I’m “Growing” a HOME…

27 Jul

Lately, I’m getting more and more distressed emails from families that are worried that the US is headed for the proverbial cliff.

As the media in America bombards us with images of “Doom and Gloom”, many American families are thinking about “The Great Depression” that many of their loved ones barely survived.

Many of these families believe that we are destined to repeat that difficult time, as America struggles under the weight of it’s own spending and stumbling created by what some see as a bureaucratic leadership crisis.

Here’s just one example of the email I’m getting; 

Dear Ronin,

More and more (as the “global village” gets smaller and smaller) we start seeing HOW others really live.

Information that used to take years to trickle out now moves at the speed of light!

As the stone foundation that used to be the economy in America gets pummeled into sand, some of us are starting to think more and more about what it’s like to live in “distressed areas during distressed times”.

Many of our families lack a safe home. The gap grows larger each day… as that canyon that separates us from a banking or lending institution that will even talk to us about a mortgage gets so wide that not even Robby Knievel can jump it on a Jet Bike…

AND if you can get a mortgage, do you really want one, in times where housing values are fluctuating up and down like a roller-coaster ride? It’s like playing Russian Roulette with a fully loaded revolver!

So, I ask you;

Are ISBUs really an answer? Really?


Raindrops keep falling on my head


Dear “Soaking wet”,

Bill Gates (like him or hate him, he’s a smart guy) once said:

“Is the rich world aware of how four billion of the six billion live? If we were aware, we would want to help out, we’d want to get involved.”

America USED to be part of that “Rich World”.

But now… we (those “empty suits” in DC) can’t even seem to agree on a balanced budget (or even a debt ceiling) as America slips farther and farther into a debt picture that will chain our children and grandchildren for generations, while the “powers that be finger-point and saber-rattle” until the next elections.

Am I a bit jaded? Yes.

Look, it’s not the “rich” that will suffer. It’s the middle and lower class Americans who will bear the brunt of this economic calamity. At some point, the dam will burst and we’re all going to drown… in a sea of debt.

Face it, I’m sad to have to say that America is becoming a “second rate” nation. And we can’t blame anyone but ourselves.  And as that hole gets deeper, we as FAMILIES have to start thinking about ways to fill it back in, before it’s so deep that we can’t climb out.

One of the most important issues for a family is SUSTAINABLE SHELTER.

ISBUs, just like ANY alternative housing solution, are dependent on many things. Here are just a few of the things you must consider;

You need;

  • Good solid design
  • “Sustainability” programmed in from day one
  • Reasonable materials costs
  • Possession of the skillsets required to execute the designs successfully
  • The ability to adapt to the sustainable lifestyle that these homes will foster
  • The drive and dedication to complete the tasks successfully that will lead you to your goal.

But, back to singing the praises of ISBUs;

The strength of the ISBU is in it’s CORTEN STEEL shell and it’s ability to be used as a building block…

…a building “module”. It’s just a steel building block, like those Legos that you kids play with.

It’s weakness is in it’s requirement for a high performance insulation system to shelter it from heat gain and heat loss.

It’s METAL. Without insulation, it’s just like that oven you have in your kitchen.

That insulation program gets expensive, depending on the direction that you go.

Anyone that reads this blog (or my books) knows that I like SPF (Closed Cell Spray Foam) or Rigid PolyIso insulation boards.

These types of insulation don’t rot, settle, decay or degrade like other common kinds of insulation do. You don’t need to be a “rocket scientist” to install them. In fact, it’s a pretty fast operation to insulate a container using these materials.

And once you put them into place, they stay there, working diligently…

… well, I’m hearing “Until He-double ‘L’ Freezes Over”… in the back of my head…

… but you won’t care, because your family will still be warm and comfortable.

While both of these foam insulation types perform terrifically, admittedly neither option is “cheap”.

You will have to “pay the piper” and then sit back as the insulation pays itself off in energy savings over time. This is called ROI (return on investment).

Say it with me:

R-O-I is G-O-O-D.


That’s why all those schemes to “house the world’s poor” using a single ISBU Container won’t work. You simply can’t make a single High Cube Container cost-effective enough to house enough people  (unless you build GROUP homes using multiple containers).

For example – You don’t use one 20′ box (framed out and insulated on the inside) and expect it to house an entire  family – longterm.

No matter what you do to it, it’s just going to be “an expensive closet”.

By the time you acquire the ISBU container, transport it to the site, drop it onto your prepared foundation,  replace the existing flooring, frame and insulate it, and then provide electrical wiring and plumbing – you have no budget left to actually turn it into someone’s HOME.

On a “Cost per square foot” basis, it just doesn’t make any sense.

Sure, if you have $10,000 a pop to throw at these “homes”, you could do it. But who will pay for them?

CERTAINLY Not the future inhabitants! You might as well make that price tag a million dollars. It’s beyond the reach of most of these families.

We found that out the hard way, in Haiti.

And beyond expensive… it’s time consuming, it requires a “well-funded factory” (complete with tools, inventory, supply chains and logistical support – not to mention trained workers) and more importantly, it’s just folly, plain and simple.

The only way “that” type of program will work is if you establish additional community structures that house “common” kitchens, bathrooms, showers and laundry areas, to be shared by an entire villages inhabitants.

NOW you have something that is scalable, robust and easy to replicate. You can use the single ISBUs as secure SLEEPING and family areas without the requirement for dedicated bathroom or cooking spaces.

And, it’ll work cost-effectively when amortized out among the entire population.

Plus, it promotes social interaction and exchanges between the villagers, further bonding them together.

This model is already being used globally. Why reinvent the wheel?

But what if you really DO want a “stand-alone” solution?

Here at RR we’re working on a series of low-cost HYBRID homes that combine alternative building principles in their construction.

The idea is that you draw the strengths from your components while negating their weaknesses, by combining them with other elements that “fill that gap”.

The Corganix Home uses a solid steel ISBU core, to provide a “spine” to build off of, using earthbags and SIPs.

We’ve been talking about “The Corganix Project” for over a year now.

It’s been a long, hard struggle to make all the pieces fit together.

And, I can tell you that some of the biggest experts in Alternative housing and Alternative Home Systems are involved in it’s development.

We're pushing "Alternative Housing" to the NEXT level!

What guys? Well… guys like Dr. Owen Geiger – who in my view (a view harbored by many others, I might add…) is “THE Earthbag Genius”.

About Corganix, Owen says:

“Outstanding design. The concept of combining earthbags and containers is a great idea. Hybrid designs like this that incorporate various ideas are often the most appropriate. And like I mentioned to you before, there’s no wasted space in this design, everything works perfectly.”

[Just to be clear, this is Alex’s design. He’s just been bouncing ideas off me.]

Editor’s Note: Just to be CLEARER – Without Owen Geiger’s help, this hybrid home would NOT be achievable. The man is the Earthbag GAWD – and only with his assistance and shared wisdom is this even possible.

This ISBU CORE contains the bathroom, the kitchen, a dining area (and even a ‘hidden’ double bed).

Yes, you could actually eat and sleep (and “other” stuff) in it, from day one. Shsssssh! It’s a secret!

And, yes… sleeping in it during construction would violate most U.S. Building Codes to do so, but… 😉

Shipped with it are palletized poly bags (and even some of the basic earthbag tools that you’ll need) that will be filled with soil to create additional space AROUND the ISBU. And, we’ll even include rebar so that you can fortify those earthen walls that you create, further.

Think of it as “a monster of a weather resistant home in a kit”. And you USE “the box”  it’s shipped to you in, as part of your home construction.

The ISBU CORE will be shipped to you from an established RMF – a Regional Manufacturing Facility. We already have facilities in:

  1. the Pacific Northwest,
  2. the Midwest and,
  3. the East Coast…

… lined up.  We’re in negotiations with a Texas facility now, to handle the “Dirty – Dirty…” 😉

(Hey, it’s what they call the South now… I didn’t make it up…) 😉

Once your “premanufactured” ISBU CORE arrives, you just do the “Christmas Came early – Happy Dance” and then simply drop that box onto your prepared foundation and make your connections to power and water.

People scream about a large chunk of their building budget being spent on “big ticket” guys like plumbers and electricians. Well…

Your plumber and electrician are going to be there for about an hour. MAX. Then, wave bye-bye to them as they get into their trucks. Once they’ve made the initial hook-ups, they’re no longer needed, at this stage. It’s ALL in the box.

Then, day by day, you start filling and stacking earthbags on both sides to form larger rooms. If you’re smart enough to add some of that rebar to your earthbag wall system, you end up with a steel reinforced wall that will thumb it’s nose at Mother Nature, every chance it gets.

(Will it be “hurricane PROOF?” NO. Anyone who says they are building “Hurricane Proof” housing is probably lying to you. BUT, I can tell you that this home will be FAR more “weather resistant” than the “stick or brick” home you’re probably sitting in now.)

And, it’ll go up fast.

With a couple of helpers (within about a week!) you can SEE the difference all that sweat and blood made, as your home starts to materialize, almost organically. A competent team can “grow” a wall segment a day, easy.

Hence the name; “CORGANIX”  — CORE – Organics… Get it? 🙂

Top those earthbags with an easy to construct concrete bond beam, and…

Once your walls are in place, you add the roof.

NOTE: You’re also going to add hurricane straps to further anchor that new roof to your walls. Easy-peasy!

And much like the roof systems I put on ISBU homes, (if I have anything to say about it) you’re going to use SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels).

A Structural Insulated Panel (SIP) is just an “insulation sandwich”. It’s a panel construction system consisting of foam (there are three basic types) insulation that gets laminated between sheets of structural sheathing – usually OSB (Oriented Strand Board).

Each SIP panel connects to the next, usually using wood splines, to create strong, durable, quickly erected roof systems. And, better still, it does it with common tools and common sense.

This “foam sandwich” panel forms a simple and amazingly strong insulated panel for building roofs, walls and floors for ISBU homes or even (gasp!) ISBU commercial buildings.

The strength of the SIP is in it’s ability to provide a fast, high-performance roof with very little labor involved. Depending on the roof profile, you won’t even need trusses or rafters, as the roof will carry itself.

A couple of guys can lift the average SIP panel and put it into position all by themselves.

Translation: You can roof a home like this in ONE DAY, easily.

Apply a durable roof surface over a waterproof membrane and you have a roof that will last for decades without any additional “honey-do” labor required.

Can you say SSMR (Standing Seam Metal Roofing)?

Combine SIPs with SSMR and you get an almost “bullet-proof” roof system that will go up fast and last for years. And, you can get almost any color you want! You don’t even have to paint it! 🙂

Um… before you ask – No, it WON’T clean out the gutters for you. You’ll still have to do that yourself. 😉

Is there another, less expensive way to build a sturdy, weather resistant roof system?


And if you follow this series, we’ll show you how to do it.

We already know that insulating ISBUs gets expensive. SO what if we reduce the area that requires insulation, by surrounding that box with something else?

Those  earthbag walls are simply going to create SPACE. Connected to the steel ISBU (and all it’s pre-existing electrical and plumbing) those Earth WALLS will insulate the structure for you.

And this solution is cheap! All it costs you is “SOIL and Sweat”…

(… and a few relatives and neighbors that you “suckered into toting that barge and lifting that bale”… no offense intended – with a reward of a cool beverage and some great BBQ at the end of the day!)

But… is all this REALLY affordable?

Yes. You can build a 500+ square foot Corganix home of your own – complete and ready to move into…

… for less than the average price of that car parked in your driveway.

That’s right… less than about $25,000 USD…

… in MOST parts of the US – providing that you use the “Three R’s” (Recycle, Repurpose and Reuse) and do a lot of the work yourself.

So, I urge you to think about making a list of the spaces you NEED and then I want you to measure them against a list of what you WANT. You may find that one list influences the other.

Then, start learning about HOW these homes work.

Because if you don’t understand it… you probably can’t build it. Capish?

A good start is Owen’s GREAT book on building earthbag walls.

Click the book!

To learn more about ISBU Housing you can get a copy of my book “Introduction to Container Homes and Buildings” (Just click the blue book in the upper right sidebar), email me or stay tuned.

And watch out for my NEW book – The Nuts and Bolts of ISBU Buildings“... It’s coming SOON!

Somebody said:

“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”

Apparently, we ALL need to lead.

Who said it? Bill Gates.

Not so crazy, huh?

’till next time…

Image Credits: Money – Uncle Sam via Google Images

ISBU Pile – Google Images

Earthbag Building Guide – via Earthbag Building

One Response to “I’m “Growing” a HOME…”

  1. Urbivalist Dan August 6, 2011 at 9:20 am #

    Incredible. Keep up the great work! I hasten the day of corganix to arrive!

Comments are closed.