intends to use engineered fabric buildings for remote workforce housing and on-site support infrastructure. Our in-house engineering team uses this information, along with advanced 3D model analysis to perform detailed computer-generated load simulations. We also utilize field and laboratory testing to ensure our buildings, energy-saving products, and support systems meet our customer’s expectation and provide an unmatched level of safety and durability."
As you can imagine, a company that goes to such extensive lengths to design and engineer custom-built structures that meet their client’s specific building needs is a very different purchasing experience than going to a big box retailer and buying something off-the-shelf. The process of custom designing, engineering, and testing individual building systems to ensure a level of adherence and dependability is cost prohibitive of most, if not all other fabric building providers.
For companies like Alaska Structures, it isn’t just the advanced simulations and real-world testing that sets their unique and engineered fabric buildings apart. The company has been developing state-of-the-art building solutions for five decades. With more than 325,000 square feet of manufacturing, engineering, as well as research and development space, no other fabric building supplier comes close to matching their production capability and level of expertise. Since 1999, more than 55,000 engineered fabric structures have been designed, manufactured, and delivered on time, and within budget to remote locations around the world.
It should not come as a surprise; the above-mentioned building challenges were all solved by using engineered fabric buildings from Alaska Structures:
- Man camps for expediting services to remote and isolated locations in Alaska.
- Remote camps used for scientific research above the Arctic Circle, in Northern Greenland.
- Highly portable and engineered structures for guide companies providing lodging to climbers at the Base Camp of Mount Everest - at an elevation of 17,500 feet.
- Camp systems and modular buildings for workforce accommodations to conduct mining and mineral exploration in the hottest place on Earth – 330 feet below sea level - in the Danakil Depression of Ethiopia, Africa.
- 500-Person camp, on-site mining buildings, and an overland conveyor enclosure – more than a mile long - for a zinc mine above the Arctic Circle with 30-days’ notice of being shut down, and capable of withstanding corrosive sea-spray.
When planning a remote camp or modular structure(s) for workforce housing in harsh environments, it is critical for supporting business operations and protecting workers and staff to choose engineered fabric buildings. Gain peace-of-mind knowing ‘it will work’ using an engineered fabric building vs. ‘hoping it works’ with other non-engineered tensioned structures.
Need Help Planning a Remote Camp? Contact us by calling (907) 344-1565 or send us an inquiry describing the building needs for your remote camp project by completing our online form!
Why Choose an Engineered Fabric Building for Modular Workforce Accommodations and Remote Camps?
In this guide, we have explored the idea of using traditional building materials and methods, concrete and concrete tilt-up buildings, steel and metal buildings, repurposed shipping containers, construction trailers and individual site trailers, as well as wood-built structures. While some of these building solutions are better than others, none of them check all the boxes one should consider when planning and building a remote camp or remote facilities for workforce housing.
Below are summarized explanations of the benefits engineered fabric building provide. The information contained was provided by building engineers at Alaska Structures.
Portable Fabric Buildings or Permanent Fabric Buildings. Engineered fabric structures can be designed for exceptional portability – making them the perfect building solution for establishing remote camps, including fly-in camps or to areas only accessible by small pickup trucks or ATVs. As was the case with the base camp facilities of Mount Everest, special consideration was required to design portable buildings capable of being transported by yak. By design, engineered fabric buildings offer a greater degree of portability than traditional and conventional building types. This also holds true for permanent buildings made using engineered fabric structures. While large permanent buildings can be constructed and left in place for decades of use, should the needs of the business or operation change, it can easily be taken down and relocated or repurposed for continued use. Building specialists at Alaska Structures work with companies, EPCM firms, camp operators, site directors, operations managers, or lead scientists to determine the level of portability needed, and then engineer modular buildings to meet customer and environmental specifications.
Prefabricated Building Solutions. In addition to portability, engineered fabric buildings are a type of prefabricated building solution. Meaning, they are pre-built and then disassembled for transport to their location, where they are quickly assembled to provide on-site housing and accommodations.
Minimal Foundation Requirements. Compared to other building solutions, engineered fabric buildings do not require extensive foundations. Depending on the site conditions, remote camp regulations, and intended use, an engineered fabric building may be placed directly on the ground. Other options include anchoring the engineered fabric structure to insulated and modular flooring panels, concrete or wood pilings, footers, pre-cast concrete blocks, spanned across shipping containers, or on concrete slabs. A number of anchoring methods are available for engineered fabric buildings allowing them to be secured on nearly any level surface. For environmentally sensitive areas, Alaska Structures makes adjustable flooring systems that provide a raised platform, allowing their modular structures to be securely and safely used on uneven ground types with minimal environmental impact.
Reduced Logistics. Engineered fabric buildings, especially those from Alaska Structures, are designed with portability in mind. The low cube shipping provides a substantial savings in the logistics to transport the structures needed to quickly build a remote camp. For comparison, a 53-feet-long flat-bed trailer can haul two 20-foot-long work site trailers, capable of sleeping a total of four people (based on sleeping units meeting an 80 square feet of floor space per person regulation). The same 53-feet-long flat-bed trailer can haul five insulated 24-feet-wide by 60-feet-long HGX Series™ building systems from Alaska Structures, capable of providing open-sleeping accommodations for 90 people. If you are looking to provide workers and staff with private sleeping quarters, the Denali Building System™ from Alaska Structures combines the portability and convenience of fabric buildings with the privacy of hard-wall sleeping shelters.
Shorter Construction Schedules. When time is of the essence, delays or long construction schedules can be very costly. Engineered fabric buildings from Alaska Structures can be designed to provide workforce accommodations for 1-4 persons in less than 10-minutes. These expeditionary building systems employ a revolutionary arch design that allows for small teams to quickly establish housing units in remote locations. It’s not just small portable buildings that offer shorter construction schedules. A large fabric building – similar to what may be used for on-site warehousing measuring 80-feet-wide by 100-feet-long and with a peak height of 35-feet, 6-inches can be assembled in as little as 14 days. When compared to the timelines of more conventional building systems, the shorter construction schedules of engineered fabric buildings offer companies an exceptional opportunity for saving money and beginning operations in a fraction of the time.
Easy Setup. Installation of engineered fabric buildings is much easier than all the other building systems described in this guide. Alaska Structures goes to great lengths to create permanent and portable building solutions that can be setup by non-skilled labor and without the need for expensive setup crews to remain under warranty. Other building types including steel buildings or concrete tilt-up construction, and even other fabric building providers require skilled labor and expensive construction crews to install their buildings properly in order to meet warranty requirements.
Minimal Tool Requirement. As we have discussed, not all building types are created equal. Engineered fabric buildings for remote camps, workforce accommodations, and on-site support buildings can be designed with a minimal tool requirement. This allows companies working in remote locations to setup an engineered fabric structure without the need for heavy machinery or an extensive amount of hand tools. This is especially important in environments with extreme conditions, like the Arctic or Antarctic, where temperatures and wind-chill can make the simplest task a life-threatening adventure.
High Strength Frame Systems. Alaska Structures custom designs and engineers fabric buildings to meet customer’s specific requirements. All their buildings are free-span structures, meaning there are no internal support columns. This provides an unobstructed interior for maximum use of the space. Typical widths of buildings engineered by the team at Alaska Structures start at 8-feet-wide and go up to 150-feet-wide. Just as you would design a conventional building, customers are able to specify the side-wall height and length of their engineered fabric building. Special projects requiring a large fabric building greater than 150-feet-wide are available.
What are fabric building frames made of? Alaska Structures offers the following:
- Aluminum Frame Buildings. For customers requiring a lightweight and highly portable building solution, Alaska Structures engineers and produces aluminum frame buildings. The aircraft grade aluminum provides a significant reduction in weight, which is perfect for customers requiring a high degree of portability such as exploration camps, research facilities, fly-camps, or modular structures for remote camps and workforce housing. Aluminum frame buildings from Alaska Structures are available in widths up to 40-feet. Depending on the required wind and snow loads, site conditions, and intended use, an aluminum frame fabric building may be a great solution if you are looking to reduce logistics and transportation costs!
So, how much does a fabric building weigh compared to the other building solutions? Below is a comparison of building weights:
- A concrete structure measuring 8-feet-wide by 8-feet-long by 8-feet-tall weighs approximately 19,000 pounds!
- An empty shipping container measuring 8-feet-wide by 20-feet-long by 8.5-feet-tall weighs 4,850 pounds!
- A prefabricated steel building measuring 8-feet-wide by 8-feet-long by 8-feet-tall weighs 2,215 pounds!
- An engineered fabric building measuring 8-feet-wide by 8-feet-long by 8-feet-tall with an aluminum frame system from Alaska Structures weighs 624 pounds. This includes a 30-inch-wide by 72-inch-high framed personnel door.
If only considering the weight to ship (excluding the logistics and shipping cube), for the price of one concrete structure, you could ship approximately 30 engineered fabric buildings!
- Galvanized Steel Frame Buildings. For projects that require a high-strength building, steel frame fabric buildings offer superior protection for remote locations with heavy wind and snow loads. Alaska Structures provides steel framed buildings in single arch and double arch systems. Depending on the building size, as well as the site conditions, and building codes, a single arch building may work for your remote camp or on-site infrastructure needs. Single arch fabric buildings typically go up to a width of 30-feet. Large clear-span buildings from 30-feet-wide to 150-feet-wide (and greater) employ a double arch truss design and are a great solution if you are considering building a warehouse, require a large dining facility to feed workers and staff, need an aircraft hangar to store planes or helicopters, or an enclosure for a crushing facility at your remote camp.
Optional Powder Coating. For remote camp projects or modular structures for on-site housing and accommodations, as well as large fabric buildings being used in coastal areas with sea spray, or environments with high humidity, or if using a fabric building to store corrosive materials, Alaska Structures offers an attractive powder coating solution for protecting their high-strength frame systems against corrosion. Applying the powder coating in-house allows engineers to control every aspect of the process, ensuring each metal piece is properly protected to achieve maximum durability against rust, salt, air, chemicals, oxidation, and ultraviolet light.
Engineered Fabric Membranes. Just as important as the high-strength frame system, the other major component to an engineered fabric structures is the fabric membrane. For the brevity of this guide, we won’t go into the details how Alaska Structures manufacture’s tensioned fabric membranes. However, we will discuss the differences that make it a much more durable and longer-lasting solution than other PVC-based fabrics or PE-based fabrics. Firstly, Alaska Structures has been engineering and creating high-strength fabric membranes for five decades. The engineers at Alaska Structures are proud to point out the fact that their engineered fabric buildings were the first of their kind to be designed and successfully used on the North Slope of Alaska. Over the course, and at requests of customers operating in other climates (deserts, high-altitude, tropical, jungle, etc.), Alaska Structures engineers continued to develop, test, and improve upon the fabric membrane technology to create a covered building solution capable of withstanding prolonged use in the coldest and hottest temperatures on Earth. The tensioned membranes developed by Alaska Structures provide the following benefits:
- Will not rot.
- Are mold- and mildew-resistant.
- Are made with a ripstop design making them resistant to tearing or ripping.
- Offer a greater abrasion resistance than other PVC- and PE-based fabric covers.
- Are chemically inert for the safe use and storage of corrosive chemicals.
- Low chemical emissions and off gassing allows for safe use.
- Have less than a 2-inch flame spread and will not drip.
- Exceed the fire safety regulations outlined in the California Code of Regulations for membrane structures.
- Are stabilized for protection against continued exposure to high solar loads and ultraviolet light. This is a superior level of protection and more expensive to produce than other fabrics that are coated with a UV blocker, which can crack with repeated setups and take downs or when exposed to extreme conditions, resulting in the deterioration of the cover system.
- Are available in semi-translucent materials up to 12 percent to allow for the use of natural light during the day, or blackout fabrics to block unwanted light.
- Have been field and laboratory tested to temperatures from -80 degrees F to +130 degrees F.
Energy-Efficient Building Systems. Maintaining a comfortable interior temperature in remote locations, such as research stations in Antarctica, requires a high degree of efficiency. In such remote locations, should the generator run out of fuel, it isn’t likely a quick trip down the road to re-fill the fuel tank. Depending on the season and weather conditions, supplies may not be replenished for weeks or months at a time. Aside from the life-threatening issue of maintaining a building’s interior temperature, it’s also logistically very expensive and dangerous to transport fuel such great distances. Hence the need for energy-efficient building systems. In addition to designing and engineering custom-built structures for remote locations, engineers at Alaska Structures also design the support systems including HVAC, lighting and electrical systems, and insulation packages. This multi-pronged approach to design and engineering complete building systems allow our engineers to design and build support systems that seamlessly integrate with the engineered fabric structure, including:
- The Alaska ECU™ (environmental control unit) is a mil-spec HVAC system, providing unmatched durability in extremely low and high temperatures (-40˚F to +132˚F). The ruggedized design makes the Alaska ECU™ the perfect HVAC system for dusty and sand environments, as well as for prolonged operations in coastal regions with corrosive sea-spray. The Alaska ECU™ is available in 2.5-ton HVAC, 5-ton HVAC, and 10-ton HVAC models, as well as 50 Hz and 60 Hz configurations. Alaska Structures designs and provides air distribution systems that easily attach to the supply and return air-ducts of the Alaska ECU™.
- Alaska EnerLiner™ is a revolutionary insulation system that offers a dramatic reduction in energy required to heat or cool and maintain a comfortable interior temperature. Field and laboratory testing have shown a 22% reduction in air conditioning usage to maintain a 70˚F interior temperature at an ambient temperature of +125˚F, for a 20-foot-wide by 32.5-foot-long modular building equipped with Alaska EnerLiner™.
- Alaska SolarFly™ is a proprietary solar shade material capable of being added to any Alaska Structures building system. The sun shade material is made to withstand environments with extreme solar loads, installs in less than 15 minutes, and reduces air conditioning power consumption by up to 17%.
- Alaska Skylight Material is made using the same high-strength and engineered fabric membrane but utilizes sunlight to light the interior of any building system from Alaska Structures during the day. Unlike clear and transparent windows, the skylight material is translucent and designed to diffuse sunlight, creating a bright but soft light allowing companies to save on energy and fuel costs in remote locations.
Virtually Maintenance Free. In addition to designing and engineering long-lasting building solutions, another benefit of engineered fabric buildings from Alaska Structures, is that once setup, they are virtually maintenance free. Unlike steel buildings and wood-built structures that require frequent, if not constant upkeep, the engineers at Alaska Structures know remote camp operators and large mining or construction companies with hundreds of workers in the field need to remain focused on the operation, not spending time or money on costly and timely repairs.
Made in the USA and Worldwide Delivery. All engineered fabric buildings and modular building systems from Alaska Structures are designed, engineered, and manufactured in the United States of America (USA) using the highest quality materials and with unmatched workmanship. Knowing their structures will be used in some of the harshest places on the planet, meticulous attention to detail is given to every remote camp or building requirement – big or small. Strict quality control procedures help insure an adherence to unrivaled durability. Remote camps, modular structures, temporary or permanent large fabric buildings are available for worldwide shipping. Since opening their doors in 1975, Alaska Structures has shipped buildings to more than 70 countries!
Consider Engineered Fabric Structures for Remote Camps
For companies setting up work camps and providing housing accommodations for workers and staff in remote locations, safety is a serious matter. As we have discussed the different building types, including their advantages and disadvantages, the clear and informed choice is to use engineered fabric structures.
Alaska Minerals is a long-time Alaska Structures customer. According to owner Mike Smith, he chose Alaska Structures “because it’s a very good product. I bought a couple of others in the past, from other vendors, and haven’t had as good of luck with them. I just like Alaska Structures; I like consistency.”
Alaska Structures is unrivaled in the designing, engineering, manufacturing, delivering of modular buildings. Whether you need a 10-person exploration camp using expeditionary shelters capable of being setup in less than 10-minutes, a 25-person fly camp for mining, a 50-person research camp, a 100-person cold weather camp with connected corridors so workers and staff don’t have to brave the elements, or a 500-person oil field man camp, the modular building systems from Alaska Structures can be designed to provide a home-away-from-home experience to a hardworking and geographically isolated work crew, while meeting the governing camp regulations of your state or country agency.
"I bought a couple of other [fabric buildings] in the past, from other vendors, and haven’t had as good of luck with them. I just like Alaska Structures; I like consistency.”
- Mike Smith, Alaska Minerals
If you would like more information or to discuss your remote camp and workforce housing needs, we recommend contacting Alaska Structures today to speak to one of our knowledgeable building specialists.
Or use our online contact form and submit your request.