After the recent release of my e-book:
Introduction to Container Homes and Buildings
All hell broke loose. Don’t get me wrong. a lot of people appreciated the book. But some people in the home-building biz aren’t numbered among them.
I wrote this book for the same reason that I write the blog… to empower people. I wrote this book to demonstrate that a family CAN build a home, without being shackled to several layers of unnecessary administration, and mountains of extra costs designed to profit companies without necessarily enriching the occupant’s lives.
What I didn’t want to do is flex my ego by cramming it full of things I’ve done personally, like I’m “the center of the ISBU universe.” I wanted to at least TRY to be unbiased.
I did include several floorplans to give you ideas and starting points. But know that the intent is to allow you to take those examples, and then draw your OWN lines to reflect what YOU need and not just what someone tells you that you need based on their cost and effects corporate spreadsheet…
Some people will read this and then scream:
“Ah Ha! Didn’t you offer to help people chart the waters, at the end of the book?”
Yes. But I’ll point out that based on my “compensation” for that help, I’m usually working for less than minimum wage. This isn’t now, nor has it ever been, about profits. It’s about families.
But I’m getting hammered about the book in my email. It’s like “David and Goliath” all over again.
Did I fall short? According to the hate mail I’m getting, probably.
I started getting “hate mail” from “industry types.” I’m even getting “hate mail” from people in the “building industry” that I thought were friends.
I suppose that when the economy tanks, each and every penny that can be squeezed out of “John Q. Public” is a fistfight, and it appears that at RR we’re embroiled in more than one, ourselves.
There are some ISBU associated people who believe that they’ve cornered the market on “ISBU Tech.” They actually think that since they’ve built one or two projects, they own the rights to everything said about ISBUs in general. They have “proprietary secrets” that they don’t want you to know about.
There’s a myth going around that there are only about 150 ISBU homes in all of America. I talk about this a lot, because each time I hear this, it makes me laugh.
People have been buying and converting ISBUs into shelters since the 1970’s in America.
And every year, there have been literally thousands of containers available. Due to the imbalance in trade between nations, there are more ISBUs in America sitting dormant than you could possibly imagine. They are stacked so high in some places that they literally blot out the sun. So, over the last decade or so, the number of available shipping containers is much larger.
Are any of us really naive enough to believe that with the thousands of containers sitting there, over several decades, less than 2 or three people a YEAR used them to create shelter, businesses and homes? Really? How many citizen families are living here in the USA? Millions?
All you have to do is go look for them. You can find them on some pretty historic places, too – like Route 66, for instance.
At the risk of repeating myself, I personally know of several IC’s (Isolated Communities) scattered across the US that are constructed primarily of ISBUs, or by using ISBUs as components. And in each of these ICs, there are several homes and outbuildings. In many of those cases, unless you actually saw them being build, you’d never know that they were ISBUs to begin with. Hardiplank and Stucco are wonderful things… In some cases placing the Earthbags was backbreaking, let me tell you! 🙂
The number of ISBU structures in those ICs alone would account for a large majority of the “alleged 150 some-odd ISBU homes” that some people spout as gospel. It’s just ridiculous.
IMHO: That 150+ number comes primarily by people who know that if you somehow reduce the number of anything, the people who built the most visible projects become far more valuable. THEY become the pillars. It’s just a marketing ploy. So, if you get into all the press sites with your “OMG” project, you get a lions share of the attention.
In a dying economy, that’s a must if you want your corporation to survive hard times…
Don’t get lulled into this trap. Do your homework. There are lots of examples out there if you dig for them. In fact, some people hope that you won’t. It makes their job easier. They have corporations to support. They have families too…
Anyone reading this blog (or my book) knows that I advocate taking the steps to actually build an ISBU house, YOURSELF.
Practice Self-Reliance and Self-Responsibility.
I know you know that, I say it all the time.
You don’t need an expensive Architectural Firm, an Engineering Firm, or even a Design Firm to achieve a home the scale that we talk about here on RR. Nor do you need a “design/build contractor.” What you need is common sense, the ability to pay attention to detail, and a good design that comes from looking at what you need, over and over again, comparing it to “known” examples, and then polishing it until you’ve finessed it into exactly what is required to fulfill YOUR specific needs. Will you accomplish this in a week? NO.
I tell people all the time to start their “Pre-Design” phase as early as they possibly can. This way, when you do finally sit down with whoever you bring in to help you draw it all out, you minimize that time so you can get to building ASAP.
Am I trying to talk you out of hiring someone like ME? YES.
I’m trying to work myself out of a job, if the truth be told. If you figure out how this works, you can tell someone else. And then, you can SHOW them. That starts an exponential conveyance of knowledge that covers far more ground than one “heretic howling into the wind.”
All you guys and gals combined can accomplish more in a few years, than I’ve accomplished in my entire life playing with torches and grinders, easy.
Why is this important to me?
- The housing market is just one large oozing hemorrhage.
- Foreclosures are gutting neighborhoods.
- Companies are downsizing and shipping jobs overseas.
- Unemployment is scratching at double-digits in most parts of America.
- Bankruptcies are at their highest point since 2005.
- The economy is crawling slower than an overloaded tractor trailer trying to make it up a steep grade.
- In spite of the “bail-outs” banks aren’t lending, especially to us.
And you already know that I tell you that you’ll probably have to fight to build your home, or move it to a place where the building codes are either less restrictive, or non-existent. Can you build one in downtown Chicago? Nope. And you can’t build one in MOST Metropolitan areas, because they don’t conform to what is already there.
You’re going to get a hard lesson in “Not in My Backyard”… as it is the rule of thumb in most of these places.
But in the right place… you CAN have an affordable, sustainable, energy efficient home, built from ISBUs.
The “rules” you’ll use to achieve this will be different than that guy who bought that tract home down the street, the one that comes complete with an aneurysm causing mortgage that just goes on, and on, and on… until it eats you alive.
And as a tract home buyer, what do you get for this privilege?
You get a home that that looks just like everyone else’s, usually built “as cost effectively as possible” (not for YOU, but for the builder’s profit margin), surrounded by neighbors who take a ruler to the grass in the yard once a month, to insure that you’re carefully abiding by HOA standards and covenants.
Okay, that said, you’re wondering WHY anyone in their right mind would want to build an alternative home, especially one built from shipping containers.
As a family considering becoming an “ISBU home building bunch”, there are several reasons for this, but here are just a few;
Plain and simple, taking an already integral steel shell and then building it out yourself cuts out a lot of the overhead that Architects, Contractors, and Engineers charge, to “help you” build your house.
Don’t get me wrong. Those guys are important, each in their own areas, when they are tasked with projects that demand their educations and skills. But building a single story ISBU home certainly isn’t one of them, in most cases.
If you read the blog, I tell you to really scrutinize what your REALLY need. So, unless you’re a relative of Bernie Madoffs, I’m not talking about building 9 story Corten Condo’s “all by your onesies.” I’m talking about building a one or two story home, that uses ISBUs as construction elements.
And, Note that I’m talking about homes that are usually well under 3,000 square feet. Remember that the larger you build, the more assistance you’ll require.
Houses are getting smaller, folks. As times change, we’re realizing that we don’t NEED huge houses that stand like monuments to ego. We’re changing the way we live. So, just embrace it, as that fact is not going away.
There are a few guys that you WILL probably need; You’ll need someone with welding competence, a plumber, an electrician, a roofer, and perhaps a HVAC guy… for example. So, you need to start going through your “relative list” to find out how many “hands-on” types you can lull onto your site, with the promise of good BBQ and a frosty cold one or two at the end of a long day of shipping container fabrication.
While your welder will be there a while (running beads until he/she’s blind :)) , your electrician and plumber usually have pretty streamlined jobs, when it comes to “simple design ISBU housing.” Likewise for the HVAC guys. Good design means “get in and get out.”
If you bring in welders and fab guys to do the light fab required to connect the boxes, the rest is NOT rocket science.
2. Streamlined Design.
You get what YOU need, and not what some builder or his/her accountant decided was cost effective to include. There is a certain satisfaction in getting what you wanted, because you figured out where it should go. You did this by reading all you could and then applying that to your situation, to arrive at the right answer for your needs. Right? You bet.
If you read the blog, or my published stuff, you know that sustainability counts. A lot.
Wikipedia defines “sustainability” like this:
“The intention of sustainable design is to “eliminate negative environmental impact completely through skillful, sensitive design”. Manifestations of sustainable design require no non-renewable resources, impact the environment minimally, and relate people with the natural environment…
… Sustainable architecture is the design of sustainable buildings. Sustainable architecture attempts to reduce the collective environmental impacts during the production of building components, during the construction process, as well as during the lifecycle of the building (heating, electricity use, carpet cleaning etc) This design practice emphasizes efficiency of heating and cooling systems; alternative energy sources such as solar hot water, appropriate building siting, reused or recycled building materials; on-site power generation – solar technology, ground source heat pumps, wind power; rainwater harvesting for gardening, washing and aquifer recharge; and on-site waste management such as green roofs that filter and control stormwater runoff.”
In a nutshell, it means designing and building shelters that co-exist with everything around them, rather than becoming monuments to waste and excess. These structures respect the relationship between man and the environment.
It’s not just for biology class anymore. You can build a home that will work WITH you, instead of against you. Yet another layer of sustainability. There are those who will tell you that in order to build a house that “takes care of itself” you have to throw a ton of money at it. To those people, I say this;
It’s not about using fancy materials that come “straight out of secret NASA laboratories and CAD Stations.” It’s not about stuff like “snake oil” ceramic insulation, because “somebody at NASA” or “somebody at some association” claims that it’s the new INSULATION to end all INSULATIONS.
It’s about investing some time learning about how things actually work… and then using that knowledge to commit to GOOD Design that will lead to good building practices. You can achieve sustainable, affordable housing, without breaking the bank. You just have to carefully weigh your options and then choose wisely.
Building it yourself, using your own labor (including friends and relatives!), and by recycling, reusing, and repurposing not only makes sense… it saves you “cents.” Lots of them. That means that you get “more of what you want”, for “less of what you spend.” And by using common sense before you write checks and then combining it with good design, you CAN build a home for your family that is DIY buildable, sturdy, energy efficient and low maintenance.
THAT is one of MY definitions of GREEN.
By building your own home, several things are accomplished. First since you built it, you can fix it. You have intimate knowledge of how it went together. That means if something DOES go wrong, you can figure out how to fix it. And ISBU homes are modular by their very nature. That means that you’ll know how to add on later, should the need arise.
7. Financial freedom.
Like I said before, banks aren’t lending. So most of these ISBU builds will be self-financed. And that means that you won’t have a soul-sucking mortgage attached to the other side of them.
8. Peace of Mind.
And at the end of the day, when others around you are sitting in front of desks at their own homes writing large checks to mortgage bankers, utility companies, and trying to figure out where the next dollar is going to come from, you’ll be sitting in the “home you always wanted” that is not too big, not to small, but just right.
I could go on for several pages, but I won’t. You get the point, right?
I want you to do a hard thing, a new way. And by doing it, I want you to become stronger and more confident. Sure, building a home is scary, but by facing fear, you get stronger.
As children, my mother used to tell us that;
“Fear never shows up on the porch without Strength, All you have to do is reach past one, to grasp the other.”
My new book was designed to make you ask questions as you begin your search for the answers you’ll need to create a home from cast-off steel boxes and materials that others think useless. My book is designed to help your family find some freedom (something seemingly in short supply, even here in the US sometimes) , by creating it with your own hands.
In that book, I showed you several examples of what you can do, if you put your mind to it. One such example can be found on page 22. It’s a brown three story ISBU stack structure that stands in Atlanta, GA. While I took that photo from a royalty-free stock photography site, the builder and the structural engineer object to it being included in the book. The builder’s name is Glen Donaldson, from Atlanta. You can “google” him for more information.
I thought that the Atlanta house was significant because it’s very straightforward, it was built in a metropolitan area, and it gives us hope that we might someday be able to do likewise. Let’s face it, none of us wants to be “forced to go live in the boonies in order to to have our ISBU home become a reality. Some of us would choose suburbia, if it was at all possible. I’m not one of them, but some prefer downtown.
A claim has been made that I am taking credit for it’s construction in the book. Nothing could be further from the truth, and it was never said, nor even implied. EVER.
So, despite the fact that the image used of the Atlanta House came from the public domain, to avoid any further confusion I’m editing it out and all future versions of this book will reflect this change.
While I still feel like it’s a good example none the less, it’s easily replaced. There are many, many good examples of ISBU housing that we can learn from, together.
Now get out there, conquer your fear, and pass the plasma cutter… Daylight is burning…