Oil Field Housing: Hotels vs. Man Camps
Oil fields are usually located in rural areas, so housing a crew can present a significant hassle for operations managers looking to provide their employees somewhere to live near the work site.
While densely populated regions of the country offer lots of flexibility in terms of temporary housing facilities, housing oil field workers in a remote location can be a much more difficult task.
One way operations managers and companies in the oil and gas industry solve this problem is by building man camps.
Man camps are quite common in certain parts of the country, such as the rural states of Texas and North Dakota. But man camps also exist in other states where gas or oil production occurs, including parts of Pennsylvania, Louisiana and some New England states.
If you’re trying to determine what type of oil field housing is best for your crew, keep reading.
This guide is designed to help you decide whether you should house your employees in man camps or hotels.
What Is a Man Camp?
A man camp is workforce housing that provides temporary shelter for oil field workers and work crews tasked with working on large projects, such as the building, repairing or maintaining of pipelines, powerlines and railroads.
Of course, despite the name, man camps house workers of any gender.
Man camp housing varies from job site to job site and can consist of:
- Barracks-style camps
- Individual recreational vehicles
- Prefab modular homes
- Mobile homes
Man camp housing ranges from stripped-down options providing only basic living essentials, to quite luxurious manufactured homes. Luxury housing units often include multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, allowing several workers to live in one unit comfortably.
Man camps are located on or near the job site and are usually owned and operated by the oil company or contractor in charge of the project.
The Pros And Cons Of Housing Workers In A Man Camp
There are various benefits to establishing a man camp to cover your team’s housing needs, yet there are also a few drawbacks.
Here are the top pros and cons of housing workers in a man camp.
Pro: Convenience For Workers
Man camps are convenient for workers, primarily because they can be located on or very near to the job site. With a man camp, employees don’t have to endure rush hour traffic or travel long distances to and from work.
Pro: Food Services Available On-Site
Man camps are mini-communities, with food services and prepared meals available on most sites. Many man camps include a cafeteria-style food service option that makes it easy for workers to grab meals and snacks throughout the day without having to prepare meals for themselves or drive into town to find a restaurant.
Pro: Entertainment On-Site
Depending on the size and type of man camp, workers can enjoy entertainment services on site. Individual rooms are often equipped with televisions and Wi-Fi. In larger camps with barracks-style housing, there are usually cinema rooms or big-screen TVs that workers can watch together in common spaces.
Pro: Included Amenities
Oil field man camps house employees who do physical, laborious work, so most sites provide a gym and recreational facilities where they can exercise and enjoy their downtime. Extra amenities may also be included, such as housekeeping services for laundry.
Pro: Companies Can Manage Workers’ Conduct
Because workers live on company property and housing, the company has the option to set rules and regulations — such as restricting use of alcohol and deciding whether to allow outside guests on the property.
This can be a pro from the company’s perspective as they can set expected standards of behavior that they’d like to see from their employees, both on and off the clock. It’s important to note that employees may not see it the same way, though!
Pro: Makes Project Management Easier
From the company’s perspective, another significant pro is that a man camp makes project management easier.
By having the workers live on location or nearby, there are less unexpected variables that can result when employees are traveling to and from the job site. Having workers live on-site makes it easier for project managers to keep the project running on time and on budget.
Con: Workers Need A Break From Work
For all the benefits as a man camp can provide, there is one significnat drawback for the workers who live in them:
They live where they work.
Living where you work allows for very little separation between work life and personal life. Most employees prefer to go home at the end of a long shift or work week to relax and unwind before returning to their place of employment.
Con: Workers Can’t See Friends And Family
Depending on the company’s regulations and guidelines, a man camp may prohibit children from being on the premises and limit how many guests (if any) an employee can bring to the site.
In some cases, spouses are allowed to visit, but inviting a group of family and friends over for a movie night or game night is rarely an option.
Being cut off from loved ones can impact workers’ morale — which in turn can impact the quality of their work.
Con: Strict Rules and Regulations
As we addressed above, this can be seen as a pro for companies, but is not likely to be appreciated by the workers. Because companies set the guidelines for what can and can’t be brought onto the site, many man camps prohibit alcohol. This is a big drawback for the worker who likes to relax with a cold beer at the end of a long, hot day.
Con: Lack Of Privacy
While man camps have different configurations, there are almost always shared walls, which means employees lack privacy. At an active job site, there are people around constantly, so finding solitude and privacy to recharge after a long day can be difficult.
Con: Cost and Effort of Construction
Whether you choose to house your workers in small modular housing units or want to create a mobile home park full of single-wides or even double-wides, a man camp has to be built from the ground up — requiring significant cost and effort.
Some companies build individual units with simple studio floor plans, while others prefer to house hundreds of workers in one large unit. Either way, there’s an upfront cost to building a man camp.
Studies show that it can cost as little as $36 per day to house a worker in a man camp. But depending on the type and style of man camp a company decides to establish, the cost of building one can be astronomical.
For example, modular home units ranging from 1,200 to 5,000 square feet can start at an average price of $85,000.
Besides the cost of the housing unit itself, the company will need to pay workers to construct the units on their site. Solutions for providing electricity and plumbing must also be factored into the plan.
Furthermore, if the space on your site is limited, your man camp will be taking up valuable real estate.
Con: The Expense Of Service Personnel
In addition to building a man camp, companies will also have to staff it with food service workers and security personnel. All these positions add to the cost of payroll, making a man camp an efficient but often expensive undertaking.
The Pros And Cons Of Housing Workers In Hotels
While some oil field workers may value the convenience of staying right next to the job site above all else, many prefer the comforts of living in an actual town.
In a very remote area like west Texas, establishing a man camp may be the only choice, but in regions where hotels are an option, they are usually the better choice.
Here are some of the pros and cons of housing workers in hotels.
Pro: Companies Can Save Money
Oil companies don’t have to house their workers in five-star luxury hotels.
Providing simple yet comfortable and safe accommodations in local hotels can cost far less than building a man camp and an entire infrastructure to make it livable. Even the most basic hotel room will provide a level of comfort on par with or above what workers could expect from man camp housing.
Pro: Workers Enjoy More Privacy
When workers get to retreat to their own hotel room at the end of the night, they have a chance to unwind, sleep soundly and enjoy quiet time away from the job site. This can be the difference between employees excelling at the job or underperforming. Ensuring that employees can get good rest also helps keep them safe, as fatigue is dangerous on physically laborious jobs.
Pro: Workers Can See Loved Ones
When workers rely on hotel accommodations as a temporary housing solution, they have complete freedom to do as they please when they’re not on the job site.
This allows them greater flexibility if they want to invite their friends, children, spouse or other loved ones to visit them in their private living quarters. This will keep employees happier long-term and help the company retain good workers.
Pro: Better Access To The Community
Housing workers in a hotel allows them better access to all sorts of community amenities, including:
- Grocery stores
- Retail shops
- Movie theaters
- Concert venues
This keeps amenities close at hand whenever employees need to stock up, and gives them more appealing entertainment options to help decompress when they’re off the clock.
Pro: More Access To Healthcare
Hotel housing generally provides workers with quicker access to hospitals and healthcare facilities.
Most man camps certainly have some sort of medical facility on-site, ranging from small first aid tents to field hospitals, depending on the size of the camp.
No matter how extensive the on-site medical facilities are, they can’t provide all types of medical care, such as:
- Radiology techs
- Medical labs
Living in a hotel makes it easier to access those facilities on days off, allowing employees to keep up with their health needs.
Pro: Built-In Security
Hotels have their own security systems in place, so housing workers in a hotel reduces the company’s costs related to security staffing. For companies looking to cut back on expenses, this allows them to defer security measures and protocols to hotel management and local law enforcement. It may also result in reduced liability on the company’s part.
Con: Paying For Transportation
The biggest con for companies considering housing their workers in hotels is the need to pay for transportation between the job site and the hotel. This is an added expense, but in comparison to building a man camp from the ground up, transportation costs are minimal.
Hotels Provide Affordable Housing Solutions
Many operating managers assume that the cost of housing workers in hotels will be higher than setting up a man camp on the job site. Even with nightly rental rates and transportation to and from work, the cost can actually be far less than the expense of operating a man camp.
Because building a man camp requires the company to build the infrastructure for it, and that can be a massive expense of its own.
Operations managers should know that there are many affordable hotels throughout the country, and there are ways to save even more on rooms when staffing a large workforce.
Should You House Your Workers In A Man Camp Or A Hotel?
In extremely remote areas where hotel lodging simply is not available, man camps provide an excellent oil field housing solution. But for field crews working in a region where hotels are an option, providing hotel lodging is the best choice.
Hotels offer workers more privacy, flexibility and access to restaurants, healthcare facilities and entertainment venues. They also give workers a break from the job site, so they don’t have to feel like they’re living at work.
When workers feel respected by their employer they tend to work harder, knowing that the company values them and what they do. Housing workers in hotels so that they don’t have to live on the job site is just one of the many ways that employers can show their workers that respect.
Living in a man camp can be convenient, but it can also be a constant reminder that you’re always “on the job.” Employees will have all the conveniences of home, but creating and providing them will be a hit to your company’s bottom line.
For employees that value their personal time off (and who doesn’t?), hotel living is the preferred option. You don’t need to build anything, and employees have their privacy.
And thanks to Hotel Engine, lodging costs are much more manageable.