Here’s the deal:
I’m buried in work right now.
Between normal caseloads and the usual gyrations, I’m now helping Aid Agencies try to come to the rescue of families that are caught between tornadoes and floods… literally.
WE have “family and friends”, here – where the levee just broke:
A few “Corten Compatriots” (including a rascal named Jeremiah Russell) and I are actually designing a 20′ High Cube ISBU that will turn itself into a 400 plus square foot steel clad home for four to five people.
And, we have a SIP manufacturing company that is lending a huge hand, by helping us with prototypes!
(You’ll find out more about this soon! This is going to be SOOO COOL!) 🙂
So, fear not! If your house is shaking like Dorothy’s OZ-fest… or filling with water… we’re on the way!
The next few days are going to be long ones.
You know that that means… Mailbag time!
Here we go;
A while back, we started talking to an architect about building an ISBU house. We own several acres of hillside that gently slopes down to the prettiest meadow that you’ve ever seen!
We saw your post on your other blog about the little Corten house you’re building in the Sierras. In fact, we followed up and actually spoke to the new owners.
(You’re right, the Gunny has a potty mouth. And he’s mad at you, by the way… for suggesting to his wife that they build three “square foot garden modules”. He hates “dirt”.) 😉
They couldn’t be happier, especially with the idea that the house is virtually clad in concrete and steel, all the way up to and including the roof.
Fires scare us. We’ve lost two homes on this site to wildfires.
So, we want to raise the house up off the ground using stemwalls, allowing great views, good cross-ventilation, and some respite from fires.
We also want the home to “look like containers”. We love that “funky chic” look!
Here’s a couple of images of what he’s proposing. They’re rough, as he just “pounded them out.”
Here’s our questions;
How much of this work can we really do ourselves? It seems very challenging, from removing the floors to actually framing all the interior. Is this kind of thing really DIY-able?
Second – He’s talking about having containers specially constructed in China. He says it’s easier and more cost effective. We can use wider containers and buy fewer of them.
Part of this reason includes that we can order them without the wood flooring that you hate so much. We’d like to use concrete floors, anyway.
Third – Can we really use so much glass in the view walls and still support the roof? I mean, you’re kinda militant about supporting the upper steel frame that connects the ends together.
Fourth – Any suggestions?
Please, be kind… we’re noobs to all this Shipping Container stuff…
Waiting eagerly for your advise,
Karen and Carl
Thanks for contacting me with this.
First, the images that are being provided by your architect are NOT his original work.
If he’s claiming that they are, you need to stop now and find a new architect or designer.
They actually came from a site called “Treehugger”. (They’re also show on several other sites as well – in fact, they’re pretty old news.) It’s a site that tends to show the more fashionable faces of architectural structures, in what I often refer to as “artsy/fartsy” kind of way.
I call it “Architecture meets Fashion and Glamour!”
I don’t harbor them any ill will at all, it’s just that a lot of what you see there is either unbuildable or unaffordable for most families.
Treehugger is a GREAT place to learn “the ART of what CAN be done”.
Some of their stuff is just visionary! I urge everyone to visit there. Then… take what you see there and figure out how to reverse engineer it into your own builds – affordably. 🙂
Let’s address “safety” first;
One of the most IMPORTANT things to keep in mind when building (especially when building “out there in nature) is to maintain a clear area between you and any threat. This means that you establish your actual build site by clearing out any trees and debris that might endanger you later.
Right onto your roof and decks. So, build your home out of fire-resistant materials.
If you’re going for the “Corten Look” your “weak links” will be the glazing, the underbelly of your beast and the roof.
These can be easily and effectively managed.
Consider using the corrugated steel you remove from your interiors to form covered decks. If you make these panels “moveable” – they can be lowered to cover your windows in case of fire or extreme weather. Think “shutters”.
Plus, when you’re away, your home is secured by the steel coverings. It’s hard to kick thru steel.
One of the reasons that I like SSMR (Standing Seam Metal Roofing) is that it’s cost-effective, easily applied, low maintenance, and resists FIRE.
Under your boxes… that concrete floor I advocate is a good deterrent against fire, too. (There are other ways.)
No matter what you do, ALL homes will still become “combustible” if it gets hot enough. So, plan accordingly.
I’ve seen the interiors of solid concrete homes burned out due to wildfires. Nothing is impervious to that much heat.
Can We Fix it? Yes we can!
(Hoo boy, with a three year old terrorist in the house, I hear Bob the Builder in my sleep…) 😉
There is a LOT that home-building families can do to help keep their build budgets manageable. Beyond GOOD SOLID DESIGN and CAREFUL PLANNING… Sweat Equity tops that list.
Anyone can pour concrete with a little bit of guidance.
Staining the concrete and finishing it take some homework, but it’s still do-able.
You will need “carpentry skills.”
You will need painting skills.
Most of the work will be fairly straightforward except for spraying the entire box surfaces with something like “Rustgrip” first to encapsulate the anti-fouling paint that will come on your boxes.
If you rent a sprayer you can still handle this task.
Plasma Cutters and Welding?
You can take a class at your local community college to learn what you need to know, in most places.
Actual fabrication of the containers themselves can be farmed out, you know.
Let a qualified welder and a glazing crew cut, weld and install your windows… and then do as much as you can, from partition wall framing to installing cabinets and appliances… yourself.
Consider USING a professional roofing crew to do your roofing.
They’re better at it, they work much faster and the costs are comparable (if you shop carefully). The last thing you want is to fall off the roof of a house perched up in the air. OUCH!
Consider leaving plumbing and electrical to people with licenses.
Seriously. Most “rookie” DIY families end up actually spending more money on these items, trying to do it themselves and then going back in to fix all the “boo-boos.”
Buying specially constructed containers in China is NOT “cost-effective.” Not even slightly.
First, what’s he’s probably thinking is that he can order wider containers to gain you more space with fewer boxes. A good example of this is the Travelodge hotels in England that used special “containers” to build hotels. This comes at a price well beyond the added costs of having special “containers” built.
First, they’re harder to ship. Second, they’re harder to transport. You can’t just drop them on a flatbed and haul them to your site, you have to use special trailers, special permits and a LOT of extra logistics. All that costs “special money”… 😉
If it was ME, I would NOT do this. You can accomplish the same thing using “stockpiled” local ISBUs and save a ton of time, money and hassles.
Buy three 40′ ISBUs. HIGH CUBE. No way will they cost you as much as the boxes your architect is specifying.
Even with the additional labor involved, you’ll still be ahead.
And you’re going to get a stronger structure. You’re going to get MORE STEEL, especially in the end frames.
Yes, you CAN use a lot of glass in the sides of the container to bring that gorgeous view into your home. All you need to do is to frame accordingly, and place supports between the bottom and top rails to keep everything where it belongs. We do it all the time.
2″ Box Steel Tubing. You can work miracles with it! 🙂
You simply have the luxury of using more glazing than most of us can. WE have neighbors who probably don’t wanna see us running around in our boxer shorts. 😉
As for suggestions?
Get a solid survey and soil tests.
Include perc tests. Do this FIRST. KNOWING what you’re building on is as important as what you’re actually building.
Buy (3) 40′ High Cubes.
Buy them as local as possible to lower the shipping and delivery costs. This will give you your 24′ x 40′ (approx) footprint.
Use Standing Seam Metal Roofing (SSMR) over Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) for your roof.
Use Lightweight concrete for your floors.
NO CERAMIC INSULATION SNAKE-OIL!
Use SPF (Spray-on) or Rigid Insulation (closed cell!), or even blown in cellulose. NO Fiberglass batts!
Find a good LOCAL structural engineer.
You’ll require their assistance to “stamp off” your project, to help you with the math, to insure that your stem walls and footings will work, and for aid in navigating thru the local Planning and Zoning gyrations.
(The walls are pretty easy and in my opinion, should be run at intervals of 10′ on center from end to end.)
Consider water harvesting and a panel farm on that big roof!
Photovoltaics and Solar Hot water are a great addition to a build like this.
Keep reading the blog and asking questions!
And, if you need help with pre-design or the actual design work, you know where we are!
Hope this helps!
Now, the rest of you… get back to work! 🙂
The Flooding of Lake Providence – William Wise/Heather Levin
Architecture – TREEHUGGER