Sustainability and Insulation Retrofits for Container Homes

Release time:

Oct 17,2022

While the use of recycled materials is a fundamental aspect of sustainable construction, there are several aspects related to container homes that need to be revisited. Let's take a look.

Sustainability and Insulation Retrofits for Container Homes

Container architecture is often labeled as a green, sustainable or environmentally friendly form of construction. By recycling these steel structures, the need for bricks, wood and other building materials is also reduced. This subsequently reduces the total implied energy costs associated with the home.

While the use of recycled materials is a fundamental aspect of sustainable construction, there are several aspects related to container homes that need to be revisited. Let's take a look.

The container itself 

Transforming abandoned shipping containers into livable homes is certainly a useful and meaningful example of recycling. Many people worry about the condition of the containers and opt for disposable containers because they are usually in tip-top shape and don't have any dents or rusting issues. The problem, of course, is that it is difficult to advertise these containers as "recycled" because they have not yet completed their lifetime in the globalized trade industry. Choosing containers that have completed their life on a cargo ship and are sitting idle in a port or parking lot is a more sustainable way to recycle the material into your home design.

Removing Chemicals

Shipping containers are designed to withstand life at sea. Since most cargo ships have a problem with rodents living on board as stowaways, the wooden floors in containers are often heavily treated with pesticides to deter these unwanted guests. The steel walls and roofs of containers often contain coatings that contain heavy metals such as phosphorus and chromates. These chemicals help protect steel from the steady spray of salt water, which can corrode steel containers.

These volatile, gas-releasing chemicals can lead to serious health risks for dock workers, customs inspectors and others. The types of gases that accumulate in these closed containers also depend on the items being transported.

Home Insulation

Now, there are still things you can do to maximize the sustainability of your home. Steel conducts heat effectively, which means that in most climates, your container home needs to be more insulated than a traditional stick or brick house.

Most contractors who specialize in container construction use spray foam insulation, though, because it adheres well to the irregular shape of the container.

One natural way to insulate a container house is through straw bales to the exterior of the house. You will need to coat the straw bales with cement and lime plaster to further protect the bales from moisture buildup.


Container homes also require some roofing and roof insulation. Adding a green or living roof is one way to kill two birds with one stone. The steel roof of a container provides a perfect "substrate" to build a living roof. You will likely need to add some steel nail reinforcement to the roof, but the steel itself will provide an impervious layer or at least a more waterproof roofing layer than traditional 2x4s and plywood.

On top of the steel roof, you will need to add a small layer of slightly sloped, rigid insulation to help prevent water runoff.

Once your growing medium is in place, you can grow flowers, turf or other types of plants in your home.


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