How Do I Keep My Container Home Cool?

Posted By: February 5, 2015 In How To

Want to build your own shipping container home? Start Here.

If you are fortunate enough to live in a warm climate then during the summer months you may find your shipping container home gets hot… just like any other home. What can you do about this? Well you could always just install air-conditioning, but we are trying to keep our costs down and be as eco-friendly as possible. So we’ve put together a list of 10 tips and tricks that can be used to cool your home down. Some of them are more drastic than others but there are tips in here which everyone can use to enjoy a cooler house throughout the summer.

Install Shades

It’s surprising how many people don’t actually use shades on their windows… especially people who live in hot climates. Shades can be used to both keep hot air out during the summer and keep hot air in during the winter. Make sure you install white shades because they are better at reflecting the heat. If shades aren’t really your style then take a look at blinds. Blinds aren’t as effective as shades but most people prefer them aesthetically.

If you want to really keep your home cool then also fit curtains over any windows that get direct exposure to sunlight throughout the day. By the time you’ve finished it will be like Fort Knox!

Use the Night Air

A great tip shared by the Huffington Post is to use the cool night air. Unless you’re really unlucky most places get a repent during the evening so make use of this time to ‘reset’ the temperature of your home. Open your curtains and windows just as you’re going to sleep to allow the cool nights air to pass through. However make sure you close your windows before early morning otherwise you could be waking up in a sauna!

Use Your Garden

Many people don’t pay attention to the impact that their garden has on the heat of their home. Your garden can be used to plant trees which act as a shade for your home. Not only that but they also look good. The Hybrid Poplar is one of the fastest growing trees; fully grown they reach heights of up to 50 foot and grow at around 8 foot per year, hence its popularity. Another popular pick is the ‘Northern Catalpa’, it doesn’t grow as quick as the Hybrid Poplar however it has an exceptionally thick canopy of leaves which can provide great cover for your home and keep the heat off. Just a quick side note, if you want to benefit from passive solar heating during those cold winter months then don’t plant trees south of your garden.

Swap Your Lights

This one might sound silly but trust me, it will make a difference. Incandescent lights can waste up to 90% of their energy in heat. So when you see them up there on your ceiling they really should be providing you only with light but the majority of what they’re doing is warming your home up! Switch out the incandescent lights for an energy saving light; sometimes known as a compact fluorescent light. Not only will it help to keep your house a touch cooler it will also save you some money on your electricity bill!

Box Fans

Given the long rectangular shape of many shipping container homes, box fans can be the perfect appliance to cool your home down. The trick is your need to use one to blow the cold air in and another to blow the hot air out; like a pull/push system.

Where you place your fans all depends on the positioning of your container home however a good rule of thumb is place a box fan at any north facing windows/openings; this way you should get the benefit of any cool northern breezes! Then place box fans on the opposite side of your home to suck the hot air out of your home, you should be cool in no time.

Design Your Container Home Cool

Now, chances are if you are looking for ways to cool your shipping container home down you have already built it, so this tip is too late for you unfortunately! But for those of you who haven’t built your container home yet I have some great, you can actually design your home in a way that naturally cools itself.

Do you remember Vissershok Primary School in South Africa, if not you can read about it here. They built an additional classroom made from a shipping container however they needed an affordable way to keep the classroom hot because temperatures can spike in the summertime.

You can see on the image that the architects placed a sloped, oversized, roof on top of the classroom which does three things.

Firstly, it allows the hot air to rise up and out of the classrooms. Secondly, as the roof is slanted it allows cool air to blow in at the top of the classroom and this cool air gets pushed down into the classroom by the roof. Finally, the huge metal roof is coated in reflective paint so it reflects a lot of the heat straight back away from the classrooms.

If you look closely at the classroom, another great idea the architects had was to place lots of small windows on both sides of the container; this again allows the cool air to blow in one side of the classroom and out of the other, taking the warm air with it. It’s all about utilising the natural environment in a smart way to provide ways to cool the classroom down.

So if you are currently designing your container home why not take inspiration from the Vissershok Primary School and make sure you design your home in a way that uses the natural environment to cool your home down.

Don’t Use Your Oven

If it’s already warm in your shipping container, it doesn’t make sense to turn on something which can produce up to 400 degrees does it! Either cook on a grill inside or better yet, make use of the glorious weather and fire your barbeque up and cook outside! Not only will it feel nicer cooking outside, you also save yourself from adding additional heat to your home.

Choose Your Roof Wisely

The choice of your roof plays a critical part in how hot your shipping container home will be during those summer months. Using a reflective metal roof can be not only affordable but it can provide you with vast amounts of heat reduction. Traditional roofs such as a dark asphalt roof will actually absorb the suns heat and transmit this through into your home; which we don’t want! Whereas treated metal roofs can actually reflect the heat back right out into the atmosphere avoiding it ever entering your house in the first place.

Portable Air Conditioning Units

If you simply can’t avoid it and are sweltering in the summertime then instead of installing air conditioning throughout your home which can be very expensive and can also be difficult to retro fit, you can buy a portable air conditioning unit. The cooling capacity of the unit you want will vary depending on the size of the room you will be using the unit in. However, a unit with 12,000 BTU will keep a room of up to 400 square foot cool; so this should be plenty! Again the costs of these units varies hugely, but expect to pay $300 upwards to get a good brand.

Film Your Windows

One of the first times we saw this being done was in Brisbane on the Graceville Container Home. If you haven’t had chance to take a look at our in-depth case study on the Graceville Container Home you can read it here. They used ‘Low-E’ glass windows on all of their second and third floor external walls. Glass with Low-E coatings allow significantly less heat through than traditional widows, so again like with a reflective metal roof, you are stopping the heat entering your home in the first place. You purchase windows with Low-E coatings but don’t worry because you can also apply low-e film to your existing windows which will also do the same job.

I hope these tips and tricks will help to keep you cool during the summer months! Obviously some of them are more expensive and drastic than others, but even if you only use a handful of them it should make a massive difference. Let me know in the comments below how you get on and if you have any other great tips for how to keep your shipping container home cool, be sure to let us know and we will include them in the blog post!

  1. Akash Singh

    Hi Tom,
    My name is akash and i am from India
    I have started working on containers as a business in India because i can see there are lots of people in India who still cannot afford to buy homes so i am planning and in fact i have started working on my plan.
    I need your help in certain things.
    If i can get in touch with you on email .

    Many thanks
    Akash Singh

  2. Arnold Bezhani

    Thank you very much for this valid info , i need it for a house plus project im doing in school

    • Tom

      Happy to help!

  3. John Hadley

    We are completing building our 2300 square foot home using 8 ( 8 X 20 ) containers and conventional methods. We installed a whole house fan in the upper staircase to ‘”draw” cool night time air in the house. Our builder said it could not be done because we did not have an ATTIC to install the whole house fan for exhaust. We purchased a 9500 CFM 2 speed 30 Inch exhaust fan from an Industrial fan supply company and had the builder install in the wall and exhaust through exterior louvers . ( like the fans you see on warehouse and livestock buildings. ) Our home will be finished in the next 3 weeks and look forward to seeing how the fan works at night!!!


    • Tom

      That sounds fantastic Jack. I’ve sent you an email 🙂


      • Jack

        Sent you pictures of our whole house fan installation. Haven’t had a chance to run it yet as winter is now coming soon in the Midwest. We will be finish with construction in the next few weeks .

  4. Nawaf

    hi all..

    I`m Planing on Building a House Using Shipping Container
    But the problem is that i live in hot Country that can go to 120F Sometimes
    so i looked whats the best to keep it Cool i Know there are Options With AC Units
    But whats the best thing to use Heat proof or Resistant on the roof or walls of the Container ?


    • Tom

      Hi Nawaf,

      The best thing you can do to manage the temperature is to make sure the containers are well insulated- on the roof and walls of the container.

      We have an insulation article on the blog which discusses the various insulation approaches possible…


  5. Barry

    I spray foamed my 40′ hi-cube with closed cell foam and I heat and cool with a 12,000 BTU Gree mini split heat pump. It’s very efficient using variable speed technology and heats down to -0. Plus the only penetration was a 2″ hole and it’s hid behind the interior head unit on the wall. I purchased everything online for less than $1,100!

    • Tom

      Fantastic work Barry!

      Did you manage to install the pump yourself?


    • Jayne and Jonathan

      Hi, Barry and Tom,.

      We have just started planning for a high top container home with a gardening courtyard space to be built in southern Iowa, where winters can be very cold and blizzardish and summers can reach a humid 104 degrees and still hold hands with tornadoes? We like your spray foam idea and also wonder if we could fill between the outer container wall and an inner shiplap wall with something like pea gravel or crushed corn cobs or something you might recommend? We would like to try adding in some diatomaceous earth to that mixture (to discourage insects) and then finish the top half of the wall with spray foam (between container wall and shiplap?).

      Also, do you have any tips for building where winters are blizzardy and summers can top 104 DEGREES and humid? And bring tornadoes now and then? (Are we fools to consider pier foundation?)

      THanks so much and , hey, we are totally in awe of your online buying budget. Would you be okay with sharing your sources? E-Bay and Craig’s List?

      Thank you brethren in innovation,

      Jonathan and Jayne

      • Tom

        Hi Jonathan and Jayne,

        It’s great to hear from you!

        In terms of the insulation I don’t have experience with ‘alternative materials’ but I’m sure I can help- if you give me an email we can discuss this in more detail 🙂


  6. Demian

    Im planning on building on in aruba

    What siding can i use? Been told about dense glass. Are there other options?

    Planning on fully solar panelling the room to run the ac’s.

    Any thoughts?


    • Tom

      Hi Demian,

      Yes you have a lot of options.

      Dense glass is one of them, also stucco, wood or leaving them plain.

      It really depends on your budget and the look you’re after.

      Drop me an email if you’d like to discuss this further.


  7. David Heininger

    What about burying or partially-burying/ berming the container? We’re in a hot/dry climate.

    • Tom

      Hi David,

      Yes I’ve seen this done successfully before. The ground can actually make for a great insulator keeping the heat out during the summer!

      You just need to treat the outside of the container before it’s buried so it doesn’t corrode.


  8. miriam

    Hi, we’ve designed our shipping container house, received the permits and are now baulking at the idea of beginning. Our plan was (hopefully still) is to use mud to insulate the outside. You mentioned the need to ‘batten’ the mud to the walls. Do you know anyone who has actually done this? How do you envision it? Seems to us we would need a lot of wood and labour…
    We’ve planned a two story 60m house. We’re really stuck so advice would be hugely appreciated.
    2. If you simply use spray insulation, what is your ‘second wall’ for spraying between?
    Thank you!

    • Tom

      Hi Miriam,

      I’d envisage you place horizontal battens across the length of the containers every couple of foot or so in height. From here you then have a ‘support’ to lay the mud/insulation onto.

      For spray foam insulation- you can spray this directly onto the containers internal walls and there is no need for a second wall.

      Hope this makes sense!


  9. Ashley Reed

    I have actually used my oven to warm up before, just by baking cookies. It made the whole house smell good, and I was warmer afterwards. Cooling down a tiny house is harder. We’re thinking of building one on our property, but it wouldn’t be usable in the summer if there isn’t some kind of AC unit. Thanks for all the suggestions and advice, this is all good to know!

    • Tom

      Hi Ashley,

      Yes I think you’re right and you will certainly need an AC unit in the summer!

      When are you looking to build it?