A Discussion about Insulating Shipping Containers

Did you know that it’s actually more cost efficient for shipping companies to purchase new containers rather than transport empty ones back to their origin? This means that containers just keep on getting produced. And once they’ve successfully made their first and last venture across the sea, they sit idle and unused in shipping yards. But naturally humans have found a way to salvage these solid structures.

You may recall our story from last year Shipping Containers in Our Modern Framework. The article discusses the presence of shipping containers in modern architecture, from DIY Tiny Homes to contemporary architectural marvels. Is it the Renaissance of Container Architecture? Maybe. A quick scroll through Pinterest could easily convince anyone to find a dirt cheap container to transform.

We’ve had a few customers use InSoFast to insulate containers and the inquiries keep coming. So Ed and Dean, our very own dynamic duo set up a camera for an unedited conversation about insulating shipping containers with InSoFast panels. Things got… a little nerdy and the conversation runs on for 15 minutes. So in case you want to skip to the good stuff or read a little extra we’ve cut the main topics of the conversation into chapters.

We hope this post serves as an informational resource for all things related to shipping containers. Feel free to ask us any questions or provide your own expertise in the comment section below.

Click a chapter link below to begin.

0:37 – How to Install

Traditionally InSoFast panels are installed horizontally with the longest side facing the ground. But since shipping containers have an uneven ribbed surface, the recessed studs may not line up evenly with the irregular surface. When using InSoFast to insulate a shipping container simply install the panels vertically with the shortest side facing the ground.

1:07 – How to Run Adhesive

Place a zigzag of adhesive along the ribbed edge of the container. You also want to ensure that the recessed stud is fully intact with the adhesive. This will allow the panel to mechanically lock into place. We have an easy hack to measure the placement of the studs. Use the InSoFast panel as a guide! By holding the panel perpendicular to the wall you can measure where the studs line up with the wall. Place some extra adhesive in these zones to act as a cross bond. Push the panel into place and continue.

1:47 – Pounding out Large Dents and “Liquid Shims”

You’ll want to go through your container and pound out any large dents that exist. Our adhesive has the ability to fill in about 1/2 to 3/8 in. Essentially the adhesive acts as a Liquid Shim that smooths out your wall. Dents larger that 1/2 in should be corrected

2:11 – Adhesives in Review

A second demonstration of applying the adhesive for those in need some extra visuals.

2:55 – Strength of 37lbs/sq-in

The adhesive manufacturer assures that the holding power of the glue on foam alone is 37 lbs per square inch. The ribbed flute of the shipping container measures about 3 in x 4 ft per panel which equates to over 140 square inches of bond surface (Dean’s quick calculations were a bit off). Multiple this by 37 pounds and you’re looking at a huge number…over 5,000 lbs to be exact.

4:13 – Attaching and Holding Cabinets

Creating the bond between the studs and the adhesive is important when attaching heavy items like cabinets. This bond will hold the weight of the finishing material, without stressing the bond of the foam to the steel flute. The bond between the adhesive in the stud has almost 100 lbs of holding power per square inch. With about 6 attachment points onto the flute per panel, your kids can use the cabinets as a jungle gym and the bond will still hold up.

5:49 – Installing Subsequent Rows, Adjusting the Alignment of the Studs and Starting Height

We recommend installing the second row in an offset pattern like Ed demonstrates in the video. But before you even begin installing take some time to think about your project. Planning can save you a headache when it comes to later steps in the installation. For example, cut 3-4 inches off the bottom panel to align the stud in the proper place for attaching your baseboard. To avoid wasting a panel you could make the cut at 12 inches in order to reuse that same piece at the top. The factory spacing is irrelevant. You can space the studs in the way that works best for your project.

7:16 – More on Staggered Joints, Plumb Wall, Liquid Shim

Dean talks about why we designed the panels to stagger in the first place. The staggered joint design is most helpful in basement projects where the process helps to plumb out the wall. The panels lock together and flatten themselves out creating an even surface. If you install the panels evenly, it’s ok but the stagger does help to brace the panels together by holding the interlock in place. Another thing to keep in mind is that the adhesive spans over the gaps and fills in irregularities. If there’s a dent in the steel the adhesive will act as a liquid shim.

8:21 – Hollow Sound and Adhesive Bonding

People sometimes ask what to do if your panels aren’t bonded. If this is the case your panel will make a hollow sound when you hit it. This is an easy fix. Drill through the panel and work more adhesive into the hole with the caulk gun. If it’s a huge hole you can use the expanding foam adhesive to set the panel properly.

8:56 – Bracing Panels to the Wall while Adhesive Sets

A common question we get from InSoFasters, “How should I brace my walls?” The answer? Use the regular load jacks that come with containers to hold everything in place. By bracing the wall in one spot every 6 feet or so you are bracing all of the panels due to the engineered interlock. Alternatively cut a 2×4 and lean it up against the panels. In the video Ed shakes the panels to demonstrate the solid interlock in action.

10:02 – Running Electric

The trick to running your electric starts and ends with bending the end of your wire. This helps it flow through the chaseway with ease. It’s that simple!

11:16 – Insulating and Bracing the Ceiling

For roof applications bracing is basically the same process. Use a 2×4 that’s a little bit shorter than the height of the ceiling to brace the panels as they are bonding to the steel. We suggest installing the ceiling first and then the walls. Use spray foam for any gaps that form.

11:57 – Airtight Sealing

Shipping containers provide a perfect seal. There is no air infiltration or condensation. Remember to air seal around your outlets and place a bead of caulk on the bottom and top of your walls.

12:36 – Insulating the Floor

Insulating the floor of your container is a smart idea for several reasons. It will provide added insulation along with the option of running electrical into the floor for extra outlets. We recommend insulating the floor after the ceiling and walls. It makes no difference which direction the panels are arranged, since you will no longer be working with the surface obstacle of the ridged flutes.

Saving Space and Boosting R-Value

One thing the guys did not really cover was the R-Value of your system. In the video, Ed and Dean demonstrate the installation with our UX Panel on the interior of a container. This 2″ panel is R-8.5 in the material alone. That’s suitable for most basements across the US, even in really cold climates like the Northeast. You can take it a step further with the EX Panel at R-10 in 2.5″ of material. That helps exceed most code requirements across the country.

Regardless of the panel you choose, the best way to install them is actually on the exterior of your container. On the outside, you can opt for a thicker panel with higher R-Value without losing any precious space on the interior. If you want to future-proof your container from ever-tightening code requirements and energy costs, do both. Insulate the interior and exterior. Mix-and-match for space requirements, or go all out. At a minimum, before drywall and siding, you can achieve R-17 with just the InSoFast panels. There is no maximum ;)