Can I Use a Refrigerated Shipping Container as a Walk in Freezer?

Customers often ask ‘can I use a refrigerated shipping container as a walk in freezer?’  The basic answer is yes. In this guide, we outline the main considerations for any novice to shipping containers who might be looking to use one as a walk in freezer.

Can I get a cheap walk in freezer by using a refrigerated shipping container?

40ft High cube used refrigerated shipping container in a depotYes. A used 20ft refrigerated container or 40ft refrigerated container will commonly sell for a fraction of the price of a used walk-in freezer. However, it is important to state whilst the end result may be the same (keeping your stuff frozen) a walk in freezer and a refrigerated shipping container are very different.

A refrigerated container is not suitable for walk in freezers if you plan to be in and out all day long. Constantly opening the doors will mean that the container needs to work harder to stay at the set temperature. They will work as static freezer storage for people who will only go in once every day or two at most.

They also will not bring goods down from ambient temperatures. A refrigerated container is designed to maintain a set temperature.

It is worth doing some checks and research to ensure that your specific use will match what a refrigerated container can offer.

Top tips for using a refrigerated shipping container as a walk in freezer

1: You are not buying a walk in freezer

A shipping container trader will sell you a used or new refrigerated shipping container and not a walk in freezer. For example, in the UK many walk in freezers will require man trap alarms or a way to unlock the freezer from the inside if someone is trapped. They may also require lighting, and the fittings and fixtures of the lighting must be water and ice-proof.

A white refrigerated shipping containerA refrigerated container is not suitable for retail units where people will be coming in and out of the freezer all day. They can be used as a static freezer store, but they cannot maintain their temperature if people are constantly coming in and out. They are best if you only plan to go in once every day or so.

You may also like to consider things such as thermal curtains which can help reduce cool air loss. They can save money/power costs in the long term. Remote monitoring equipment can be fitted to send you a text message or email if the container loses power or dips below a certain temperature.

As standard, a used shipping container won’t come with these options. The general international situation from container sellers will be that you are buying a used refrigerated shipping container. Meeting any local requirements for your specific use will be your responsibility. (so for example in the UK if you require lights and an escape lock on the door. It will be your responsibility to ensure it is in place before you use the container as a freezer.)

Obviously, local laws in each country will vary and it’s important to check what you may need for your specific use in terms of statutory regulations.

Our sales teams and engineers are between them well versed in suggesting modifications dependent on your specific use. It can often help if we have a complete as possible idea of how you intend to use this container at the time of your enquiry.

2: You will need 32 amp 3 phase power, with a motor rated (D-Rated) circuit breaker

3 phase refrigerated shipping container plugAll shipping containers use a 32 amp 3 phase power supply and come with an approx. 12 metre power lead.

We often receive requests to downgrade the power supply to fit a 16 am 3 phase or domestic 13 amp. Unfortunately, this just isn’t a cost effective option any time we have priced this up. The costs to do this work will commonly outweigh the purchase price of the container to begin with. If you can upgrade your power supply this will usually be a lot cheaper. If you can’t – unfortunately it is very unlikely that a refrigerated container will work for you as a cheap walk in freezer.

Refrigerated shipping containers draw a pretty huge current on start up and require motor rated circuit breakers. Your power supply will also need to be set to the marine setting rather than the UK domestic setting. (anyone installing your refrigerated container for you should be well aware of this.)

3: Refrigerated shipping containers can offer unbeatable value

All shipping containers do vary in price with age, engine type and international as well as local supply and demand variations. A good quality 40ft used working refrigerated container will often be available to buy in the £7 – 8k + VAT range, depending on available stock. (approx. a quarter the price of a similarly sized walk in freezer.)

4: You can save on additional business rates

view of engine from outside on a refrigerated shipping containerAs a shipping container will count as a temporary structure (as opposed to a permanent building) you should be exempt from any additional business rates for your site. Whereas a walk in freezer may count as a permanent structure and increase the overall internal rateable floor area for your site. (although you should always double check this yourself before proceeding.)

5: They are not designed to freeze your goods for you

A shipping container is designed to maintain the temperature of your cargo for a trip. It is not designed to be loaded with ambient goods to then bring down to temperature. This will work the engine extremely hard and would also take days perhaps weeks with a loaded container of goods.

Loading in ambient goods will ordinarily run the engine so hard that you may experience major faults very quickly. Loading moist goods inside will also cause major issues with the icing up of the refrigeration engine gear. If not regularly cleaned this will also cause problems.

6: They hold their value well

A used and working refrigerated shipping container has approximately half its value in the container structure itself. The other half is in the engine (refrigeration unit). Even if your engine breaks down, as long as the structure is sound there will still be a fair recovery value on the old container.

7: Food grade interiors come as standard

Inside refrigerated shipping container with food safe lining and aluminium tbar floorAs refrigerated shipping containers are used mainly for shipping foodstuffs around the globe, they are all fitted out with a stainless steel internal wall. They will also come with an easy clean floor. (ordinarily, an aluminium T-bar floor that you can easily be jet washed.)

8: Buy your container with an installation service (commissioning)

Most suppliers (including ourselves) will supply a container with a commissioning service. The commissioning service involves and engineer coming out to site shortly after the container is delivered.

9: Get good engineers to maintain your refrigerated shipping container

Having good engineers on hand to complete preventative servicing will prevent the container from breaking down and risking the loss of thousands of pounds worth of stock.

Contact Us offer the UK’s largest online range of shipping containers for sale with a nationwide network of storage and conversion yards and crane equipped delivery vehicles.

If you need a shipping container feel free to browse our online range of shipping containers for sale. You can also call us on freephone 0808 1234 215 any time 9am – 5pm weekdays and our team will be happy to discuss your requirements. Alternatively, you can use our online shipping container quote form or request a telephone callback. In both cases we aim to get back to you within 1-2 working hours (may take longer for more detailed quotes).

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