26 Jul

(Editor’s note: WHAT? This post was up, and then it wasn’t… A brief scheduler malfunction, probably caused by too many late nights dealing with other stuff, and not enough sleep. So, here it is again for those who haven’t seen it.  For those who HAVE seen it, the New post will air on the 29th. Sorry, Craig!)

Back to the post:

Recently, I was contacted by a guy from “The Great White North”  (named Craig Moorhouse) who had some ideas that he wanted to share with me about ISBU Home construction.

And the more I looked at them, the more I thought you might like to look at them too!

So, I “arm-twisted” him into writing a post, “defending” himself! 🙂

There are several cool ideas incorporated in this concept of his. See if you can spot them all.

(And pay attention, because there’s gonna be a test at the end!) 🙂


It’s good to see you’ve posted the Bright ISBU on your blog – it’s certainly an honor. The work you are doing on this blog is very important and adding my voice to it is an exciting challenge.  The Bright ISBU design idea came from my desire to draw something simple – a home that an average person with a bit of construction skills could build.

I’ve been trying to keep my exceptions of what I can achieve at “You And Your Wacky Sketch-Up Project That Don’t Go Anywhere” realistic ones.

What I see myself doing with the blog is throwing out ideas that other like minded people like Alex can explore and develop and maybe new design ideas can evolve out of my eclectic bunch of 3D models. I am definitely not looking to get rich from my ideas but I would like to build my own home someday and if I could help other families; in some small way, build safe affordable homes that they could be proud of – that would be very rewarding.

Alex’s book “Introduction to Container Homes & Buildings” gave me the motivation to design something that I could do myself right now.  I really like how the book illustrates how putting hard work into planing can save the perspective home owner a sizable whack of cash on what we will end up spending on a dwelling.

There are much better things to with the year/hours that many of us spend in debt slavery to pay off mortgage interest so some guy in an Armani suit can buy another island for his personal yacht to dock at.

The Bright ISBU is a passive solar design with a inexpensive, light weight roof that can be built quickly.  I’ve seen many container home designs that use the flat top of the container for the roof.

I have the same thoughts as Alex when I see this – that’s dumb. A roof will shed rain – why have standing pools of water on top of your house . A roof will shed snow – I’ve seen Canadian container home designs with the flat roof of the container.

I guess these people don’t know what damage heavy snow loads can do to a home. Many people die every year from roofs that collapse under heavy snow loads. Roofs provide a great place for insulation and closed cell spray foam insulation will do a great job of water proofing as well as adding to the roof’s structural integrity.

A roof will also keep your beer drinking buddies off the top of your house.  I also wanted to add a bit of a personal rant here against people who have this negative comment on homes with steel roofs. ” You won’t be able to hear yourself think when it rains because the steel roof will make so much noise”.

When you see this please fire back – the insulation not only will keep your home warm in winter – cool in summer but it insulates against noise as well – these are well thought out homes, and NOT  barns!

I found it important to give the Bright ISBU good 3 foot overhangs.

In passive solar designs you have the majority of your window space on the south facing walls of your house – the sun shines in and heats up the home but in the summer heating up the home during a heat wave would make the home unbearable. In the summer the sun sits on a higher angle in the sky in relation to your house – a 3 foot overhang will block out the direct sunlight in the summer from entering the home. ln winter the sun sits lower in the sky so the direct sunlight comes into a home.

Keeping the home narrow along the north south perspective will increase how much the sun will warm the house in winter, this makes container homes perfect for passive solardesigns.

The Bright ISBU actually has a five foot over hang – I added the two extra foot so the over hang will cover a 2 foot wide straw bale exterior wall so you have the 3 foot overhang past this to protect the plaster on the bale walls from moisture damage. Anything less then a 3 foot overhang over a natural plaster wall would be asking for trouble. Straw bale walls are very attractive if you take your time to plaster  them right and they offer a very high R value.  This will protect you from high heating and cooling bills.

There are many websites that can offer better information on straw bale home building than me – the one that comes immediately to mind is the “Building with Awareness” site which will show you the complete construction of a small straw bale home.

Rant # 2.

If you hear anyone posting some negative comment on a straw bale blog like;

“ya, but it’s going to catch fire – good luck with that ”

… you can reply;

“straw bale homes have a higher fire safety rating than a wood frame house.”

“Straw is a cellulose material and is highly combustible ( the same as wood) but when it is tightly packed into a bale than oxygen has a harder time getting in  making combustion almost impossivle – it’s like trying to light a telephone book on fire. Add a proper plaster job and oxygen simply can’t get in so there is  no chances of fire.”

I have the three containers butting up against each other so the locks can be used to give the home more strength.

( I didn’t know about the locks until I read “Introduction to Container Homes & Buildings”- thanks for that information, Alex.)

I placed two 20′ containers side by side ( north / south) on the east side and one 20 ft. container in the north west corner and an open space in the south west end which will be shaded by the overhang. This shaded area will keep the home from warming up when the summer sun falls in the west in the late afternoon. I added some shade blinds in this area to to farther protect the home from over heating.  This area could be screened in to be use as a Florida room  or you could build a green house in this area sometime in the future.

I have two tall narrow windows on the west wall  that are covered buy heavy planks with hinges on top. In the summer you can prop these windows open a little crack – the hot air on this end of the house will push up and out through these openings which would draw in cooler air from vent windows that can be cut into a lower portion of the north east section of house.

People have asked me;

“Why don’t you just have a large window in this area to heat the home in winter?”

…but what you gain in winter from a lower heating bill in winter you will lose in summer from high cooling bills. It’s a trade off that you will have to keep in mind if you plan to design a passive solar home.

I also have a lower overhang on the west wall that hangs down from the steel tubing roof frame to help cool the west wall in summer. I think this overhang looks sharp in a post modern, industrial way and best of all it would be a cheap and easy way of doing this. I also placed a hedge on the west wall that wraps around to the north and south to help keep this wall cool when the summer afternoon sun beats down on it. You could collect water from the roof to water this hedge – it will be pretty much protected from rain.

Ornamental deciduous trees ( like Japanese red maples) would also help shade the west end of the house – in winter the trees would lose their leaves and the sunlight could shine in to help warm up the house.

(Editor’s note: Plus… they’re PURTY!) 😉

I have an exhaust fan on the west wall of the roof – same idea as before – pull in cooler air from a vent in the north east section of the overhang to cool the house down.

The roof itself is a simple design – I have a steel square tubing frame welded (could be bolted in a prefab design) to the top of the containers – this frame extends 5 ft past the edge of the roof to give you the 3 foot over hang.

(4′ x 4′ square tubing  in the case of this drawing – Alex could do a better job of designing this .)

I have rows of 3 galvanized corrugated grain bin sheets rolled for a 42 ft. diameter bin bolted together in a “hoop” and screw bolted to the overhang frame.  The ends of the corrugated sheets are bolted to angle brackets with corrugation on one side of the angle and flat on the other ( Theses angles are used in building the door frames in grain bins – they would have to be custom bent to make the proper angel to meet the overhang frame correctly but wouldn’t be a major undertaking). The overhang frame and the angle brackets would have corresponding, pre-drilled pilot holes to make a quick and neat job of connecting the corrugated sheets to the overhang frame.

As Alex will tell you, closed cell, spray insulation foam would make the best insulation for so many reasons that he could explain better than me. Spray 6″ to 8″ on all interior surfaces – on the corrugation  on the container top and the overhangs. Construct walls of structural insulated panels to enclose the west and east walls of the roof and you have a quick and easy roof that would be light weight and strong.

A couple thoughts on keeping the corrugated sheets water tight ( that comes from years of grain bin building experience);

1. Always join the bolt together seams so water can roll down unobstructed – the top corrugated sheet will straddle the apex of the roof  which will keep the seams lower down the roof – bolt.  The two bottom sheets underneath the top one – the rain wants to go down over the seam and run into a seam edge.

The corrugated sheets should have a seam bolt pattern that has double holes, side by side horizontally  with the holes on the “hills” of the corrugation as opposed to the “valleys” of the corrugations – this would allow the rain to drain through the small “gutter” grooves unobstructed by bolt heads.

2. Seal all seams properly with double rows of butyl rope caulking ( gray sealing stuff that comes in tape rolls – great stuff – lasts for decades- I’ve never found this stuff to fail)  in-between the seams and make sure your bolts have proper sealing washers ( neoprene washers are the best in my mind) and make sure the bolts are at least a grade 8 bolt.

The Bright ISBU isn’t a finished thing yet but I will keep working at it. It is my favorite child of all my designs and I hope that I will find discussions that will help make this a good, affordable house design – like Alex, I am very interested in doing my part in helping people build safe, energy efficient homes that don’t need large financial resources  to build ( sorry mister Armani suit) – that families can be proud of.

My next project at “You And Your Wacky Sketch-Up Project That Don’t Go Anywhere” will be called the Bauhaus Barn – I am reworking a very old modified A-frame idea.

I am glad I started this project because it has given me a great idea for a two story ISBU container home.

Please Stay tuned and please buy “Introduction to Container Homes & Buildings” if you haven’t already.

We could make great progress if all the great ISBU home minds are all on the same page, and Alex is the guy who can get us there.

Thank you again Alex for giving me this platform to showcase these ideas, it means a lot to me.

Craig Moorhouse


5 Responses to “The BRIGHT ISBU Shines!”

  1. Daniel July 28, 2010 at 3:37 pm #

    Cool article! I hadn’t heard of surrounding the exterior walls of the container house with straw bale walls. That’s a pretty ingenious idea. Two great tastes that taste great together!

  2. egomartini July 28, 2010 at 7:34 pm #

    Thanks Daniel

    Another idea for adding an attractive outer insulating wall is one that Kelly Hart pioneered in his earth bag dome home. He used rows of poly. seed bags filled with scoria which is a porous lava rock with a R value of about 3 per inch. Add a natural paster and the wall would be very bit as attractive as a straw bale wall.
    The ISBU containers would eliminate the need to spend thousands of dollars on building a timber frame to take the roof load.
    I hope to be finished my latest project soon so I can get back to some new container home ideas I’ve had.

    • renaissanceronin July 28, 2010 at 9:56 pm #

      Okay Craig,

      I’ve gotten some great personal emails about your post! Good Job!

      And I’ve gotten some reader questions about it, so;

      To clarify this for some of our readers, what “roof load” are you referring to in your comment and how does the ISBU container take the place of a timber frame?

      And do we have to worry about the weight of the straw bales or the scoria collapsing the corrugated steel walls of our containers? I mean, it’s not like it’s “structural,” right?

      (It’s not easy being the expert, huh?) 🙂

      You’re doing great!


    • Daniel July 28, 2010 at 11:30 pm #

      Scoria! Now that’s an igneous idea! (geology humor is never pretty). I wonder how the bags of scoria idea compares to straw bale from a cost perspective.

  3. egomartini July 29, 2010 at 5:53 am #

    Hi Alex.

    Sorry – I should of been a bit clearer on this. There are two structural types of straw bale homes. This most common type is a bale home that uses a wood frame to hold up the weight of the roof. The bales are placed between ends of the planks – sometimes restrung to fit – sometimes there are notches cut into the bales with a chainsaw so the bales will fit into the frame properly. This will make a strong home but the added labor and added expense of the lumber will make bale home cost as much or more than a regular “completely” wood framed home. The second type of bale house is called a “load bearing” or “Nebraska” style home ( this style of home was first built in Nebraska over 100 years ago and many of these homes still stand today). As the name, “load bearing” suggests – bales are placed in a pattern to form the walls much like you would a brick wall. The resulting structure will take the weight of the roof without the need for added support of a wood frame house. A well thought out Nebraska straw bale home will be very strong and cost much less to build. Here is a good article on the benefits of the load bearing bale house
    So with a ISBU house the containers would act as a load bearing frame would. The containers would take the weight of the roof without adding pressure to the bale walls. Containers cost much less then the lumber needed to build a frame to support the roof – less time is need to build such a structure and the resulting home would be much stronger. “NOTE” – all the welding and cutting must be done to the containers before you start placing the bales into the walls. I’ve lived on a farm all my life and I know it takes a lot to start bales on fire but once they do start they are gone. Once the bales have a plaster coat you can be free to start cutting again.
    I would use spray insulation foam in the attic area. It water proofs, insulates, it’s light weight and adds to the structural integrity of the home. I would also fill in all the indents (sorry, I forgot the proper name of these indents) of the container walls with the spray foam so the bales will sit flush against the container walls without any air pockets. You could bolt 2x4s that you’ve scavenged from the local cement forming yard,to the side of the containers and then fill the spray foam up to the edge of the 2x4s outer surfaces.
    I hope this is a bit clearer – if not please don’t be afraid to ask.

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