Mr. Ronin’s Neighborhood

18 May

Greetings and salutations, fellow campers!

Welcome to “Mr Ronin’s Neighborhood!”


Now, as you know… my family is building a home out of recycled boxes. Won’t you be my neighbor? 🙂


Hey, it’s not like it’s refrigerator boxes, or TV boxes, or even those cool boxes that your washer and dryer come in… Although those are in abundant supply… when they get wet, they’re useless. And, we have a household that is prone to “wet spots.” So… “Middle-aged Mommy” and I have a small tyrant, and he’s still in diapers… so it’s not him.

I suppose it’s me… at least that’s what my wife says. I suspect she’s the one peeing on the carpet, because we don’t have a dog (and I stopped “excessive” drinking years ago), but she claims I do “odd things” in my sleep.

I know that’s a lie, because since the boy was spawned, I haven’t gotten any sleep… But whatever. So we needed something sturdier than cardboard, that was also “liquid and weather resistant.”

So… we’re building a home out of shipping containers.

Oh stop it! We are TOO! 🙂

I’ve been talking about it for a while now, slowly plotting and scheming, while the powers that be try to stop me at every gyration. But, slowly we’re gaining what looks like ground (but may just be “sleep deprived delusion”)   and soon our family will join the ranks of “home-owning” families, ours living firmly in our Corten Castle surrounded by neighbors brandishing burning brands and pitchforks.

What? You don’t have those kind of neighbors? Well, we must have gotten lucky… 🙂

I get email. Man, do I get email. Now some of it is humorous;

“Are you out of your [bleeeepin, bleepetty, bleep!] mind? Your [bleepitty-bleep] wife should take that kid and haul [bleepitty-bleeep-bleep-bleep!]  away from you. You’re a [[bleepitty-bleepin’] idiot!”

But fear not… I  respond kindly, because, after all, she is my mother… 🙂

Some of it is rather “opinionated;”

“Why you… you… you’re a narcissistic prick, you are!”

But, I don’t pay much attention, because catering to fools just wastes time, and just ends up playing to their obvious needs for attention. (Plus,  I actually enjoy the fact that  I give some of these blog-lurking poltroons an aneurysm!) 🙂

(Besides that, my wife calls me much more creative and entertaining names. In fact, the neighbor kids all sit at her feet in awe, when she goes on a tirade! It gives them phrases to stop THEIR parent’s hearts with!) 🙂

Some of it is just “rather exploitive;”

“I have a container. Can you show me how to turn it into a 2,000 square foot house? And, I’d appreciate it if you could come over and show me how to cut the windows and doors out. I’m not very handy with tools. Here’s my address…”

(I really got that message.) Here was my comprehensive and rather lengthy reply;


But some of the email is people looking for answers, trying to figure out how to craft their own Corten monument. Here’s a few examples, in a post I’m going to call;

“Mr Ronin’s Neighborhood.”

(For those of you paying attention, I’d rather you ask these questions in the comment section of the blog, so that other people can have the opportunity to see them, and the answers, as I make them up, seemingly out of thin air. Okay? I mean really, if I had “all the answers” would I be stuck in Mississippi? Hmmm?) 🙂

Here’s our first question;

Dear mr. ronin,

in contriving to build one of these houses (plotting against the evil that is my local  government) i was wondering several points that no one seems to publish.

1) how do you bond 2 containers together?

2) if you bury them how do you make permanently water tight?

3) since i have a wife, i must have sheet rock; therefore, how do you attach it to the metal?

4) what is the best way to cut the container for doorways and open areas?

thank you,
concord, nc

Hi “MB,”

Here’s the short version of answers to your questions;

1) Hmmmmm… “Bonding containers together…” let me see… um… Flowers and a box of candy do nicely…

Wait… that’s not it… Ummmm… Weld them together. Use the existing locks (that are built in) and then use welding rod to secure them, by welding the frame members to each other.

ONLY do this if your positioning is permanent, and you have no intention of ever moving them.

2)  “Water-tight coffins in the sand…” Sounds like a country western tune… DO NOT BURY ISBU’s!

Although ISBUs are strong, the strength is in the FRAME. The skin is only designed to keep cargo in. People call them “Corten Coffins,” probably because  they buried them, and watched them buckle and collapse.

You CAN only bury ISBU’s if you reinforce the skin! The most practical way that we’ve found is to cover the shell with lightweight concrete. We’ve done this several times, with great results. Remember to insulate.

3) “My wife wants sheet-rock.”

Funny, my wife insists on shoes, not sheet rock.

But I get your drift. The easiest way to install sheet rock is to fir out the inside of your container using 1x’s. This can be accomplished many ways. Use industrial strength adhesive, or drill a few holes and use screws, Attach sheetrock to the firring strips. You can also shoot some spray-on foam into the cavities behind the sheetrock, that way.

4)  “Slicing an ISBU like pie… or… Peek-a-boo ISBU.”

The easiest way to cut openings in the steel skin of an ISBU is to use a plasma cutter.

You’ll make cuts as simple as “cutting thru butter.” If you can’t get your hands on a plasma cutter, use a circular saw with a metal cutting blade. But, it’s gonna be noisy. Take your time, go slow, and you’ll get precise cuts.

Ready? Round Two;

This one is from one of my most favorite people, but I’m going to disguise her name, so that people don’t realize that she associates with the likes of me… 🙂

She hangs out here;

So much for anonimity, huh? 🙂

Hey Alex!

I was writing to see if you could please answer a question for me.  “A” and I are beginning to look at land for our shipping container home, and we’re trying to gauge how much we can spend on land vs. how much we’ll have to spend on our home.  We’re thinking either Western Washington state or Western Michigan (because the wind there is fantastic, and it’s really beautiful!).  Our goal is to spend as much on land as we can, because neither of us want close neighbors.

We’re planning on eventually going completely off-grid, but I’m not sure we’ll be able to do that right from the beginning.  “A” has plans to build his own wind turbine, and depending on where we buy land, we might pop in a few solar panels as well.

We’re also going to do a compost toilet.

My main question is, how much does it normally cost to have the land prepped and a foundation poured?  I’ve seen dramatically different figures online, and am at a loss on how to estimate that.  Our house is only going to have a max of 4 40 ft. containers.

We’re also going to try and do the majority of the work (after the containers are laid down and the electric work done) ourselves.  I’ve started investigating do it yourself homebuilding, and think we might have a shot. : ) At least we could frame the inside, lay flooring, do cabinets and that sort of thing.  I’m sure we’ll have to hire out the spray foam insulation part.

Anyway, thanks so much for your help!


Hi “H,”

Like you, our goal is to have enough land to provide a buffer. Now, there’s two schools of thought on this;

My wife says that the house should be at least far enough away from the street… to avoid getting hit by hurled bricks and rocks.

I say that it should be situated is a position that allows enough lawn to provide for adequate minefields and booby-traps… because nobody likes “trapping boobies” more than me. Hey… some people collect deer heads… 🙂

Seriously (if one could ever actually take ME seriously), if things go the way I think they might, any extra space you have will be vital to your survival. I’m truly hoping and praying that President Obama can fix things, but I’m very doubtful at this point that most of the middle and lower class will survive intact.

Regardless of whether or not you use the wind (If I could “channel my hot air,” I could probably power up half this side of the Mississippi, according to my wife) you’ll want solar power to at least augment hot water and assist with heating (if you go “radiant in floor” heat).

With the grants currently available for PV’s (photovoltaic panels), it’s almost crazy not to use them. I’m preparing a post (with the help of my local Congressman) to provide some insight into how to actually qualify for the “alternative power supplemental” grants, that are being funded by that “great black hole” that is the Stimulus package. They’re written to be implemented by “corporations and cities,” but there  is a loophole that will allow you to “create” your own “power co-op”, and qualify.

And, it doesn’t include a “hard” connection to the grid, just the ability to do so, if the “power pimps” decide that they need your juice. (And if they do? Well, you build a “phantom” kill switch, to shut them off. It’s easy. All you need is a PC, and some Java script.)

Land clearing costs vary and there’s no set price. It depends on where you are, how much has to be done, the equipment involved, etc…

I suggest that you look at it from a different angle. Consider putting the boxes on pilings.Use sono tubes to construct 12″-18″  (or even 24″) rebar reinforced pilings, and set your ISBUs on top of those.  You’ll get a few pilings per yard of concrete, unless your frost line is near the center of the earth! 🙂

By doing this, the amount of “clearance” gets dramatically smaller. Instead of heavy site prep, all you’re doing is a rough grade, and then shooting pilings in. It’ll also serve to raise your house up above the snow and mud.

You can get fancy with decks, or just steps, to get up to entryways.

Are you going 1 story, or two? If you stack containers, you’ll have a smaller footprint, and thus, fewer pilings.

I’ve got a “(3) ISBU first – (2) ISBU second” plan I really like. And, it gets you a deck on the second floor, for a greenhouse up away from the critters that are as hungry as you are!

And consider that most building codes won’t allow you to use a “composting toilet” as a primary.

Okay, last one for now…


You’re prob really busy but I was wondering if you have experience in building container homes in the Caribbean and if you ever wrote anything about it?

We (my husband and I) are really interested in building a container home, mainly for the simple reason that it is cheaper than building regular homes, especially here on Sint Maarten where building materials make building crazy expensive.

The land we have is on a slight slope and we are looking to build with about 6 40ft containers.

In a u form and on one side make it double with 2 containers on top of that and a slanted roof. well that is the initial idea… we’re still thinking about that.

could you give us some pointers on how to build in a tropical climate with the occasional hurricane and flooding? do we build on a concrete slab, on little walls (Bob Villa video)  how about treating the underside of the container??? how to build hurricaneproof??????

well…. that are only a few of the questions

People here only use containers for emergency housing and not for permanent housing.

I would really appreciate a reply.

Thanking you in advance,

Hi “E,”

After Hurricane Hugo, which I weathered out on a 50′ sailboat in  St. Thomas Harbor ( luckily NOT Christiansted, St. Croix which was our “first choice…” IT got pounded!) , in the US Virgin Islands (Oy Vey, what WERE we thinking?) we ended up doing disaster cleanup as part of our penance… 🙂

Now, we’d gone to the US Virgin Islands looking for virgins (we had matured to “marrying age” and were looking for suitable spouse potential), but that’s another story.

BTW: Did you know that there aren’t many virgins on the virgin Islands? Talk about false advertising… 🙂

We wrote the next big ad campaign for the USVI:

“Whaaa? No Virgins HERE!”

Anyway, while we were there, we helped construct three ISBU residences there in the next year, (2) on St Thomas, and (1) on St Johns Island.

Each used (3) 40′ containers, however the container home on St. Johns stacked one on top of two.

We were lucky in that hundreds of containers were rushed to the Virgin Islands, full of “disaster recovery supplies” so we had no trouble getting our hands on a few of them to “re-use.”

All three used pilings spaced 10 feet apart, to carry the load, instead of a traditional footed foundation. As I recall, we used 24″ tubes to shoot concrete and steel into, and the end result was rock-solid boxes, that sat about 4 feet off the ground.

Because of flooding and gale-force winds, avoid using any kind of traditional foundation that might “up-lift.”

Regardless of what people tell you, don’t build your container on top of “little walls.” It may look “cool,” but they wash out under load, like hurricane driven waves. If you do that, your container will become a boat, and they’ll be fishing you out of the drink, somewhere between Venezuela and South Africa.

Definitely raise your containers up off the ground so that you can access the underside, and use spray-foam insulation to insulate your bottom. Make sure that you leave openings or your waste outlets will get plugged up. Nobody likes a plugged up waste outlet. 🙂

(Okay, that was lame… Just make sure you can access your plumbing, in case you ever need to work on it, later.)


Surely you jest. No such animal. You can take great strides to making your container home more resistant to heavy weather, but forget anything anyone ever told you about “hurricane proof” construction. People who say that are liars. The only thing I’ve ever seen that comes remotely close to that are those multi-million dollar “Concrete Domes” that they build on the beaches in Florida. They’re hardy beasts, and I envy their owners, but you can’t start one of those builds with an ISBU. 🙂

Consider using SSMR (Standing Seam Metal Roofing) to top off your Island Residence. Properly strapped in place, it has more chance of surviving a heavy storm intact, without coming off and littering the landscape with debris. People who use tile or regular roofing materials are just building “projectile” roofs waiting to kill someone… when a hurricane rears it’s ugly mug…

Okay, that’s it for today.

I’ve got diapers to change, and hate-mail to sort thru…


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8 Responses to “Mr. Ronin’s Neighborhood”

  1. Oshun June 5, 2009 at 2:05 pm #


    I have been browsing your website off and on and I want to say that I am sorry for all that you and your family have been through. I also am sorry that you have been dealing with wackos.

    Well, I have decided to take the plunge. I want to build a container home within about a year or so, but right now I want to experiment with building a storage house/workshop from a shipping container to test the waters.

    I am next door to you state wise (I hope that you can win the battles you are having with getting your home built in Miss) and the main problem I have been having is that I can’t get a container.

    I confess I am cheap. I was hoping to find one in the city so I called a few companies to see if they had some small used ones (10×8 at the largest) they want to get rid of and they won’t even sell them to me outright, but offer to sell me storage instead. Or give me the option to rent the container to keep on my property.

    If you have any advice on the best resource for getting the containers small or large – it would be greatly appreciated. 🙂

    • renaissanceronin June 6, 2009 at 6:58 pm #

      Hi there!

      Well, I appreciate your kind sentiments, but I’m guessing that it’s just karma catching up with me… 🙂

      On the container front, finding a 10′ container isn’t going to be easy, and it’s outside my area of contact, to be sure. I see them on Ebay, and even on Craigslist quite often, but the prices always seem really high. (In fact, I can buy a 20′ box for the prices I’ve seen the 10′ pods go for.)

      If you’ll consider a 20′ unit, I may be able to help you find one. Keep me posted on your plans.

      And remember, you can always cut out the end of the box and several feet out of each side, and use the “excess container” as a covered patio. I’ve built a few workshops and potting sheds this way, and they’ve turned out pretty cool…


  2. sharebear_11300 November 23, 2009 at 8:20 pm #

    Mr. RR,
    I have several questions, frist one is if using the pilings how tall can they be, I have an idea to use the space under the containers as garage space but I am afaid that it would be unsafe to park under. also can I later enclose the area with say cinder blocks to form a work room that way i could do that project at my own pace rather than having to have the concret people come out for it.

    and also for the walls with sheetrock on them how do you go about putting a ceiling up to hide the wires for lighting and cieling fans?

    • renaissanceronin November 23, 2009 at 9:04 pm #

      Hi sharebear;

      I’ve put ISBU’s on pilings ten feet in the air several times. Remember, the taller the piling, the deeper it goes. That concrete calculation sometimes decides just how high that house gets punched up in the air.

      Usually, pilings are about 18″ to 2′ in diameter. Once you get everything connected, nothing is going anywhere.

      The piling hold everything up, so you can enclose the open bottom area between the pilings using masonry or whatever you want as time and budget allows.

      If the insulation is on the OUTSIDE of the box;

      For sheetrock or ceilings, just fir out the inside of your boxes with wooden 1 by’s… Attach your sheetrock to that. Attaching them is easy.

      All your wiring for ceiling lamps and fans will be easily hidden, just like “in a real home..” 😉


      • sharebear_11300 November 25, 2009 at 2:58 am #

        Can the SPF insulation be put on the outside of the entire house and if it can dose it have to be covered up?
        and can you rent plasma cutters???

        Do you have any suggestion on how to get my hubby to agree to work with me to build a container home?

        • renaissanceronin November 25, 2009 at 11:58 am #

          Hi Sharebear,

          I’ve talked about using Spray Foam Insulation on containers almost endlessly on the blog. Yes, it will cover the outside of the house. Yes, you must cover it up, or it will chip off. But, it does form a vapor barrier, and a moisture barrier as well as being “insulation” so it does a great job. It also makes your house stronger, by bonding the whole thing together in a big rigid wrapper.

          And yes, you can rent plasma cutters. Most home improvement centers have them.

          As for your hubby… while a “carrot” works nicely, I suspect that a stick will work better… 😉


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