A Corten Commune? Whaaa?? ;)

27 Apr

Some quick thoughts as we take a breath…

We’re busy organizing and gathering aid for some families in Mississippi that just got pounded by Mother Nature. She must really be mad at Mississippi… First, multiple Hurricanes, and now Tornadoes that ravaged entire communities.

Yep, I guess that tornadoes aren’t just for Kansas and girls named Dorothy… Recently, Mississippi (and Louisiana and Alabama as well) got pounded by the devils.

And once again, people are homeless and in need of fast emergency housing, while they try to figure out what happens next…

As more and more of those people start thinking “about the road ahead”…

I’m being asked more and more about how you can build something “reasonable” for a small family, without killing yourself financially in the process. Nobody wants those FEMA “death-trailers…”

And I don’t blame them.

You’ve probably already seen my ideas for using larger containers to build “dorm-style mini-homes” for site workers in Haiti.


Can you build a small “cluster” community out of 20′ ISBUs?


The best way to cut expenses is to spread the costs out between the families. Right? So…

First, build a separate series of bath/shower containers, and pair them up with small “residential” units built from 20′ High Cube shipping containers.

It would be easy to build several toilet facilities, enclosed shower units, and even stacked laundry units into a single 20′ box, that could just be dropped into place to provide immediate relief from the wrath of Ole’ Mom Nature…  You could even put solar panels on the roof to heat the water… Easy. And… since we’re talking about panels, add a panel or two to power light systems.

(Yes, I realize that adding laundry units means generating more power, like by using a small portable generator…)

Now, since you wouldn’t have a bath and shower in each family unit…

You’d have plenty of space for a small kitchenette, a fold down bunk system and some comfortable living area, that is sheltered from any further storm activity.

Build (1) bath unit for (4) Family units, and you’d have an instant “settlement” that could be dropped off the back of flatbed truck beds, onto precast concrete blocks.

Okay, so maybe it’s fast, but say people don’t wanna share baths…

And, hey… nobody likes to hike for a  CBF – “communal bathroom facility” at all hours of the night, so why now just nestle one between two 20′ residential units, to form a big “U” by running One 20′ High Cube across the back, between the two opposed (sleeping) ISBUs.

Now you have big apartment sized baths back to back, and water easily reached on both side, for kitchens, and even a huge greenhouse that would fill that big hole you just created.

Now, drop another 20′ High Cube ISBU on top of your pair of opposed units, and you have a second floor, to use as a big bedroom loft.

Voila, now it’s not “emergency housing… It’s “instant apartments.”  11′ kitchens, normal sized baths, a neat LR/DR area, and a cool loft bedroom overlooking a lush greenhouse filled with produce and life-giving plants, year round!

Now, go a step further.

What say we place that whole shooting match on an insulated slab, and then earth berm around the outsides of it? What do you get for all that effort? You get a pair of semi-underground homes, without much digging. Now, think about the possibilities. Like for instance, radiant in floor heating.

All you need is a bunch of cinderblocks, some rebar, and some concrete. And PEX tubing… Lots of PEX.

(PEX tubing is what you use to run your hot water thru, to heat your slab.)

Now you have great South Exposure, protection from the cold North, and you’ve done it all yourself, over a series of weekends.

Okay, now take that same idea, and build a single family home.

U shaped ISBU structure, 2 levels high.

20′ x 28′ foot two story room in the center, complete with Island Kitchen and Washer/Dryer area.

Now you have 4 bdrms, 4 bathrooms (including (1) common bath on the first floor, an office, a banquette seating area, (2) small decks, and enough great room for a decent woodstove.

Put a standing seam metal roof over it, in that hipped shape that I’m so fond of…

Instant home.
Just add water.
And power.
And AC.
And Insulation… don’t forget the SPF!

All for the low, low price of… um… er… how much ya got? 😉

Gimme a day or two to get things here under control, and I’ll draw something out, to demonstrate exactly what I’m talking about. I can see it in my head, but you really don’t wanna go there… 😉

Stay tuned.


4 Responses to “A Corten Commune? Whaaa?? ;)”

  1. David April 27, 2010 at 9:18 am #

    Good Morning Ronin,

    I hope you are feeling better and that the family health situation is improving.

    I wait in desperation for your book since you are in a position to help me launch a project of multiple ideas. I was asked one question that I fear I cannot answer. The question was, “Can you cut both 40′ wall sections out of a container and not worry about sag from the 40′ steel beam?”

    My thought is that for outdoor workshops that would include a garage would require 3 40′ high cube trailers anchored together with the joining walls removed on the 40′ face. Will this structure idea support itself?

    I am in a small farming community where outbuildings are desperately needed as workshops.



    Thank you for all that you are doing.


    • renaissanceronin April 27, 2010 at 3:39 pm #

      Hi David,

      We move forward… It’s what we CAN do… Cancer is a terrible disease, and it seems to drain everyone around it. Oy.

      Now, about those 40′ plasma-fests… 😉

      First, I assume that you’re talking about ISBU Shipping Container, and not Semi tractor trailer “trailers”…

      NO. The building will NOT “support itself” without sagging… if you cut out all the corrugation in order to form a big box. You’ll need to add steel to help hold up the roof.

      Remember, those side rails are just basically attachment points for the Corten siding. ALL the strength in these boxes is in the end frames, where the twistlocks do their magic.

      And while you can effectively take a few big hunks of steel and “clearspan” those gaps, I prefer to use smaller steel beams, and add support where required.

      (It’s because the price of steel is “going up” again… Oy.)

      There is “another way.”

      It’s to add your steel outside, and then ABOVE the boxes, and then “bolt and braze” your steel to the Corten Container, effectively “suspending” the ceiling. That way you don’t lose any headroom to your support system.

      If this sounds interesting to you, send me an email privately, and I’ll do a quick thumbnail sketch for you, so you can see how it works.


  2. G May 2, 2010 at 12:25 am #

    Greetings Ronin

    hope you got well the photos

    I have been confused by your answer

    “NO. The building will NOT “support itself” without sagging… if you cut out all the corrugation in order to form a big box. You’ll need to add steel to help hold up the roof.”

    I had the understanding that the corrugations were not used for structural purpose but rather to hold what is within the ISBU, and that they could be totaly removed without any structural impact on the strengh of the “box”

    where do I’m wrong?

    Thank you and hearing from you, eventually

    • renaissanceronin May 4, 2010 at 10:32 am #

      Hi G,

      First, sorry about the lack of correspondence lately. I’m actually hip deep in corten crisis. We are trying to get some small 20′ ISBUs reconfigured so they can be used as emergency galleys for oil spill workers. It’s a daunting task.

      BTW: We’ll pull them around on trailers.

      About your question:

      In SOME cases, “gussets” of corrugation are left in place, to help deal with load. The contribution is minimal, but sometimes, it’s enough. This usually occurs when you’re cutting in doors and windows.

      But, in this case, the idea is to build large “chamber-like” rooms, for heavy equipment storage. Garages and the like. It will require additional roof support, to deal with span.

      A room built from that many ISBU’s will require support to hold up the roof. The side-rails (even welded together) won’t accomplish the task, with any real durability.

      This application is a farm building that will be used for decades. It makes sense to insure that it remains standing a long time. That means that roof needs to stay put.

      I’ve found a fast way to accomplish this, without having to sheath the entire “side-rail/gap/side-rail” system in steel.

      You suspend the “ceiling”, in a manner very similar to installing a suspended acoustical ceiling. You build “attachment points”, and then you carry the weight from above. In this case, you can use steel and big fabricated “T’s” that spin onto large diameter threaded rod.

      The “T” is just a flat piece of steel with a hole drilled into it, to allow a threaded rod to pass thru, then you put a washer and nut on it. The flat part only has to be large enough to allow you to span two side-rail widths and your gap, between them.

      The “T” slips down between the (2) side-rails, and is connected to a crossmember ABOVE the boxes, by the threaded rod. Apply the nut to the top, and tighten away, drawing the “T” up into the side-rails securely.

      Then the whole thing is welded up. You do this about every 10-15 feet (depending on “run” and “load”), and you’ll have an ISBU roof that is carried from above, and a clear span beneath.

      The rod dimensions and the support system are engineered to carry the load of the roof you put on, so the details change from job to job. But, it’s not complex at all, it’s actually quite simple.

      I should break down and just draw this out, but frankly, I’m just swamped with work right now, trying to literally put out fires, and get ready for the oil spill.

      Anyway, I’ve built “this” roof system many times, and the roof system has never failed, even in hurricanes and tornado exposure. And, it’s STRONG. Strong enough to use as a storage area, if you think it thru.

      (Note that none of these buildings EVER took a DIRECT hit. NOTHING, in spite of what some lackeys will tell you, is Hurricane, Earthquake, Tornado, Flood, or Fireproof. Anyone, and I mean ANYONE… who tells you that, is a liar.)

      ‘Nuff said.


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