Using ISBUs to build “Instant Homes…”

6 Jun

As many of you know, my family is fighting it’s way through the powers that be, trying to gain enough momentum to get a house erected that will keep us safe  and protected from the elements.

I suppose it would be easier to just give in to pressure, and build a house out of sticks, or even blocks. But, we’ve never been ones to follow everybody else around like “lost sheep,” and we’re not afraid to stick our necks out if we think it’s for the “greater good.”

You see, many people just can’t get “housing loans.” The economy and the housing shortage have made it almost impossible for many families in America to do anything but try to meet the rent each month, knowing that at the end of the year, they’ll have nothing to show for it but the satisfaction of knowing that they’ve paid their rental unit’s mortgage for the owners.

There has to be another road, and frankly, we’re looking for it.

Most of you know that I’m a big advocate of using Shipping Containers  (ISBU’s) as structure, just like a kid uses those plastic  building blocks. These steel boxes are incredibly durable, they’re plentiful, and given careful planning, they can be warm and cozy shelters in even the most severe weather conditions.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the concept of “modular construction” lately. The easiest way to build anything, is to break it down into smaller parts, and build it out of sub-assemblies. So, just think of these boxes as components, and then think about how you can “pre-fabricate” them, before you use a crane (or other muscle) to set them into place on your foundation.

And that foundation doesn’t have to be real complicated, either. Containers can be set on pilings to get them up off the ground. Pouring those support pilings using cardboard tubes,  concrete and rebar can be pretty inexpensive, compared to massive grading efforts, and complicated footings.

(2) 40′ High Cube ISBU’s can be turned into two nice sized bedrooms with a shared bathroom, quite easily. Just lay them side by side, and take the center sections out. You’ve got decent room runs, and a nice 9′ ceiling height, with ease. The containers will get welded together along the center seam (top, sides, and bottom) and you’ll have some bearing walls in the middle, to help support the roof load, so don’t worry about the span, for now.

If you were to take (2) of these bedroom assemblies, and set them a little bit apart on 24″ pilings placed about 10′ on center…

And by spanning the “gap” between them with 16′ floor joists to connect the sides together, you’re essentially creating a house with a crawlspace underneath it. Guess how you’re gonna insulate the underside of that house? You’re gonna crawl under there and spray it with the same close-celled foam that most of the commercial industry has been using for years. At r7 per inch, it isn’t going to take much of it, to insure that your floor stays warm.

Plus, you’re gonna get a nice “stepped” entry deck both front and rear, to access the house and the back yard.

Think about ways you can build these “sub-assemblies,” and then place them together, using a roof to span the gap between them. Think about the angles that they can be “splayed” in, to create “great rooms” with a narrower, more cozy room at the rear.

Or, just take (2) of these sub-assemblies, and lay them parallel to each other, about 16 feet apart. Guess what? You’ve just built a 1,920 square foot four bedroom/ 2 bath  house, for pennies on the dollar. The gap between them can be filled in with conventional floor joists, and the ceiling, built out of SIP’s (Structural Insulated Panels) will give you enough warmth to get you through the coldest of winters.

And here’s the fun part. You can go from a basically vacant lot, to that almost 2,000 square foot house, in a week. (Wanna freak out the neighbors? Wait until they go on vacation to build. When they leave, it’ll be a vacant lot, and when they return… It’ll be a 2,000 square foot Corten Monument, complete with a landscaped front yard!)

Sure, you can  spend about 3 months getting the “pre-fabbed” parts assembled, but once you’ve got them the way you want them, that crane will make short work of them. And because your “pre-fabbed” assemblies are built out of units 8′ wide, they can be easily trucked to your site on a flatbed trailer. I’ve delivered my “doctored boxes” to the jobsite using a big Dodge pickup (a 1 ton diesel duelie) and a flatbed, several times.

So, you can do the “fitting out” part anywhere you like. No tractor trailer required, no muss, no fuss. And best of all, no massive, heart stopping shipping and delivery bills!

That center “bowling alley” you’ve “floorjoisted” into existence will house your living room, kitchen and dining room. Remember that 40′ can go a long way.  Most people would kill for a 20′ x 16′ Living/Family Room.  Put your kitchen in the center, and your dining room right behind it, and you end up with some pretty decent spaces, with all your plumbing in one “corridor” right through the middle of the house.

Or, here’s my favorite configuration; Move your kitchen all the way to the rear of the great room, in a big “L-Shape” with an island. Now, you have a Living Room/Dining Room combination that flows like the Nile, and a bright and airy kitchen to work in, too! Plus, you’re right there by the back doors, and that terrific deck looking out at the neighbor’s brats taunting your dog! 🙂

Another benefit to using shipping containers as components is that you’re already “weathered in.” No matter how wet or windy it gets outside, you’re inside, safe and warm as you build.

Granted, this is just a very brief overview of a small ISBU house project, but I can tell you from experience that you can build it yourself, using basic hand-tools, on weekends, and summer vacations. How do I know this? Because I’ve done it myself (with some help, of course), more than once.

The home that my family is presently planning to build follows this same “concept plan.” Now whether it gets built in Mississippi, or someplace else, it’s a house constructed out of pre-fabbed “ISBU wings,” connected by a small “aircraft hangar” to form a larger version of what I’ve just described. It’s similar to some of the container homes that you’ve seen on the Internet, with a few “Jew-Fu”  tricks thrown in, just to make the Planning and Zoning guys crazy… 🙂

And no… we’re not gonna leave much of the containers exposed to the elements. Our insulation is going on the OUTSIDE of the house, and then it will be covered by wood siding. We’re gonna leave a spot or two visible, so that people will be able to see it’s “origins,” but it’ll be tasteful, and more an “art statement” than an “in your face” jab.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll start laying it out for you, so you can see just how simple this construction process can be, if you use good design and good components.

Stay tuned.

FYI: For some reason beyond my understanding, I’m having trouble with WordPress.  It’s not letting me attach images to my posts, without crashing my computer. So, as soon as I figure out what ‘s wrong, and get the problem remedied I’ll attach drawings, photos and diagrams to this series of posts, so that you can actually “see” how it goes together to form a house.  I’ll post a “fixed” statement as soon as possible.


3 Responses to “Using ISBUs to build “Instant Homes…””

  1. Note Buyer Guy June 9, 2009 at 4:43 pm #

    You may be onto something. My wife and I want to build a one story (currently have 3 stories) home that will make it easier on my bad right knee. We have gotten some rough estimates on a simple rectangle 1 story concrete block home and all I can say is Wow! The cost is unbelievably cheap if you act as the GC. I know it’s not as “green” as your idea but it’s fast, cheap and will handle most any weather event thrown at us, particularly if we get a concrete roof where we can plant a garden on top. We think stick houses are an unbelievably poor value, not to mention poor at handling weather events. All we know for sure is we need to see some new better ways of building. The current standard is poor value at best and “Green” and Stick building don’t belong together. Keep pressing on.

    • renaissanceronin June 10, 2009 at 12:57 am #

      I don’t know about you, but I’m getting real tired of the way that advertisers and manufacturers are twisting the language, to make their products look “green.” It’s a term that is starting to become really overused.

      I agree with you completely that “stick” and “green” don’t really run hand in hand down the path…

      I’m not much for concrete block homes, unless you fill the gaps inside them. I remember living in a little block house out in Laughlin NV years ago, that was cold as heck in the winter, and a sauna in the summer… Oy Vey!

      But… think about using one of those “cast in place” systems that use insulated block! If you combine those, with a concrete pour using recycled concrete and insulative additives (people are mixing all kinds of stuff into their concrete now, like vermiculite) you get a strong wall, terrific “r” values, and you don’t have anything to feel “guilty” about!

      They’re not all that much more expensive than block and all those “seedy masonry characters” you’ll have parked in your yard for a month… 🙂

      (One of my best friend’s is one of those “seedy masonry characters,” so thank you for the opportunity to allow me to poke him in the eye!) 🙂

      I’m sure that he’ll get even… but I do like “drawing first blood!” 🙂

      And, THOSE systems go up in a week, from putting the blocks together, pouring the concrete, and putting the roof on! Talk about “instant house!”

      Now, add a “green roof” and a nice garden, and maybe even a PV or two (or a wind turbine if you’re lucky enough to live in a place where there is reliable wind) and you’ll be all set!

      Go get ’em!


  2. Ted Yrizarry January 9, 2010 at 11:04 am #

    I am in the planning stages of my own “connex” house and am having a very tuff time finding grass roots construction information anywhere. Most sites are either so “PRO-Green” that they spend all thier time chastising us as humans for ruining the planet or Its some big company just rrying to get us to buy some over-priced prefab cookiecutter house. I would just like to confir with someone that has done this before. I have built traditional homes from the ground up. I can weld. I have tools and motivation and a rough immage of the end result.
    What I don’t know is how/where to join the containers. How much foundation is needed… etc… alot of more indepth questions. If there is anyone willing to email me and talk, I would be Very grateful! Please?
    Thanks in advance, Ted

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