Dueling with Hamilton…

26 Mar

Over the last few months, we’ve talked about many ways to integrate an ISBU into your housing plans.

Sure, you can build a pretty nice house entirely out of ISBUs…

  • You can remodel your exiting home by adding ISBUs to it – like a big Master bath suite or even a gourmet kitchen!
  • You can build a guest house, a workshop or even (gasp!) a “Mother-In-Law” quarters out of ISBUs in your backyard.

Seeing a pattern here?

I’m a died in the wool “purist” where ISBUs are concerned. I believe that if you’re going to go ISBU, then you should go all the way…

Wait! NO I don’t!

Look, the POINT of using ANY hybrid or alternative materials is to get the very best out of each component, while using all of your planning and design skills to make everything work together to form something far more substantial than the sum of it’s parts.

You want to evaluate each material for the following things;

  • Strength,
  • Structural Integrity,
  • Sustainability, and most of all…
  • Affordability.

Enter “Earthbag/ISBU Hybrids”.

Okay, I listed “Earthbags” first… I did it alphabetically. If I didn’t… my pals on the “dirt side” of the alt building world would probably set burning paper bags fulla dog poop on my porch. That “Geiger” hombre is a crafty fellow. And you’ve gotta watch those earthbag characters… they  ain’t exactly beneath that kinda rowdy behavior. LOL!

So… while I took the long drive to play with steel up here in the mountains…

(Actually, truth be told, I’ve been thinking about this for a while…)

I started thinking about other ways to build a really strong, really affordable, really efficient home, using basic hand tools… and YOUR HANDS.

I’m in an area where an earthbag home just lends itself to the environment. I mean, there’s dirt everywhere! 🙂

Actually, truth be told, I’ve never seen dirt this fertile and rich before. You can grow just about anything here (that will grow in this zone), with very little difficulty.

As we toil with stripping out ISBUs (removing the pesticide ridden flooring for replacement and then sandblasting off all the lead based anti-fouling paint on the exterior) for conversion into Oil/Gas “Field Laboratories”, I’m really getting hammered by families caught in the “ISBU Entrepreneurial Boom” that seems to be plaguing the nation.

Note that when I started writing RR, you could buy good quality 40′ High Cube containers for $900, all day long.

NOW… between Cable TV hype and participation by “everyone and his brother”… ISBU prices have risen to almost a hundred dollars a foot.

So, many of my families are looking for an alternative to plunking down all that cash – just to get the boxes.

Families still want to USE ISBUs, they just want to find a way to do it that is more affordable.

And there is. We’ve all heard about people who swear that they built their home for $10 a square foot. Sure, it sounds farfetched, and pretty primitive.

And I’ve been caught thinking that they really have to struggle to keep things within that $10 bucks a foot.

But frankly, I’ve actually SEEN examples of “Hamilton Homes” (note that this phrase is now “copywritten and trademarked”)…

… that really make you think about pushing the boundaries of housing. I’m talking homes with integrity, strength and STYLE. I’m talking about homes with receipts and wheel-barrows full of recycled stuff to maintain that “Hamilton Hula”.

(Or “Hamilton Hootenanny” – depending on where your boots land…)

But don’t be inviting me to no luaus. I’m not gonna eat roast pig. Nope. Not gonna do it! 🙂

$10 a foot using earthbags is indeed “doable” and it’s pretty cool.

Really. But some of us (or our significant others) want a little bit more than earth and $10 a foot will provide.

Enter – The Core.I’ve shown you this before, and I’ll show it to you over and over again…

I will. I promise! 🙂

In fact, I’m going to blast your senses with this until  you can see it in your sleep.

Think about it…

Take ONE 20′ High Cube box and then convert it into a “mini services module”. It’s easy to build in stuff like a really nice full sized Kitchen, a laundry closet, a full bathroom and even a Shower room.

This 20′ ISBU module is SO SMALL that you can literally build it in your backyard or even inside a two car garage (providing you can get it into the garage in the first place). Remember that a high cube container is 9’6″ tall. Factor in the height of the trailer deck and you’re pushing most standard garage doors for clearance. A tall garage door is quite handy  in this regard.)

This unit is so light that you can haul it on a car trailer (provided that you can squeeze it between the fenders) and then trailered to site behind a big pickup truck.

Drop this on some footings in the middle of a building site and you can EASILY build a nice home around it, using earthbags, straw bales, CEB blocks (manufactured on site out of compressed earth), or what have you.

Now, you’re spending sweat equity. Sure, after the first few weekends, your recruited relatives will stop showing up to help, but hey, an earthbag home has many more advantages… than that! 🙂

The ground where I’m standing is covered in snow… and it’s frozen beneath. That gives us some time to plan and start stockpiling things like bags to actually put the earth in. It also gives us time to actually build the CORE unit, inside our prototyping barns.

As Spring approaches, we’re actually going to construct a quartet of Corganics Hybrid Homes, both as residences and university architectural projects.  A single CORE unit will be placed in the center of a prepared site and then we’ll build an earthbag home AROUND it. Or, you can even build a much simpler ISBU central (CORE) section to build that cabin or vacation home. The possibilities are endless.

It’s really quite simple to build that “Hamilton Hideaway” in the woods… . It can look like this:

Next time we’ll talk about other ways to deploy a central ISBU, using earthbags to build your hybrid home.

In the meantime I’ll be bolstering my local defenses against more “errant paper bags smoldering on porches”…

Stay tuned!

  Image Credit: Puzzle Hamilton – Yay.com


5 Responses to “Dueling with Hamilton…”

  1. r3newed March 26, 2012 at 11:08 am #

    Interesting point. Have you ever considered alternatives to concrete for the foundation, such as hempcrete? (Maybe it was your blog that I first read about this?) Last I heard, this mixture had to be imported, so the transportation fees can add up. I do not profess to be an expert on the use of this material, but I think it would work well in conjuntion with other materials that you have presented. You can read more about it at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hempcrete

    • Renaissance Ronin March 26, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

      We HAVE indeed talked about Hempcrete (and other concrete derivatives as well). If you choose to use concrete at all, there are indeed fiber based alternatives to the traditional concrete pours that work very effectively. The problem with these “alternative concretes” is that they aren’t always available to our families, due to location, economics, etc… So, we strive to “teach the basics” and then… you get to “bring on the coolness” with alternative materials!

      What we want is for you to have a strong, energy efficient home that doesn’t put a chain around your neck for 30 years financially. If you can build it yourself (with some professional input/help) all the better!

      At the end of the day, EVERY family deserves a strong, safe home that actually works WITH you to help protect your family.

      This is the most prosperous, most advanced country in the world, in spite of the current economic hardships that American Families are currently suffering. There’s no excuse for some of the hardships we’re seeing… except greed.

      We’re trying to tear down that wall… while we build new ones… out of steel (and sometimes even EARTH!).

  2. lala412 March 26, 2012 at 1:32 pm #

    I love earthbag houses – have wanted a zero energy four since I saw the plan last fall. I started looking at ISBUs recently because I finally realized that once I buy land, I am going to need something I can move in to more quickly – I’m single and not likely to get a lot of help on an earthbag build. I love this idea, though! The core is a really great idea if you don’t have to build in stages. At one time I thought of building a big steel building for my art studio, and that would have been great sitting back towards the back where my living quarters would have been. My current plan, however, is to have a 40′ ISBU with the bathroom and kitchen at one end (so the water is all in one area), a huge closet (which can be a pantry when it is later turned in to just a kitchen) at the other end, and space for a bed, chair, and small table in between. I can use that one in between work assignments until I can afford to buy more (I plan for four altogether, in a square with a 32×32 space in between for my art studio and a roof over the whole thing, and lots of windows towards the middle but not a lot towards the outside). I’ll buy them one at a time as I save money, though I’ll have to do the roof at the same time I do the fourth one to avoid any flooding issues. And of course the concrete slab will have to be the very first thing. I’m thinking of going ahead and having it be colored cement, maybe with a pattern in the middle, since that will be an actual floor. depends on cost.

    I love both your blog and Mr. Geiger’s – I’ve gotten amazing ideas! I’m going to have a Nature’s Head composting toilet so I don’t have to worry about a black tank, just grey, and I bought your book Saturday so I know what kind of roof I want to make it easier for solar panels (SunSnap by Sharp, I think, unless I find better). By having the bathroom and kitchen in one unit I’ve figured out that, except for replacing flooring and painting (and the window/door issues), I won’t have to do much work to the other three except build walls for closets in two of them, and grow beds in one. I’m not even sure the greenhouse really needs electricity, except I suppose it will need heat and AC…

    I will definitely be asking you to consult on my project when the time comes! Right now I am a year away from getting my debt paid off (mainly my car) and then I will start saving for the land. Then the slab, which will be expensive since it will be 50×56 (to allow for positioning errors and to give me a 6′ “porch” in front) plus the color/pattern. Then the first container, which will be the most expensive because, I confess, I am NOT skimping on the bathroom… LOL. I’d rather skimp on the kitchen! I will try to find glass block used if I can, but I want a big walk-in shower. And all the doors in the entire thing I want to be 36″ – just in case.

    Okay, sorry such a long comment. I’m just excited about all of this. Maybe when the time comes I *will* be able to incorporate earthbags – after all, the idea of cooling an ISBU in Texas doesn’t thrill me. That’s a lot of solar panels. 🙂

    • Renaissance Ronin March 26, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

      Hi Laura,

      It sounds like you have a cool project ahead of you!

      First, we’ve done single ISBU homes very much like you describe, but I have to admit we do a few “Corten Cool” things no-one else does. Keep us posted on your progress, and we’ll see what we can do to get you “out and away” from those guys who don’t really understand the materials!

      When it comes to earth, there isn’t ANYONE better than Owen Geiger.

      Owen is the “Dr. Frankenstein” of earthbag construction. Some of his builds are “monsterously cool”. It’s why I spend so much time watching what he does. Think about it… if you want the best outcome, you watch the best work. After all, you don’t go buy Prime Rib at McDonalds… right? LOL!

      Here’s a tip:

      Start your pre-design process as soon as you can. Trust me when I tell you that more time is better. It gives you a LOT of opportunity to research and make changes to finesse your plans, before you start having to pay for “revisions” or “change orders”.

      And… IF you build your ISBU home properly (read – “if you do it the RR way”), it will be MORE energy efficient than most of the homes near you… thus LESS energy will be required to heat and cool it… not more. Heating and cooling will be the least of your worries… 😉

      The money you’re going to save on solar panels will help pay for your build. 🙂

  3. Amanda J. April 29, 2012 at 11:17 am #

    Hi there,

    Just stumbled across your blog today, typical as I’m supposed to be getting ready to go out lol. I will start reading more in-depth on my return! I’m in Ireland, and with small means, have decided to build a home for myself and my kids out of 40ft containers. I’ve only recently arrived at this decision, so now I’m on the hunt for people in Ireland who know what they’re doing when it comes to this. Can your recommend anyone? Obviously I can buy the containers themselves for very little, but for the cutting and fitting and more importantly insulating etc., I am still non-the-wiser. You really seem to know your stuff from what I have read so far and may well uncover answers as I look deeper. Anyway, the very best of luck with your projects, as I progress with mine I’ll let you know!

    The very best of luck with it all!!

    Amanda 🙂

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