Shipping Container 101… or 102…

6 Apr

This time, we’re going to do a brief ISBU “refresher” course.

As RenaissanceRonin becomes more popular (YOU can see that by the  200,000+ unique IP addresses representing thousands of my “reader families,” in the “Tylenol box” over there on the right of the page… and I can see it by the hundreds of “please help me build my ISBU house…” emails I get monthly) we get new readers every day that still “don’t quite get it.”

So, today… we’re going to take a minute, and revisit just a few of the reasons why people are considering ISBU shipping containers as materials to be used in housing solutions for their families, internationally.

Massive population explosions that have brought migration, food shortages, and strife have led to the evolution of new “tribes”… Mankind has become a collection of migrants who roam from place to place, looking for greener pastures.

It’s Darwin at it’s best, “Survivalism” at it’s worst. Our new-found “need for mobility” actually characterizes our lives and how many of us are living today.

This is further affected as natural catastrophes frequently leave thousands of people homeless (in fact, my own family was/is one of Hurricane Katrina’s “refugees” here in the US… and we fared better than our brothers and sisters scattered throughout the planet, as disaster visited them).

We of this generation no longer see things quite like our parents did; the very idea of “home” is less “monumental” and more “adaptable” today… than it was just a generation ago. Times have changed, and for most of us, “personal space” is now a luxury, making us reflect on how much space we really need in order to survive and “prosper.”

“The McMansion” has one foot in the grave, and “Little/Tiny Houses” are springing up everywhere, as people rapidly downsize to meet the economic demands of our times.

Tract homes in the suburbs of America, once averaging in the 2,000’s of square feet and beyond, are being reduced to 1,000 square feet and change. This is in part due to rising energy costs, and failing economic times.

Families are looking for alternatives; ISBU‘s, Straw Bales, Earth Rammed, you name it.  ALL of them have merit. But here at RR, we’re die-hard “Corten Steel Disciples.” Why? Well… steel doesn’t bio-degrade, melt in the rain, or turn to sludge during a big weather event.

And when the wind blows, ISBU Homes holler back:

“HAH! Is that ALL you got?” 😉

Container homes are “fast-built,”  environmentally “green”, economical,  and a surprisingly flexible alternative to “traditional houses.”


Well, they are capable of providing affordable, sustainable homes for any household size – from individuals, to families, and even “tribes!”

Now, as much as it might surprise you 😉 … some say that they’d “never live in a steel box.”

Some (it seems the loudest, if my email is any indication) of those people “poo-poo’ing” ISBU homes… are already “doing it”… wrapped inside their  steel skyscrapers called “condo’s.” DUH! 😉

So, to those of you who are new to ISBUs, or to you naysayers out there, those who just don’t want to see the light… Let’s examine some stylish, environmentally friendly, energy efficient, affordable homes that demonstrate just how cool ISBU‘s can be, shall we?

There are landmark ISBU projects; Projects that make you sit up and reevaluate the way you do things.

I’ve talked about most of these, but we’re gonna take a new look;

The USM (Nope! Not the US Marines, g-d bless ’em … The Urban Space Management Group) used a flexible, component-based container construction system to build an entire city in the London Docklands in 2001 out of ISBUs.

Did the public cry out and gnash their teeth in anguish at the pending “Corten Steel Armageddon?”

Nope. Far from it…

The demand was so high for these homes (which were built using 80% recycled materials) that by 2002 they had to build a second city right next to it. And architect Nick Lacey didn’t just drop containers “willy-nilly,” he used component pieces to create vibrant and every adaptable living and work spaces for the residents.

And, containers have been used to create 1,000 “Project Keetwonen” dormitory units for Dutch students, making it “the biggest container city in the world.”

The project was executed by Tempo Housing in 2006. Did it work? Well… not only does it look cool and provide all the amenities and comfort that a student could ask for, the rooftop is used for rainwater drainage, heat dispersal and insulation of the units below.

The award-winning project has received a lot of international attention (in fact it’s become a “poster-child” for high density housing module projects globally) and has proven itself to be so successful that it’s planned relocation (it was only supposed to be in place for 5 years originally) has been postponed until 2016.

These 40-foot “one-container” models, called Modular Dwelling Units (MDUs) by New York-based design company LOT-EK demonstrates that ISBU housing can be colorful, cleanly designed and built with reused industrial materials. According to the company website, MDUs have been designed for “individuals moving around the globe.”

Imagine moving your entire home from “platform to platform,” seasonally! Beaching in Bali, Skiing in Switzerland… even Mountain-biking in Montana!

Will it actually happen? Who knows? I don’t personally see these “RV-esque” ideas as “reality.”

I mean, if I wanted a movable house, I’d just build THIS:

Cool, huh? 😉

I CAN however see these MDU “one container housing solutions” being used as cost effective residences,  or  even remote cabins and “fall-back” homes.

And several of my good friends (See, Greg? Told ya I’d work ya in there!) work for oil companies, and energy exploration companies that house their crews in ISBUs. Here’s a cool solution that not only looks great, it functions even better.

Take (4) 20-foot High Cubes containers, and one crazy guy from Dublin, Ireland.  What do you get? You get a  two-story shelter unit called a LiNX, a design that industrial designer Richard Barnwall originally intended to be used for construction workers employed by the energy cartels.

But look closer. By simply adapting the interiors, it’s easy to imagine this configuration’s use as a permanent housing solution.

First Guinness, and now this… Those Irish guys are geniuses!

And, if we’re going to look at ISBU construction, we may as well just end this by looking at the very best.

If you read the blog regularly, you know that I’m flattered that California based architect Peter DeMaria is a fan of mine, because I’ve said it over and over again…  I AM a HUGE fan of his…

In spite of the fact that I’ve actually started my very own ISBU Construction Consulting company, and I’m in the middle of  the “pre-release” editing of my new book titled: (what else?)  “Container Home Construction”…

I’m just going to say it; If you’re building, or even thinking about building an ISBU home, DeMaria Design is a terrific place to start your search.

Peter DeMaria is one of the very, very few GAWDS of Corten Steel. I cannot recommend this guy highly enough.

His ISBU (Shipping Container) based luxury beachfront residence located in Redondo Beach, CA, was constructed by his two firms, DeMaria Design and Logical Homes in 2006 using eight prefabricated, recycled shipping containers of various sizes, that were combined with traditional building materials.

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

One of his containers even functions as a swimming pool.

Er… I’ve written about THAT too. I’ve built lap pools that you wouldn’t believe, using ISBUs as the base.

Can you see why I LOVE this guy? He’s brilliant, a genius, and HE thinks just like ME… 😉

(Except he’s rational. And humble. And he has hair on his head.) 🙂

While I’m positive about that latter two, I’m still not quite sure about the first one.  I THINK he is “rational”… I’m still waiting for the results of the poll I sent to some of his co-workers and clients, to verify it… 😉

His ISBU house is “Tonka Tough…” it’s strong, mold-free, fire- and termite-proof, by design.

And, most of the construction happened in a warehouse, and NOT on site. 70% of the actual construction happened  off site, which dramatically reduced his construction costs.

And that same off-site construction contributed, rather it didn’t contribute as much landfill, in the form of waste. Why? Because Peter is SMART. (What? Are YOU not paying attention? I’ll try to type slower…) 🙂

Peter maximized his materials usage in controllable circumstances, and demonstrated that ISBU houses don’t have to bring to mind “Max Max” crisis Armageddon images. This home would fit anywhere you dropped it.

(And it would probably survive the “drop.”)

And it will outperform the neighbors homes, on almost every front.

Now, Peter doesn’t just build Country Club Homes, he is also designing and building more affordable container projects – a community center and multifamily housing. His new division, Logical Homes, is also dedicated to the design and construction of affordable, sustainable single family homes, that any family would be proud to call home.

(And some of them are even as cool as MINE!) 😉

Okay, some of his “work” is better… dammit… 🙂

Next time, we’ll talk about MY newest project. Peter isn’t the only one doing cool stuff… grumble… mumble… snort…

You’re gonna love it! Or else! 😉

Stay tuned.

NO ISBU homes were harmed in the creation of this post. Nor were any actually “dropped.”

I didn’t eat my Wheaties today.

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.

4 Responses to “Shipping Container 101… or 102…”

  1. G April 16, 2010 at 1:23 am #

    HI Ronin

    Good to see that all is alright, back on the ship we were using big format ISBU as accomodation

    do you want me to shoot some photos of them?

    take care and hopefully I will get some news from you thru emails, I miss them ahhaha

    all the best to wife and kid

    take care


    • renaissanceronin April 16, 2010 at 8:26 pm #

      Hi Greg!

      How’s Angola treating you?

      I bet people would like to see how you “Energy Barons” live, while you’re out and about!

      By “big format” ISBU’s are you talking about 40′ boxes?

      I know that you’re just sitting there, bored out of your skull somewhere within that big metal monster… eating “Angolan Surprise”, so I’ll send you an email here shortly. At least it’ll help you catch up on your sleep!


  2. G. April 18, 2010 at 6:48 am #

    Hi Ronin

    Good to hear from you, like usual; I will try to shoot some photos of the big isbu accomodation, no they are not 40′ HC they are way taller, special made for accomodation I guess

    waiting for your mail,

    take care


  3. Deb Cockrell April 30, 2010 at 12:50 am #

    I am so intrigued and inspired by this idea of having a shipping container home.
    If you purchase horse/recreational property and “drop” one of these containers on it (and let’s say fix it up inside) are you subject to building inspectors/codes? What if it is up on wheels like and RV? Some of the miniture homes avoid building restrictions/codes by being up on wheels.
    Are you allowed to store/park something like this on privately owned land without having to adhere to all of the building codes/restrictions?
    I want to build in South Orange County, Calif somewhere and the only affordable land is deemed recreational/horse property that does not allow “building”, but I know horse owners use containers to store hay in on their land all the time.

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