I’m NOT smart like Albert Einstein. But “ISBU” homes might be…

10 Aug

Okay Campers,

Most of you already know that I’m building a Shipping Container Home in Mississippi. I’m doing this just to make the neighbors mad and make the politicians crazy… (because I’m like that.)

Wait, that’s not it…

I’m doing it, because it makes sense. I need an affordable, stronger than strong, efficient home for my family to live in. And, I need it to go up, fast, fast, fast…

And, as more and more people find out about this, I get email. A lot of email…

Oy Vay, I got email coming out my “tuchis!”

So… I’ve spent the last few days addressing questions about “shipping containers” (or “ISBU‘s,” as the Building Trade refers to them).

Remember that “ISBU” just basically means any shipping container used for purposes other than shipping cargo. If you use it as a building component, it’s an ISBU.

Some of the questions I’m asked are really quite interesting, because they point out how mysterious these “boxes” are. We build buildings out of steel, every day. People just don’t seem to connect the dots, and see that you can use these boxes like LEGOS, to do exactly the same thing, at a much stronger structural strength rate.

(And some of the questions aren’t reprintable. Shame on you guys! I hope your keyboards have a meltdown, using language like that!)

But… that leads me to today’s series of questions…

As you know, I live in “Hurricane Gulch,” and we get hammered every year. Luckily, the hurricanes seldom slam into the same place, but the result is always the same. If anything standing in it’s path isn’t strong, it get’s smashed into little pieces, and then blown away.

And, it’s nothing like the tropics here. It’s really hot in the summer (90’s and humid as you-know-what), and really cold (sub 40’s) in the winter. This still pisses me off, when I moved here, I had delusions of all those Bing Crosby/Bob Hope movies, that made the South look like the tropics. Bull! The only thing they have in common is the size of the mosquitos, who can carry off small children…

It’s a great place to lose weight, though. Mosquitos can suck gallons of blood outta you, every day, and blood weighs about 8 pounds a gallon!!! LOL!

So houses have to be tight, and have good insulation, or else they become difficult to live in.

Question: I’m hearing really bad things about the FEMA trailers the government sent out after Hurricane Katrina. They were poorly built, and they have gases (formaldahyde) in them that can kill you! Why are mobile homes and RV trailers being used for emergency housing instead of “shipping container” homes?

Answer: I have absolutely no idea!  I suspect that the right “financial incentive” hasn’t crossed the politicians palms, yet.  Unfortunately we live in the land of “the lowest bidder gets the contract.” It’s ridiculous. We risk everything, to save a penny…

We know that there is a stockpile of these shipping containers, in every port city in America. And because we’re an “export nation” they aren’t going to be needed any time soon. If we actually used them for something besides taking up valuable real estate, the “base housing module” would cost less, to begin with.

We know that they are stronger than strong because they are made of solid steel, and easy to convert, using simple tools, and common trades practices.

We know that they are easily transportable by rail or truck, so getting them to disaster areas would be simple.

We know that they can be stacked, and deployed almost anywhere.

And, we know that because they are so “modular,” they’d be easy to retrieve and store, for the next disaster.

If you ask me (and remember, you did!) shipping container houses should be the ONLY Emergency Housing used to fulfill disaster housing requirements.

Why don’t politicians understand this? Hmmm? Maybe politicians aren’t smart, like we are. Or maybe, they have other “interests, that don’t involve your safety or your health. It makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Question: Are you nuts? Containers are just metal boxes. So, in the summer they get hot, and in the winter they get cold. You’re telling us to use Ceramic Insulative Spray (CIS) to insulate them against these conditions. But we all know that anything developed by NASA will be “astronomically” priced. Isn’t this “CIS” stuff way too expensive to use on something as simple as a house? I thought you were trying to SAVE money! I smell BS…

Answer: Ah, grasshopper, you must have a heaping helping of “faith,” with your sushi…

If you look at the actual costs, you’ll find out that using Ceramic Insulative Spray is actually less expensive than using fiberglass, foam, or “blown-in” insulations.

My personal favorite is “Super Therm,” and you can learn more about it, by following along as we build the house. I suspect that my paint sprayer and I are gonna become real good friends, before this is over with…

It’s MUCH faster to apply, so the labor costs are lower, as well. Insulating a 40′ shipping container using Ceramic Insulative Spray will cost you about $700.

And, remember, you’re “painting” your house at the same time. No additional house paint is needed.

A big bonus is that CIS doesn’t make the box any “smaller,” like regular insulation does. You don’t have to stuff 4″-6″ fiberglass batts of insulation between the studs. And, CIS doesn’t get soggy, it doesn’t break down, and it doesn’t move around, creating hot or cold spots…

Question: Hey, Walmart gets everything in China, now. Why shouldn’t we get shipping containers there? And I’ve read that the Chinese already turn them into prefabs and emergency shelters. Why not just order one on the Internet, and have it shipped over here?

Answer: It’s a bad idea. Have you looked at the cost of fuel lately? With diesel prices rising faster than my blood pressure, the cost of shipping the Prefab or “container home” to the U.S. would add way too much expense! It’s much more cost effective to either do it yourself, or hire a contractor to convert them for you.

So, there’s a few more myths put to rest…

Next time… hell, I have no idea what we’re gonna talk about next time, yet. You’ll just have to stop back in, and take a look…

Who do you think I am? Albert Einstein?

Stay Tuned…

7 Responses to “I’m NOT smart like Albert Einstein. But “ISBU” homes might be…”

  1. Ashish August 12, 2008 at 1:46 am #

    yES!!! I found it! America imports babies brains from China! 😛

    • renaissanceronin March 20, 2010 at 8:53 pm #

      Note to Readers:

      (This is a repost to make the comment section more readable. WordPress didn’t have reply sub-structures in the beginning.)

      Ashish: It’s official. You’re an idiot. LOL!

      Everybody knows that “American Baby Brains,” come from “American Moms”… ‘Cuz “American Moms” are S-M-A-R-T…

      (Well, most American Moms are smart. Explaining that one takes a geography lesson…) LOL!

      BTW: I see you got your power back…

  2. transportable homes December 30, 2009 at 10:30 pm #

    While surfing Google I came across this post…very interesting! I enjoy reading about this type of info. I’ll certainly bookmark your site for additional review

  3. Pat March 19, 2010 at 8:01 pm #

    Hello there, I am a Architectural Engineering Technology Student in St. Johns, NL Canada. My tech thesis project is actually creating dormatories for sustainable student housing in our climate and wouldnt ya know it we are using ISBU. I am very excited to be part of this project and myself and two other guys in my graduating class are currently working on the “nuts and bolts” if you will. My side of the project is Thermal and HVAC, I’ll be deciding on insulation material (SPF, most likely) and a HVAC system, still under works. But my question for you today would be on the topic of interior finishes. Being constructed from steel shipping containers the ISBU may at some point in its life need to be “picked up” by a crane mind you, and placed on a flat bed truck and moved to another location… sooo I am lookin to find a interior wall finish that allows such a thing to be done with no cracking of plaster or gypsum board sheathing if such conventional materials were used. Plaster , is it required?? any alternatives? with respect to gypsum board sheathing “drywall” I was considering MgO board but it seems that still uses plaster… :(.
    This project will be constructed so your input is very much appreciated especially considering your experience in such an inovative area.:)


    • renaissanceronin March 20, 2010 at 9:02 pm #

      Hi Pat,

      Usually, the interior cladding will go on AFTER the ISBU structure finishes it’s “migration.”

      It’s for the very reasons you bring up. Nothing sucks more than having a hundred cracks to patch, in a “NEW” ISBU “set.”

      I’m assuming that you’re going to insulate on the interior, using SPF. If so, you’ll fir out your mounting frame, for your interior sheathing, right?

      Let’s assume that you’ll use 1x’s.

      Have you considered a harder product (than sheetrock) like perhaps Masonite or Melamine?

      It would be easy to apply over SPF.

      It would be durable, hygienic, and easy to maintain.

      Masonite, also known as hardboard or clapboard, is used as siding in tract homes throughout the United States and Canada. It’s made out of wood chips held together with glue, resin and wax. When the siding is manufactured, a combination of heat and pressure is used to consolidate the wood fibers with the other products, resulting in a dense board with a smooth finish. It’s easy to work with, easy to keep clean, and readily available almost everywhere. But nothing says you have to use it as siding. You can buy it in panels as interior sheathing, too.

      Masonite is pretty popular now, mostly due to the fact that it resembles real wood, without any of the “real wood” problems. Masonite is a “synthetic material” and that makes it less prone to insect infestations, such as termites and fire ants. It’s also mold resistant.

      And… it’s considered a “green building material” since it uses fewer trees during the actual manufacturing process.

      In the agricultural building industry, they use it to sheath areas like Horse Wash-downs, because it’s very easy to maintain and it’s durable.

      And then there are Melamine panels. Something like Melamine panels would not only be more durable, it’d add some flame resistance to your structure. Using a panel could be as simple as isolating them using a rubber grommet/washer on the back side, to help cushion any “traveling flex.”

      We’ve done this in the past when pre-fabbing ISBUs that had to be shipped long distances.

      Additionally, I’d like to know what you’re going to do about the flooring.

      If you used a lightweight concrete, reinforced with rebar, you’d add extra rigidity to the until that would help counteract any “flex.”

      Hope this helps.


      • Pat March 21, 2010 at 10:35 am #

        Hi Renaissanceronin thanks for “scoop” on masonite and melamine i’ll do some research on them, in the meantime I was actually going to use 92mm metal studs as they eliminate any thermal bridges and they allow me to achieve the minimum required effective thermal resistance in Newfoundland which is 4.10 for walls 4.30 for ceilings and 4.60 for floors. So with SPF id need that much space to achieve the req. RSI. That is assuming that I can achieve at least R-value 6.5 per inch of SPF which turns out to be 1.144 RSI per inch …92mm /25.4 = 3.62″ x 1.144RSI per inch = 4.12 RSI, which is sufficient. With regards to the thermal values of the containers themselves is there an accepted R value of the containers because I assumed it would be minimal due to its being steel, and I’ve been reading a bit about “SUPER THERM” do you use it in your ISBUs? It seems to good to be true, I know it operates through reflective properties and is probably not a practicle choise in our cold climate, Im sure you have some input on that product. For the floor and ceiling I have to complete the RSI calculations so I will be choosing materials in that are most likely today. Once that is established I have to do heatloss and cooling load calcs. It is for this reason I’ll ask you my next question, what type of HVAC system do you typically use and If you have any ISBU projects in colder climates I would love to know about them.
        Thanks again!


        • renaissanceronin March 21, 2010 at 5:47 pm #

          Hi Pat,

          If you’re going to put your insulation on the inside of the box… the best way to “frame out” the inside of an ISBU container IS to use metal studs on the inside of the “exterior” walls to create your insulation cavities.

          It’s the way I advocate whenever possible, and the only reason that I mentioned “firring out” using 1x’s in those cavities is due to the fact that most home-owners aren’t comfortable trying to install metal studs.

          They’ll want to take this information, and apply it to “tech” that they’ll use. Wood.

          Steel studs just aren’t “DIY friendly” yet.

          Using 1x’s is also the industry method for high speed fabrication on assembly lines. Just look at any RV, prefab, modular, or manufactured home to confirm this.

          Hard, synthetic panels are easily attached to those wood framing members using glue and fasteners.

          Using metal studs requires that you install them without creating a ton of holes that will demand additional labor, and may leak later on. If you choose to do this, think “spot welder…” And for those “MacGiver’s” out there… You can actually “build” one… 😉

          (For the “non-metric” among us, a 92mm metal stud is about 3.6 inches thick. That means that installed between your ISBU top and bottom rails, you have the ability to shoot in enough SPF (spray-on closed cell foam) to easily create an r25 in your walls, if you want to.)

          Remember that most SPF (spray-on closed cell foam) will get your about r7 per inch.

          ISBU Containers have a thermal value of about nil…

          …BECAUSE they are steel, so you’re working from about ZERO, out. You’re going to get what you actually create using your framing and insulation type.

          I’ve written extensively on SUPERTHERM, and frankly, I’m not impressed or convinced. I understand the arguments, and the media, and I’ve spent a considerable amount of time investigating the claims. First, it’s hellaciously expensive. However… IF it worked in ways that could be “proven and accepted” at industry level, I could save myself some major league headaches.

          But, I’d have to convince the local Planning and Zoning Nazi’s first. And without “industry accepted testing protocols” that have been embraced by the building industry, that isn’t going to happen in most places, even with a “build once” permit.

          Even guys like my pal Dave Cross at SG Blocks (whom I personally “blame” for starting all my SUPERTHERM headaches in the first place… 😉 okay, okay… along with the likes of “Father Bob” Vila), early advocates of SUPERTHERM, now prefer to use SPF.

          Using SPF just makes better sense, it’s DIY applicable, and it works in ways that can be accurately measured and evaluated by “industry and operator.”

          Okay, flooring;

          Flooring in my typical method, is insulated, and then shot with (steel – rebar – reinforced) lightweight concrete, for many reasons.

          Here’s just a few;

          Concrete is available EVERYWHERE except “the extreme wilds.”
          Concrete is easily applied, and “self-leveling.”
          Concrete is durable and capable of being used for thermal mass (i.e. Radiant in-floor heating).
          Concrete adds rigidity to the structure.
          Concrete can be very attractively stained, marbleized, and even painted.

          FYI: The flooring cavity IS insulated and lined with a reflective coating first which varies by region and availability.

          To answer your question about HVAC, remember that most of my homes are TINY in comparison to your project. The typical ISBU home in my portfolio can be easily heated with a wood stove or even a fireplace.

          BTW: Statistically, the “typical ISBU Homebuilder” is located “outside city limits,” and most of them are in the mid and northwestern part of the United States.

          For example; MOST of my homes in America are in COLDER climates… places like Montana, Wyoming, etc…

          Thanks for all the math, I got a headache checking your numbers! LOL!

          Hope this helps.


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