Since we’ve started Container Home Plans, we’ve received emails from people all around the world. One of the most popular questions we receive is: which climates are suitable for a shipping container home?
Most people, rightly so, think about their local climate before deciding whether to build a shipping container home or not.
If they live in the tropics they are concerned that their container home will be sweltering. Whereas, if they live in colder climates they are concerned that their home will be an ice box all year round.
Shipping container homes are suitable for nearly all climates providing you thoroughly prepare your containers. Today we are going to look at how to prepare your containers to be suitable in both hot and cold climates.
Shipping Container Homes in Hot Climates
We’ve previously wrote in detail how to keep your shipping container home cool during the summer months.
This section is going to focus on how to design your shipping container to be suitable in hot climates.
For this, let’s pick an area which is very hot all year round and also dry: Panama fits this description.
The best way to keep your shipping container home cool is to not let the heat into your home in the first place.
One of the most effective ways I’ve found to do this is to keep the majority of your house in the shade. This stops sunlight shining directly onto your containers which would increase the temperature inside your home.
To keep your containers in the shade I’d recommend using your garden and planting trees if you have the space.
Two of the fastest growing trees are the Northern Catalpa and the Hybrid Poplar. Both of these trees grow at around 8 foot each year, so within a year or so they will be much taller than your container home and provide you with shade.
The Northern Catalpa grows an incredibly thick canopy of leaves- this really helps to reflect the sunlight away from your containers.
If you are going to use trees as sun shades, it’s also important to consider the orientation of your building. Remember that the sun will be at its hottest during the afternoon when it will be shinning from the south, so you should plant the majority of your shade in the south to protect your containers.
If the sunlight gets through your ‘shade-blockers’, the next best thing you can do is make sure your roof is reflecting and not absorbing heat.
An easy step is painting your roof white. White reflects the majority of wavelengths which means it will reflect the sun’s rays back and away from your shipping containers.
Not only is your roof’s colour important but just as important is the material you choose for your roof.
Traditional roofs like asphalt is black, this means it will absorb the heat from the sun and transmit it into your containers.
Instead you should use a treated metal roof. This would actually reflect the majority of the heat away before it even reaches your containers.
Ventilating Shipping Container for Hot Climates
Unfortunately though, it’s inevitable that at some point the ambient heat will enter your containers and when it does, your containers needs to be prepared to expel the heat and keep you cool.
You want to make sure your home is exceptionally good at letting heat out otherwise it will feel like you’re living in a sauna 24/7.
You need to make sure that both your Insulation and Ventilation are properly designed and fitted.
In terms of your insulation, most people use spray-foam insulation and we talk about this in much more detail later on in this article.
In very warm climates you shouldn’t focus too much on insulation because you want to focus more on ventilation.
With regards to ventilation you can have either passive or mechanical forms.
Passive ventilation uses nature (wind) to cool down your house and is most commonly done with a vent or a whirly bird.
Mechanical ventilation is powered by electric and is most commonly done with an extractor fan or dehumidifier.
Read how to ventilate your shipping container home for more help on ventilation.
Shipping Container Homes in Cold Climates
In hot climates we want to keep the heat out, whereas in colder climates it’s the exact opposite: we want the heat to stay inside our containers to keep us warm.
We’ve previously wrote in detail how to keep your shipping container warm during the winter months.
This section is going to focus on how to design your shipping container to be suitable for cold climates.
Insulating Shipping Container for Cold Climates
I can’t stress this point enough: if you don’t have good/enough insulation then you won’t be able to keep your container home warm regardless of how much money you are spending on heating bills.
If you’re familiar with shipping container insulation techniques keep reading, if not then I would recommend you read 5 Methods to Insulate Your Shipping Container Home first.
You have three main insulation choices for your containers: spray-foam, panels or blanket insulation.
When I’ve spoken with other shipping container home owners, the single biggest thing they recommended was spray-foam insulation.
Spray-foam insulation makes sure you get a seamless vapour barrier, which is something the other two insulation choices don’t provide. Not only does a vapour barrier help keep heat in, it also helps to stop the formation of corrosion and mold inside your containers.
Spray-foam insulation is normally applied internally to the containers; however you can also spray it on the external shell of the containers to improve the containers’ thermal value.
Image From Larry Wade
When compared to panels or blanket insulation, spray-foam is much quicker to install as you don’t need battens to support the insulation.
When you’re living in a cold climate you want high R rated insulation (the R rating is the measure of how effective your insulating material is; the higher the number the better your home will retain heat).
One of the other massive benefits of spray-foam is, it’s extremely flexible and can be used to seal small gaps to stop warm air escaping from the container.
Loosing heat via your roof is one of the most common ways a home loses heat.
The best way to prevent this, and prepare your containers for a cold climate, is to thoroughly insulate your roof space.
Again, with insulating your loft you can use either spray-foam, panels or blanket insulation.
If cost is a concern, blanket insulation would be the ideal pick. However if cost isn’t a concern spray-foam insulation is the way forward.
When building a shipping container home in a cold climate the last key thing you need to be aware of is window sizes and placement.
In addition to roofs, windows cause your container home to lose a lot of heat.
The Victorian Government of Australia states that “A single pane of glass can lose almost 10 times as much heat as the same area of insulated wall”.
So it’s very important to bear this in mind whilst you’re designing your container home.
Given that windows loose so much heat, you don’t want to design a container home with large floor to ceiling glass panes in a cold climate like Alaska. This would cause you to lose a significant amount of heat through the windows and it would be difficult to heat your home up.
It would be much more efficient to have several smaller windows.
So now you know that shipping container homes are suitable in pretty much all climates, let me know in the comments below: when are going to start build your own container home?