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Climate Controlled Storage: Insulating your Shipping Container

4 min read
Jul 24, 2019
Krista Short

It should come as no surprise that Falcon’s offices are constructed of modified shipping containers. You can also imagine that we receive a number of questions about the buildings. A few of the more common questions are, “How on earth does the structure stay cool in the Texas summer heat?” Or, during the winter months, “How do you stay warm in a steel structure?” 

The answer is simple: modified shipping containers can be insulated to protect from the effects of heat and cold. How they’re insulated depends on two things: the climate in which they’ll be placed, and how they’re going to be used. In this two-part climate control blog series, we’re sharing a few insights about the types of insulation used to create a comfortable, climate-controlled container structure for all seasons. This week we’re covering the importance of insulation.

Insulating Your Shipping Container Will Reduce Your Energy Bill

The U.S. Department of Energy reports that nearly half of all annual energy dollars are spent on heating and cooling – and depending on where you live, it could be more than half. But you can drastically improve the energy efficiency of nearly any structure with proper insulation. With the right type and thickness of insulation, you can significantly reduce the amount of time your AC and heating systems have to run, minimizing power consumption – and your utility bill.

While sturdy and durable, the container's steel walls can get very hot in the summer and cold in the winter. That means you’ll definitely need insulation if you intend to use the container as living or working space, or if you plan to store temperature-sensitive assets.

The amount and type of insulation your shipping container requires depends on the climate of your jobsite and the shipping container’s function. Falcon Structures uses three basic options for creating optimum energy efficiency: Styrofoam, rolled batt, and spray foam. Each type of insulation has an R-value that indicates its efficacy as an insulator (the higher the R-value the greater the insulation). R-values are also additive: the same way that a Thermos with thicker walls does a better job keeping beverages hot or cold, thicker layers of insulation will have higher R-values.

Insulation Options for Shipping Containers
  Ideal Use Examples R-Value Installation Process Key Benefits
Styrofoam Non-heat producing assets Records storage, Animal feed storage 4 (one-inch thickness) Fast and easy; Requires no framing Highly cost-effective
Batt Living & workspace Mobile container office, Locker room 13 (3.5-in thickness); 19 (6-inch) Fast and easy; Requires framing Cost-effective; High R value
Spray foam Enclosures for heat-producing equipment Server rooms, Water treatment equipment enclosures 6 (1-inch thickness); 12 (2-inch); 18 (3-inch) Calls for specialty equipment; Requires no framing Water-resistant; Hard finish; High R-value


Types of Insulation Materials for Shipping Container Structures

Styrofoam: Ideal for Basic Storage Containers

Foam_InsulationFast and easy to install, polystyrene (commonly known by one brand name, Styrofoam) is a cost-effective way to add basic insulation to a storage container, and has the added benefit of helping deaden sound. Using Styrofoam as the insulator doesn’t require any build-out of stud walls to secure the panels (as batt insulation does) because the panels are glued directly onto the walls of the shipping container or mounted on bars that are flush with the walls. Standard climate-controlled storage containers come with one-inch of Styrofoam insulation (R = 4).

Batt: Ideal for Container  Offices and  Living Spaces

Options_Insulation_Batt_FS-M-BATT INSULMade of finely woven strands of glass, mineral wool or plastic fibers, batt insulation, the pink cotton-candy-like material you’ve likely seen in attics and crawl spaces, is the industry standard for residential and office structures. Customers usually opt to use batt insulation for container offices and living spaces. Once the shipping container’s interior wood framing is in place, batt insulation is easy to install and conceal behind a plywood finish-out. We usually use R 13 or R 19 batt to create comfortable living and working environments. 

Spray Foam: Ideal for Temperature-Sensitive Equipment Enclosures

spray_foam_insulationSpray foam insulation sets as a hard, water-resistant covering. While not aesthetically pleasing on its own, spray foam requires no framing because it’s sprayed directly on the container walls, and has a high R-value (R = 6 per inch of thickness). Although we offer interior finishes to cover spray foam, such as plywood or aluminum walls, customers looking for a purely functional climate-controlled space for temperature-sensitive equipment will sometimes choose spray foam with no further finish-out.

The nature of spray foam insulation includes other benefits, too:

  • Acts as a sound barrier
  • Won’t settle over time the way batt can
  • Resists mold, fungus and bacteria

Clearly, spray foam has many benefits, but the specialty equipment required for installation also makes it the most expensive option. Our customers usually choose spray foam when they’re creating an enclosure for highly temperature-sensitive assets, like paper documents, certain types of equipment, and computer network servers.

We hope this overview of the types of insulation available for shipping containers helps you understand your options. Stay tuned for part two of our climate control series: AC, Heating, and Ventilation in Shipping Container Structures.

Ready to talk more about your shipping container project? We’re ready to help. Call us at 877-704-0177 or email sales@falconstructures.com.

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