It’s a big Sea… so get out of my way!

3 Oct

How in the vastness of the sea, do two titans collide?

The sea may be vast… but that channel certainly isn’t. The Suez Canal is a treacherous place. Or so it would seem.

Watch the video carefully. It looks like the ship to starboard tried to go around and then probably came to the grim realization that she was about to run aground. Then she took to hard port without reducing throttle.

The rest is obvious. BOOM! She hit the opposing ship.

Boys and girls… when these ships are loaded, the wind pushes them around like giant sails.  You can’t just slam on the brakes. These aren’t pleasure yachts. The ships are so large that they take miles to stop, not to mention the fact that the prop turbulence created by these emergency maneuvers actually exerts so much force that they destroy the ship’s rudders.

Observers nailed  it when they said that the collision was inevitable from the moment they started filming.

ISBU (Shipping Container) Barn Raising, Anyone?

25 Sep ISBU Barn

You cannot believe how busy we are right now as families race to complete ISBU Homes before winter tries to wreak havoc with home completion.

As our families build out their Corten Compounds”, one of the things we’re getting asked about more and more is “ISBU Outbuildings”.

We talk on a regular basis about using ISBUs to create Poultry Houses, Rabbit Houses and even processing shops for everything from poultry production to wild game processing and meat smoking.  The nice thing about using ISBUs (Shipping Containers) for out-buildings is that you’re creating easily placed, easily secured buildings  that can actually be moved if required as your site plan evolves.

But what about building BARNS out of ISBUs?

We’ve seen those Youtube clips of the Amish doing high-speed “barn-raisings” that would give most contractors an aneurysm. I mean, they build these massive monuments to livestock in a weekend. It’s  just incredible.

But, what if you used ISBUs (Shipping Containers) to do something similar. If you took a pair of  40′ High Cube ISBUs and then placed them apart from each other to form “walls”, you could top them with trusses and create an enclosed barn in no time flat. ISBU Barn2

These barns get built in less than a WEEK. I’m not kidding. A WEEK.  And remember, the shops inside the ISBUs are already weathered in from Day One.

Consider this:

ISBU BarnWe’ve even used concrete highway dividers to set the boxes as  foundation. That means that you get a 12’+ roof in the garage and you get room above for an office, a shop, or even a guest apartment by using attic trusses.

When you need more space, you simply sister more boxes up to the sides.

We even have a small rural “Sustainable Community” that built one of these ISBU barns to build their “Tiny Houses” for their residents within. When they’ve finished their home construction, they’ll convert the “build barn” into a community space.

If you need help figuring this out, just ask…

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Brrrrrr. It’s cold in here (he said as he reached in for a cold one).

18 Sep

It goes without saying that one of the great inventions of our time is the modern refrigerator. And now, that big metal box in your kitchen will get an efficiency makeover when new national efficiency standards go into effect on September 15, reducing energy use of most refrigerators and freezers by about 20-25%.

refrigThe new standards take effect 100 years after the first modern refrigerators were mass-produced for general use. Before that time, consumers used iceboxes (literally boxes with ice) to keep their food cold, but food safety was an issue. When the ‘electric refrigerator’ was finally introduced it was more than just a convenience, it was an invention that saved people’s lives.  Refrigerators have evolved considerably since the 1900s both in appearance and function. The early units placed the cooling device on top of a small boxy unit while today’s sleeker multi-door units place the cooling units unseen on the bottom.

The new efficiency measures are the latest in a series of standards over 40 years that have helped to significantly bring down the cost of running a typical refrigerator. A fridge that just meets the new standards will use $215 to $270 less per year in electricity than a comparable unit that met the first state standards set in 1978.


The refrigerator story is filled with intriguing plot lines – from the initial energy crisis in the ‘70s, to negotiations between disparate groups of stakeholders, to national legislation signed by President Reagan in 1987. It’s a good story packed with positive outcomes. The graph above gives a birds-eye view of some of the changes over the last 40 years. While energy use decreased more than three-fourths, refrigerator volume increased, and price (in $2010) decreased by two-thirds.

Read the rest of this great post, HERE.


Apocalypse WOW!

16 Sep

When you work with steel every day, you start to feel like you’re surrounded by it.

In my word, a part of life is defining your space.

Here’s my dream fence;

Steel Fences make good neighbors

To the Mountains! To the Sea! Wait! BOTH! :)

13 Sep ISBU Micro-Condo - 1st

Dear Container Gurus,

My wife and I have been readers of your blogs for a long time. I bought your book. We loved it and it actually gave us hope. On television, all you see are the high dollar builds by people with huge wallets  and even bigger egos. Your ISBU homes are affordable and efficient, aimed at caring for growing families. It’s exactly what we crave!

(I even sent you fan mail hoping that someday my ship would come in and I’d be able  to build my own Corten Castle using shipping containers under your leadership!)

We’re sold on the ability to prefab the ISBUs in a garage and then haul them to the site. We love the idea that ISBUs are just modular building blocks. We love the idea that due to their nature (they’re just big blocks) you can make them look like anything you want.

We love the idea of a rustic ISBU cabin type weekend home clad in plank siding and shingles.

Well, my ship came in and this time, I wasn’t waiting for a plane at the airport. I’ve inherited a small parcel up in the mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the Olympic Peninsula. It’s ours free and clear and it already has a well and a septic tank installed.

Sounds good, right? Well…

Every pearl has it’s price. This little hunk of heaven in Washington State is the site of a settlers cabin that burned down. After we cleared away all the debris and the garbage, we discovered that we only have about 480 usable square feet to actually build on.

What we’d like to build is a small/tiny ISBU weekend home that incorporates the following;

  • A single car garage – we drive a sports car and not a 4wd truck
  • Garage area needs the ability to convert into a make-shift art studio
  • A main floor for communal purposes with 1/2 bath – possible Murphy bed
  • Dishwasher – love to cook, hate  to do dishes
  • A computer desk instead of a dining table
  • A full bedroom with shower bath
  • A rooftop terrace so that we can take in the sunsets with PVs on the roof

We’d like to keep as much of the cabin’s structure as “non-organic” as possible. Living in the forest means fires. We’d like to avoid combustion as much as possible. :)

People will hang decks off ever side they can to capitalize on the view. If we build a  rooftop deck, we don’t NEED the eyesores that everyone else builds. Our ISBU home will be “monumental” and not “ornamental”, if that makes any sense.

The actual building  site is approximately 20′ x 24′. Is this  even possible  using ISBUs?

Dear Sunsetters,

Can you climb a loft ladder? LOL!

If so, I think I have an ISBU Tiny Home that you might find interesting.

For several years, I’ve been fascinated by the “Fire Tower” type structures scattered throughout the National Forests where I live in Montana.  I love the idea that you can actually live high enough in the treeline to be able to take in “the big view” every single day and night.

A while back, somebody sent me a rough line drawing of a single level “tiny house” that was laid out “studio style” above a natural stone first floor. It looked like it belonged in a Forest Ranger’s custody as he/she guarded our wilderness. And it made me start thinking about the possibilities.

Actually, it made me start thinking about how you could easily adapt that idea to use 20′ High Cube Containers stacked 2 wide and 2 high. Stacked 2 over 2 on a first floor constructed  of CMUs (concrete block), you could literally build a three story “tiny home” quickly and efficiently.

I’ve played with the original drawings myself, adapting them to ISBU construction and it’s actually much easier than it looks.

Build your first floor garage (16′ x 20′ approximately) out of cinderblocks. Obviously, this means that your garage door goes on the  “short wall”. I’d build a steel “cradle” into the top of that garage structure to receive the ISBUs. Clad your first floor in native stone for that rustic “cabin” vibe.

ISBU Micro-Condo - GarageNow, set (2) 20′ ISBUs onto the top of that cinderblock garage to fly your “main” floor.

ISBU Micro-Condo - 1st(2) Additional 20′ ISBUs get set on top of the Main Floor ISBUs to form your bedroom level.

ISBU Micro-Condo
The interior of the garage gets SPF or Rigid insulation and a covering of plywood. Yes. Plywood. Stringers set  before SPF (spray foam closed cell insulation) is applied will give you anchors for your interior (plywood) cladding and that plywood will allow you to hang whatever you want, wherever you want. The Olympic Peninsula is legendary for it’s rainfall. Why hang sheetrock that will get damaged by moisture? If you want to stabilize the temperatures to do artwork, you have to insulate.  If you’re  worried about the plywood interior combusting in a firestorm, fire retardant materials can be applied.

Insulate the exteriors of the ISBUs with SPF or rigid insulation and then apply your siding in the usual manner.  I’d suggest that you use something like Hardiplank. Hardiplank is a fiber-cement siding material that consists of a combination of cellulose fibers, along with cement-like materials.  It doesn’t expand. It doesn’t contract. It’s extremely stable. If you want strong, durable  concrete based siding that is good looking and guaranteed to last for decades, you want Hardiplank.

(NO! They don’t pay us to say that. It’s just pointless to reinvent a wheel that works so well. It’s a little harder to install. You need to wear eye protection and a mask to work with it – to keep the dust out of your lungs and eyes. But once it’s on, it’s on for decades without maintenance. )

Again, consider running the siding “the wrong way”. It will draw viewers eyes UP to the roof, increasing the stature of your structure.

IF you run the siding “up and down” with a gap between panels, you can actually catch rain to focus into a rain gutter located at the base of your wall. Use this “gutter” to not only collect rainwater for irrigation, but to actually plant herbs in. We fab a “channeled gutter” that actually has space in it specifically for planting. Weepholes in the channeled gutter allow water into the root area of your planters. Think of it as “drip irrigation” with an assist from Mother Nature. It sounds crazy but it works better than you can imagine. You get herbs and garden watering without lifting a finger. :)

A rainwater harvesting system built into your roof will provide a  LOT of water in your location. One of the really nice things about the  Olympic Peninsula is the regular rainfall the area is blessed with.  You can build 1300 gallon tanks out of galvanized pipe.

ferguson-residence- 2 - 1300 gallon -outdoor-rainwater-retention - tanks

Okay, forget the hokey chain link fence. Don’t blame ME. Blame Dwell Magazine. It’s where the illustration came from! :)

Clad the upper ISBU levels in dark earth tone Hardiplank. Again (can you tell I’m serious?), I’d run the plank siding vertically instead of horizontally to visually “pop” that structure straight up into the sky.

Think BIG glass. You don’t need to go get “custom windows” made. I’d use the large insulated panes we use on malls and skyscrapers to fill in “the big holes”. It’s important to draw nature in when you’re building confined spaces.  Use high quality, energy efficient windows everywhere that you need windows for ventilation. We often combine big panes with repurposed basement windows below them to allow for ventilation.

The “Main level” incorporates everything from your wish list and includes a custom “lift up” living room table that expands into a dining room table. It’s not really “customm”. It’s a catalog table easy to resource.

(2) Chairs could be exchanged for a “pull out” sofa bed system.

The bedroom is comfortable, cozy and spacious. Pedestal bed system for added storage. Glass Block shower to let in light so that you don’t feel “confined” while you shower. Full sized organizer closet. You get the drift.

Beyond the mini-split A/C Heat units on both levels, I really want you to consider using the flue from the woodstove to help heat the bedroom level.  We put diffusers on the flue pipe that not only protect you from the hot flue but add a cool artistic element to your room. It’s not Sci Fi, it’s just heat radiation. Hot air rises. Between the heat generated in the main floor area by that wood stove and the heat that radiates from the flue pipe, you’ll be cozy even in hard winters.

I can easily picture an alternating step staircase that could be set into the Bedroom staircase landing leading up to the terrace level. Or, you could  use a traditional ladder affixed to the bathroom wall. In either case, a hatch would allow easy access to the terrace. I’d op for a big alternating step staircase because of it’s added artistic element and ease of transit by everyone from children to adults. I know you want to keep the cabin “non-organic” but it’s hard to resist framing your rooftop terrace level with timber-framing and then topping it with shingles. Realistically, you could steel frame the terrace and then clad the structural members with siding, boxing them in so that they appear to be solid beams/timbers.

A nice gable pitch would give you more than enough room for a photovoltaic panel farm on  the roof with enough pitch to shed snow.

You might also consider building in glazed frames to make that three season rooftop a four season wonder to behold. Hinge them to swing down onto locking sashes and you’d be able to secure the entire terrace in minutes.

I can just imagine sitting in a soaking tub on that terrace, watching the sun set into the Pacific… while I think about buddies  of mine in Seattle, stuck in downtown traffic… LOL!

Until next time…

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Need to butcher a whole deer or elk? Go big or stay home!

4 Sep Butcherblock

One of our readers/client families recently completed their ISBU home.

It’s located off-grid in a rural location and it was built using recycled, repurposed and salvaged materials. We worked with him extensively as we massaged his home design so that it could be built “paycheck by paycheck”.  By the time they’d gotten to the kitchen and bathroom counter-tops we had to get pretty creative.

What do you do when your brother-in-law works at a lumberyard and has access to scraps of oak, cherry and maple?

Why, you build countertops, of course.

We actually taught him (drew it out and then walked him through) how to build his own butcherblock counters.

ButcherblockIt was labor intensive, but QUITE affordable.  (He got all the scrap wood for free and cut it up himself using jigs and templates we helped him create.) And as you can see, the results are just beautiful. I’d be proud to have this counter in my own home. In fact, I’d do a whole kitchen this way. Couple that with a cool farm sink and bronze fixtures and you’d have something that looked like it came out of one of those designer magazines. Best of all, you’d accomplish those luxury looks for peanuts. I don’t think I need to point out that good butcherblock is “forever” if you maintain it properly.

We just hope that he also built a doghouse so that he has a place to sleep when his wife comes home from her “Ladies Auxiliary” meetings and finds him butchering a deer on the kitchen counter… LOL!

Till next time.

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Need a Corten Country House?

23 Aug

Many of our building families long for “life lived rurally”.

More and more families building ISBU homes are building “off the beaten path”, off-grid “Corten Castles”.

ISBUs lend themselves to “Farmhouse” configurations. Take (4) 40′ High Cube ISBUs and pair them off with an offset 8′-16′ apart and then top them with a big modified gable and you have a fabulous two story farmhouse that can’t be beat!

Here’s one that we’re working with a Arkansas family of 6 on that is proving to be quite spectacular. It’s approximately 1,900 square feet of Corten Coolness! 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, heated by wood and powered by photovoltaic panels. It’s going to be built in the Ozark Mountains.

Here’s some of the features;

  • Downstairs Master with ensuite bath
  • Island Kitchen with full pantry and laundry room
  • Great Room Living/Dining/Half Bath
  • (2) Upstairs bedrooms with “Hollywood bath”
  • Spiral Staircase
  • Wood Stove heat
  • Photovoltaic Power/Battery Bank

If you sat this home on top of a CMU (Concrete Masonry Units also called “concrete blocks” or “cinderblocks”) basement, you’d  have a really nice two story Corten Country  House for a family of 6-8 with a big root cellar and extended pantry.

ISBU Farmhouse 440 Concept - webWE call it “The Farmhouse 440 Project”.

The prototype is being built (by the family – using their own sweat equity and volunteers) in the Ozarks with a budget of $175k. Admittedly it’s “higher end” than most of our ISBU Homes (upgraded materials are used throughout) and the budget does NOT include the property, photovoltaic systems or the well. (Additionally, the family already owned the containers.) The prototype has a lot of upgrades and the family isn’t your “typical” Prepper family. I WILL point out that a home of this quality for just under $100 a square foot is a bargain in most markets, whether you’re a “Prepper” or not. It could be built less expensively by a repurposing, recycling family with careful material selections.

WE think that you’ll call it “HOME SWEET HOME”.

Would you live here? I would. In fact… I just might. :)

Portraits from the Plasma Cutter

21 Aug (2) 40' ISBUs side by side.

I'd eat here, any time! :)

I get asked about living in an ISBU Home all the time. I mean, it’s what I do, right?

But people can’t seem to get past the idea that you get anything but “shotgun” sized spaces when using containers to build with.

So, I thought it might be nice to show you some examples of “Corten Coolness” in the abstract.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to show you some wonderful “Corten” spaces that were literally carved out of ISBUs (Shipping Containers).

For those of you actively working on ISBU Home designs, these should prove quite useful. For those of you who are thinking about building an ISBU Home, these images should prove themselves quite inspiring.

The images displayed are taken from ISBU Homes built all over the planet. I want you to see what other people are doing, how other people live and just how versatile ISBUs can be.

Let’s visit New Zealand, shall we?

10This is “reclaimed space” between (2) pairs of 40′ ISBUs (placed end to end). Beautiful, isn’t it?

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Would you, could you, with some spark?

18 Jul

Make a “box”  your family’s  ARK?

Okay, I’m not Dr Seuss.

That’s okay, because ham isn’t kosher anyway, especially if it’s green.

Speaking of green, it’s green here in Montana as far as the eye can see. Haying starts an hour before sunrise and ends about 10pm. The rainstorms haven’t helped much as you don’t want it to rain when you’re cutting your hay. You want to cut it, rake it into rows  and then get it as dry as you can before you bale it. Ugh. Rain and I aren’t speaking right now.

Horse Hay - Good Eating!

The rain comes down in buckets and then… it heats up to 95 degrees. I’m starting to feel like I’m back in Mississippi some days.

But I digress…

Many people exploring Corten Castles for the first time are under the misconception that when using Shipping Containers (commonly called ISBUs – Intermodal Steel Building Units) you end up with a house full of long skinny rooms. It never occurs to them that you can place containers side by side and then cut out the inner walls to form wider rooms.

Even explained, some people have a tough time wrapping their heads around this.

Essentially, you end up with a “double width” space that looks like this;

cubular-26-of-66This is a “Cubular” home, built by a company out of New Zealand. Regulars of the blog know that when we see something cool, we share it with you regardless as to whether or not OUR names are on it. We’re good at what we do, but then… so are some other guys. We’re glad Cubular is located in New Zealand,  or we’d have some competition.  They build  some REALLY nice stuff. :)

cubular-32-of-66While we generally offset our boxes to create even larger spaces, this gives you an idea what can be accomplished with “direct mating”.

cubular-33-of-66You’re not living in a small, closed in space.  The created spaces are bright, airy and elegant.

cubular-35-of-66Even without adding an exterior veneer to this ISBU Home, it’s quite stylish and easy to look at. It’s not at all like the “apocalyptic graffiti covered boxes” you see in the movies, is it?

This is just the “starting point”. I know it’s hard to imagine, but with some creativity, ISBU homes  get even better than this. (And for the  record…  we think this one is pretty darned good.)

You can’t buy a “Cubular Home” for export to the US, but you could build your own. We’re helping many families do just that.

Loft me, Bro!

10 Jul

We’re buried.

Yep, I’m talking “up to our necks in it…” buried.

And while we’re trying to dig ourselves out, we’re getting requests for information and ideas from new building families.

We received four emails yesterday asking about novel ways to build lofts into ISBU cabins. Readers asked about ISBU Corten Coolness that could be “cabinized”…

And lo and behold, today DWELL Magazine (one of our very favorite magazines I might add…  especially because they love us  and our book “Introduction to Container Homes and Buildings”) ran an article on “One Room Wonders” where lofts and the staircase access are very attractively displayed.

Here’s just a few of our favorites;

Cabin Loft Access

Why NOT use that ladder structure to create more workspace in your kitchen? Genius!


A freestanding Organizer Closet can not only house your clothing, it can house an access ladder to the loft bedroom platform that it ALSO supports. MORE Genius! SPLIT that closet into a double sided unit and you also get a TON of pantry storage into your kitchen. DOUBLE Genius! :)

Modern Loft

We build “Storage Staircases” all the time. It just makes sense to use that space to your advantage. Done properly, it’s efficient AND attractive.


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