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Which Climates Are Suitable For Shipping Container Homes?

Posted By: July 29, 2015 In Guides

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

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.

Shade

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.

Using Shade To Cool A Shipping Container Home

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.

Roof

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.

Shipping Container Home Ventilation

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.
Shipping Container Home- Spray Foam Insulation

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.

Roof

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.

Shipping Container Roof Ventilation

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.

Windows

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?

Comments
  1. Marlyn

    What happens if you live in a climate that’s both very hot and very cold? I live in Canada so during the winter months it can go down to -30 to -40 degrees Celsius. In the summer it can go as high as 36 degrees Celsius. So how do i build a container home that will be warm in the winter but also cool in the summer?

    • Tom

      For the most part, all the same rules apply. You’re trying to prevent the movement of heat: either from the outside to the inside (in summer), or the inside to the outside (winter). You do that by having a good layer of insulation on the roof, floor, and walls. There are some peculiarities of combatting summer heat though, like shade or reflective coatings (to prevent radiation heat transfer).

  2. Alex

    In planning to build my house in california desert joshua tree area, how would the insulation work ? I Lan to put air conditioner in each ara i will use 2x 40’ containers for each room , living/dinning/kitchen and separate bedrooms and bathrooms. Looking forward to get more info about insulation ans shipping containers thanks!

  3. Justin

    Hey
    I live in Kuwait, where the temperature are at extreme which is 50C in the summer and 2-6C in the winter. My question here is that will it be appropriate to start a restaurant with modern idea such as the shipping container and to build it completely with that itself. If No, what are the limitations? And is it cheaper that building with bricks and mortar?

    • Tom

      There are a variety of reasons people choose to use shipping containers for construction, most of which we’ve covered elsewhere on the website. However, pursuing this type of construction only in the pursuit of saving money is generally not a good idea. While many people are able to save money compared to brick and mortar construction, there are a lot of variables at play that prevent this from being universally true. Instead, it’s best to consider some of the other benefits of container construction that might be beneficial for a restaurant. Things such as portability (move to a new location if/when necessary) and modularity (expand floor area if the restaurant does well) should be factors for you. The temperature extremes you mentioned are a challenge for any type of construction. Any building will need a lot of insulation to thrive in that environment and containers are no exception.

      • Justin

        Thank you, will contact you soon if any doubts in the future.

  4. Keerthana

    Hi,
    I live in India and I am planning to insulate two 20 feet containers.The summers are very hot (40 Degrees) and it gets around 20 degrees in Winter. Also I am planning to air condition the container and it is going to be a Cafe. Is it enough if I use Spray Foam for wall and celing ? Some 35 sqft of the container space is going to be a kitchen and can the same material be used to insulate the kitchen as well? The kitchen is not going to be air conditioned but naturally ventilated … so could it be left without insulation?

    • Tom

      Keethana,

      Spray foam insulation is a great choice. At a minimum, you’ll want to use 1 inch (2.54cm) of spray foam. The more foam you use, the less energy it will take to cool the building. If you are not going to air condition the kitchen, you don’t need to insulate it. However, you will need to build an interior wall between the kitchen and the rest of the space, and insulate that wall.

  5. Lajo

    Hi,
    I live in the tropics (in India) where the summer temperatures are now touching and even crossing 40C fairly regularly while winters are moderate, but in a container home this could be an issue too. Also facing frequent power outages in my area, I’m planning on setting up solar panels on the roof as well as a wind turbine. The panels will need to be shade-free but will they provide shade for the container rooftop? I can plant shorter trees/shrubs around the house to keep the sides cool.

    • Tom

      Hi Lajo,

      They should provide some cover, are you planning to cover the entire roof?

      Tom

  6. Ezekiel

    Hi I live in Nigeria, a temperate and warm region. I am considering the option of container home. Could please advise on the type of insulation to be adopted.
    Thank you

    • Tom

      Hi Ezekiel,

      Please read our articles on insulation and if you still have any questions be sure to email us 🙂

      Tom

  7. Chris

    Hey tom,

    Looking at growing some basic herbs in my Container over a cold and snowy winter. Do you think if I paint the roof black and use spray foam insulation that it would be sufficient, or would I need to consider some solar powered heating on top pf that?

    • Tom

      Hi Chris,

      It’s hard to say without knowing where you live and what you’re trying to grow.

      Drop me an email and I will see how I can help,

      Tom

  8. Max

    Hi , i live in northern canada, where it can really be humid and cold. Id like to use a sea container to make a garage/ gym. Would it be an inxepensive way to keep it dry without connecting power to it? thanks

    • Tom

      Hi Max,

      I know of a few container homes which have been built in Canada. These homes don’t require power to keep them dry- they are well insulated and have good ventilation.

      Tom

  9. Maria

    Hello,
    I live on an island in the CNMI. We are surrounded with salt water, we get occasional typhoons, and our islands are really humid. How will a container house fare on these conditions?

    • Tom

      Hi Maria,

      Your main problem here is going to be the salt water- how near to the coast do you live?

      However providing you take the correct preparation steps and maintain the containers I don’t see it being a problem.

      Tom

  10. katherine

    Hi

    I live in South Africa (western Cape), we are looking to put a container home in a mountain area, so in summer its really hot and winter get snow on the mountains.

    would it be possible not to insulate and just get aircon that blows hot and cold or will I need more? worried about putting it under trees as that would block out the little bit of winter sun and make it dark.

    Katherine

    • Tom

      Hi Katherine,

      It’s always possible to regulate the heat without insulation. However I would worry that the utility bill would be enormous as you would be paying to either hear or cool the container 24/7!

      Insulation just provides a way to regulate the temperature and limit fluctuations as much as possible.

      Tom

  11. Dzintis Riekstins

    Hi!

    I live in a place where all four seasons take place, so I am concerned of both keeping my container home warm in wintertime and keeping it cool in summer. You are mentioning spray-foam as the best insulation material, but do I also need to apply other insulation materials e.g. panels or blankets? Or is spray-foam enough? And would it help to keep my container home cool in summer? And is this spray-foam enough to prevent mold and humidity in my container home?
    I kindly thank you for your response in advance.

    • Tom

      Hi Dzintis,

      Spray foam insulation will be enough- you don’t need to double up on insulation materials.

      Yes, spray foam will prevent mold because, if applied correctly, it will create a vapour barrier inside your container home!

      Hope this helps,

      Tom

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