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About Containers


Insulating a Shipping Container

By February 27th, 2012 About Containers 24 Comments

Insulating a Shipping Container

It is becoming more and more popular as a form of modified storage containers to insulate the interior of a shipping container or storage container.  There are several different ways to go about doing so.  The more commonly used materials for containerized applications are fiberglass, rigid polystyrene foam panels and closed cell spray foam.  There are also some coatings on the market that offer insulating qualities as well.  However, for the purposes of this article, we are going to discuss the three options mentioned.

Fiberglass Insulation –The fiberglass insulation we use is a standard thickness of 3 ½” and will provide an insulating value of R-13.  The sections are cut and fitted inside of a wood framed interior.  We don’t make any penetrations to the exterior of the container when constructing the wood frame.  The fewer penetrations you make to the exterior of the container the better.  The 2” x 4” wood studs are mounted 16” on-center.

The walls of a storage container are corrugated.  There will be gaps between the insulation and the outside corrugation.  Depending on where the storage container is going, you may consider putting a moisture barrier between the container wall and the insulation.

Rigid Polystyrene Foam Panels – The foam panels are available in varying thickness as well as the size of the panels.  The panels also come in varying densities (depending on just how rigid a panel you require).  Your application will dictate the type of panel you utilize.  The foam panels will provide an approximate insulating value of R-5 per inch.  The major benefit of using foam panels over fiberglass is the interior space you can save.  When installing foam panels, they can either be glued directly to the corrugated walls of the shipping container or screwed into flat bar mounted to the container walls.  You don’t need to wood frame the interior of the container as with fiberglass insulation.   Thus saving several inches on the sidewalls and ceiling.  **We recommend the flat bar method as opposed to gluing the panels to the container walls.  Because the storage container walls are corrugated, the panels do not come in constant contact with the walls.  For every section of the panel that spans an outside corrugation, it is not adhered to the container wall.

Closed Cell Spray Foam – In our opinion, closed cell spray foam is the most efficient insulation.  It will offer the highest insulation value (approximately R-6 per inch).  The spray foam completely covers the surface of the corrugated shipping container walls.  There are no gaps between the insulation and the container’s wall (as there are with fiberglass or polystyrene panels).  There is much less risk of condensation or moisture developing with closed cell spray foam.  There is no need to frame out the interior as the spray foam adheres directly to the sidewalls and ceiling of the storage container.  It can be sprayed as thick as necessary to achieve whatever insulating value you require.  The one con to this type of insulation is the cost.  It can be the most cost prohibitive of the three methods.  This is primarily due to what is required (labor and materials) to install a wall covering over the spray foamed walls (should it be necessary).

Any of these methods are a very effective way to insulate the interior of your shipping container or storage container.  Contact us today to discuss your options and figure out which method is right for you.  For more modified storage container ideas visit the storage container modification section of our website.

**We recommend that a wall covering (Hardie Paneling, plywood or plywood with an FRP overlay) is installed over the insulation to finish out the interior.  We will address these wall coverings in a future article.

 

Written By:  Ray Gregorio, Container Technology Inc.




24 Comments

  1. Al
    February 28th, 2012

    Would foil and bubble insulation work as well?

  2. admin
    February 29th, 2012

    Hello Al,

    Thanks for your comment. There are many different types of insulation. I’m sure bubble or foil insulation would work as well. The three mentioned in the article are the types of insulation we utilize most often. Ray

  3. Norcliff Wiley
    May 9th, 2012

    Please explain the flat bar method for installing foam panels. What type, size bar? How is it mounted? How many is best?

  4. admin
    May 9th, 2012

    Hello Norcliff,

    We typically use 1/8″ thick x 4″ sections of flat bar and tack weld it to the inside corrugation of the container. The flat bar runs the length of the container walls and ceiling. Each panel comes into contact with a section of flat bar in three places (one near the top, one near the middle and one near the bottom). We use self tapping screws to hold the panels in place. We’ve also used 1″ x 2″ and 2″ x 2″ steel tubing (to act as studs) to mount the panels as well. In this case, the tubing would run between the corrugation from top rail to bottom rail. The tubing is tacked to the top rail and bottom rail. I hope this information is helfpul. Please feel free to contact us should you require any additional information.

  5. david mcdonald
    December 26th, 2012

    With the fiberglass installation, how are the 2×4 wood studs secured/mounted to the container wall/ceiling?

  6. admin
    December 28th, 2012

    Hello David,

    Thanks for finding us online! When framing out the interior, we dont’ make any penetrations to the exterior of the container. We nail the 2×4 studs together (16″ on center) and they hold each other in place. It’s very easy to do. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to reach out to me directly. My email is ray@containertech.com. Happy Holiday’s!

  7. September 4th, 2013

    This is very helpful. You see, I’m planning to buy a used shipping container from PortContainerServices.com.au so I can use it as a mobile office. The heat that is absorbed and radiated from the steel structure needs to be alleviated. Can asbestos be a good insulator? It’s the only material available in the hardware store in my community. Thanks.

  8. admin
    September 5th, 2013

    Francis,
    Thank you for your interest in our website. Containers make great mobile offices. Unfortunately we do not use asbestos when insulating a container. We only utilize the type of insulation that you viewed on our site. I do not have any experience with that type of material. You may try reaching out to the ISBU. They may have some more information and can better assist you. – http://www.isbu-info.org/permalink/article_2008_dec_isbu_arch-draw-cad.htm

  9. iDesign2Build
    November 10th, 2013

    Hi, I am designing a home with 7 high cube 40″ containers. I want to insulate the external walls panels from the outside and save room for internal space. On the external I am thinking of using a sandwich wall composed by: bubble wrap insulation, horizontal timber stub of 40-50mm to fix the bubble wrap to the container wall panel, then another lay of bubble wrap then FC sheeting. What do you think?

  10. admin
    November 14th, 2013

    Hello. Thanks for your comment! There are many different ways to insulate a container. You’ve described a method that we did not cover in this article. To be honest, we don’t have any experience with this type of method. We’ve not used this type of insulation for our customers. However, that certainly does not mean it won’t be affective for you. There are many factors to consider when insulating any structure. The size of the structure, what the structure is comprised of, the climate in which the structure is located, the HVAC system in the structure, heat transfer, moisture and some other factors should be considered. As long your insulation is installed properly (no matter the type) and it is suitable for your environment/structure…I would think you should be okay. I’m sorry I can’t speak in more detail about the method you’ve described and hope this information is helpful. Ray

  11. PTS
    April 7th, 2014

    I am in the R&D phase of using a shipping container for an single office. I have narrowed down my insulation search to most likely spray foam. What kind of wall covering do you recommend that’s eco-friendly? Have you any experience with Magnesium Oxide panels?

  12. admin
    April 15th, 2014

    Thanks for the comment! We have not used Magnesium Oxide panels. We primarily use a Hardie Paneling/Siding. It’s typically utilized for exterior applications. However, we’ve found it to be a very versatile product and works very well for shipping container applications. Here is a link to Hardie’s website – http://www.jameshardie.com/homeowner/products_siding_hardiepanelSiding.py If you are located in the US, you can purchase the panels at Home Depot – http://www.homedepot.com/p/James-Hardie-5-16-in-x-48-in-x-96-in-HZ10-HardiePanel-Sierra-8-Vertical-Siding-217863/100072921?keyword=553-777 I hope this information is helpful.

  13. June 4th, 2014

    The Photo of your closed cell foam application seems to use horizontal “studs” as opposed to a standard stud wall. Are these tack welded in place? Are you using a corten metal product for them? My plan is to use a 2X1 5/8 stud wall (since it has no structural support requirement) but am wondering if your technique would be a better option.

  14. admin
    June 5th, 2014

    Hello Laura,
    Thanks for your comment. The horizontal studs for that project were requested by our customer. They wanted to be able to have mounting points for electrical components. They requested that we run 2 x 2 steel tubing along the interior. The studs were tack welded at every point where the studs came in contact with the inside corrugation of the steel panels. By using the tubing (as opposed to a traditional wood framed interior) it also allowed them to save quite a bit of space. They needed as much room as possible on the interior for all of their equipment. The studs didn’t offer any additional structural support however. If you don’t have any space restrictions, I definitely recommend going with a standard wood studded interior. It’s much more cost effective than the steel tubing. Hope this information is helpful. Thanks, Ray

  15. Tyson
    July 20th, 2014

    Hey i was just wonder how long does this foam have to be left for, does it have to be left to set or an you keep working on the area straight after it has been done. i have to find something that i can use for a graphics assignment and i don’t wont to decrease the living space for my house design.

  16. admin
    July 21st, 2014

    Thanks for the comment. We typically use a closed cell spray foam product. It pretty much dries/sets immediately. You can start working on/over the covered area right away. Hope this helps! Ray

  17. August 10th, 2014

    I’m researching the use of a vapor barrier in a shipping container home in Upstate NY with very cold winters. My plan at this point is to stud out the interior of a container and use spray foam insulation. I’ve read that the closed cell spray foam acts as its own vapor barrier. In your experience do you think I would need an additional barrier? If I wanted an additional ‘insurance policy’ against the migration of moisture, where would you recommend installing it? Between the metal wall and studs? Or between the studs and drywall? Thank you.

  18. admin
    August 11th, 2014

    Hello, Thanks for the inquiry. Closed cell spray foam is a great choice for insulating a container. We are in the Southeast and utilize closed cell spray foam fairly frequently. When doing so, we do not install a vapor barrier. The reason is because the foam comes in contact (if sprayed properly) with 100% of the interior walls of the container. There are no gaps between the insulation and the containers walls (as with traditional fiberglass insulation). Obviously we don’t have the same extreme cold temperatures that you do in the Northeast. So, I’m a bit hesitant to give you a recommendation as I’m not familiar with this type of application in the Northeast. I would think you’d be okay just spraying the foam directly to the container walls without a vapor barrier. However, it certainly couldn’t hurt adding the vapor barrier between the container walls and the foam (similar to what would be done in a basement). I would definitely consult with a local builder or the company applying the spray foam for you. I hope this information is helpful.

  19. September 2nd, 2014

    We have a container that we would like to store our house contents, furniture and cloths for 12months The container is subjected to very hot and cold weather conditions..
    which insulation should we use to avoid mould etc.
    Many thanks John,

  20. admin
    September 4th, 2014

    Hello Andrea,
    Thanks for the comment. The best insulation is closed cell spray foam. However, it’s also the most expensive. As an alternative, you could use standard fiberglass insulation as well. It really depends on how much you want to spend and just how much of an R-value you want to achieve. You typically get approximately an R-6 per inch of closed cell spray foam (ie. 3 inches of closed cell foam would give you an approximate R-18 insulation value). Standard fiberglass insulation (3.5″ thick) would give you an R-13 insulation value. Whichever way you decide to insulate your container, I would definitely recommend installing a small window HVAC unit. Being able to regulate/control interior temperature will be imperative in avoiding mould. If you insulate the container without controlling the interior environment, there is no guarantee you’ll be able to avoid mould issues. I hope this information helps.

  21. Arnie
    September 5th, 2014

    When using the closed cell spray foam what prep work is required for the surface inside? My container has some rust and peeling paint. Also is there a spray foam product that I can purchase from some place and rent the application equipment to do the work myself?

  22. admin
    September 5th, 2014

    Hello Arnie,
    Thanks for the questions. Since your container has areas of rust/peeling paint, I would definitely recommend prepping (grinding/wire brushing and cleaning away any dirt/debris) those areas before applying the foam. There are some spray foam kits out there, however most of them (too my knowledge) aren’t made to handle an application of this magnitude. I’m also not sure you can rent that type of equipment. Most of what I’ve seen would have to be purchased. The equipment we use is high yield and is made for large scale applications. Applying spray foam (if never done before) can be a very challenging skill to learn on the fly. If you’ve never done it before, you may consider contracting a local company that has the right equipment and the experience to handle a this type of application. I hope this information is helpful. If you decide to tackle the project on your own, let me know how you make out. Ray

  23. Dale
    October 22nd, 2014

    Hi guys, I live in Australia and was wondering where would I purchase this closed cell spray foam, and or a company that does this kind of work. Many thanks Dale

  24. admin
    October 23rd, 2014

    Hello Dale, Thanks for the inquiry. Unfortunately we are located in Atlanta, GA. I don’t know of anyone that I can refer you to in Australia. If you can’t find someone in your area, you may be able to handle your project with a spray foam kit and do it yourself. You may consider checking out Tiger Foam. Here is a link to their website – http://www.tigerfoam.com/ Hope this information is helpful!

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