The Quad-48 Project – 4 Houses – 1 Container

15 Feb

Greetings, Campers!

I was recently approached (yet again) to tender a view on how Emergency Housing (Medium to Long Term) could be provided to places that already had shipping ports in their immediate vicinity.

Remember that there are many situations beyond the:

“Oh My Gawd, Martha! Ruuuuuun! A Twister is coming!”

Our forefathers moved out into the middle of nowhere, and started new Towns, Cities, and States, simply by establishing a secure starting point, and then scratching at the ground until they started seeing something that looked like progress.

Let’s say you were somewhere like… um… Port Au Prince, Haiti. And, let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that Mother Nature got mad at you, and then knocked the stuffing out of you. And let’s say that you were bringing people in, to help re-establish the infrastructure, and you needed to house them quickly and securely.

They wanted:

[quote] “some kind of cheap, sturdy, housing with a roof system that could ‘catch water.’ And Oh Yeah… each unit has to have it’s own kitchen and bath. You know, like a camper or a FEMA trailer.” [unquote]

That was the extent of the criteria. Seriously. No;

“I want X square feet, hot and cold running caviar, satin sheets, and a butler… “

Here’s my response;

(Please accept my apologies in advance… no Butler.)

The QUAD-48 Project:

Designer: Alexander Klein – Contain Home Consultants, Inc.

Question: How do you provide “all-weather” worker housing in an expeditionary setting?

And, further… how do you provide “emergency housing” in a high speed mode, once safety zones have been cleared, established and secured?

Answer: The same way. But not with FEMA trailers, unless you like formaldehyde.

You use insulated steel shipping containers.

Here’s a really straightforward “Little House on Corten Steroids” design.

Take (1) 48′ High Cube ISBU Container – 8’6″ wide, and section it off into (4) small residences.

Let’s address the roof first, since we’re going to “inhabit” it…

There are 2 main kinds of shapes that a roof can assume; gable or hipped.

The difference between them is pretty easily explained: The difference lies in both the “slope-line” of the sides of the roof, and the “roof-to-wall junction”.

Gable shaped roofs are probably the ones that you’re the most used to seeing. They are defined by the meeting of two straight slopes from the ridge of the roof, falling all the way to its eave. The result is the creation of a peak or triangular shaped structure on either the side or face of the facade. It’s just a “big A”. The side of the gabled house on which this peak is seen is called a “rake”, and the side on which the slope is seen is called an “eave”.

In contrast, hipped-roofs have an even roof-to-wall junction, as the roof plane is broken along the slope line, allowing for an easy wrap around the building’s structure. As a result, hipped shaped roofs also have eaves on all sides. This is good, and you’ll see why later.

On a hip roof, all the sides of its roofing slope down towards the walls of the building. The hip itself is “the angle at which the slopes of the roofing meet,” and the degree of this angle is called the “hip bevel”. The triangular slopes that meet the rectangular ones at the roof’s ridge are known as the “hip ends”, and these are actually by the hips themselves. Hip roofs can be tailored to many differently shaped structures, yet their ridges will always be central to the rectangular building below it, and the four faces of the roof will always have the same pitch.

Look at the difference in the framing. Hipped roofs are highly suitable for extreme weather conditions, because the shape of a hipped roof, along with its complex internal framing, braces it against strong winds, snow loads, and even hurricanes.

And, you can change it up just a little bit, if you want. In our case, the use of a “modified hipped” roof also creates more comfortable usable space in the sleeping loft area of each unit. Essentially, we’re going to slice the top of the roof off, to make it flat. This creates a broad surface on top of the structure that can be utilized.

So, we install the “modified hip roofs” on top of the ISBU, with a 2′ soffit overhang on each side. Then, we use a SIP/SSMR  (Structural Insulated Panel/Standing Seam Metal Roof) system for a high speed and extremely tough roof.  Why a big overhang? Well, that 2′ overhang protects the structure against both AND and rainfall.

The top of the roof structure (we sliced the top off, remember?) is going to be used to create a solar/PV  (photovoltaic) farm.  This placement prohibits theft or damage, and optimizes exposure to the sun.

Note that the sloped surfaces of metal roofing are to be used for water collection/retention.

This design provides independent housing for 4-8+ people with sleeping lofts accessed via a rolling “bookcase” staircase housed in a notch by the sofa. Clothing storage is incorporated into the loft area. A couple with a small child could also be housed – per unit – by simply using a convertible sofa as a bed.

The use of the “Modified Hip” roof creates a volume ceiling in the main area, giving the unit an airy ambiance, and it provides ample room for a ceiling fan.

Sofa back table provides “hidden” storage, and a place to set drinks, plants, et all…

Swing out wall mounted LCD TV’s allow entertainment.

“Dual Striker door” allows bathroom to be used conventionally. A second striker plate is provided at ninety degrees, at the entrance to the kitchen. By doing this, if someone is in the kitchen, you can still close and lock the bathroom door.

However, if you need a place to get dressed or need to use the sink for shaving, etc… you can close the door at the kitchen opening, in effect allowing the entire floor area of kitchen to be closed off and used as an annexed “dressing area.”

A small “shelf-type” pull-out table forms a “laptop desk” workstation by the front door.

A wall mounted drop-down table forms living room table/eating area.

Stateside,  a group of “sweat-equity contributing” families could build these for under $30,000.00 (USD) a piece, easy…


Desired but not shown – A bay window in each unit would allow the personal growth of herbs for food/medicinal purposes.

Also not shown – a Utility/Laundry Room is to be added to the East end of Container Housing Module under a covered porch structure.  The existing Bathroom provides service access and hose bibs. If you used a 53′ ISBU, you’d get an additional enclosed space at the end of each container that could be used as a common utility/laundry facility, at minimal cost. Hot water heater and mechanicals could easily be located here. The original “cargo double doors” would secure it.

But wait… there’s more…

Stay tuned!



6 Responses to “The Quad-48 Project – 4 Houses – 1 Container”

  1. Jeff LiCausi March 1, 2010 at 8:43 pm #

    Hi, you emailed me a while ago and I never got back to emailing you back… I was pretty busy with work and wasn’t doing much on the shipping container front.

    I have recently got the “bug” again and posted my planned home design on my site…

    Check it out, I sent you this message because you mentioned 53′ containers in your snippet above. I think 53′ is the definate way to go since you get all that extra sq. footage for minimal more cost.

    Here’s my home plans as sketched up in Sketchup…

    Hope you like it…

    Regards, -Jeff

    • renaissanceronin March 2, 2010 at 12:10 am #

      Hi Jeff,

      I recently got your response, and your information about your 53′ ISBU based home.

      (Although I responded to you via personal email, I’m going to “echo this conversation” on the blog, since you left a public comment.)

      In the spirit of conversation:

      Hey, I have a few questions for you. (And note that I’m not throwing stones, I’m concerned.)

      What’s your background, where building is concerned? Are you a contractor, a developer, a degree’d trades guy? An architect? An engineer? An extremely knowledgeable DIY guy?

      And how many ISBU homes have you built, or worked on?

      Here’s why I’m asking:

      Although I am ALL FOR what you’re doing (and my blog is basically proof of that) you’re breaking all the basic ISBU rules for use of these marvelous boxes.

      So, you’re either doing a ton of engineering that you’re not talking about, or you’re making a giant mistake.

      If it’s the former, your home is going to be more expensive than many people can afford to build, per square foot. But, it’s YOUR home, so that’s certainly okay.

      If it’s the latter, I’d ask you to reconsider your design.

      You can’t run containers perpendicular like that without adding point loading supports at each and every side rail point, from top to bottom.

      These must be tied to your foundation, and transfer ALL the load.

      I see the columns (you can see them in the “garage views”) that you’ve inserted (every other container) but unless that’s attached to “something more substantial” that we can’t see, it’s not going to work.

      Those side rails don’t have the kind of strength that you’re indicating, in your Google Sketch-Up depictions. In any heavy weather or seismic event, you’d be looking at catastrophe.

      And you’re compounding it by using the “big boxes.” You’re talking about even more point loading.

      And how are you dealing with “deflection and the bounce,” in that top level? Those containers are going to trampoline on you like crazy. Unless you support suspended ISBU’s every ten feet or so (depending on design) they flex. And that affects your flooring, your cabinetry, in fact, ANYTHING that’s mounted to it.

      I get about 10 of these layouts a week (from readers) and after you figure in the cost of engineering, to make them “work and remain safe, and remain “affordable”…” they aren’t any of those three things at all.

      They usually end up being discarded for something more realistic.

      Of course, you may have a huge building budget that allows you to do the additional steel framing and engineering that’s involved with this design. If so… consider yourself COOLER THAN COOL, and go get ’em! 🙂

      I’m not telling you what to do, but on your site it might be helpful if you acknowledged this matter, and then showed people how you’re going to resolve that issue. Think of all the people you can help!

      Otherwise… you’re just perpetuating the myth.

      And it’s a myth that guys like myself and George Runkle (an extremely savvy ISBU structural engineer I’ve talked about on the blog a lot) over at Runkle Consulting in Atlanta, GA are trying to kill. George and I don’t agree on everything, but I think here we’re in the same lifeboat, for sure.

      Just my opinion…


      • Jeff LiCausi March 2, 2010 at 11:12 am #

        Based on your feedback, I sketched up a stronger support structure for the home using 1′ I-Beams and steel pipe. With the steel pipe welded to the sides of the bottom two containers and the I-Beam taking the full load of the corner posts of the top floor, this should be plenty of support to handle any load within the top floor itself (as well as the roof).

        I added the new design as the last picture to the same link I sent in before…

        Let me know what you think.

        Regards, -Jeff

  2. Jeff LiCausi March 2, 2010 at 7:48 am #

    Hi Ronin,

    Thanks for all the feedback on the design. I appreciate the candid comments as it can only help in the end in coming up with the proper requirements before any sort of build.

    To your question – “What’s your background, where building is concerned? Are you a contractor, a developer, a degree’d trades guy? An architect? An engineer? An extremely knowledgeable DIY guy?” I am none of the above. I am a computer consultant by trade and a fairly knowledgeable DIY guy when it comes to building things…

    I have not built any ISBU homes or even worked on any up to this point and with this trend as new as it is I think most people are still in this boat if we’re all being honest with ourselves. What I have done is a lot of research and ran a lot of designs through my head.

    I have had many designs that looked liked simple “cubes” like 3 wide x 5 tall = huge 15 container cube and 4 wide x 4 tall = huge 16 container boxy cube. I know these would both be more structurally sound because the load points are all in the proper place (on top of each other) but the design is not functional for a flood property which I am designing this for.

    Here is my thinking on the spanning of containers and why I don’t think they would be as “flimsy” as you mentioned in your comments.

    1. Semi trucks carry these things across country all day long and the loads are sitting on only the posts. The remainder of the container is essentially “spanned” across the length of the truck and these trucks could have tremendous loads of cargo in them (pallets and pallets of seriously heavy freight). That tells me these things are not made of cardboard, they have to be built quite tough to withstand this type of activity.

    2. With a 53′ I will have two points to “tie down” to the container below it. At the 53′ point (which in itself is another post – albeit a tacked on section but welded nonetheless) and at around the 45′ point (8.5 feet away from the edge of the 53′). This gives me some extra safety in my eyes over simply relying on one pressure point on the sides.

    3. If you look at the Visio layout, I purposely designed the six containers in “two container sets”. This allows me to leave 90% of the sidewalls in place between containers 1-2 / 3-4 / 5-6. I understand the sidewalls even though they are thinner metal are what actually help the overall container retain it’s strength. I know the steel cage inside cannot handle the load on it’s own.

    4. I plan on welding all of the containers to themselves so that extra welding will in a sense produce “one huge container”. I believe with this one huge container the flexing you mentioned will not be there as it might with just one or two containers with their sidewalls removed. Again this is just my thinking, I am not a structural engineer but it does make sense I believe if you think about the idea of it becoming one solid structure up in the air.

    5. I already placed large steel posts in the Sketchup right under the points of the two container sets that had a lot of their skin removed. These poles are welded to the sides of the two lower containers and welded “between” the bottom rails of containers 1-2 / 3-4 / 5-6. This should add “substantial” strength to the overall unit as it takes some weight off of the support containers on the 2nd level. I debated putting in some additional poles likes these directly under the center of the structure for even more strength but then the “spanning” effect goes away and you end up with something that looks like any other beach house with 24 poles sitting under the house which deems the 1st floor useless for any sort of vehicle parking.

    You must understand these sketches are just “ideas” at this point. Should I move forward and get to the point of placing these designs in front of an actual engineer I will be very open to further enhancing the strength if need be.

    As far as budget goes, the whole point of using these containers is to save money, not spend more. I truly don’t believe some extra pipes placed in just the right load points are going to cost a fortune. The rest of the design was built to minimize exterior (insulated) walls and allow for easy access to the 9′ 6″ ceilings through an attic like a traditional home vs. building in a dedicated channel in the ceiling to conceal these types of wires, pipes, a/c ducts, etc. and I don’t lose an inch of ceiling height in the process.

    This may not end up being the final design but this is my goal at this point and if I need to reconfigure things as I go I am open to that…

    Again, thanks for the feedback – I do believe knowledge is power and the more you have the better off you are…

    Regards, -Jeff

    • renaissanceronin March 2, 2010 at 3:28 pm #

      Hi Jeff,

      I think that you’re operating under several misconceptions.

      Here’s a few of them:

      (A) Container Homes aren’t NEW. They’ve been around as long as there have been shipping containers. They simply weren’t “mainstream” in America, because we had our focus set “somewhere else.” Only because of this new GREEN Movement, are they considered “NEW”, and that’s simply because now they’ve become fashionable enough to put on TV for a good rating.

      There are thousands of these homes/cabins/shelters in existence outside the borders of the United States.

      (B) Trying to compare “portage flex” to HOME STRUCTURE isn’t going to work. Here’s why:

      When used as shipping containers, they’re just boxes full of boxes. The contents can move, shift, and drift however they want, with little damage, due to the packaging of the internal boxes themselves. This protects the “goods.”

      However, using that same ISBU as a platform to build and ATTACH to, transfers all that flex to whatever you attach to it. Flooring, cabinetry, wall surfaces, tile, you name it… all of these will move as the container does. And that translates to fractures, cracks and gaps.

      While I always weld the containers together (lengthwise) you have to fill that gap with steel in order to do that, and you STILL will get “box flex.”

      Additional steel has to be added to cut the run into manageable “supported” sections.

      And I won’t add that without that additional support/tie in the center runs. you’ve essentially created a big sail (airfoil) that will just get ripped apart in a heavy weather event. Wait, yes I will…

      You aren’t an expert. And you have no experience working with ISBUs.

      You need to have a serious discussion with a structural engineer who actually works on ISBU construction.

      What you are depicting won’t work. Not even in Houston or parts thereabout. And yes, I’ve lived in Houston myself.

      While I understand that your design is a “work in progress” as you try to learn the craft, it’s my view that you have a responsibility to the people you’re exposing it to, to insure that it works, by demonstrating HOW it works.

      I can see that you’re trying to do that. Now, it’s just time to embrace the next lesson, and then apply it…

      Otherwise, it’s just “lemmings off the cliff” time…

      The one thing that we do seem to agree on is this:

      “Information is the purest form of power.”


  3. Jerome Nassente March 9, 2010 at 5:25 pm #

    Hello there!

    A good friend of mine referred me to your site, and I must say that I am very glad that I visited!

    The information is “gold” to me. You have no idea WHAT you’re giving away for FREE! I will also be referring some of my friends to your site as well. It is amazing what you can learn online today.

    I’d have to pay at least $100 to go to a seminar, to learn just the tip of your iceberg!

    Thanks a lot!

Comments are closed.