Well… ISBU to YOU, too!

14 Sep

Bob Vila, Bob Schmila… sheesh…

“Bob Vila says this… Bob Vila says that…” Oy freakin Vey! Enough already!

You’d think that Bob invented ISBU (Intermodal Steel Building Unit) shipping container housing…


Actually, I’m being way too hard on Bob. For years growing up, I sat mesmerized in front of the TV, watching Bob rave about this or that, while he taught me how to solve housing problems. He was one of my heroes. How old is he, now? About a thousand? 🙂

Sure, I always envied him because he got really cool stuff for free. Sure, the manufacturers would send their guys to make sure it was installed properly. Sure, he made some great “advertising noises…” Lucky Bob. I envy Bob. There, I said it. Kill me now, I’m wishing I was Bob Vila…

Admit it, YOU like FREE STUFF, too! So don’t be makin no “Jewish” cracks… huh? Shame on you for even thinking them! Stereotypes are baaaaad! 😦

bobsbday.jpegOkay, he’s still alive…

Actually, I wish I was Norm Abrams. That guy can build anything! Give him a tablesaw, a toothpick and a bottle of wood glue, and he’ll build you a four bedroom house! And, he’ll do it in 30 freakin minutes! He’s the damned MacGiver of Wood, I tell ya! 🙂


You didn’t hear it from me, but I had a signed photograph of Norm hanging on my woodshop wall, right next to my idol… Richard Nixon, for years… After a while, I actually forgot which one of them I was saluting!

Okay, you did hear it from me. I admit it… 🙂

I WAS gonna dazzle you, with tales of “harnessing Mother Nature” in “a bountiful bondage of benevolence…” but somebody got my blood-pressure boiling again… Actually it was SEVERAL somebody’s… I was gonna continue our hair-raising saga about “GEO somethin or other…”

But, it seems that people tune in lately, just to heckle me, and see if they can get a rise out of me.

Now, where was I? Oh yeah… Bob Vila…

Once upon a time…

Ahem… and then “ole’ Bob buddy” stumbled onto the guys at SG Blocks, and did a series on a house they were building out of shipping containers.

Incidentally, the lady that lives in that house (it’s a few years old now) says that the house is doing splendidly, and she just loves it!

Now, David Cross and his crew  at SG Blocks are doing what some of us have been doing for years. Here’s the one glaring difference;

Cross is making a profit. At least, I hope he is.

We, on the other hand… built house after house, for friends and the families of fallen comrades, as a labor of love. We’ve done it for decades. And, now, all of a sudden, you can’t turn on the damned cable TV without seeing an “Extreme Somethin or Other”  show where some nut-job spent $300 or $400 a square foot, to do what we’ve been doing for years, for about one third of that cash.

In fact, I bet it’s more like a fourth, or even a fifth.

It’s become fashionable to be “green” by going “brown, or blue…”

  • I’ve written articles where guys are turning ISBU (Shipping container) boxes into homes in Mexico, for about $8,000.00.
  • I’ve written articles about houses WE built, that we actually buried in the ground, so that you can’t see them.
  • Hell, I’ve even written articles about jug-headed politicians who cry about housing, but can’t see the solution staring them in the face, every time they drive down the coast in their limousines.
  • And now, I’m writing articles about how you can build a container home for your own family, if you harness your energy and your enthusiasm, and learn to use “the new wood…

Of course, I’m talking about Corten Steel.

Somebody recently told me that 18 million shipping containers ply the high seas, every day. Man! If that’s a good number, it boggles the mind! And many of those containers end up sitting “un-needed, unwanted, unloved, and unused” in a shipping port near you!

Why? Well… because it’s cheaper to build a new one, than send one back empty for re-use. That’s WHY!


They’re not just for hauling toys, kids… One look at a shipping container will convince you that they are “Tonka Tough!” After seeing this, I kinda guess that they HAVE to be! What a nightmare! 🙂

Stacked up to 9 boxes high and stretched as wide as the ocean (or so it seems) those same empty boxes could house thousands.

Did you know that in Amsterdam, they built an apartment complex out of them, to house a thousand students?


Take a tour of one of the dorm rooms!

Did you know that hotel chains build hotels out of them?


Did you know that even the military uses them as quarters for their personnel?

Well, did ya? 🙂


20′ ISBUs if ever I saw them…

It’s easy to see that these boxes can be configured into just about any shape that you can imagine.

Shipping containers are designed to get the crap beat out of them, and then, just like a Timex… they just keep on ticking…  And, they’ll bear the load of even your biggest “In-Law.”  A shipping container can carry 60,000 pounds. With minor modifications, they are easily transformed into living quarters. Talk about your weather resistant shelter!

Now, here’s why I’m doing the “ISBU to you, too!” sermon, yet again…

I don’t know if it’s the ungodly heat lately, or a rise in humidity, the economy (or lack thereof), a disdain for the way the nation is headed, or whatever, but…

A lot of you have sent me email recently, scolding me for not suggesting that we just melt empty shipping containers down, so that they can be re-used as raw steel. But here’s the rub;

Shipping containers average out at about 9,000 pounds, empty.

And, it takes 9,000 kilowatt hours of energy to melt down 9,000 pounds of steel. Not to mention the labor of removing the wood floors first. Or, PAYING the labor to haul it to your scrapyard, and then dismantle it, so you can smash it all up and then shred it.

Okay, you say… “you still end up with the steel.”

Big deal.

Have you been watching all this “Cash for Clunkers” nonsense? Those cars that are getting scrapped are only worth about $100 in scrap steel. And all of a sudden, there are hundreds of thousands of them… Dodge, Chevy, Ford… even (gasp!) imports! Brrrrrr! pick your slab of perforated and punched steel…

Nobody wants them. Nobody.

It’s the next “big dilemma.” Why? Because in America, we’re in a terrible building and manufacturing slump. Scrap steel is virtually worthless right now. So those hulks will bleed out oil, anti-freeze, and brake fluid, while they slowly rust away, for years.

It doesn’t make any sense to add more of it to the pile!

But, if you take that same Shipping container, and modify that existing piece of steel, it only takes about 400 kilowatt hours of energy  to turn it into a “building component.”

Hmmmm, carry the three… take away two… multiply by the square root of  “Geez, that Ronin is a genius!”

That’s a 95 percent energy footprint reduction!

But, how much energy have you really saved? Well, the energy saved by transforming a single shipping container into a part of a home (instead of melting it down) can power a standard 70-watt lightbulb for 15 years.

15 years!

And for all you “Carbon Junkies…” you get a much lower carbon footprint out of an ISBU home.

And here’s another plus;

You get a STEEL home, not a house made out of wood. And, that steel house assembles much faster! So, you get a “tougher” house that saves you labor building it. The average container house takes half the labor to build. HALF!

According to statistics, the average single family (tract) home takes 4 to 8 months to build. But…

The average ISBU home, including the “modification” time, takes only 2 to 4 months.

And, most of that time is spent with the box in a controlled environment (like a factory building or old aircraft hangar), getting it’s guts added, safely tucked away out of the weather.  This means no material loss to weather damage, a much smaller amount of scrap left over on your site, and an installation time that takes almost no time at all once the boxes are on the curb, ready to set up.

And why stop at using them to build single family homes? Why not stack them up and build multi-family complexes out of them?


After all, they’re designed to be STACKED. Duh!

You’d get a mid-rise building made of steel, that is more durable and has a lower carbon footprint. It’s also water resistant and termite resistant. It’s not that much different than those 100′ tall monstrosities you already have downtown!

And it’s stronger, too.


Every single container locks together. It’s like a gigantic “Rubik’s Cube” of a steel cocoon. Think about it…

Would you rather live in a wood house, nailed together (as fast as possible) so that the contractor could get on to the next one (after all, he’s gotta eat too!), or would your rather live in a steel shell, with hundreds of interlocking “points” that will defy the weather and aging process? I choose that “honeycombed” steel cocoon…

If you chose the wood house… well… you’re on the wrong blog.

Plus, the construction becomes cheaper as you get into multi-family homes. After all, you’re doing the same things over and over again, you’re buying larger quantities of material to build them with (so you get a price break) and you can set up jigs and templates to make it almost mind-numbingly simple.” Multi-family mid-rise units can cost 10 to 15 percent less than typical “stick frame” homes. All day long. Easy…

They don’t have to look like industrial scrapyards, or military barracks. You can make them look like anything you want. This is one pig that is easily clad in a prom dress…


And they’re tough.

They’re made out of steel, remember? Regardless of what they’re clad with… be it bricks, stucco or siding, each container already has its own roof.  Sure, when multiple containers are put together side by side, there are gaps between the boxes. So, you just fill the gaps between the boxes. Then, on the top of the structure, you build a traditional roof, to provide additional safety in case Mother Nature shows up on your porch, all P.O.’d at you…

Remember that once the boxes are joined together and the gaps between them are sealed up, even if a hurricane or tornado eats your “roof,” you still have some protection.

I could go on and on… In fact, I usually do. But, for now…

Here’s the gist;

Recycling a “pre-weatherized steel box” to make a place for your family to live, just makes sense…

Sorry… didn’t mean to “shout!”  That’s all I’m gonna say… for now.

Stay tuned.

The Renaissance RoninI bet you thought I’d do some “911” posts, huh? Nah… enough is being said. We should never , ever forget the lives of those we lose in acts of violence…anywhere. Each innocent life is precious.
And, we should try real hard, to do whatever we must, to keep it from ever happening again. Amen.
‘Nuff said.

3 Responses to “Well… ISBU to YOU, too!”

  1. David Cross November 11, 2009 at 3:25 pm #

    I have been reading your stuff while at the airport. Hope all is going well for you!

    • renaissanceronin November 11, 2009 at 4:43 pm #

      Now there’s a good idea…

      Read “Ronin” and then get onto a plane…

      That’s an upset stomach in a little tiny aircraft bathroom just waiting to happen! 🙂

      Now what was it you do again? Oh yeah, you run SG Blocks!

      For those of you who don’t know WHO SG Blocks is, they’re the “clean up batters” of the ISBU Home industry. If you’ve ever been to a home show and you’ve seen an ISBU demonstration home with lines around the block… it was probably theirs.

      Ever watch Bob Vila? Well, he showed off David and one of the ISBU homes being built in Florida a few years back…

      And not one to rest on their… um… er… laurels… 🙂

      Now they’re doing even cooler stuff!

      Check ’em out, HERE: http://www.sgblocks.com

      You’re just looking to swipe some of my little tricks huh?


      Have at it! I’m glad to help out! Now get back to work! Cutting all those ISBUs up with a plasma cutter takes a long time, and you still have about a million containers to go! 🙂

      Go on… git!

      Ronin 😉


  1. And the Winner is… « The Life and Times of a "Renaissance Ronin" - January 5, 2010

    […] Bob Vila (you remember Bob Vila, right?) talks to an expert about Ceramic Insulation; […]

Comments are closed.