The Best Way to Insulate a Shipping Container

Written by Angelica

Ensure your shipment arrives safe and sound. Insulate the container you're sending it in.
Ensure your shipment arrives safe and sound. Insulate the container you’re sending it in.

In this article, we’ll review the best ways you can insulate your shipping container. We often use shipping containers for transporting large, expensive, and fragile items. These items are important to someone, somewhere in the world. The cost of sourcing and moving them suggests as much.

When you ship something off, you want your items to arrive in the same condition in which they left. That’s why you need to adequately prepare the shipping container for the journey.

Here’s how to do it right.

Why Insulate?

Generally, shipping containers are large, steel boxes. Although very durable, steel offers no protection from outdoor temperatures. In fact, if it is very hot outside, steel will cook whatever’s inside. On the other hand, if it’s very cold outside, the steel exterior offers zero insulation.

The lack of temperature control poses a serious problem if you’re transporting food or livestock. Items such as these will undoubtedly perish on their journey if the container is not well-insulated.

The problem is that few, if any, shipping containers come insulated. So, you’ll have to do it yourself.

Important considerations

Once you’ve acquired a shipping container, the next step is to make sure it’s ready for transport. How you do this depends on the items being shipped. You should consider the distance and route they will take. A transatlantic journey, for example, is long and cold, so it’s important the shipping container is well-insulated.

You must also factor in the threat of condensation and rain. If items are boxed up, they’ll incur damage if water makes its way into the container. Such damage will inevitably cost you a lot of money.

Shipping containers have small holes and general imperfections on their exterior, leaving them vulnerable, again, to extreme weather. They’re made to hold items and protect them from general damage that may occur on a ship. But, for more fragile shipments, that’s simply not good enough.

How do I insulate a shipping container?

Having your shipping container insulated is an expensive service, but there are ways of doing it yourself for a much lower cost.

Foam insulation

If you have the money, foam insulation is the best option. Spray foam insulation provides a seamless, easily-applied barrier. It prevents extreme temperature changes, mould, corrosion, and condensation. (The “R-value” indicates the foam’s thermal resistance.) Spray foam insulation is the also quickest means of insulating a shipping container. It’s versatile and one of the easiest ways to insulate your shipping containers.

The disadvantages of spray foam is that it’s more expensive than alternative methods. It’s also little messy, at least until you get used to applying it. Overall, however, spray foam is the best option for insulating a shipping container.

Spray foam insulation provides shipping containers the best protection from the elements.
Spray foam insulation provides shipping containers the best protection from the elements.

How to apply foam insulation

Generally, your approach should be to line the corners and edges of the interior of the container. Next, check around the container for any small holes and fill these as well.

Once you’re satisfied that your container is insulated, it’s a good idea to do one final check. See if you can feel any breezes penetrating the container whilst standing inside. Spray the exterior with a watering hose and check inside for leaks.

Insulation panels

If you’re insulating on a budget, there are alternatives to spray foam. Insulation panels can be cost-effective and don’t take up too much interior space. They’re probably the most DIY-friendly form of insulation, although they require stud walls for fitting. They come in many shapes and sizes, tailored to your specific needs.

How to install insulation panels

To install insulation panels, take a measurement of the shipping container’s interior walls and ceiling and purchase your five insulation panels. Next, you line the perimeters of the container’s interior with strong wood beams. Many secondhand containers will already have these from previous owners insulating their container, having since removed the panels to resell them. Once your beams are in place, it’s simply a matter of attaching your insulation panels to the beams.

If you’re particularly concerned with adequate insulation of your shipping containers, add a line of spray foam along the edges of your paneled container. This keeps the threat of water damage to a minimum.

Bon Voyage

Don’t worry about spending too much money to properly-insulate a shipping container against the elements. You needn’t spend excessive amounts on a service that you can do yourself in a matter of hours. Spray foam is the easiest and most effective means of insulating, though panels are more economical. Either of these methods helps ensure your cargo is safe, ready to reach its destination in good condition.

Image credit via Flickr Creative Commons: Steve G. and U.S. Army Environmental Command.

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