What Insulation Should You Use for Shipping Container Houses?

Shipping container houses are growing in popularity, and the demand for them is only going to grow in the future. There are plenty of specialists who focus on converting shipping containers to an area suitable for living or using, but it’s also possible to do it yourself. You’ll have to consider insulation, soundproofing, framing and more, but it’s definitely doable!

Cheaper than traditional housing, shipping container homes are easy to maintain. Some people like the idea of minimalist living and being able to move their home to other locations. Not only that, this kind of lifestyle appeals to those looking for sustainable living options, too.

If you’re creating your very own home space using shipping containers, we’ve looked at a few of the insulation options you can choose from for your container home and their benefits.

Choosing between internal or external insulation

One of the first things to think about when considering insulation for a shipping container is whether you’re going for internal or external insulation. This will have a big impact on the project and the future of your conversion.

Shipping containers are a lot smaller than traditional housing, so space is at even more of a premium than ever. While some people choose to combine two or more containers to give themselves more space, this means working out how things fit together is essential before starting any work - and what kind of land you can put the containers on.

Once you’ve got this figured out, it’s time to think about insulation. The paint used on these containers does act as a layer itself, but it’s often toxic to people to help the container survive life at sea. It will need to be covered and replaced for safety.

Using internal insulation in shipping containers

With internal insulation, you can use most insulation materials as you would in other properties, but this will also need to be covered up and uses some of that precious space you’re already cutting down on by moving into a shipping container.

By using plasterboard sheets and wooden beams, you can create a frame and box within the container for your living space. The gaps between the container walls and the plasterboard sheets can be filled with insulation materials to help with energy conservation.

Make sure to account for ceiling and underfloor insulation in the same way, however, to make a full seal throughout the container.

External Insulation of a shipping container

External insulation is another option, and it doesn’t use as much space. You can apply the insulation on the outside of the container’s walls and cover it with cladding or plasterboard sheets for a smart finish that matches your decor preferences.

Sprayfoam insulation is one of the most common options for insulating the outside of a shipping container as it is naturally moisture resistant, meaning you don’t have to attach a vapour barrier first. It’s also very easy to get an even layer, however it is one of the more expensive options.

You can cover this, or any other insulation material, with waterproof panels, either wood or treated plywood among others, for a smooth effect that is easier to paint and style. Shipping containers can have odd markings and indents that you want to cover up and this is a good way to do that.

Even if you choose external insulation, you’ll still need a frame inside the container for the living space. This also lets you install soundproofing materials, too.

Must-have insulation materials for shipping container homes

Working out the R-value

Before you get started, you need to figure out the R-value. The R-value is the most important factor of insulation materials. This tells you how effective the material you’ve chosen will be, usually per inch. With this, you can work out how much you need to install to reach the right level of efficiency. This goes hand-in-hand with the U-Value, which is useful to know for a full picture. You can find out more about both values in this guide.

It can also help you with budgets and the space you’ll need to leave for the material - and this isn’t just the walls but ceiling and underfloor insulation, too. 

Choosing your insulation tools

The climate and weather conditions you’ll experience have a direct impact on the insulation materials you choose to use. Good insulation will not only keep warm air inside but also keep excessive heat out as you try to keep cool.

The different insulation materials have varying properties and are suitable for different climates. Each also comes with different prices, so you can find a good balance of reaching the right R-value at the best possible price.

  • Fibreglass is a common type of insulation used in many homes. It needs to be protected from moisture and fully sealed off from the living space, as it can be hazardous to people. It’s popular because it offers a good R-value for its price.
  • Cotton insulation is made from recycled materials like denim, and appeals to those looking at shipping container homes as a sustainable option. While it also has to be protected from moisture, it provides a good R-value rating and lasts longer than some other materials.
  • Wool insulation is another sustainable option that is similar in R-value efficiency to fibreglass and cotton, but the price makes this a popular option. It does need a good amount of space, though, and be packed in tightly after a vapour barrier has been installed.
  • Sprayfoam insulation is more expensive than other options but provides a great R-value and is one of the easiest to apply - either inside or outside the container, if not both. It can be applied evenly to avoid spots where heat can leak in or out.

You can also supplement these materials with insulated plasterboard, too. These aren’t enough to insulate the container alone, but could add a bit extra to the R-value - and since you need a frame between the container walls, insulation and you, they’re a good choice to include.


As we mentioned earlier, the walls of shipping containers are thin, and that’s not going to help block out noise - from inside and out!

The biggest areas to think about are ceiling and wall sound insulation. The floor is less important, but if you’re starting this project from scratch, it’s better to do it, too.

As with thermal insulation, there are plenty of soundproofing materials to choose from. You’ll need to decide what fits into your budget to give you the amount of noise suppression you want. There are foams, mats, plasterboards and more - and all have their uses. We recommend the iKoustic brand, who offer a range of soundproofing tools and materials for your home.

Once you’ve chosen one, consider the order that the soundproofing, insulation and vapour barrier needs to be installed - and how this changes with external and internal insulation. You’ll want this figured out for when you install the underfloor insulation, saving you from reaching this area twice.

Need Help Insulating A Shipping Container?

With all of this figured out, you’re ready to get started on your shipping container. A full home might need slightly different considerations than a unit being used for an office, but the basics are the same. You can tweak your plans accordingly to suit your individual needs and ensure the shipping container lives up to what you’re looking for.

If you’d like to know more about insulation materials and options, for shipping container homes or other projects, get in touch with our team and we’ll do what we can to help.

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