Complete Guide to Shipping Container Insulation

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Shipping containers are often used as storage facilities or converted into homes. They’re secure, sturdy and relatively inexpensive to use. But if you live in a warmer climate, they can be uncomfortable during the summer months.

It’s important to take steps now (and continue them throughout the year) to reduce your risk of heatstroke or other serious health issues. This blog post will provide tips on how you can best insulate your shipping container home so that it’s comfortable all year long!

We’ll cover specific details for various aspects of insulation: why you need insulation, types of insulation, things to consider before adding insulation, the costs involved, and more.

What is Insulation and Why Do You Need It?

One of the most critical aspects of building a shipping container home is choosing the proper insulation. While most people view the idea of investing in one of these tiny houses as an inexpensive, long-term solution for an affordable home, you’ll need to consider the type of shipping container insulation that fits best.

Insulation is an important material that is required in every building or structure. It provides protection from external elements, such as cold, wind, moisture, and heat. Shipping containers are typically constructed out of metal, creating a considerable amount of condensation and heat during the summer. Humidity and moisture will lead to an increased risk of corrosion and mold, which must be avoided.

There are various types of shipping container insulation to consider for installation in your home. The primary function of insulation is to control the level of temperature, prevent moisture, and maintain a stable environment without compromising interior space.

Types of Shipping Container Insulation

There are several types of shipping container insulation to review when you choose material for your home. Your container’s design, shape, and location all play an essential role in the type of materials you need for insulation. You’ll also want to consider the following characteristics of insulation to be sure it works best for your container home:

  • R-value: this determines the density of the insulation material and the ability to block air and moisture.
  • Cost-effective materials and eco-friendly options
  • Vapor permeability or the ability to prevent vapor from being absorbed and causing deterioration over time.

Also read: Complete Guide to Installing Shipping Container Vents

Blanket Insulation (Batt and Rolls Insulation)

One of the most inexpensive materials used for shipping containers is blanket insulation. This style of insulation is available in various fabrics and usually pre-cut to fit a standard size container wall. The material is typically bought in long pieces rolled up for convenience. The texture is soft and easy to compress, offering a layer of warmth.

Blanket insulation is available in various levels of thickness, though it is not fully self-supporting and often must be applied with other layers of material. For adequate effectiveness, blanket insulation is installed with longer fibers of other durable materials and fastened between wall studs and open areas to strengthen the support in these spots.

Overall, this form of insulation is easy to install and fasten, usually with a stud stapler. There are various blanket insulation options, including fiberglass, slag, mineral and rock wool, sheep wool, and denim or cotton fabric.

Fiberglass Insulation

This type of blanket insulation is formed by heating recycled glass or sand particles to a high level, then spinning the material into thin fibers. It’s one of the most popular types of blanket insulation and usually the cheapest.

Slag Wool, Mineral Wool, and Rock Wool Insulation

These materials are combined to create blanket insulation similar to fiberglass, and only it’s formed with the “slag” or residual or byproduct of ceramics and minerals from working with metal products.

Sheep Wool Insulation

Like the authentic yarn spun from sheered sheep, this insulation is a sturdy form made from the same material.

Cotton or Denim Insulation

One of the more costly but highly sustainable options for insulation is denim or cotton materials. This shipping container insulation is created from recycled jeans, clothing, and cotton-based items, which is excellent for minimizing waste.

Spray Foam Insulation

Spray foam insulation is created with various materials applied as a liquid spray and forms into a solid mass. When you apply the foam, it expands initially, which is ideal for filling in small cracks and easily missed spots with fabric insulation. This process creates a barrier that is wind resistant and blocks the transfer of heat from external sources.

In most applications, spray foam will expand beyond the studs and may need trimming to contain its expansion until it hardens completely. The most common spray foam insulation materials are open-cell and closed-cell spray foam, cellulose insulation, damp spray applications, and cementitious foam insulation.

Spray Foam (Open-cell SPF)

This type of spray foam is one of two main products, though it’s less preferred than closed-cell spray. The open-cell spray allows air to move between cells due to a low R-value per inch. This openness can negatively impact the integrity of the insulation, and for this reason, it’s not widely recommended.

Spray Foam (Closed-cell SPF)

One of the most popular and highly recommended types of foam spray insulation is a closed-cell spray. In contrast to the closed-cell version of this product, this spray offers a high R-value per inch, which effectively blocks elements such as airflow, moisture, and other debris.

When the initial application of this spray is completed, it’s essential to review the manufacturer’s guidelines on safety due to the gas contained in the materials. In many cases, it’s best to wait for a specified time before inhabiting the shipping container home due to the curation process. In some cases, the closed-cell foam may expand or reduce over time, which may cause them to become less effective.

In addition to open-cell and closed-cell insulation, another option to consider is sprayed-in insulation, which doesn’t expand after application. However, it freely moves to fill smaller openings with a high degree of effectiveness.

Damp-Spray Cellulose Insulation

You can apply damp-spray cellulose insulation to the open sides of walls, including openings or cavities that require sealing. This spray is made from recycled paper materials minced and mixed with an adhesive solution or water, like paper mache. The binding of these materials creates an effective seal for insulation.

Cementitious Foam Insulation

One of the most eco-friendly forms of insulation, cementitious foam combines non-toxic and non-flammable materials that include natural minerals, water, and air to create a strong barrier once cured completely. Like closed-cell foam spray, this option offers a high R-value, which means it seals with minimal cell opening and effectively blocks the outdoor elements.

The type of foam spray insulation you apply in your shipping container home depends on the climate, geographical area, and what works best for the type of materials you currently use in your home. You’ll find many inexpensive options that are highly effective and long-lasting with excellent results.

Glass Wool Insulation Blanket

Glass wool insulation is a safe, non-hazardous option for insulation, though it may be used where other types of insulation are unavailable or not a good fit. Unlike rock wool insulation, which is highly weather and water-resistant, glass wool may be impacted by dampness and changing climate, resulting in mildew and fungi growth.

This form of insulation is highly effective with correct application, primarily if used in conjunction with more water-resistant materials.

Expandable Foam Insulation

This type of foam insulation is easy and quick to apply. It’s one of the best DIY methods to use for shipping container insulation. If you have many openings to fill with the foam, this may take a bit longer to ensure all gaps are sealed.

Some expandable foam insulation products are pre-cut to match standard sizes of shipping container walls, making the installation effortless. There’s also a high R-value, which prevents airflow and provides one of the best protective seals compared to other insulation options. There are several variations available, some of which are more effective than others.

Open Cell Foam Insulation (PU Foam)

Open-cell polyurethane foam insulation is less dense and creates a bit of a sponge-like density.

Closed Cell Foam Insulation (PU Foam)

This foam insulation offers superior density to the open-cell option by filling smaller cells with gas to prevent airflow. This feature is highly effective because it extends to microscopic-sized cells, maximizing heat conduction and protection against outdoor elements.

Polystyrene Foam Insulation (Extruded)

This insulation is made of loose foam beads or plastic, like Styrofoam, for packing shipments and enhancing insulation.

Polystyrene Foam Insulation (Expanded)

This foam material is thick and malleable so that you can create custom forms such as sheets to install.

Polyisocyanurate (Polyiso)

This form of polyurethane is less flexible to work with and works best with shared spaces.

Traditional Roll Insulation

The most common way to apply insulation is by applying panels, which you can purchase as rolls of material. These rolls are ideal for shipment container walls and are often made of fiberglass or a combination of similar materials.

Loose-Fill Insulation

Loose fabrics such as fiberglass, cotton, or other materials make a good option for insulation to fill gaps that large rolls or panels miss entirely. The loose-fitting material is available in clumps that you manually stuff in areas that need added protection.

Cellulose Insulation

Cellulose is a byproduct of wood and paper and creates a safe insulation option that provides a highly effective R-value that blocks airflow.

Loose-Fill Fiberglass Insulation

This type of insulation is installed manually in clumps to fill any gaps or cavities like loose-fill insulation.

Vermiculite Insulation and Perlite Insulation

Perlite and vermiculite varieties of insulation consist of tiny pellets made by heating clay or rock pellets until they soften and “pop.” Perlite is slightly more rigid, though it won’t absorb water as much as vermiculite. While perlite is recommended as a bit more practical, vermiculite is also a good option as dry insulation.

Cork Insulation

If you’re looking for a renewable insulation option, cork is the perfect option. It’s also recyclable and biodegradable and works well with a variety of shipping container homes. The only drawback is the cost, which is relatively high in comparison to other insulation options.

Batt Insulation

Batt insulation is blanket-style insulation available in pre-cut sizes and made of fiberglass, cellulose, natural fibers, and minerals. It’s ideal for floors, ceilings, and walls.

Denim Insulation

A great natural insulation option, denim insulation is made of recycled cotton fabrics and works excellent in panels, significantly when highly compressed. The material may not work in small spaces, where the air pockets may expand in the fabric.

What is the Best Type of Insulation for Shipping Container Homes

The best type of insulation to apply in your shipping container home depends on various factors, such as climate, location, and the container’s materials. Generally, a high R-value spray foam and fiberglass panels are typically the most popular and effective for most shipping containers.

How to Determine the Right Insulation for your Situation

Whether you decide to insulate your shipping container on your own or hire a construction contractor, you may want to consult with a few companies or suppliers to determine which materials work best in your space.

Things to Consider Before Insulating Your Container Home

Before you purchase insulation materials for your container home, there are essential factors to consider, as they will impact your decision and the effectiveness of specific insulation materials:

  • Insulation materials that are highly water-resistant and protect against dampness are essential in climates prone to rain and humidity.
  • Consider the challenges of your shipping container: are there numerous gaps or cavities that may need specific high-density foam or R-value insulation?
  • The climate and level of heat or cold should be taken into account when you choose insulation
  • If you decide to install a green roof, reflective barriers, and other features, consider this when choosing insulation materials.
  • The design of the shipping container and how well it can be heated or cooled passively (without functioning heat or cooling sources) should be reviewed to determine the insulation.

Suppose you are committed to insulating your shipping container with eco-friendly materials. In that case, you’ll find a lot of great options available, though it’s important to choose effective materials that fit well into your container’s design.

Average Cost of Insulating a Basic Container Home

Generally, the cost to insulate your shipping container depends on the materials, the size of your container, how many containers you plan to insulate, and whether you install on your own or hire a contractor. On average, a 20-foot container starts around $2,000, or $4,000 for a 40-footer, and can increase from this point.

Final Takeaway: What You “Shouldn’t” Do When Insulating Shipping Containers

Before you invest in the insulation materials and expert assistance you need to complete your shipping container home, it’s essential to avoid some common mistakes:

  • Measure your container before you buy insulation, so you can be sure there’s more than enough to install.
  • Review the container well before you buy and understand which insulation materials will work best for its design. Purchasing insulation materials before you research this information can result in unnecessary expenses.
  • If you need to invest more in insulation to ensure the material is protective for a wet or humid climate, don’t avoid the extra cost by purchasing an inferior product, which will result in loss and possible damage.

Insulating your shipping container home is a rewarding project. Once you have all the suitable materials, knowledge, and information you need to begin. A shipping container home is an excellent investment that offers a great alternative to traditional housing, with the benefit of creating a space that is safe, comfortable, and sustainable for many years.

What type of insulation are you going to get for your shipping containers? The cost will vary depending on the material being used. You could use a spray foam that is quick and easy, or take more time installing thick pieces of fiberglass in small sections. It’s up to you what level of insulation you want!

Ryan Stetson

Ryan Stetson

Currently own two 20' and 40' containers converted into an office/workshop. Having worked in the shipping industry for 6 years, my goal is to share my personal experiences as well as connect potential container buyers with suppliers around the US.

Ryan Stetson

Ryan Stetson

Currently own two 20' and 40' containers converted into an office/workshop. Having worked in the shipping industry for 6 years, my goal is to share my personal experiences as well as connect potential container buyers with suppliers around the US.

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