Put that “FAT” house on a DIET! :)

21 Oct

Welcome back!

Man, you must be a glutton for punishment! ๐Ÿ˜‰

If you’ve been following along, you already know that my family is trying to solve a housing problem, by creating MORE problems…

Seems counter-productive, I know…

But, you see, if we create and then RESOLVE these problems now, the next poor bastard that comes along, trying to do what we’re doing, will have a much easier go of it.

Instead of; “You want to do WHAT?” it’ll be more like: “Ah, crap! It’s another one! Here we go, AGAIN!” ๐Ÿ™‚

After a hurricane ate our house, we needed to replace it. Sounds reasonable, right? Well, it didn’t to the insurance company, who values shareholder profits much higher than the families that actually contribute to shareholder values.

Can you say “class action lawsuit?” Can you say “When is the check gonna get here?” Can you say…

“Three years after you’re dead?” Oy.

This is complicated by life in general. Sometimes disasters come in three’s… We got a hurricane (Ivan), and then… another hurricane (Katrina), and then… the big “C”. That’s right… Cancer. “The mommy” discovered that she had cancer, the same day that she discovered we were having a child.

Now,ย  I can blame “the mailman” for the kid… but cancer? Nobody to blame, but fate and genes.

(Actually, I blame the kid on the doctor who told me not to worry about my “reversible vasectomy.” He told me that it’d take a surgeon to undo it. I have only this to say:


So, we started looking for solutions.

First, we found a good ob/gyn. We talked to ’em all. And, we found one who went to the right school. After all, wouldn’t you want your OB/GYN to have graduated from a school named after prophylactics? For those of you who haven’t figured it out, I’m talking about USC. You know… the “trojans.”

Now, even though the doc and I are cross-town rivals (I hung out at UCLA), he’s a smart kid. So, we had that dilemma covered.

I looked up an old pal at MD Andersen, one of the best Cancer Hospitals in the world. So, we had that covered as best we could.

Then, we started looking around for a building process that we could afford, that would allow us to have a safe, sustainable home, that would go up fast, fast, fast…

Can you say “ISBU?” I knew you could.

Needless to say, that’s where the REAL trouble started. Just mention Shipping Containers to a Planning and Zoning Nazi around here, and he’ll do everything but spit!

This is one of those “Not In My Backyard, You Don’t!” kinda towns…

Perhaps settling down in Mississippi was a bad idea, after all…

So, we started the fight. And, it continues to this day. In fact, it’s gotten so heated that I’m having to testify in Jackson, MS, in front of “political committees,” as “an esteemed advocate for affordable housing” (their term, not mine).

It seems that these yokels think I’m an expert. Me? Hey, any field of study that considers me an expert, already has serious flaws… ๐Ÿ™‚

Seriously though, I have the right schooling. I have a ton of experience. And, I’ve built many, many homes for families just like mine, who want to live in a house, and not be chained to gigantic mortgages or terribly expensive upkeep costs.ย  And, I’ve been doing it for over three decades.

So, as we struggle to build our own home, I’m helping other people build theirs.

I’m acting as a technical advisor of sorts, helping people figure out layouts, and “how to put tab A into slot B”. Their donations to the blog for my help, have helped us pay for medications my wife needs and generally helped keep us afloat.

For that, I am eternally grateful. There aren’t words to describe it…

We built an ISBU Beach Cabin, that has a huge sleeping loft. It sits up on pilings to defy any floodwaters, and it’s steel shell will allow it to be there for a long, long time…

We’re building a home for an Indian family on a reservation.

No, it’s not shaped like a tepee, you smart @ss… ๐Ÿ™‚

We’re building an elementary school on another reservation, so that Indian kids have a safe place to learn. It’s a project that is near and dear to my black little heart, and I’m looking forward to the day when it’ll be filled with laughing kids running and screaming and shooting spitwads at each other…

We’re building an Arrowhead-shaped home into a hillside in the Carolina’s where the budget is being based on whatever we can scrounge off of Craigslist, and FreeSource.

I know, I know… we shoulda built THIS one on the reservation. Not.

But… guess what? We’ve found some pretty cool stuff. You’re gonna be surprised at how this Carolina house turns out.

We’re gonna build a home in “the barren tundra of Texas.” I call this one “Drought Depot” as Texas hasn’t seen any real rain since Jesus walked on water, apparently. And we’re not talking about a “farm house,” we’re talking about a modern, contemporary steel house that looks like a million bucks, but is built on a “Walmart budget”. ๐Ÿ™‚

And very recently, we decided to build a house for a family who lost their Daddy in Iraq. It’s a small house, built out of “leftovers”, but it’ll keep this family of four safe, dry, warm, and toasty, for a long time.

I’ve already told you a little bit about that one.

As you know… recently, we started projects that use “segments” of ISBUs that we’ve reclaimed, from a scrapyard. The boxes were “folded, spindled, and mutilated”, so much so, in fact that they were no longer usable for a life lived thumbing your nose at the high seas.

However, bring a plasma cutter into the mix, and you get “Corten Cubicles” that you can use, to build “off” of. We call it “Ewok Village on Acid“, and it’s being built as we speak.ย  We’re presently in Design Phase, with the only boundaries thus far being the actual dimensions of the boxes we’ve hacked off.

As that project continues, I’ll bring you more intel, so that you can see just how versatile these steel shelters can be.

This time, however, I’m gonna show you something different…

Ever see a Japanese house?


Yeah, they’re the ones built on impossibly small lots, sandwiched together like those “school cafeteria shingles” you used to get when you were a kid. You remember…

… the sandwiches that had just enough peanut butter and jelly on them to allow the bread to discolor, but they were still tasteless…?

I have a guy who spent many years in Japan, just like Ronin did.

(See, there I go, talking about myself in the third person again… Man, I gotta see a shrink!) ๐Ÿ™‚

And like me, he marveled at how they pack the houses together, in such small packages. They use economy, and an incredible sense of scale and space, in order to build homes that entire families can live in, for decades. And, he wondered if WE could duplicate that.

Say, by stacking three or four ISBUs up, in one stack, to make a tall, 8′ wide building?

Okay, sounds crazy at first, but if you went split level, and then floated an 8′ deck off of each level, you’d get a pretty impressive house, with a lot of room, and a ton of light.ย  Plus, no stair flight would ever exceed about 5 feet.

So, here’s what I’m proposing;

Build a partial basement that measures 24′ x 8′ x 6′ high.

This is gonna be most of your foundation, AND the utility/laundry room, and the “store all your crap” room. I say “partial”, because we’re only gonna dig a 4′ deep hole… The actual depth will depend on whether you decide to build on grade, or set the containers up on pilings.

BTW: Pilings are much cheaper than a foundation.

And yes… the footings will extend a little bit deeper. Stop “nit-picking,” huh? ๐Ÿ™‚

I want that ‘partial basement’ to stick up out of the ground, so I can put some strip windows along the top of it, for illumination. I’ve lived in caves before, and I didn’t like it much. I doubt that anyone else would like it either, if they had a choice.

Now, like I said… you could also go with a shallower basement excavation, and then just shoot in a couple of pilings at the front of that “basement”, out at the 40′ mark. Figure that they’ll be about 2 feet higher than grade…

I’m just trying to bring the roof down a few feet…

When you’re thru playing with your cinder blocks… your first container will land here. It’s as good a place as any, huh?

Now, start stacking up containers, one on top of the other. Use a crane, or you’ll get a hernia! ๐Ÿ™‚

I figure that you go up three boxes, and then… you add a 24′ long “segment” from our “scrap pile”, to the top of it. I’ll explain why, later.

Shipping Container Skyscraper-r1c

NO! This isn’t to scale. Thanks for asking! ๐Ÿ™‚ Note that in the drawing on the right hand side, only the center section is ISBUs. The left and right stack of “rooms” are just wooden decks. When you save more cash – close them in with screens, or even glass! You’ll more than double the size of this house!

The first container will be your entry/living room as you enter the house.

Then, in the middle of the box, a split level staircase with open treads. I want the light to filter thru it, and I want you to be able to see into each level, from the other. It’ll be less claustrophobic that way. The staircaseย  design isn’t final’d yet, but figure on 4′ -5′ and something simple. It’ll probably be a simple pair of almost 4′ wide staircases, one up, one down.

If you go down, you go into that utility room in the basement.

If you go up, you go into a galley kitchen with a banquette style seating area in the rear. The kitchen has a deck attached. There’s also a built-in outdoor eating area located here.

From the kitchen, you go up to the first bedroom.

Build in (2) bunks across the almost 8′ back wall. Now, build in a 6′ closet off of that, on the right. You get a big “L-Shape.” The closet will face the deck, outside sliding glass doors. Put a firm top on that closet. You’re gonna store stuff up there, too.

Finish the closet off by adding some triangular shelves to the end of it, to give more storage, and enhance the rotation off the staircase. One kids bedroom, made to order.

Or… if this is “too tight”, build a full closet across the back (just a tad deeper than normal), and then put a bunk loft on top of it. It’ll be flush with the closet, okay? Sure, your closet is only gonna be 6′ high, but unless your kid is Wilt Chamberlain, you’ll be okay for many years! And, more importantly, they’ll love it!

A ladder up to the twin bedded loft will give him/her a place to rest or bomb you with their stuff while you’re navigating that staircase…

Taking the stairs up, you’re on the bathroom level, right above the kitchen.

Below the kitchen is the utility room. See? All your utilities and water and stuff are in one place.ย ย  You have a huge space to build a bathroom, with some more storage. I’ll let you decide what kind of bathroom you want. But, I’m still putting a deck outside it.

It’ll give you a place to pretend to exercise… ๐Ÿ™‚

Okay, up the stairs again…

What? Yep, more stairs. If nothing else, you’ll be fit. That way, you can hide on the bathroom deck, and eat those delicious “Twinkies” without having to share any with the kids…

Back to the staircase. I know.. enough with the damned stairs! Hey, it was your idea to build a “Shipping Container Skyscraper House”, remember? Suck it up, buddy!

Now, you’re in a little library/sitting room.

It’s the place where you hide from your kids. Put in some books, and maybe a computer desk, and you have a little sanctuary away from the noise. Yes, yet another deck looms outside it.

Final staircase… almost! ๐Ÿ™‚

Now, you’re in the Master bedroom.

As you enter, you see a full length closet across the back of the room, complete with mirrored doors. Why? Because I like looking at myself!

Actually, it’s to “double the space, visually.” And… because I like looking at myself… “Me so handsome!” As if… ๐Ÿ™‚

Add a few comfortable chairs, and a table or two, and you have a nice, quiet place to relax before bedtime. And yes, you get your own deck.

You also see a loft up there.

Yep, ladder time. Climb the ladder and you’ll find a cozy little nest for sleeping, way up in the “nosebleed section” of the house. This is a good place for a cool “suncatcher roof.” Think something like a Clerestory or a snazzy Reverse Shed. Figure on about 200 square feet.

One more flight of stairs… Have you ever seen so many stair treads? What was I thinking? ๐Ÿ™‚

Now, you’re on the roof deck.

If it’s me, I’m either gonna put a garden up here, or…

… maybe a cool spa tub, far off and away from those little two legged critters, so you can soak, relax, and remember back to the days when you were young…

For the statisticians among you, you get (7) rooms that measure at least 7’6″ x 16′, all with almost 9′ ceilings.

That’s 840 square feet.

You get a bed loft in two rooms; kids room loft is 7’6″ x 4′ and change. The Master bed loft is 7’6″ x 8′.

That’s another 100 square feet.

You’re up to 940 square feet so far.

And, all your plumbing and most of your major electrical is in the same place. You get a nice roofย  surface for your solar and photovoltaic panels. You get lots of separation. You get lots of deck for “outdoor living.”

(Remember, you can screen those decks in, pretty easily.)

And, this house goes up F-A-S-T! And… high. Don’t forget “high.”

You end up with a house built from a core of steel containers. It’s a house designed to inspire you to go outside. But, when the outside isn’t “playing nice,” you can go in, and you’ll be just fine. It’s a house that urges you to look out the windows, because it’s as tall as some of the trees! And, because it’s mostly wood (remember all those decks?) it’ll blend into the woods, too!

Is it buildable?

Yes. The cost of the multiple decks would surpass the cost of house construction, if you figure in the supports, and the screen panels to keep the critters out. However, being scroungers, we’ll used recycled lumber for most of those decks.

Can we build the house, for $50,000.00? We’ll see. That’s the budget.

Stay tuned.

The Renaissance RoninOver the next few days, I’ll draw you a diagram, to depict this “Jenny Craig” house. I’m still playing with the idea of “offsetting” each container slightly, to add “feature space” to the “ends.” I can see it in my head, but YOU wouldn’t want to go there… Trust me! ๐Ÿ™‚

4 Responses to “Put that “FAT” house on a DIET! :)”

  1. Cyndi October 22, 2009 at 4:54 pm #

    Hey, Ronin,

    My hubbie and I just recently heard about these things. We had looked into home ownership and found out that with our debt/income ratio, we could get a mortgage of… (drumroll please) $80k. The cheapest houses in our area? $200k. Bit of a difference.

    At any rate, we were scoping out these shipping container homes and realized that we may very well be able to buy some empty lot somewhere and build a home with this stuff for the $80k mortgage that we qualify for. Interesting thought…

    However, in looking at these sites, I’m having a hard time finding two very crucial facts:
    1. Approximately how long it takes to build a moderate sized one (maybe one 8×40 and two 8×20 containers)
    2. Approximately how much it’s gonna cost.

    I know that, since each design is totally different, and container prices vary by state, it’s hard to come up with one solid estimate. But some sort of a range would be nice, at least!

    Also, I heard some people talking about concerns with lead-based paint, nasty wood on the insides of these containers, etc. Any thoughts?


    • renaissanceronin October 22, 2009 at 5:38 pm #

      Hi Cyndi,

      Welcome to the fray…

      First; insure that you CAN build an ISBU house in your neighborhood. I looked up your location and you might have some convincing to do…

      Also make sure that you can actually build a house that small. Most cities and counties have minimums, and sometimes it’s extremely difficult to build a home under 1,000 square feet.

      Second; Bring in somebody to help you with design and implementation, using your budget as a FIRM guideline. An architect often makes his fee based on the budget. Most won’t even talk to you at that level. Avoid contractors who want to build a container home, who haven’t done it before. It’s a build that presents many new challenges, and you don’t want to subsidize their education and mistakes.

      Third; you’re building a 600+ square foot house. TINY. Truly in the “ALMOST” ‘little house’ definition. Not moderate by any means. That’s good for you, less build capital will be required. But check with your lender to see if they’ll lend you money to BUILD an ISBU based home. Most won’t.

      Fourth; Smaller house equals a faster build. Figure on spending a month inside each container getting it ready, if you’re doing the work yourself. With $80 grand, you could easily build a house in three months.

      Here’s the “if;” – IF you had oversight from somebody who knew what they were doing, and fully understood your design.

      Fifth; $80,000 works out to about $125 a foot – easy… If you can’t build your ISBU house for that kind of money, you’re doing something terribly wrong. I could almost build (2) homes of this size, with that budget…

      (Okay, I’d supplement with grants, incentives, tax credits, and participation in whatever “Cash For…” opportunities that Obama throws in your direction.)

      Hope it helps… if you need more assistance, email me directly for details.


      • Cyndi October 22, 2009 at 5:59 pm #

        Wow! Thanks so much for all the advice. We’re going to keep looking and see if maybe there’s someone with experience building container homes in our area. Neither of us really know much about this stuff – and frankly, the ‘green’ aspects of this housing are just a bonus to us. We’re into it for the affordability and flexibility ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ll keep watching your blog, too – you’ve had the most helpful details of any sites on ISBU housing that I’ve seen!

  2. Mitch Voss February 15, 2010 at 10:59 pm #

    Can I get identical results as the dentist would give me?

Comments are closed.