Working Refrigerated Shipping Containers

working refrigerated container

Working refrigerated shipping containers are insulated containers that are used to transport products that are already chilled, frozen, or deep-frozen and need to be maintained at a constant temperature between -15°F to 60°F. They are extremely versatile and can be installed on-premise as extra cold storage or kept on a chassis for easy cold transport.

Refrigerated shipping containers are also known as reefers.

refrigerated shipping containers

There are two types available: Integral refrigerated containers and porthole containers

Integral Containers (also known as Integrated Units) have built-in electrical cooling units that pump cold air throughout the container via vents in the floor. They need to be plugged into a 3-phase 440/460 volt power electrical source

Porthole containers (also known as Conair or insulated containers) require an external source of cold air. They have two holes in the rear wall and the cold air is pumped through via a plug-in refrigeration unit that’s powered by a diesel generator. 

Integral units tend to be more common than porthole units.

refrigerated shipping container interior

All refrigerated containers are insulated and have an R30 thermal resistance rating. This means that heat does not transfer easily from the outside in and vice versa. Thus the internal temperature is maintained despite external temperature.

The floors are specially designed for cold storage including perishables. They are  made from aluminum, which helps to maintain the desired temperature and is easy to clean. Typically using a hose to wash and rinse the floor is all it takes to maintain cleanliness.. Rather than the flat flooring found in the standard dry van shipping containers, refrigerated containers have ridged T-bar flooring that helps the air circulating throughout the container. to keep the contents raised up the floor so that the cold air can circulate. 

Refrigerated shipping containers come in the following sizes: 20-foot, 40-foot, and 40-foot High Cube (HC). A High Cube container is one foot taller than standard containers, this allows for more vertical storage space and airflow.

How Big Is a Refrigerated Shipping Container?

It can be a challenge to picture exactly how big a refrigerated container can be. Here are a few everyday guidelines to help you.


20 ft


40ft HC

How much space will it take up outside?

Slightly bigger than a large single parking bay

Slightly bigger than two large single parking bays head to toe

Slightly bigger than two large single parking bays head to toe

How high is it externally?

About half a foot shorter than standard ceiling height (9ft)

About half a foot shorter than standard ceiling height (9ft)

About half a foot higher than standard ceiling height (9ft)

How many Euro pallets

(47.2” x 31.5”) can it hold?

11 Euro-pallets placed in one layer or tier

25 Euro-pallets placed in one layer or tier

25 Euro-pallets placed in one layer or tier

How many standard pallets (48” x 40”) can it hold?

9-10 Standard- pallets in one layer or tier

21 Standard- pallets in one layer or tier

21 Standard- pallets in one layer or tier

What Are the Dimensions of a Refrigerated Shipping Container?

Here are the approximate dimensions of the most common refrigerated shipping container sizes.





High Cube (HC)

External dimensions

20’ long 

8’ wide 

8’6” high.

40’ long 

8’ wide 

8’6” high 

40’ long 

8’ wide 

9’6” high (1ft taller)



17’ 11” long

7’ 8” wide

7’ 6” high 

37’ 11” long

7’ 8” wide

7’ 6” high 

37’ long

7’ 6” wide

8’ 4” high 

How wide is the door?

7’ 5” wide  

7’ 3” high

7’ 6” wide  

7’ 6” high

7’ 6” wide  

8’ 4” high

What is the internal floor space?

134 sq.ft.

284 sq.ft.

284 sq.ft.

What is the volume? (Cubic Feet)

1,007 cu.ft

2,132 cu.ft.

2,368 cu.ft.

What does it weigh empty? (Tare)

6,530 lbs

9, 750 lbs

9,950  lbs

What Can This Type of Container Be Used For?

Refrigerated shipping containers are primarily used for the transport of products that require a temperature-controlled environment. The are ideal for the following uses:

  • Extra or temporary on-site cold storage instead of a brick-and-mortar cold room
  • Transporting temperature-sensitive products to maintain the cold chain
  • Mobile cold-storage for large events such as state fairs and carnivals
  • Exporting fresh produce 
  • Extra cold storage space for restaurants and retailers during peak season
  • Extra or temporary cold storage for hospitals and medical facilities
  • Extra or temporary storage for laboratory facilities

Refrigerated Shipping Container Conditions

Refrigerated containers are available in used working condition or new. Used refrigerator containers are guaranteed Wind and Water Tight and will be in working order. 

The container will be structurally sound and the doors will seal correctly. Used refrigerated containers will have original paint and ship line markings. It may well have dents and abrasions from heavy-duty shipping service. 

Watch the video below to find out more about refrigerated shipping containers and how they work.

Working refrigerated shipping containers have revolutionized the export and fresh produce world. It’s thanks to these containers that we are able to get international products and fresh produce straight from the farm! 

On-Site Storage Solutions has working refrigerated shipping containers for sale and for rent. Contact us today for more information regarding refrigerated containers.  

Frequently Asked Questions about Refrigerated Shipping Containers

What is a refrigerated shipping container insulation r-value?

Refrigerated containers have a thermal resistance rating of R30. Thermal resistance rating is a measure of a substance’s ability to prevent the transfer of heat. The higher the number, the better the insulation. R30 means that the container is well insulated and will keep cool air in and hot air out.

What is a reefer container?

A reefer container is another name for a refrigerated container. It is a special insulated unit that is designed to transport goods that are sensitive to temperatures such as fresh produce, frozen goods, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals.  They are used to ship temperature sensitive cargo across the ocean, by road, and by rail — making it possible to deliver fresh or frozen goods to customers across the USA and around the world.

What is a reefer container temperature range?

When operational, they are designed to maintain temperatures from -15 F to 75 F. These containers are not designed to heat or cool goods, but merely keep the climate within the container controlled.

What does a reefer container cost?

On average, a used reefer (refrigerated shipping container) will cost around $8,000 depending on the size and location. 

A New One Trip reefer (meaning it has only been used for one trip from Asia to the US) will cost around $20,000 to $26, 500 depending on the size and location. 


What is the reefer container power supply?

Most integral units run on 3 phase 440/460 volt power

Three phase power is able to accommodate higher loads. It’s very important to make sure that you have the correct power supply available at your site before your container is delivered. Any changes to the electrical power must be performed by a professional electrician to avoid electrical issues. 

If you only have 220V 3 phase, we have step-up transformers available to boost it to 440V 3 phase for  an additional cost. 

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