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What is a Refrigerated Storage Container | Reefer Container?

What is a Refrigerated Storage Container (a.k.a. Reefer Container)?

A refrigerated storage container, also known as a “reefer container,” is a temperature-controlled portable shipping container. They are originally designed to be used in inter-modal freight transportation and carry temperature-sensitive or climate-controlled items overseas. However, as more and more businesses and households re-purpose shipping containers, they are now used for more than just overseas travel. Despite their name, they can keep perishable items either warm or cool, depending on your needs. They are capable of controlling a very wide range of internal temperatures – ranging from -85 degrees F to over 100 degrees F.

Most Common Types of Refrigerated Storage Containers

Closed Refrigerated Container

A closed reefer container is the most common form you’ll find in the industry. It comes in one piece with insulation and an integrated cooling and heating unit. It also has an integral front wall and conforms to industry standards.

Modified/Controlled Atmosphere (MA/CA)

Due to their improved insulation, MA/CA container units can be differentiated from closed reefers. Specialized air exchange controllers replenish oxygen that is used to maintain a constant interior atmosphere that adheres to cargo criteria throughout the route.

Automatic Fresh Air Management Containers (AFAM)

AFAM reefer containers are the most sophisticated. Essentially, they take the components of MA/CA and upgrade them. The main difference is that sensors exchange the air rate at specific rates to ensure that oxygen and carbon dioxide are at exact levels. This system does this automatically and should be used for specific cargo that requires it.

How Do They Work?

Reefer containers control for a very wide range of temperatures. They typically work using either integrated or external cooling units, T-flooring, and insulated walls.

Integrated unit

A majority of refrigerated storage containers use an internal temperature regulation unit. These are installed inside of the container and either keep items cool or warm. Eventually, an integrated unit will require an external power source on land or on their cargo ship, also known as a “reefer point,” to recharge. 

Once the internal power source is up and running, it works by ventilating warm air away from the container. If you need to control for a warmer temperature, it would do the opposite – feed warm air into the container. In order for this process to work, you need to have consistent airflow around the container at all times. If you are using the container in an area without consistent air flow, you would need a water cooling system to maintain your ideal temperature.

External or Clip-on Unit

If a reefer container will not have access to a “reefer point” for an extended period of time, they can rely on an external diesel-powered generator. You would simply by attach the generator to the outside of the container. This enables airflow through duct work or portholes that let air enter and exit the container. Refrigerated storage containers also have a layer of insulation installed on the interior to restrict temperature change.


Refrigerated storage containers also use metal or aluminum T-flooring, which is different than a traditional storage container’s plywood floors. Essentially, it creates an elevated floor to keep contents of the container raised slightly above the ground level. This allows cold or warm air to flow consistently underneath.


Keep in mind that due to the structure of T-floors, it is usually not suitable to use these containers for residential or office space without modifying it. This is because the T-floors have gaps in between its metal slats, which can catch furniture legs and shoes, and hold dirt. In order to modify the T-floors to use the reefer container for a container home or office, you would need to cover it with another type of flooring. You can also remove the T-flooring entirely.

Insulated walls

Traditional storage containers have corrugated steel walls. However, refrigerated storage containers have more layers of insulation built in to keep the contents cooled. Walls inside a reefer container will consist of a stainless steel sheet, foam insulation, and an aluminum sheet.

Reefer Container Temperature

Reefer containers are designed to control temperature. They are great for items that need to be stored at hot, warm, cool, or cold temperatures for a long duration of time. This makes them extremely versatile for just about any climate-control needs, and they can be used to store or transport anything from hazardous chemicals to fresh meat and produce.

Reefer containers can typically sustain temperatures from -85 degrees Fahrenheit to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes them great solution for transporting food and other perishable items, regardless of the local climate. Keep in mind that most reefer containers will require an external power source to maintain these temperatures for longer trips.

Benefits of Refrigerated / Reefer Containers

Wide Range of Temperature Control

Since reefer containers can control for a wide range of temperatures, they are great solutions for storing or transporting items in many different industries. Whether you need a container to store frozen, chilled, or warm goods, a reefer container can handle it.

Rental and Purchase Options

You have the option to either rent a refrigerated storage container for a given period of time or purchase it outright. If it’s more convenient for you, you can even rent them out on a month-to-month basis. This makes them highly flexible to suit a wide variety of commercial or residential needs. To learn more about rental options, take a look at our storage container renter’s guide.


Like traditional storage containers, reefer containers can be transported and re-located very easily and conveniently. Normally, a supplier delivers it via a flatbed truck and uses a crane to lower it onto your location. Suppliers can typically deliver within weeks, and have it set up for use in no time. If you are renting, the supplier will return to pick up the container after your rental period is over.


Refrigerated storage containers are built to enable versatile airflow at all times throughout the container. This makes sure items inside are kept at their ideal temperature at all times. Depending on the temperature you need to maintain inside the container, airflow will either move around the goods or between the goods to keep them frozen, chilled, or warm.

Industries who Use Refrigerated Storage Containers

Reefer containers are highly reliable in keeping goods at almost any internal temperature you need. This makes them great solutions for a variety of commercial and residential needs.

Transportation of perishables

Refrigerated storage containers were originally designed to transport perishable goods overseas. If you need to transport food, drinks, or other perishables a long distance, a reefer container can help you do so. For instance, a warehouse, manufacturer, or wholesaler may need to use a reefer container to ship items like food to a grocery store location.


Restaurants often have to store perishable food and drinks, and need a climate controlled container to do so. Reefer containers can be easily moved to and from a restaurant and conveniently sit almost anywhere on-site.


Healthcare facilities often have to store necessities like medicines and vaccines for patients. Many of these medicines require strict climate-control in order to remain effective. Especially in times of higher-than-usual patient demand, healthcare practices often look into renting or buying a refrigerated container.

Residential or building purposes

Because of their high-grade insulated walls, reefer containers can be great to re-purpose as homes, studios, or office spaces. Remember that you will have to modify the T-flooring in a reefer container in order to use it for home or office needs. If you don’t particularly need the climate-controlling feature, you can opt for a ground-level office container (GLO) or a mobile office with air conditioning for your office needs.


Many retail stores sell items that require storage in a climate-controlled environment. Retail operations that sell things like flowers, wine, or plants may need a reefer container to keep these items at a consistent temperature. Additionally, retail business owners can rent or buy a reefer container to either house their business operations or use on-site for storage purposes.

Festivals and Concerts

Oftentimes, local communities will need refrigerated storage containers to host outdoor festivals, concerts, carnivals, fairs, or other public gatherings. This allows vendors to keep their items cool or frozen throughout the day. They are great to store beer, wine, ice cream, and other chilled refreshments.

Disaster management

Refrigerated storage containers can offer assistance during an emergency or disaster. For instance, they can keep food, water, drinks, medicine, and other necessities at a consistent temperature for long periods of time. They can be of great use for disaster shelters or residential locations for individual families. In this way, they are extremely reliable in keeping communities safe.

Who uses reefer containers?

Features of Refrigerated Storage Containers

Temperature Control: As the name implies, reefer containers are able to control the temperature through refrigeration. Reefer containers can get as low as -22 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Insulation: The best way to keep something cold isn't just by slapping an A/C unit on a container. It's also the insulation, which most reefer containers provide. Having this insulation can help keep your items cold even if the cooling device goes out.

Ventilation: In order to maintain optimum air circulation, containers frequently incorporate built-in ventilation systems. This keeps the temperature in the storage area consistent throughout and helps prevent the development of hot patches.

Adjustable Shelving: Refrigerated storage containers can be outfitted with shelving although it is not standard within containers. 

Easy Access Doors: Like most other storage containers, reefer containers have large doors that provide easy access to goods and materials. 
Precise Monitoring: With more advanced options you can monitor exactly how much air is being filtered through your system as well as other factors.

What Sizes are Available?

Like traditional storage containers, refrigerated storage containers come in standard sizes of:

Most suppliers also offer high-cube reefer containers. These are 1 foot taller than standard sized containers.

Additionally, because of the added cooling/heating unit, the internal size of the reefer container will be different than a traditional container. Integrated units installed on the inside will occupy 1-2 feet of space at one end of the container. This means that you will likely lose 1-2 feet of space internally. Additionally, the interior dimensions of a reefer container are slightly smaller than those of a traditional container. This is due to the layer of insulation inside the container’s walls.

How Much Do They Cost?

Depending on whether your container is brand new, refurbished, or used, the cost varies. In fact, refrigerated containers come in a wide variety of conditions. The condition will directly impact the rental or purchase price.

  • 20-foot refrigerated containers can range from $3,000-$7,000 depending on the condition, and high-cubes will often cost more.
  • 40-foot refrigerated containers can range from $4,000-$12,000 depending on the condition, and high-cubes will often cost more.
  • Rental costs can range between $30-$85 or more per day.

Keep in mind when you are looking to buy that refrigerated storage containers usually cost more than traditional containers. To get an idea about the cost of storage containers, take a look at our pricing guide. Also make sure to read these 5 security tips for storage containers when buying a reefer container.

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