Insulating Shipping Containers

If you have decided you want to build with shipping containers then finding a suitable method of insulation is an important step in your planning. 

Containers provide a good level of structural stability (provided you do not make openings too large), but very little in the way of insulation. 

If you have ever stood inside a shipping container on a hot day, then you will know that they perform somewhat like a greenhouse, having very little in the way of insulative properties. 

In any building project, one of the aims is to create a space that is comfortable, efficient to heat and cool, and cost effective. Insulation can be expensive, but is absolutely necessary in a container home, which is why you need to spend some time doing a bit of research. Keep in mind that a suitable level of insulation will keep your home more comfortable in extremes of weather as well as helping to reduce the running costs (heating and cooling). 

Design Considerations

For any living space we need to control (or at least slow down) the amount of heat coming into the building (in hot weather), and leaving the building (in cold weather). Your design will also influence these, in terms of orientation, materials used, shading and access to prevailing breezes. 

Insulation is just one of many factors to be considered when making these decisions, and being a 'hidden' element within a building, it can be one that novice builders fail to give enough attention to.

All projects will have their own specific needs, dependent on the specific site and climate, but generally you will need to think about insulating all of the main surfaces in your container conversion.

  • Roof/ceiling
  • Walls/windows
  • Floors

Insulated v's non insulated containers

The nature of insulation, and its tendency to have a certain degree of volume may influence whether you choose insulate internally or externally. 

It may also lead you to buy a high cube container which has an extra foot (30cm)  of height or even going with an insulated container (basically a refrigerated container with the cooling unit removed.)

A pre insulated container might sound like an easy option as they have 75 to 100mm of foam insulation built into the entire structure. Keep in mind that these refrigerated containers are also different in their structure being aluminium construction rather than corten steel – thus having less structural stability - but that does not mean they can't be used. 

See this architectural office built from a refrigerated container that they cut in half.

Insulating a Container - Your Options

There are several types of insulation available, but depending on your wall cladding, floor, and roofing you may select different insulation types for each surface. 

Your insulation options include:

  • roll on or batt insulation (fiberglass or wool) , easy to buy and install
  • Loose fill insulation – blown or stuffed into place – cellulose fibre, fiberglass fibre – needs to be installed by professionals
  • Foam panel insulation – polystyrene, or foam core
  • Ecological insulation – hemp, sheeps wool, recycled paper products, wood fibre mats, and cellulose
  • Spray on insulation  open cell polyurethane – will not tolerate moisture or movement
  • Spray on insulation closed cell polyurethane spray on foam- provides high R values but is expensive
  • Ceramic coatings – best if considered as a part of an insulation ‘package’ rather than on its own. 


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