The “Ways and Means” of ISBUs

27 Apr

In a new series of installments, I’m going to talk about “Architectural Foundations.”

In fact, the recent conversations we’ve been having about pilings and slabs led me to this.

Okay, it was “kicking and screaming” but still… here  I am…

We talk about HOW to connect an ISBU to the ground. But, we don’t talk enough about WHY we should do it.

Recently, a guy in Washington D.C. asked me WHY we should change.

“After all, we’ve been doing it like this for over two hundred years, and it works just fine.”

He’s a well-known politician, with a big seat. I’m not talking about the size of his butt.  “Big Seat” as in he’s on a BIG committee.

I  want to tear what’s left of my hair out!

  • The Economy is in ruins – despite the white-washing by the media.
  • Unemployment – (the real rate – you know – the one that factors in stuff like “lost jobs” – corporate realignments and restructures,  “left jobs”- jobs that will never return, people no longer in the workforce, people who work part time but WANT to work full time) is like… 16% conservatively. Even the experts admit it.
  • Fuel prices are rising.
  • Hyper Inflation is headed right at us and will hit us with both barrels.
  • Education is suffering at levels that actually make me afraid of what and how my children will be taught.
  • There are still large bodies of people with NO health care at all. Don’t even get me started on this.

And still, the guys and gals in Washington D.C. breathing that Olympian air (no doubt) still don’t get it.

At least, it doesn’t “feel” like they get it.

The country is paralyzed from the top to the bottom, from Washington DC to your own Town Hall.

You cannot spend what you do not earn.

It’s a lesson nobody ever taught Congress, apparently.

And look, don’t bail yet. I’m heading this into a talk about sustainable housing, so just hang on. Like any project, you just have to lay a solid foundation. Okay?

While we rot from top to bottom, we’re rotting from the inside out toward the edges? Yep. I said it.

Trying to figure out what I’m talking about?

I’m talking about waste production, misuse of materials, inefficient power systems, you name it.

At LEAST 45 percent of the world’s pollution comes from the way we build and maintain our buildings.

Anyone with a pulse can see that there has to be a  “common sense” based solution, one aimed at improving the way we do things.

And it all starts at HOME.


Because there are more homes built than any other kind of structure on the planet.

IMHO: You have to begin your home planning with the idea that you’re going to look from the beginning to the end of a structure’s life.

You need to design a home that will cradle you and provide room and comfort for all the “little cradles” to come. That means that you need comfortable housing that use less energy, require less maintenance, built from affordable materials that are recycled, re-used or re-purposed to suit your NEED.

And you need to consider how your home’s materials will be re-used when YOUR home no longer serves it’s purpose.

Radical Architecture“, huh?

(In fact, I’m going to spin off a blog called”Radical Architecture” that will give builders tips about how to use materials in innovated and efficient ways.)

The idea is to close the loop on waste production. I want you to think about ways to insure that everything you use will cycle all the way thru, until ultimately, it’s just “gone”.

Zero Waste.

Take what you need and then use it ALL.

In nature, things live, die and then… fade away to become the building blocks for things to follow.


So I ask you this;

“Why can we NOT simply redefine the way we do things?”

“Why can’t changing HOW we do things change our way of life for the  better?”

Because the guys in those big chairs perched high on Mount Olympus haven’t figured out a way to profit from it, that’s why.

People will scream that it “just isn’t fair.”

I know they will. I’m one of them.

This IS about fairness. If you attended Civics Class in High School, you know that the forefathers thought that we may have been “designed” equal, but we certainly weren’t “born” that way.

It’s time to remind people that being born with privilege IS a privilege.

It’s time to level the playing field.

ALL families deserve to have a home.

I’ve said it before, in fact so many times I should be wearing it as a freakin’ tattoo.

But what does this actually translate into?

Here’s what I think has to happen;

Keep in mind what I’ve already said about affordable and sustainable building (Zero Waste, Proper Planning, et all). We have to establish SOME kind of baseline.

All projects need a starting point.  So, how about this;

(Keep in mind that I’m going to talk about “ground Zero Baselines”. If you’re lucky enough to have already surpassed this, God Bless You!)

We need to develop plans to allow families to buy lots to provide housing.

Look, folks; the Cavalry probably isn’t coming. IF they do show up, it’ll be to get in your way, or to tax your progress.   Mark my words. If we are to rebuild this Republic, we need it do it one community at at time.

By ourselves. Otherwise… you get FEMA.

I’ve seen how FEMA works. No Thank You.

So, how do we do this?

Owning your own home is good for the community. It increased local revenues by adding to the tax base. It provides families that will help sustain local economies and it’ll create jobs.

I fully realize that land is getting more and more expensive. after all, they aren’t making any more of it.

So let’s start with Golden Rule #1;

Get what you actually “need” and not necessarily what you “want”.

NEED and WANT are two different animals and they rarely live together in the same pen.

Housing costs should be kept affordable. In my book, that means $150,000 or less. Shopped a home loan recently? A $150k mortgage will cost you about $900 a month.

(Assuming the following:  You have “decent” credit, you put down 10%, you use today’s average rate of about 4.8% – corrected, your property tax will run approx. 1.25% and your PMI will run .5%.)

The lots will be narrow and deep.

That way, land will “go farther” and support more families. New Orleans is a good example of this, as are several other places. Most of us live in cities that have “Row House Districts”. Baltimore, Philly, San Francisco, you name it.

Consider raising houses off the ground for these reasons;

(A) to allow you to actually park and store possessions UNDER them, thus reducing your footprint requirement, and…

(B) Site preparation is MUCH cheaper when you use pilings as your foundation.

(C) to help deal with natural disasters like flooding.

A home set on 8′ pilings made of 2′ diameter concrete and steel will take quite a bashing before it fails.

It’s for this last reason that you should also include some kind of exit point to the roof. I lived thru Hurricane Katrina as did many others. I  cannot tell you how many times I watched the media coverage display people standing on their roofs waiting for rescue.

The less fortunate were trapped inside their attics with no way out… and they drowned.

Consider also that this “escape hatch” could also be used a vent to exhaust hot air from your house to help aid cooling.

(And kindly resist the urge to comment with “hot air” jokes… I get enough of them from my wife. Okay?)

Now let’s factor in “Sustainability”.

An insulated house is a happy house.

A super insulated house is um… well, it’s like the difference between kissing your sister or the Prom Queen.

The kiss is still the same… basically… but one is just more pleasurable than the other.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go kiss your sister… you’ll figure it out.  🙂

A super-insulated house will require less heat and air conditioning to maintain the temperature within it. That means that you’ll spend a little more in the beginning, but for the rest of your life, you’ll spend MUCH less.

You don’t just have to go along with the rest of the sheep. You can use Geothermal energy to create heat, Solar Power to warm water, and Photovoltaic panels (PVs) to produce electricity for your home.

There are PV systems available off the shelf that will lower your homes electricity costs by 75% without you having to be, or employ a rocket scientist to figure it all out. (Yes, you will still need an electrician…)

Don’t believe me? Go to Steve Spence is about as bright as it gets in the PV arena. In fact, I’ve enlisted (strong-armed, arm-twisted, insert your own adjective here) him to assist in the design of the PV system for my own home.

Go a little further with this PV stuff and you’ll produce enough power for your family, plus some extra for the families along the way. After all, you’re probably all gonna be connected to the grid.

But, is it possible to build a “light and airy” row-house that is comfortable and achieves the goals we’ve talked about for $150K?


And by using ISBUs, we can build homes that most people just don’t believe possible, for even less.

And we can do it up North, Down South and even… gasp… in the West.

Stay tuned as we explore some of the “way and means” of  how ISBUs can accommodate these goals.

(Did ya get it? Did ya see what  I did there? I started out talking about this big “hot shot committee politician”  and then I close the post with “Ways and Means?”)

Sometimes I just crack myself up! 🙂

4 Responses to “The “Ways and Means” of ISBUs”

  1. Jeremiah April 28, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    “The lots will be narrow and deep…”

    This statement reminds me of great city neighborhoods in:

    New Haven,
    New Orleans, even

    The closer a neighbor is the more likely you are to get to know them. When you’re in an apartment building, you tend to know nearly everyone because you see them all the time. If you live in suburbia you don’t know anyone because you never see anyone accept to identify them by car as they zip towards the neighborhood exit.

    Building communities is not just about affordability but about a method of city planning that fosters communication and shared respect. I could go on for hours about this, but I’ll spare your fare readers from such lengthy archi-rants.

    (Note: Editorial reformat to punch up a GREAT comment!)

    • Renaissance Ronin April 28, 2011 at 10:13 pm #


      You’re exactly right. And these ARE the dialogs that we want to promote.

      “No Man Is An Island.”

      It we can rebuild communities (We are just getting hammered here. Our “neighbors” next door in Alabama just got pounded by tornadoes and beyond the tragedy of the deaths and injuries, entire towns are GONE) even one at a time, we get stronger.

      Going to a “Row District” format could allow affordable, high-speed builds to house hundreds of families, with sustainability being a core essential of the project.

      And what’s good for today would get even better… tomorrow. 🙂

  2. Jeremiah April 29, 2011 at 1:44 pm #

    I was hearing on the news either yesterday or the day before that FEMA hadn’t even arrived yet. That news crews were reporting of the communities stepping in to help themselves and their neighbors. THAT is what gives me hope. We’re seeing a return to more traditional, close-knit community values instead of the “bunker” mentality of the suburbs we’ve fostered since the 1950’s. Communities like this, that, looking on the bright side of a tragedy, have an opportunity to start fresh with a new community plan – to do it right and keep it moving forward for future generations. That doesn’t even have to mean container homes, just smart urban planning and encouraging community involvement on a scale larger than one street to the next, but from one side of town to the other.

  3. Kim May 4, 2011 at 12:22 pm #

    I agree completely. I have been involved in community efforts aimed at adopting more sustainable practices for years. I have come to believe that real, meaningful change is most likely to happen in America in the aftermath of disasters. While we know on a cerebral level that what we’re doing isn’t sustainable and needs to change, we don’t really “get it” until we hit the wall. Then our creativity, generosity and resilience come to the forefront much more readily than when we’re comfortably tucked into suburbia watching Dancing With the Stars on the couch. Hopefully those who suffered the ravages of these tornadoes can see the comfort that can come in reconstructing their communities in an improved way. My heart goes out to them all.

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