Another Container Home hits the street!

11 May

Recently, I was contacted by “The Divine Miss M’s” designer (you remember HER, right?)… 🙂

Michael Mardis (of asked me to post pictures of ISBU houses I’ve participated in building, because he wanted to know “what I thought an ISBU house should look like…”

Now, I suspect that he’s pissed that I “took issue” with one of his clients, or he might have thought that I had problems with his design of her house. Who knows? Maybe he’s just curious…

Nothing I ever said would lead you to believe that I was “slighting” him, but hey, I’m game.

(The emphasis  here [color, et all] is mine, added to make reading the blog easier.) Like that could actually happen! 🙂

Here’s what I told him;

Are you under the impression that I have issues with the design of the house?

The issues I have (and always had), is the negativity perceived by authorities who were influenced by the actions of the owner, due to the “rampant publicity and theatrics.”

And there is NO set way for an ISBU home to “look.” The beauty of an  ISBU house is that it can look like “anything.” It’s a box, for cryin’ out loud!

Side it, brick it, veneer it, stucco it, or leave it “industrial,” it’s just a steel starting point to house a family.

Gable roof, shed roof, Cape Cod,  Salt Box, or Clerestory, you name  it… You can wrap a Corten box any way you want.

Now, my personal house is hopelessly mired in Mississippi Politics, and we’re fighting it out at the legislature level again… but…

I’ve posted photos (and drawings) of old projects, and I have three more solidly in development now.  Stay tuned, and you can watch,  just like everybody else. 🙂

And as to “what I think a container house should look like”; I’ll point  out that all three of “mine” (in the role of “consultant,” as I’m helping the owners”) currently under development are different (animals of a different color).

One is a clerestory roofed (SIPs) hardieplank “single story with loft” assemblage of boxes.

One is a three story multiple “stack” design (24×40 on each floor) and  it gets glass and stucco. It’ll look “Spanish Modern.”

The third is a 2 story contemporary (24×40 – main, 16×40 – second) that get’s brick and siding.

(Note to readers: There is a fourth, that uses 53′ monster boxes, but we’re still all caught up in the multiple wants/needs…  “OMG, what do we do now? mode…  So, we won’t count that one… yet.) 🙂

Again, I have no issues with design (“M’s” House), it’s owner impact I’m concerned with. Agree or disagree, if people come away from a project carrying a grudge, it makes it harder for the next guy.

All I want is to see families in homes. Period. Anyone that chooses to side against me, is going to have their hands full. In part, that’s why I’m speaking to politicians in Jackson so often.

In fact, I’m headed back to Jackson the week of the 18th (yep, once more… they moved the meeting date) to go “bare knuckles” with the “backwater bozos” again.  It’s about releasing the land that was acquired by grant, to allow the build to begin, for those of you following along.

And, he asked me to check out another container build in Kansas City, MO, being completed by the Glassberg family.

So, I did. And here’s the result of THAT query;


Thanks for your input. And, I checked out the Kansas City build:

I don’t expect you to read all this, I’m sure you’re too busy, but here goes;

About the Glassberg Container House in Kansas City, MO;


Overall, I’m siding with most of the comments. There are valid points  being made.

As to the house, by itself,  here’s the deal;

Although the Glassberg house is a “designer house,” (more on that later) it’s a “stack and pack,” and that’s not bad. I actually like the more “industrial” look of ISBU’s, but it’s hard to shoehorn that look into an existing neighborhood, sometimes.


FYI to my readers: As the result of a “salvage gift,” I’m currently playing with the idea of using 10′ sections of salvaged highway drainage culvert as “pillars” to “float” ISBUs on top of, up out of the flood plain. They’re big enough inside to allow the installation of spiral staircases from grade, and (accessed) at grade they can also be used as “storage vaults.” It’s possible that we’ll tie them together with masonry or concrete walls, to form an enclosed garage/shop.

The Glassberg’s state a price of $115 a foot to build ($300k budget for 2,600 sq ft), and that’s not bad for a custom “designer” home, but I’ll point out that you can build a container house (or even a conventional stick house) with much less money. This $300k build is well beyond the reach of the majority of families looking at ISBUs for construction projects.


2,600 square feet. Hmmm… Not exactly a “zero-carbon footprint” but I’m the last person to harp on somebody else’s need for space. I just say build as responsibly and as sustainably as you can.

Designing the containers as modules, so that you could disassemble the house and move it again is a concept I preach to potential ISBU builders. I have one in NC right now, where the ability to move it again later is a confirmed part of the integral design.

glassberg5Like many of the comments… It grieves me to see that she actually went to China three different times to supervise the construction of her  “designer” containers, when there are plenty of them sitting right here, waiting for new owners.

I suspect that she spent enough airfare to buy several containers (and possibly an extra one or two), if she’d bought ISBUs here. The average business class fare to China ran about $1,800 bucks in her travel timeframe (if I’m understanding the article correctly)… times three…  divided by 40’s…


I’m wondering where ELSE the actual differences in their construction lies (aside from height), compared to “standard” ISBUs… They may be built to “stronger spec’s” for example. I’m sure they had their reasons, but from our  more “grass roots” perspective here on “RR,” we can’t duplicate it.

I’ve got a few (3) 53′ boxes sitting here that are almost 9’2″ (110 inches) tall on the inside.

(2) of these are headed to an Indian family on a reservation near here for a “clerestory” SIP roof build. We’ll frame in a “spacer” between the containers, out of scrap steel from an aircraft hanger demo.”

Almost 1,700 sq ft, plus huge 16’x24′ “sleeping lofts” on both ends…

(2) 8’x16′ (approx) upstairs decks off lofts, separated by an 8’x21′ (approx) greenhouse. Clerestory windows over. We’ll see over 2,400 sq ft of living space.

Oh yeah, the house sits on a masonry main floor box (32’x32′  approx. of garages and shop) cantilevered off each end), to get it up out of the flood plain.

(BTW: As to “carbon footprint,” it’s a multi-generation family of 10, plus relatives 4 months a year.)

And this build will come in just under $75 a foot (not counting sleeping lofts, or glazing for the greenhouse). We have a $125,000 budget.

And there are thousands of 53′ boxes here in the States, sitting idle. They ARE available, if you dig thru channels to find them.

(I prefer the 40 HQ’s… these behemoths were a “gift.”)

Although I love the idea of  the G;assberg’s 12′ ceilings, they’re not really ISBUs any longer. It’s like saying that the Verbus Systems boxes that Travelodge built that hotel out of are ISBU’s.  Although they are containers, they’re 12′ wide. Hardly shippable, stackable, or even usable in conventional shipping. They’re only good for one thing. Building. I don’t count them or their use, as real “Container Projects” except in “theory.”


They (Travelodge) could’ve just as easily designed rooms using (2) 8’rs… They had their reasons, Verbus used that build as part of “proof of concept” and gave them a huge discount…

The Glassberg “green roof” is something I incorporate every time I can. If for no other reason, most of these builds seem to be near or off grid, and it gets the garden up and away from the critters. It’s also a great place for a greenhouse.

It doesn’t add a ton of insulation value, as dirt isn’t that great for r-value, unless you have several feet of it used as “isolation.”

I love how they left the influence of the tree. “Nature play,” and whimsy rule, when it comes to these homes. They can be quite charming.


The press impression that the Glassberg house is “one of the few container houses in the United States” just drives home my point about “media ignorance.” There are hundreds, if not a thousand. At one point (back in the late 1990’s), I had a listing of over 400.


I (sure) can’t fault their (the Glassberg’s) philosophy about the impact that ISBUs could have. I’ve long been an advocate for FEMA use of ISBUs to build emergency shelter. They could build them in factories, just like travel trailers. The “tech” is already there. And, when not needed as “Disaster Shelter,” they’d stack back up for storage, just like they do now at shipping ports. Plus, they’d be secure, and last forever…

The Glassberg’s house will use eco-friendly technologies, including sugar beet foam insulation, geothermal heating and cooling, bamboo flooring, tankless water heaters and LED lighting.

First… LED lighting is great, but it’s still way too expensive for most people to embrace. I’m waiting for that day too, because it will be a huge boon to people living “off-grid.” I’m envious. Truly!

Bamboo flooring? Probably after market, too. But, did you know that standard containers can be found with bamboo flooring already in them? Bamboo is good, though. I can’t complain about the use of that.

Sugar beet foam insulation? Makes a “green” statement, I suppose, but too expensive, not commonly available yet, and out of most individual’s price ranges.  I wonder how “dense” it gets, and how insects and critters like it? I’m seeing a lot of conflicting reports from manufacturers. I’d use rigid PolyIso or spray foam (closed cell).

While not “green” in the traditional sense, it’s an affordable, reliable and durable alternative, that gives “green” (energy savings) benefits over batts of fiberglass.

Geothermal heating and cooling is something I already incorporate into my designs. It just makes sense.

Tankless water heaters? Nope! It’s too hard on PV arrays! I opt for high-efficiency solar hot water systems. I also “warm” my slabs to get radiant heat that way. But, remember, most of my builds are “near or off grid.”

I didn’t see anything about water retention, or grey water usage, or… ah… never mind.

“A Kansas City Art Institute student is designing rain-barrel benches.”

I wonder if that’s “rain Barrels that become benches,” or “benches that act as rain barrels?” Hmmm… Give’s me an idea!


For what it’s worth (probly’ about .25 cents) that’s my take on this project. I envy the Glassberg’s and their new “designer” abode, and I hope that it serves them (and the terrific community that embraced them) well, for decades to come!   I’m sure that we’ll see it on Cable TV DIY and Home & Gardens type networks! It’s a good looking beast.  🙂

There you have it. Another “Ronin Says” look at an ongoing “Project of Merit!”

Stay tuned!

The Renaissance RoninPhoto Credits for Glassberg house: ALLISON LONG! I think that she’s a staff photographer for If not, I’ll be more than happy to issue a “correction.”

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5 Responses to “Another Container Home hits the street!”

  1. Pat Sweeney May 20, 2009 at 1:43 am #

    53′ boxes? Best I can find is 45′ high cubes…..anyway, being an old hippie getting close to retirement, wife and I are considering a ‘container house’ in the hill country of Texas. Since we’ll be living on what’s left of the 401K, we want to design, build, and finish it ourselves, with as little ‘paid’ contractors as necessary. Off grid (solar/wind, with composting toilets and grey water treatment) is a necessity – don’t want to have to choose between food and the electric bill in the middle of a hot summer. Must admit tho I’m a lousy designer and can’t seem to come up with a viable concept plan. Any thoughts? (besides advising me to move to Sun City and buying a golf cart……..)


    • renaissanceronin May 20, 2009 at 1:59 pm #

      Hi Pat,

      Well, if you’re anywhere near a railroad track, you’ll see 53′ HQ’s going by all the time. You just have to know where and when to look for them, I suppose. These were a gift, so I didn’t have much to do with it.. 🙂

      You’re in a great location to go “off-grid,” as you Texans are a “windy” lot, and a wind turbine will make all the power you need! I envy you that, wind power is really nice, and in your case, very reliable. 🙂

      The nice thing about using containers is that you’re already “weathered in,” so building gradually is possible, if you can keep the planning and zoning people at bay.

      And, as you may have figured out from my blog posts, I am available to consult and help you design your house. The fees are quite nominal, and help keep the blog running. Watch your email…


  2. George Baldree August 21, 2009 at 10:35 am #

    I am going to build a 2800 sq. ft house on 3/4 of an acre in Cameron County Texas. I am out in the country with no restrictions but I am in a hurricane zone. The county has not told me no but they have told me to take it to the state because it doesn’t fit into the code categories.

    I have the containers purchased and at a ship yard in Brownsville awaiting modification into ISBU. I work in the offshore and marine industry and we will use alot of the outfitting technology from the ship building business on the inside and various stucco and siding on the outside.

    We are planning on high efficency solar water heater, solar panels and a wind turbine. LED lighting, Energy Star everything else. If we get a building permit.

    My architect and I are off to Austin next week.

    • renaissanceronin August 21, 2009 at 10:52 am #

      Hi George!

      Hey, that’s great news!

      And, I bet you know a ton of welders, and riggers who’d love to help you twist those wonderful steel boxes into a house that will help you withstand even the rowdiest of harsh weather!

      Texas has been pretty good about letting people use ISBU’s, provided they don’t get too crazy! I mean, don’t try to duplicate “Cadillac Ranch” and bury them endwise… 🙂

      What are you doing for insulation? Inside or outside? Foam, batt, or spray-on?

      Are you incorporating Photovoltaic’s as well?

      What are you doing for a foundation?

      Who’s your architect? Is he anybody we know, or just a new disciple of Corten Coolness? 🙂

      Good luck in Austin! And keep us posted!


  3. Dustin Donham April 29, 2010 at 4:50 pm #

    Hey Ronin,

    I was wondering where I could find pictures of that build you described here

    One is a three story multiple “stack” design (24×40 on each floor) and it gets glass and stucco. It’ll look “Spanish Modern.”

    Hope all is well we exchanged some emails last fall… I am still obsessed with ISBU’s I just wish I could build a business making these homes. I love green building.

    Another hippie from Austin, D

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