The BOB party gets BALLOONS!

26 Mar

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again;



I’ve been talking recently about OCTAGON BOB

…which starts as a simple wooden octagonal room built on top of a wooden deck supported by hand-cast pilings…

Now add ONE 20′ High Cube ISBU to that OCTAGON, and you have a two “plus” room home, vacation home, or remote cabin.

Good ole’ BOB can grow from a very simple and cost effective structure into a large home for many people).  BOB just demonstrates how versatile ISBU’s (Intermodal Steel Building Units) can be, if you combine them in the “right recipe.”

The reason that I’m enamored with ISBU –  Shipping Containers is that they have the ability to be used in very simple structures that demonstrate themselves to be very cost effective and energy efficient.

Since I started talking about how OCTAGON BOB grew up…

(and then how his big brother OCTAGON ROBERT came to be), I’ve gotten a lot of interest from small to medium sized  families looking to become “rural” families.

These families aren’t concerned with “keeping up with the Joneses,” or appeasing nosy neighbors that are “protecting” their property values “like Scrooge clutched gold,” or even getting any “Atta boys” from the locals.

Even if you build your own Octagon Robert… DeNiro!…

They aren’t worried about building codes, because they’re probably building in a place where there aren’t any codes, or building inspectors…

Yes, Virginia… there really are a few places left where you can just build what you want.

(In fact, in my very next post, I’m going to tell you how to find them.)

Nor are there even “well-meaning” neighbors sticking in their two cents worth, while they drink all your frosty cold beverages up.

(If you plan it right.) 😉

And since these families are also probably building these “unconventional homes ” out of their own pockets (because they can’t get a loan thru a conventional bank…) they need to find every penny they possibly can.

(This is so daunting that I’ve dedicated an entire chapter to it in my upcoming book: “Container Home Building.”)

These families want to pack their stuff into 20′ ISBU’s and then use those Corten Containers to move their stuff to the “new place.” That seems reasonable, since that’s exactly what 20′ ISBUs were designed to do, right?

But here’s the “evil” twist:


After they get those “little” boxes to the site, they want to re-use them (after they are emptied), incorporating them into the design, as a part of the new house.

And that’s where the “ugly head of reality” looms large…

The art in any “affordable” building technique, is in maintaining a close grasp on “realism.”

We’re not building McMansions here, we’re building small, single family homes (generally under 1,000 square feet), that are targeted at helping us retain some manner of stability as money gets tighter and times get hard.

The best way to do that, is to keep them simple.

By striving for simplicity, a good design will actually save you from the two big sharks in the building sea… labor and materials. And, by reducing the effects that those two monsters (and all their attached remoras) have on your budget, you can end up with construction costs as low as $25 per square foot.

ISBUs are most commonly used as a PART of a small affordable building design. Although we talk about designs that use Shipping Containers “in the majority,” where actual structural material is used, I still think that one of the very best ways to use ISBUs is to use them is as “assemblies”… components contributing to a solidly designed home.

Think about ways to “maintain the flow of your affordability” when you’re building those “connecting tissues” that hold all that steel muscle together.

OCTAGON BOB” has a wood and foam core. Although I used “homemade” SIP (Structural Insulated Panels) panels to construct them, we could have just as easily used traditional framing.

And, had I gone that route, you can bet that I would have used “BALLOON FRAMING.”

Balloon framing is a method from our distant past, a glorious past when materials were expensive and wood was long…

Wikipedia says that:

“Balloon framing is a method of wood construction used primarily in Scandinavia, Canada and the United States (up until the mid-1950s). It utilizes long continuous framing members (studs) that run from sill plate to eave line with intermediate floor structures nailed to them,  with the heights of window sills, headers and next floor height marked out on the studs with a story pole. Once popular when long lumber was plentiful, balloon framing has been largely replaced by platform framing.”

Balloon framing allowed “simple men to do simple tasks” without all of the dovetailing and mortises and tenons that were required when using more expensive “post and beam” construction techniques.

In “Wood” Balloon Framing, the building is framed with 2x6s spaced 24 inches on center. Trimmers and cripples are minimized by locating windows at the existing studs. The corners are framed in a way that allows access so you can stuff some insulation in.

Now, up in the Pacific Northwest, we called it  “advanced framing” (I admit it… we just did it to confuse all the construction workers that flocked in from those “other foreign places…” you know… “Yankees” and people from places like “California…” ). 😉

If you look closely at the “Balloon Framing Detail” illustration,  you can see that Balloon Framing uses A SINGLE STUD to frame the entire two story wall.

And I ain’t talking about some burly construction lackey with a “beer belly” named “Dave” either… 😉

One WOOD Stud…

(Not touching it. Insert your own joke.) 😉


One stud “running straight up to kiss God in the sky?” Why on earth would you do that?  Are ya nuts? Huh?

Well, back in those days, you could actually GET wood studs that long. Using a big, long stud allowed you to eliminate the rim joist. Instead, you just framed in your second floor by installing something called a “a let-in ledger,” which  supports the second floor joists.

I’ll show you one in a minute, so keep reading.

And don’t worry…there won’t be any “cold” spots.  foam insulation is easily used to “wrap” the ledger.

Now… about that WOOD…

Um… We’re talking “rural” here. How far away is the fire department?

In any wood home, fire is an issue. In a “balloon framed” wood home, fire is more of an issue, because it creates a path for fire to readily travel from Floor to floor.

Because of this, “balloon framing” is not allowed in most parts of the United States any longer.

Want to tick off your local Planning and Zoning Nazi? Tell him you’re going to “balloon frame” and then step back so you get a good view of the aneurysm. 🙂

Okay, if we build with wood material, how do we deal with that? I mean, you don’t mess around with fire, unless you’re on a camp-out, right?

We install blocking called a “firestop” at each floor level. Easy fix.

But wait, there’s more…

Now, take that one step further. Who say that we have to use wood at all? Why not use METAL studs in a balloon framing technique, to accomplish your mission?

More and more building construction is being done with metal studs. These “light framing” components are easily handled, easily worked, and “Tougher than a Tonka truck.”

Since steel is generally more fire-resistant than wood, and steel framing members can be made to arbitrary lengths, balloon framing is growing in popularity again in light gauge steel stud construction.

One of the nice things about “balloon framing” is that it provides a more direct load path down to the foundation. Do that with steel structural members, and you get a really strong house.

And, using those steel studs will save you labor! That metal balloon framing is a lot easier on all the trades guys you’re going to drag in…

You know, the electrician, the plumber, and the HVAC guys, for instance.

Why? Well, it’s a lot EASIER to pull ROMEX (wire) or PVC thru a metal stud. You don’t waste time boring holes or working around framing members..

Now that we know “WHAT to use,” let’s talk about HOW to employ this strategy;

The BEST designs are just “simple” rectangles, usually with some kind of extended porch structure attached.

But why are rectangles better?

Here’s why:

Heat loss is directly related to surface area.

Using ISBUs lends to achieving a building’s rectangular shape. And that rectangle is inherently energy efficient, because it encloses a large volume with a relatively small surface area. It’s not complicated, or labor intensive to build, so the simple design makes it easy for workers to do a good job insulating it.

Fewer odd sized wall cavities means less cutting and fitting rigid insulation, or making a huge mess with SPF (Spray-in Closed Cell Foam) insulation.

This is a lot easier on your construction crew, especially when they are relatives that you tricked into showing up, and not paid by the hour.

And if you don’t want to mess with SPF (um… well… I won’t be your “friend” any more ;))… you can even install (gasp!) 3/4″ foam (urethane) insulation sheets, to achieve insulation values of r24 in those walls…

If you do this right, and pay attention to detail, you’ll have a house that is “tighty-tighty,” and you’ll achieve air leakage rates so low that your neighbors down the road will envy you. Why? Well, because those rates will fall into the “advanced air sealing” area, a designation that builders and regulators put a ton of value in, when they are trying to get you to sign that construction contract.

Who cares, right?

You do. It means that your home will cost much less to heat and cool.

Using your head, and the paying attention to little details will add up to an affordable, sustainable home that’s very efficient to build and even more efficient to operate…

Stay tuned.

Did this post help you? We are still trying to determine the future of “Renaissance Ronin.”

If enough readers help to support it, and help it at least reach it’s operating  costs, we’ll continue writing it. We’re not trying to make a living off this blog. We’re not even trying to make a profit.  We’re just trying to “keep going.”

If you can help, please do. There’s a Paypal button up on the top of the page. Any help you can offer will assist us greatly.

Thanks, the “Tribe of Klein.”

2 Responses to “The BOB party gets BALLOONS!”

  1. G March 29, 2010 at 4:09 am #

    Good post Ronin, like usual a master piece to show how with isbu only the sky the limit..

    hope wife and kid are both doing fine

    when do you plan to release your book? my offer still stand

    take care



  1. Shipping Container 101… or 102… « The Life and Times of a "Renaissance Ronin" - April 6, 2010

    […] I’ve said that ISBUs SHOULD be integrated with traditional building practices, several times. In fact, just the other day! It just makes […]

Comments are closed.