A Guide to Insulating Shipping Containers
The shipping container industry transports a wide range of goods across the globe. But with so many commodities to move, the challenge is to maintain the condition of these goods the moment they’re loaded into the container until they finally arrive at their intended destination.
There’s more to shipping containers than just filling them with goods, transporting them and loading them into container vessels. There are two important questions that come to mind; how do you keep a shipping container warm during the winter months and how do you maintain sub-zero temperatures in the midst of the summer heat?
The answer is simple and it’s insulation. Modified shipping containers can be insulated to protect its contents from the blistering heat and the freezing cold. How they’re insulated depends on two factors; the climate in which they’ll be placed and how the container itself will be put to use.
In this article, we’ll be sharing our insights on shipping container insulation and the materials you can use to create a climate-controlled environment on the interior of the container.
Energy efficiency benefits of container insulation
The container industry spends a lot of money on heating and cooling shipping containers. While the effectiveness of the heating/cooling systems cannot be dismissed, there are improvements to be made. With proper container insulation, you can drastically improve the energy efficiency of your AC and heating systems. They don’t have to run very long in order to maintain the desired temperature, thus minimising power consumption and reducing your utility costs.
While the steel walls are sturdy and durable, they are prone to getting hot and cold quickly. This is because steel is a good thermal conductor. If you plan on using a shipping container as a living space or for storing temperature-sensitive goods, then you’ll most definitely want to insulate it.
There are many different types of materials used to insulate shipping containers. Let’s take a look at how each material performs.
Insulation options for shipping containers
|Styrofoam||Non-heat producing goods||4 (2.5 cm)||Requires no framing||Very cost-effective|
|Batt||Living & workspace||13 (8.8 cm)
19 (15.2 cm)
|Requires framing||High R-value|
|Sprayfoam||Heat-producing goods||6 (2.5 cm)
12 (5 cm)
18 (7.6 cm)
|Requires framing and specialty equipment||Water-resistant, Hard-finish, High R-value|
Each material has an R-value which indicates how effective it is as an insulator (the higher the number. the greater the insulation). Thicker layers of insulation will have a higher R-value, thus making it better for keeping goods hot or cold. Let’s discuss each insulation material in full detail.
Styrofoam: For basic storage containers
Polystyrene (commonly known as Styrofoam) offers basic insulation to a shipping container. It’s relatively easy to install and is a cost-effective way of insulating containers for products that don’t generate heat. Styrofoam doesn’t require any build-out of stud walls to secure the panels since they’re glued directly onto the walls or mounted on bars directly to the wall.
Standard climate-controlled containers come with 2.5 centimetres of styrofoam insulation. If you plan on using a container for storage and you want an affordable insulation solution, then using styrofoam is the way to go.
Batt: For container living and offices
Batt insulation is made from finely woven strands of mineral wool, glass, or plastic fibres. It’s a cotton candy-like material that you commonly see in attics and crawl spaces to insulate homes and buildings. Customers prefer batt over styrofoam because it offers better insulation and can be concealed behind a plywood finish-out.
For comfortable container living and office environments, R13 or R19 batt is used to allow for greater climate control.
Spray foam: For temperature-sensitive enclosures
As the name suggests, spray foam is a type of insulating material that is spray-applied and allowed to set. The main characteristics of spray foam are its water-resistance and hard-wearing properties. It’s sprayed directly onto the container walls to create a thick layer of insulation that’s around 2 to 7 centimetres thick.
While not aesthetically pleasing once it sets, spray foam can be finished with plywood or aluminium walls for a fully functional climate-controlled space. Ideally, spray foam is used for insulating containers that store perishable goods, computer servers, paper documents, and the like. This is because the material resists mould, fungus, and bacteria which can impact the quality of the goods.
Choosing the right insulating material for your needs
Regardless of which option you choose, having an insulated container offers plenty of benefits in terms of climate control. Your container is more equipped to handle different environments and makes for an ideal storage solution as well. Spray foam is viewed by industry experts as the best insulating material out there, but since it requires special equipment to install, it can get a bit expensive.
If budget is of no object, then spray foam is the best choice. But don’t worry, both styrofoam and batt will work just fine so long as they are properly installed and are utilised for their intended applications.