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Shipping Container Insulation: The How, The Why and The When

  • Written by News Co


One of the most important steps in utilizing a shipping container is to add insulation, particularly if you plan to convert the container into a home. Insulation is a crucial step of the building process which helps to convert the container into a unit that is comfortable and more livable.

Shipping containers offer an affordable option over traditional homes because they are relatively inexpensive when compared to traditional building materials. Containers help to speed up the construction process because they are pre-built with four walls, a floor and a ceiling at the time they are delivered. If you are doing the building, you can modify the container yourself or a builder can modify it to suit the home design. Shipping containers offer an eco-friendly solution because they require less energy and materials than a traditional home build and utilize recycled materials.



Image from Tiger Containers

Why Should you Insulate a Shipping Container Home?

Shipping container homes offer an affordable way for people to live off-grid. They also assist people in reducing their dependence on fossil fuels while lowering utility bills. Shipping containers should be insulated if you want to use them for a living space. The metal that they are constructed from becomes very hot in warm climates and can freeze in cooler climates because the heat inside easily moves out of the container, leaving it very cold inside.

Insulation is a way to keep the outside weather on the outside of the container and helps to maintain the temperature in the interior or the container. If you plan to reside int eh container in an extreme climate you will require more insulation. If the climate is temperate you may wish to add more weatherproofing instead of insulation. Whether you plan to build your container home in cold artic or in the warm tropics, you need to use certain materials, follow a certain design and apply certain techniques to get the results you need.

Each type of climate can present a different type of issue when it comes to insulating your container home. Wet climates can present a special problem to shipping containers because they cause rust and can destroy the container. You want to keep moisture away from the steel of your container and you do not want condensation to destroy the steel either.

Will you Do the Insulating Yourself or Hire a Contractor?

Many people find that building a home out of a shipping container is something that they can do on their own. There isn’t too much that they can “mess up” by taking on the work themselves. It is important for you to decide whether you want to be completely “hands-on” or to take a step back and have someone else do the work. There is the fact that doing things yourself is less costly and the pride that you will feel once you complete the work, but your skill levels can limit your building options. Contractors can help to make the construction process move more quickly.

Install a Vapour Barrier

Shipping containers have different construction steps than traditional home construction does. Steel boxes experience “sweating” in humid conditions and this can cause a container to rust and will also destroy the interior of the container including wood and drywall.

Wraps are easy to install on traditional homes, but they do not solve the issue of condensation. Spray foam can create a tight seal on the steel but the chemicals are hazardous and can be dangerous so inexperienced people should not attempt to install this type of product.

Heating and Cooling

Your shipping container is going to be similar to a greenhouse in the summer. It will absorb the heat from the sun when the sun is out, and this will increase the internal temperature of the shipping container. Reflective materials applied to the outside of the container can assist in deflecting the heat. Special paints can be a cost-effective way to achieve this. Planting a rooftop garden can aid in eliminating radiant heat during the hot summer months and can be a functional way to access fresh fruits and vegetables. If the climate is cold you want to absorb the heat of the sun and prevent it from leaving the interior of the container. You can locate your container in the area of your property that has the most sunlight and ensure that the container absorbs the most heat possible during the hottest part of the day.

Since most of the heat you lose is through your windows and your roof, you will need to carefully insulate your walls and the ceiling. Windows should be at least two panes thick to retain the heat.

Not a Permanent Residence?

If you only use your container home as a vacation home or a summer home, then you may only use it during times when the weather is nice. If you do not want to use your home during the hotter months, then you may not need to add as much insulation.

Layout and Design

The total area of the surface of your container home determines the amount of heat that can enter or leave the home. The larger the surface, the more insulation you will require. You will need to calculate the total area to be insulated and then order and install the appropriate amount of insulation to keep your home at a comfortable temperature at all times. If your shipping container home has a complicated design, you will likely require more insulation.

Eco-Friendly Materials

Shipping container homes are chosen most often by people who want to create a home that has a lower carbon footprint than a traditional bricks and mortar home. Shipping containers are usually recycled which makes them eco friendly and it is easy to find insulation materials that are also eco-friendly. Certain tribes and peoples in the world have traditionally used materials such as cotton, wool, mud or renewable fibers to keep the heat of the summer sun out.

Some “natural” products are not as eco-friendly as they claim to be because chemicals may have been added by the manufacturer such as fire-retardant products. Some of these products may not be as efficient when it comes to insulation, so it is important to research the products that you are thinking about using.

Insulation – Inside or Outside?

Since shipping containers do not offer much space, it is important to maximize the available space. This means that if you choose to add insulation to the interior, it can take space away from your living area. Interior insulation also requires a gap between the interior of the wall and the steel, further reducing your living space by several more inches. Insulating the interior of your shipping container is much less expensive and easier to install that exterior insulation. If you decide to insulate the exterior of your shipping container it will be exposed to the elements. Insulation that is applied to the exterior also requires more maintenance and should be replaced more often.

Whatever you decide, it is important to add insulation to your shipping container. If you decide to take care of the process yourself, you can find plenty of handy information online about the process and save yourself a great deal of money.

Read more about shipping container insulation

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