High Speed Homes!

27 Oct

Welcome back, Campers…

Forgive the gap between blog posts lately. My Internet connection seemingly vanished into “ether,” due to circumstances beyond my control, and it took forever (and one very industrious cable tech) to get it all worked out again. Hopefully, it’s repaired, and my bandwidth won’t go on vacation again, for a while, at least! LOL!

As October draws to a close, where I live (on the coast of Mississippi), things are still trying to get back to normal, after two hurricanes recently ravaged the landscape. You would think that with all the “practice” we get, it’d be fairly straightforward to get things back on the right track, right?

Well, you’d be wrong. It all comes down to making decisions, and frankly, it reminds me of that description of a Committee I recently was reminded of:

“Committee–a group of men who individually can do nothing but as a group decide that nothing can be done.”

I’ve got a lot on my mind lately, because of the flood and debris damage to my own neighborhood. As my neighbors continue to haul trash and debris to the curb for eventual pick-up, they wonder if insurance companies are going to step up to the plate and actually cover the damage. I’m sure that they also wonder how long these repairs will take, as the construction industry shrivels up with the doomed building economy.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how exactly FEMA will provide emergency shelter for the families affected by Hurricane Ike.

As we all know, last time around (Hurricane Katrina) FEMA passed out travel trailers that were laced with formaldehyde…

And then, after the toxic trailers were exposed to the public, rapidly started deploying little “Katrina Cottages,” that no city or county wanted to let remain as “permanent structures.”

But, a cost effective, weather resistant, and even GREEN alternative to this housing dilemma was (and still is) staring officials right in the face!

The most affected area in “hurricane events” is usually the coastal area where the storm comes in, right?

And these areas are usually close in proximity to a shipping port, or a large rail yard. And, those yards and ports are filled with boxes, called “shipping containers,” (or ISBU’s) that are easily converted into housing and shelter.

Now, people get all “uppity” when you start talking about putting people in these “metal coffins,” but I’m here to tell you, that with a little design foresight and a little common sense, these steel boxes make comfortable, durable, and even affordable shelters from any storm that old Mother Nature can throw at you.

This could be the ultimate do-it-yourself project, and although you can’t “build one in your garage,” you can build one yourself. I know, because I’ve done it myself. And, I’m doing it again, on a larger scale, to house my entire tribe of dysfunctional miscreants, after Katrina ate our last home.

And lemme tell you… if I can do it, a tribe of trained monkeys can do it, too!!

Just like in any project, the hardest part seems to be finding the starting point. But, there are plans available in books, plans can be found on the Internet, and you can even find plans in the “blogging nation,” if you look around for a while. Because basically, you’re not doing anything really “different,” the house still looks and works like a regular house you’d find on any street in America.

So, I thought I’d start showing you real plans, and real builds, done by real people, to illustrate the potential of these homes…

Bob Villa featured a project building a container house by Tampa Armature Works (TAW) on his TV show recently. TAW is a Florida based company that (like many others that are seemingly popping up in droves) has been developing methods to adapt ISBU containers for use as housing.

But TAW is different.

Instead of posting “possibilities” on the Internet, and showing really cool renderings of “what might be…” TAW is actually doing it. They customize the shipping containers at their “factory” so that the containers become living, breathing structures ready to dot the landscape as new housing.

How do they do it?

Well, this is accomplished by removing all but the outer side panels, leaving the vertical steel support beams for structural integrity and cutting openings for windows and doors in the remaining walls. The company also uses a spray-on ceramic coating on both sides of the remaining walls. The claim is that this spray has an R value of R-19 and bonds nicely to the steel surface. Basically, the ceramic coating works by reflecting heat away (outside), and trapping cooling (inside), by forming a protective “envelope.” The insulation coating can be covered with drywall on the inside, if the buyer chooses. On the outside of the house, the part your neighbors will see, the house can be clad like any other house on the street, with stucco, or siding, or even a veneer (like brick).

At the site – which you MUST have accessible by a heavy trucking and a crane – the builder simply assembles a concrete block foundation with an appropriately sized stem-wall foundation reinforced with steel rebar. This is what your containers will sit on, when they begins their new life as a home. This foundation will also provide the “crawlspace” required, so you can get underneath your house, to connect all the necessary utilities.

The cells in the concrete block are filled with concrete and half-inch thick steel plates with a J-hook are embedded into the concrete at the corners. The J-hook connects the ISBU to the wall and ties everything together all the way down to the footings. You’re gonna do this for every container you set into place, as you begin configuring your home. The ISBU’s are lifted onto the foundation by crane, fastened down with those J-hooks, then welded to the steel embedded in the foundation and at the corners.

According to Bob Villa (and we all know that Bob Vila hardly ever lies…), these shipping containers are so strong (each one is designed to carry over 26 tons of cargo) that they only need to be fastened at the corners,  but attaching them to the embedded rebar in your stem walls and welding them in place “ensures they will be immovable.”

Once your containers are set in place, the containers are welded together at the top and bottom, and along the “seams” of the “roof” surface. Trusses are then added, with steel straps that are welded to the steel roof of the container. Interior finish work is done with metal studding (where required) and then drywall is applied to your partition walls, just like any other house.

When it’s all finished, the container looks like a real house. Nobody will be able to tell what it started it’s life out as. But you will, because you’ll still have cash in the bank, and a house that is weather resistant, and ready to face whatever comes.

So what are the advantages?

These containers are exceptionally strong and may be a high-speed solution to re-construction in hurricane prone areas. Plus, they nearly eliminate the use of trees to build a home. And, they are energy efficient! These homes are preconfigured in a “factory” like a modular home is, so specifications guesswork and fitting problems are almost completely eliminated. This is good, because when those tractor trailers start to arrive to put your home in place, you won’t need a tribe of construction workers sitting around waiting to earn their hourly pay, until your construction budget cries “uncle!” This “modular” style of construction actually reduces construction time for building crews and vastly reduces wasted materials.

Now, all this comes at a price, and the more people start doing this, the cheaper it will get.  Everybody knows that as more and more homes are built with this “new” technology, there will be significant savings passed on to homeowners.

And remember that one of the big advantages is in eliminating what promises to be a progressive environmental impact on areas around container storage yards and the ability to reuse containers rather than having to recycle them into land fills, or process them into new resources.

So how do you find a shipping container and how much do they cost?

Containers ARE readily available. It’s been my experience that you can just call a container depot, and they usually have somebody tasked with eliminating these old boxes. But, you can even find them on eBay.The toughest part of this is that you have to live close to where you’re getting your container, or the shipping costs will kill you. Fuel costs as much as gold lately, and it’s imperative that you shorten that containers trip to your lot. Trust me.

I’ve seen 40′ containers go for $1,000. And, I’ve seen the same containers get sold for $3,200. So, you have to shop carefully, and remember to bring your bartering hat along with you. Like anything else, a little haggling can make a huge difference.

Remember that although there are standard specifications for these boxes, they still come in all shapes and sizes. I regularly see containers for sale that are 10, 20, 40, 45, 48, and even 53 feet long and as much at 9.5 feet high. I know what you’re thinking…

These “rogue” containers aren’t really ISBU’s, but just manufactured boxes. Well, the same rules and standards apply, so using these can give you some additional possibilities, when it comes time to design your new house.

Shipping the containers to your site adds to the cost, but if you get a little creative, you really can cut this cost down, too! It’ll take a little work on your part, but you can arrange to deliver a load of Potatoes from Idaho or even cleaning chemicals from Houston to your new doorstep and cover part of the cost!

(Okay, maybe carrying chemicals in something you’re gonna live in, ain’t such a good idea. Look for a shipment that’s less “user-unfriendly…”)

But this should give you something to think about…

Stay Tuned…


2 Responses to “High Speed Homes!”

  1. Chris October 28, 2008 at 5:44 pm #

    Very interesting article, I have seen your first picture before (School in Guadalajara) but have been unable to find any articles pertaining to how it was built and how much it ended up costing per sq.ft. If you have any leads that would be very helpful….

    “Trying to build my own personal Green Dream”

  2. renaissanceronin October 28, 2008 at 10:34 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    Like you, I’ve got a photo, but no data (we’re talking about my current header photo, folks).

    I found it as part of a “collage” of projects that demonstrated container construction.

    My header photo changes about every 5 weeks. I’m using that space to just showcase the potential of these projects.

    I’ll see if I can shake the tree, and find out about that particular project.

    Stay tuned…

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