My family is building a home using shipping containers as structure. When I started this project, I thought I’d just throw up a picture from time to time, interspersed with whatever rant I was currently on, to demonstrate “what a nut-case that idiot “Ronin” is.” But…
Editor’s note – July 19, 2010:
Since this was originally published, waaaay back at the beginnings of the blog, I’ve written a new ISBU book. You can learn much more about that book, here:
Okay, back to the post;
Over the past four months or so, we’ve attracted over 5,600 views, from people in almost 100 (96) countries eager to see what we’re doing. It kinda took me by surprise. I thought that people might find the build interesting, in an “off-topic” kinda way, but it’s taken hold of the entire blog, and now it seems that this blog is devoted to things ISBU.
Here in coastal Mississippi, we’ve been hit by storm after storm lately, almost like the hurricanes were lined up on rail cars and headed right for us. So, our attentions have been elsewhere, as we try to help those affected by the floods, the power outages, the lack of clean water, and the debris, so that things can get back to normal around here.
And I thought I’d take a break from writing about the house, to write about other things we’re seeing, that impressed us.
I’d thought to wander into the “world political,” for a post or two, looking at what Obama and McCain claim they are going to do for us, if they get elected. After all, whoever gets put into the driving seat is gonna steer the car for the next eight years, give or take.
But, (after literally tons of email telling me that my readers don’t care about my view of “politics…”) I’ve decided that there are enough people doing that, without Ronin piping in like a trained parrot, repeating every piece of juicy gossip about Barrack or Johnny Boy. Suffice to say, whoever it is, is gonna have his hands full, trying to get the ship back into the right lane, and get America headed back into the wind…
And “Energy” is gonna be a big piece of that puzzle. Climate change is gonna play hell with America. We’re used to being able to rush in and crank the thermostat whenever we want, to make our homes all comfy cozy, in spite of rising energy costs and the impact on the planet.
But those times are changing faster than the pump price on the gasoline you’re buying, to push that big SUV around town, as you ferry the kids to soccer practice, or head into the office.
What we need are alternatives to the lifestyle we’ve been led to believe is “normal,” so that we can be comfortable, without feeling like we’ve moved to some sparse monastery in the mountains, to live out our days in seclusion and poverty.
And I believe that ISBU homes are a part of that solution. So…
Okay, so this one in Utah is a tad bit “extreme…” But, that’s right. They’re coming, and you probably won’t be able to stop them!
But, you don’t need to get all “huffy and puffy!” Once they go up, and get the “skin” on, you won’t even know they’re ISBU structures. Until, that is… the next big storm or earthquake!
You see, in light of the recent failures of the housing market, the financial crisis death spiral, and the mortgage company “bail-outs,” people are actively looking for ways to find shelter, without the yoke of decades of exorbitant mortgage payments.
And that means “thinking out of the box.” Soon, McMansions will be a “fond memory,” and we’ll start living in energy-efficient homes tailored to our personal needs, and not the extravagant palaces we all dreamed about as kids, watching “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous!”
Growing up watching those shows led us to believe that the land we lived in was all “milk and honey,” and the measurement in the neighborhood began with square footage! Alas, all that square footage needs to be heated and cooled, and it needs to be maintained.
Enter the Chinese. For once, we should be happy that China is so ambitious! Why? Is our idea of what China is really like behind that wall, so inaccurate? I suspect that when we think of China, we think of strip-mall buffets, and…
But the reality is that China is on the move, big-time! China is a nation eager for expansion, and it’s gaining speed, as we read this. China’s growth is something that we in the west will have to watch carefully, because it’s going to change everything!
America’s pathetic standing as an exporter with China could be the solution to low cost housing! And, it might even be an unprecedented opportunity to go “Green” in a major league way!
If that sounds really stupid, I ask you to consider the following;
America is buying so much merchandise from other countries (like China) and exporting so little of it back to them that (based on several studies I’ve recently read) shipping containers are actually becoming an environmental hazard! Why is this? Well, apparently it’s cheaper to manufacture new shipping containers on the opposite side of the planet than it is to transport them (empty) back to where they originated.
Any drive along the coast of America will reveal that in port cities and areas around inland freight transit terminals, there are literally hundreds of thousands of empty containers piling up. The stacks start to resemble alien landscapes, with the ISBU’s often piled several containers high, to loom over the landscape like forgotten Sci-Fi movie sets. In most of these repositories, there are commercial and residential neighborhoods living in the shadows these monsters cast, where the sun sometimes sets an hour earlier than in all the adjacent surrounding areas.
The shipping containers (called “ISBU’s,” or inter-modal steel building units) are familiar to almost everyone.
Along every rail line you can see them riding along, usually stacked two high on flatbed railroad cars, in caravans stretching for miles, or hauled along on flat-bed trailers behind tractors on our interstate highways. We see them so frequently that they’ve become a popular icon for stock film footage on the news channels, and their images are used for everything including illustrating every story about port security ever broadcast.
If you’ve been following along, you already know that ISBUs are manufactured of heavy-gauge Corten steel and are water-proof, fire resistant, impervious to bugs and built to hold cargo securely on the pitching deck of a ship. They’re designed to be rugged, resilient, durable, and impervious to most damage.
So, it isn’t hard to imagine that one day, while stuck at a railroad crossing, an architect staring at an impressive column of containers rolling by, suddenly saw the light-bulb flash on.
Hmmm… What have we here? It’s a solid steel, low cost, resource efficient, readily available, and incredibly ugly source of shelter. Ya think?
And that started the ball rolling. The first thing you have to do is make them “acceptable” to the neighbors. After all, nothing says “burning brands and pitchforks” like bringing an “industrial park” right into the middle of a residential neighborhood!
So architects work on plans and building techniques to make shipping container housing attractive and functional. They’re just “boxes,” people. It’s a blank slate. They don’t have to be square, or even flat-roofed – some are finished off with trussed roofs and interior and exterior finishes that make them look very much like conventional housing.
ISBU’s are most commonly manufactured in two sizes – 8′ x 8′ x 20′ and 8′ x 8′ x 40′.
One container can form the basis for a low cost home (albeit compact) or perhaps emergency temporary housing following an earthquake or hurricane. And several containers can be combined as building blocks to create larger and more permanent structures. For example, five 40 foot units placed side by side with the side walls of the inner containers removed provides an open space 40′ x 40′ – 1,600 sq. ft of living area. And remember that containers are manufactured to be stacked as many as nine high without compromising their structural integrity so adding a second or third story isn’t a problem.
The possibilities are endless. Because they are just boxes, they lend themselves to many different possibilities; college dorms, artist loft space, shopping areas, Community Centers, jails, industrial parks, and more housing configurations than you could shake a welding rod at! You can line ISBU’s up, add on decks, cantilever them, add canopies, and achieve a finished design that can resemble anything you want; be it modern, traditional, or whimsical.
And, as much as we like to take credit for everything including sliced bread and spaghetti, Container housing is not an American innovation. Containers have been used in Europe, New Zealand, and many third-world countries for years. There are actually real places where people are far ahead of us in the number of completed projects and in innovative technology. So, we’d better step up to the plate and start taking a swing at it, huh? These guys did!
Suffice to say, the ISBU’s potential as a housing material fuel the thoughts and designs by architects and builders to use this steel resource to bring these ISBU beauties to your neighborhood. Soon, I expect that prices for completed homes will fall to a level that will make ISBU homes much more appealing to American consumers. And when it does, we’re gonna say, loud and proud;
“I TOLD YA SO!”
Right now, ISBU homes are mostly in the “do-it-yourself project” arena, but there are plans available in books and on the Internet.
And, there are plenty of people actually building homes using these steel building blocks, and documenting their progress for all to see. This blog is the home of one of those families.
So, I’ll try to keep the blog on track, and the political rants to a bare minimum.
And, I hope that you’ll stay tuned, as we continue to build our house.
And, don’t forget to sign my “Ted Nugent for President” petition! LOL!
“I don’t need a piece of paper or a court to tell me, a free citizen of a free country, that I can’t defend myself or my family while at the same time forcing me to pay for an armed security force to come along and clean up after something goes wrong. The most basic thing that makes me free and safe is my ability to protect myself from those who would try to take away my liberty or my life.” – Ted Nugent
Stay tuned… or else!
If I’ve helped you, informed you, educated you, or just entertained you… consider donating a few bucks to the blog, to help us survive and build. Our family needs a home. Our situation is dire. And yes, I’m begging…
I’m not going to waste bandwidth plastering pictures up of my wife in her sickbed… or my little 2 year old son. I’ve written about the circumstances here, already. And… if you’ve been reading the blog, you already know how cute he is. He’s our source of JOY.
Help us keep moving forward. We’re running out of time.