There are several active and passive solutions to heating your container home. First, all container homes must have the appropriate type and amount of building insulation applied. Insulation helps retain the heat generated indoors and prevents it from escaping out of the house. Next, there are a variety of mechanical heaters homeowners can choose from. Smaller spaces and moderate climates can make use of wood burners and portable heaters. A more expensive but economical option is using a window air conditioner unit. For environments experiencing extreme winters, baseboard heaters and water underfloor heating are recommended. Passive strategies such as closing doors to unused rooms and strategically using your curtains can help heat the home and reduce the energy expenditure of your mechanical systems.
Shipping containers actually do a very good job of heating themselves. Being a metal box, containers are great conductors, or very good at transferring heat. This and their smaller indoor area footprint makes it easier to heat the home than those built traditionally that are large and made of wood. (1)
Although metal is good at transferring heat, it has a hard time retaining heat. Therefore it is too adaptive to its outside environment. If it’s hot outside, it’s hot inside. If it’s freezing outside, it’s freezing inside.
This is not to say container homes are a hopeless cause for those living in extreme climates. If treated properly, and with the right solutions, container homes can retain a comfortable temperature.
We also discuss this in our piece on if container homes are comfortable. The most important takeaway is that thermal insulation for your container home is an absolute must!
Indoor temperatures can be regulated at a comfortable range by applying the appropriate insulation on your container home’s walls, ceiling, roof, and floor.
Here are some of the insulation materials commonly used for container homes: (2)
- Spray Foam: This may be the most popularly used as it is fast and easy to apply onto your home. Simply spray the chosen foam onto your container walls inside, outside, and all around. Be cautious however of the health implications of some spray foam brands.
- Wool: This is a natural and eco-friendly material sourced from sheep’s wool, with a high insulating R-value (which is good) of 3.5 per inch. It is also a natural flame retardant, ridding the need for further treatment and possibly toxic chemicals.
- Cotton-based Insulation: Another environmentally friendly material option as it is recycled out of byproducts from the cotton and denim industry. Also with an R-value of 3.5 per inch, it is comparable to the performance of fiberglass insulation. Its content of boric acid also acts as a natural fire retardant but also needs a moisture barrier to protect it from getting wet as it will reduce its insulating power.
- Cork: Another eco-friendly and biodegradable insulating material, cork is sourced from cork tree bark. This material is advantageous in that it insulates thermally and acoustically against unwanted sound.
For more detail on the insulating materials listed above, check out Ultimate Guide to Shipping Container Home Insulation
Wood Burner or Portable Heater
Milder climates with not much deviation in hot and cold can make use of wood burners or portable heaters. These are easy to use and cheap heaters, even cheaper if you use wood you picked up around the area as your fuel (meaning free operating costs). This heater can get the job done very quickly for a small room. (2)
These might not be as efficient in heating bigger rooms for a prolonged time and they may not render the highest energy efficiency points. However, it still comes in handy as an alternative source of heating or supplementary to your main heating source. (3)
Window Air Conditioner Units with Heat Pumps
If your budget allows for a bit more, window air conditioning units with heat pumps and electric wall heaters are still economical and easy to install yourself. With multiple units, they can heat larger rooms. They are best suited for moderate climates and have a high energy efficiency. (1)
Baseboard Heating and Water Underfloor Heating
For climates that experience heavy winters, baseboard heating provides a stronger heating power. The cool air comes in the baseboard, electricity then heats the air and releases it back out to the room. Especially for climates experiencing below freezing temperatures, baseboard heating is recommended. (1, 4)
Water underfloor heating is another system extreme winter climates can use. Like a radiator, hot water circulates the pipes underneath the floor, heating up the interiors. In this way, it doesn’t consume any more floor space inside! (1)
This can be more energy efficient than baseboard heating, but combining the two systems can also make for an effective pair. They are inexpensive but need skilled workers to install them.
Tips for Keeping your Container Home Warm
Reduce the Heat From Escaping Through Any Gaps
If your budget allows it, upgrade those windows from single-glazed to double-glazed windows. These have a higher insulating rate, meaning they can retain heat better for longer (which we want especially in winter). It can trap the heated air inside, retaining the temperature for longer.(2)
This also improves your energy efficiency in getting your HVAC systems to work less, therefore also bringing energy costs lower. (1)
Whenever holes are cut into the shipping container for your windows and doors, these create potential gaps around the hardware, allowing air to seep through. If not sealed properly, all the warm air your mechanical systems worked hard to generate could just leak out.
Carefully check your windows, doors, and any other places where gaps may be, and seal any gaps you find with silicone caulk. This sealing you can do it yourself and buy from your local hardware. Besides these cut out fenestrations, containers are typically built airtight. (1, 2, 3)
Strategic Use of your Rugs, Curtains, and Doors
Timber floors can give a warm feeling, but hard, smooth surfaces make the space cooler than snug, fuzzy fabrics. (1, 5)
Throwing a rug over your timber flooring can delay the heat loss while giving a cozy feel.
You can also use your curtains in a strategic way, to help keep your home stay cooler or warmer. Open your curtains during the day to let the sunlight flood in as well as take in the sun’s heat, then close your curtains at night to retain the heat inside. It acts as an additional layer of insulation, keeping the heat in and not escaping out. Even in the winter season, the sun’s warmth can help heat your home. If you live in a colder climate, invest in heavier winter curtains to be more effective in keeping the heat in. (1, 3)
Also, be mindful of closing the doors to unused rooms. This way the heating system only has to work enough to heat the opened areas of a smaller footprint. This way the generated heat will not disperse into unoccupied areas and can centralize where needed.
Another strategy would be rearranging your furniture to have your seating areas nearer the sources of heat than they are open windows or drafty areas. This, like the previous strategy, just maximizes the area that was heated.
Retain the Heat From Household
Start cooking inside. Retain the heat from the kitchen and where any hot water is running. This already generated heat from other sources, along with your light bulbs will also contribute to the heat in your space. (5)
- Heating A Shipping Container Home: 3 Top Tips and Tricks | Container Home Hub
- 10 Tips for Keeping Your Shipping Container Home Warm During Winter | Sigma Container Corporation
- How Do I Keep My Container Home Warm? – Discover Containers
- Shipping Container Air Conditioning, Heating, and Ventilation
- How to Naturally Heat Your Shipping Container Home – Superdraft