He said – She Shed

12 Apr

And while we’re talking about cool things to do with 20′ ISBUs…

… have you heard about “She Sheds?”  It’s like a “ManCave” for  (gasp!) girls, built in the backyard.

1It’s a place filled with “girl stuff” and probably “bins and bins of estrogen”… so guys… you might not want to hang out there long…

…lest you find yourself with a weird craving to shave your legs and put on something “pretty”… :)

For the record… the last time I shaved my legs, I was swimming competitively. You can imagine how long ago THAT was… LOL!

 But think about this for a minute. What if you just need a place to get out of the house and chill… like maybe your own backyard diner?


You can probably even talk the kids into bussing the tables, in exchange for letting them hang out there after school with their friends listening to the jukebox and eating snacks.

4You really could build one of these using a 20′ box pretty easily. And best of all, it’d be relocatable. That way, when it’s time to pull up stakes and head to that next hacienda, you can move it right along with the rest of your stuff!

Do it right and it could also become a guest room, a young adults private sanctuary or even a “potting shed”!

(Just don’t call it that – especially if you live in Colorado. It’ll just get you a visit from the DEA and the local SWAT Team!) :)

Till next time!

RR AvatarMore images and an accompanying article can be found HERE.

Sometimes “Corten Coolness” is exactly that…

10 Apr 20 ft ISBU pool and lounge idea

Okay, it’s officially “that time of year” again…

In the last 2 weeks, we’ve gotten 19 inquiries from families that want to know how to turn an ISBU container into a pool or spa.

We’ve written about this before, but we actually have three pools being built this year, in conjuction with ISBU homes being built. As that series of projects proceed, we’ll share the details with you, accompanied by “in process” photos.

The second most popular question on this topic is; “What would/could an ISBU pool or spa LOOK like?”

Well, they look just like any other pool (except they obviously aren’t more than about 8 feet wide). If you can conceive it, you can build it. You can get inspiration from all kinds of places.

Here’s a few photographs of cool [pool ideas to inspire your thought processes;

ISBU Pool concept - 20 foot
Pretty Classy backyard, if you ask me. Do this with a 20′ High Cube ISBU and you have the perfect backyard respite even with a small backyard.

20 ft ISBU pool and lounge ideaI’m actually dying to build this one, myself, using (say it with me) a 20′ High Cube. Imagine an ISBU  home set up on pilings.  Now imagine this “pool” being created by a box sitting at grade, with a deck attaching it to your home. I think this would be incredible.

You could even build a “tiny pool” to go with your “tiny house”!

But wait, there’s more. You don’t have to limit yourself to just using ISBUs/ There are other kinds of metal containers and bins that can be repurposed to accomplish backyard Shangra-la!

Dumpster Pools
As you can see, there are a lot of way to conceal your ISBU pool’s origins. And, there are lots of opportunities to create a backyard water feature that will excite you for decades!

Your only limit is your imagination (and the size of your shovel).

Stay tuned.

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A Corten Cabin by the pond…

4 Apr

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to use ISBUs in the woods to build small family retreats.

Using 20′ ISBUs makes trucking containers into hard to access sites much easier. Prefabbed containers could arrive and then be set in a matter of hours. Once set, you’d connect services (like the well, septic and photovoltaic arrays), put on your SIPs roof  and you’d be off and literally “running” in a week.

We’re experimenting with Fracking bladders to create large lined ponds. Each one of these bladders is large enough to create the mother of all ponds.  We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of gallons. We’ve talked about  these bladders before. They’re used to hold water that is mixed with other materials for injection during the oil recovery process.  These bladders are thick,  flexible and just begging to be used as pond and “natural” pool liners. Some of these bladders are 195 FEET in diameter. They hold MILLIONS of gallons of water.

Now dig a hole and line it. Take advantage of a depression on your property and enlarge it. Dig a hole from scratch! Guess what you end up with? You get a lined pond that would easily support a cabin AND a deck that turned into a fishing dock. Yes, I said “fishing dock”.  Imagine a small electric boat tied up to the edge of your deck?

Float some aerators in that pond. Throw in some old dead tree limbs and other various materials (for fish to nest in) and attach a “natural” filtration system. Now you have a fish farm waiting to happen.

Now, that collection of ISBUs might look a bit too “modern” to live in all that Mountain pond bliss. Remember, Corten ISBUs are “just big metal boxes”. You can make them look like anything you like. All it takes is some imagination and some sweat.

What if  you used local trees (harvested from your own property?)  to “side” your Corten Cabin? You might end up with something that looks like this;

Cabin BlissNow, imagine coming home to this every day, for the next several decades of your life?

It’s not hard to imagine for ME! We’re working on drawings now.

Stay tuned.

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Help! My cabin folds out like Origami! :)

25 Mar

It’s almost Spring in most parts of America!

(Okay, we’ve yet to see our traditional “Three days of Spring” here, but everywhere else, significant others are already getting the crowbars ready to pry people’s butts off couches for the big “Spring Fever” build-off!)

We have more projects than Doan’s has little green pills right now. So, while we try to climb out from under this giant pile of paperwork… let’s hit the mailbag!



Cover your eyes!

Wait… that’s not it…


Dear Ronin,

We’ve caught the Corten bug. We’re building a small fishing cabin in Louisiana, way out in the swamp!

The idea is to take a single 20′ ISBU and build it out to create a rustic cabin that includes a composting toilet, a small kitchenette, bunks and a seating area.

We saw a cabin you built that actually expanded by dropping the front wall down to form a big tented space. That’s exactly what we want. It’s genius!

We’re only going to modify one wall to do this so that we can build the kitchen and powder room off the “back” wall.

(Editor’s note: They’re referring to a “fold out” ISBU cabin series we built for 3 season use, that allows you to expand the Corten clad “space” by folding out the walls on both long sides. It uses aluminum frames and canvas/mosquito netting. much like the tents that you may already have out in your garage!) You essentially triple the size of a 20′ or 40′ box for the price of fab, framing and canvas.

And when you leave, you fold everything back up into the shipping containers original footprint, padlock the walls and doors and ATV, ride, or walk away. It’s VERY secure. It just looks like a regular shipping container.)

The double cargo doors will open to create an outdoor “semi-enclosed” shower area over a wood deck. Our SIP roof (thanks for beating SIPS and SSMR into our brains!) will extend to cover the shower area. We’re going to cover the long “open space” in mosquito netting to keep the critters out.

Due to the fact that the “front” wall folds out to become the floor, we’re puzzled about how we end up with the required pieces to allow us to live in the cabin a week at a time. We envision having to remove the furniture from the box (or squeeze around a pile of tables and chairs, etc…) in order to get inside to fold the outer wall down.

Oh, Oracle of all things Corten…

Any ideas?


Bayou Bound


Dear “BB”,

It sounds like you’re in the perfect place to build our “Corten Accordion!”

I’ve often thought about building one on piers or stilts in some Bayou while I ponder ‘Gator Hunting and Bass fishing in the wilds!

IMHO – One of the biggest mistakes that people make in working with small spaces is that they still try to cram all their luxuries from home into them.

Essentially, they make those small spaces even smaller.

What WE do is to build “Multi-purpose walls” that have foldouts producing work or entertainment spaces, on demand. If you do this right, you can build bunks that fold out of walls, encased in fold down dining spaces, complete with seating benches in an area that also incorporates storage for everything from pantry items to books and small DVD players.

(Not all of us head to the wilds and “rough” it. Most families have small kids that can be entertained during rainy spells by a good DVD played through a TV/DVD player that is powered using Photovoltaic panels and a battery bank.)

Here’s an example of a fold out dining system that is simple to build and folds up out of the way so that the space can be retasked for any other purpose required.

Murphy Table and Benches

You can easily build this in your garage and then haul the components out for assembly.

Hope this starts your “Corten Creative Juices ” flowing!


Whatever floats your boat… er… house.

17 Mar

Recently, we’ve seen flooding all over the planet.

Quite a few readers know that we used to turn ISBUs (shipping containers) into houseboats, floating EPA labs, you name it. In fact, a few of those “Corten Cabin Cruisers” that we built in Costa Rica many years ago are still in service, 25 years later.

Many of these readers interested in these floating “Corten cuties” live in places where tidal surge from big storms frequently destroys homes in low-lying areas.

We’ve been asked repeatedly if you could build an ISBU based home on a floating foundation, allowing it to survive tidal surge from big weather events. The answer is YES.

In fact, after Hurricane Katrina, we lobbied strongly for just such a home in areas like the lowlands of Louisiana and Mississippi. We suggested that we build ISBU homes onto floating decks (steel decks with massive foam floatation devices attached to the undersides), in the “Shotgun” and”Folk Victorian” styles and then place them on piers that would allow the home to rise and fall in a big storm.  Not only would that foam allow the home to float up above high water, it would also serve as insulation below the floor to help the home be more energy efficient. With skirting around the home, you’d never  “see” the flotation devices, which are just large blocks of  closed cell foam. It’s essentially the same foam that we use to insulate ISBU homes now, in either a Spray Foam formula or pre-manufactured rigid insulation boards.

You can guess what happened next. People just looked at us and laughed. After a lot of attempts to demonstrate the worth of this process, we finally gave up.

We’d given thought recently to building a similar ISBU home here in Montana, out on Painted Rock Lake in the West Bitterroot.

Now, many years after Hurricane Katrina, someone else in the Gulf Coast has picked up the torch.They call it “The Buoyant Foundation Project”.

Think about just how simple this is. Weld additional framing to the bottom of your ISBU home (you already have most of the steel right there for the foam frames to attach to) and then set your home on piers with slip collars that allow the home to rise and fall with the tide.

If you live in the Gulf, you now have a “Storm Surge Resistant” home unlike anything your neighbors have ever seen. Best of all, when “hard times and high water” come, you don’t lose all your possessions and your shelter. In fact, if you are using photovoltaic panels and a battery bank, you lose very little at all.   If you’re forced to leave your home, it’ll probably still be there when you return after they sound the all-clear.

Maybe, just maybe, these guys will find people to reason with who don’t simply roll their eyes and ask “if you will be required to put navigation lights on the home’s roof because it’s now a vessel floating in a flood.” We were asked that. they wanted to know if we;d gotten Coast Guard Certification for this housing concept.

Man, I tell you, eating too much crawfish must cause some people to turn into morons…

Until next time…

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Be careful what you wish for… on Craigslist.

14 Mar

We’re helping several families build  small  ISBU (shipping container) based cabins in rural areas. These cabins are being used for everything from “Vacation Retreats” (hunting, fishing, hiking, etc…) and Guest Houses to  rural  24/7 “Tiny House Living”.

Some readers are forwarding this little house to me thinking that there might be a lot of value here for a little more than $17k:


Let’s take a look at this, shall we?

First, it’s 12 feet wide. Try getting that on a trailer to haul across the country. It could prove expensive to move it farther than across the county in the dark…

And, it’s not a “whole” house. It needs to be completed. It’s just a shell.

Okay, but still, it’s $17k, right? But is it a good deal?

How big is it? 400 square feet?

Um… nope. The math doesn’t work.

First, the most glaring pothole is that the claimed square footage is about DOUBLE the real square footage.  This cottage is 192ft² on the main floor with a low-ceiling “sleeping loft” (which you cannot legally count) plus an open porch.

TinyShellNOW do the math, again…

That’s over $90 a square foot, before you get it to a trailer to move it.

It’s going to cost you a few bucks a mile to move it, if you strong-arm your Uncle Ed and his Semi, or rent a big farm truck and flatbed trailer. Don’t forget “oversize” permits.

And then, once you have it moved, you still have to figure in completion costs. You’re easily going to be in $125 – $130 a square foot territory in no time.

For that kind of money, you can do better.

Not convinced? Let’s look a bit deeper;

It’s important to regain that lost square footage if you’re going to live in this house for any extended period of time.

If you’re leaning this direction, here’s some observations;

Enclose that covered porch.

It wouldn’t be terribly difficult to do this and you’d gain living space/”sunspace”.  Remember that it has to be “conditioned space” to count. So, use a mini-split AC/heat unit (like the Fujitsu) and now it actually qualifies as “living space”.

Now, you’re up to 288ft².

It’s time to address that”loft”.  The loft (as depicted) isn’t really 96ft². It can’t possibly be.

Here is why:

First, we’re thinking the property tax assessor did the measurements. ;)

Half stories (inside the roof) are NEVER measured from the outside of the ground level. These spaces are only measured for their –>interior<– space.

It gets more complicated, due to that roof pitch.  Only space that has greater than 5ft headroom can be counted in the floor area and a minimum of half the counted floor area must have at least 7ft head room.  So, if the ceiling only rises to 8ft at the ridge, then only the areas with a 6ft or greater ceiling height can be counted. It looks like that house has no ceiling even as high as 7ft.

To be counted in the habitable floor area, the space being discussed (the loft) would need a standard (approved) stairway to gain access to it.

Did you know that ladders, ship’s ladders, Jefferson stairs, narrow spirals, bookcases you can climb, while perfectly appropriate to put in a house, cannot be used to allow you to calculate additional square footage?

The rules are very specific. If there is no standard staircase installed to allow access to a space,  it CANNOT be counted in the habitable square footage floor area. Period.

It should also be noted that the people selling this “Little House” shell are not only counting the space outdoors (unenclosed on the porch) and the loft where the ceiling was less than five feet above the floor, they were also counting the area inside the ceiling between the rafters that is unusable (the narrow areas where the roof pitch reaches the floor) , as habitable living space.

This is deceptive, bordering on dishonest.

You can build one heck of a small ISBU cabin for that kind of money and get usable, livable space pretty easily. And if you do it right, you]ll have money left over for Photovoltaic panels and groceries.

RR Avatar

Building with Containers doesn’t mean building SMALL.

13 Mar

One of the myths of ISBU (Shipping Container) construction is that you end up with a structure filled with narrow, tiny rooms.

Further, I find it ironic that most of the critics of ISBU Housing have never built an ISBU Home… never been inside one and in most cases… have never even stepped foot into a container.

You hear them repeat (like it’s some kind of mantra);

“Shipping Container homes are expensive, small, claustrophobic and hot.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

(Hey, I wanted to say; “Only if you’re stupid.” But… I restrained myself… sort of.) ;)

C3 ISBU Residence

Read more about it, HERE.

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Further proof that ISBUs RULE!

6 Mar

We’re doing it in Haiti. We’re doing it in Vietnam. We’re doing it in the Philippines. We’re doing it in Japan. We’re doing it in oil fields in North Dakota and Canada. We’re doing it on Native American Reservations to provide classrooms…

ISBUs were made for creating “outreach and aid stations”. Build them, store them, ship them and set them.

You can create entire ISBU based AID communities in days. DAYS. And, because you’re building with ISBUs, you’re weathered in and weather resistant.

They’re doing it in China.

It makes sense, since all the ISBUs (Shipping Containers) in the world come from there.

Shipping containers are just big boxes. Use them as modules and you can build almost anything.

INCLUDED (a non-profit organization) built something called the Community Cube, a new  community center for Shanghai’s migrant worker community. At just over 1600 square feet, the 2 story structure was completed last year and used ISBUs as the primary building components.

It’s located in the agricultural district of Chongming, which is a part of Shanghai. They didn’t weld the boxes together, they actually used big metal plates to bolt them together so that it can be disassembled and moved at a later date. Remember that it’s modular space. That means that you can reassign or multitask the different areas created to provide a library, play area, a computer area, and even large classrooms which can be further divided by using sliding doors to create smaller spaces.

They used whiteboard surfaces on walls and sliders to allow the surfaces to be used for education or entertainment purposes. (We do this in children’s bedrooms and in kitchen pantries to allow for art and list creation.)

The corrugation that was removed between the boxes was repurposed as part of the security fencing around the building.

They allowed the “filtered sunlight” to peek in by drilling holes in the boxes to increase illumination.

Existing ISBU cargo doors were left on so that the boxes can be opened to allow even more sunlight and fair weather in.

We’re not sure what they did about insulation, but you could easily use SPF (Closed Cell Spray Foam insulation) or RIGID to insulate the boxes for four season use.

A Mini Split AC unit could easily heat and cool the spaces. Run that mini split off a battery bank fueled by photovoltaics and you’d have a pretty slick set-up, anywhere that the boxes could be dropped.

Need a school, daycare center, local medical outreach program or a community center? You could do this for very little money.

Now… take this exact same design and add a service core to the center using one of our kitchen/bath/laundry modules to the middle and you have a HOME.

Just sayin…

RR Avatar  Image Credits: INCLUDED

But I want a BIG little Corten Cabin…

28 Feb 16x40 2 bdrm cabin - web

On the flip side of our ISBU building madness, we’re talking about a terrific little Corten Cabin Concept that could fit right in whether you’re building  a beach house,  a mountain house, a vacation getaway or an off-grid retreat resort.

Now, this ISBU home will sleep 6+ and keep everyone safe and happy for decades!

This started it’s life out as a user submitted “Park Home” RV design! That original idea (from Canoe Bay Resort) was pretty darn sweet, but with a little Corten Creativity, it can jump right up to the next level!

Remember, ideas for that “perfect getaway” or off-grid home can come from EVERYWHERE!

16x40 2 bdrm cabin - webYou can read about it, HERE.

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“Fat walls” means fat property taxes!

21 Feb

Did you know that when you’re looking at real estate listing or property tax reports, the square footage listed is actually the EXTERIOR dimensions of the structure?

Square footages are calculated based on “conditioned space”.

And before you start talking about how you read real estate listings that listed room dimensions, did you ever add them up to see if they equal the total square footage claimed in the listing?

I bet you didn’t.

The tax accessor is even more simplistic. They just measure the outside dimensions of your house and then figure out the difference between the conditioned and unconditioned spaces. If you have a 3 season porch or an attached greenhouse, it’s considered unconditioned and is taxed at a different rate.

To learn more about square footage, you can check here;


Now, since we’ve established that exterior dimensions are used to calculate property taxes, think about how much those straw bales or earthbags really cost you. While I admit that I’m not a big fan of Straw Bale construction, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t consider or use Earthbags. Far from it, I love them. In the right circumstances and climates, they’re just wonderful. A friend of mine, Dr Owen Geiger (google him) is probably the world’s leading authority on Earthbag construction. If you’re considering an earthbag home, you should be talking to HIM. When we started our Corganix project (earthbags combined with ISBUs)  his input was invaluable and spot on.

But I digress;

There are places in America where getting permits for Straw Bale and even Earthbag construction is possible.

This raises an interesting predicament.

While these materials may be cheaper in the beginnings to build with, you’ll be paying for them (as lost square footage) over and over again for years as your property tax bill gets paid.

You’re going to require more foundation to set these materials on. You’re also going to need more roof in order to cover those thicker walls.

Sure, your mileage may vary, but it’s something to think about.

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