ISBU Homes are OK!

2 Sep

If you’re a regular of the blog, you know that I live on the Idaho/Montana line.

You can actually see where I live on National TV News, as the border is on fire (again) and thousands of acres are literally going up in smoke.

Man, fire is really kicking our butts up here. Colorado gets turned into an inferno and then we get our turn to practice our “Smokey the Bear” dances…

While that’s happening, we’re still tasking, getting ISBUs converted to housing modules and industrial labs spaces.

We’re still sending hay to Colorado to help fire stricken families feed livestock as they face the futures sifted from the ash.

Those families will rise up like the Phoenix, turning that ash into hope and promise. All we’re really doing is helping to keep their livestock happy while their owners rebuild their dreams.

It’s been a slow, arduous process, but we’re making headway.

That said, I’m gonna reach into the mailbag…

(Frankly, I’m not getting enough sleep to write any snappy posts right now… please bear with me…)

Dear Ronin,

I know you’ve been busy. We’ve followed your exploits this year as you save “family and farm”, reaching across borders like they were kitchen tables. Kudos!

We even saw you on TV! Man, that camera really adds a few pounds, huh? 😉

(Editor’s note: Everybody is a wiseguy lately…) 😉

As we follow your blog, we’re getting more and more excited about the idea of actually building a “Corten Castle” in the boonies.

It’s time to get the kids out in the woods, to someplace where they can evolve without peer pressure.

But, we’re not really excited about building something “microscopic”. We have 4 kids, ranging from 5-15 – 2 girls and 2 boys.

A lot of the people talking about using shipping containers are building little tiny cabins. It’s just not what we have in mind.

We need spaces to allow us to multi-task – including home schooling our kids.

What we’d like to do is build a medium sized 4+ bdrm house on a piece of property we already own. We’d like to build the house on a slab foundation. The property (5.5 acres) has a well already and is scheduled for a septic system later this year (late October).

Our “new” house doesn’t have to scream “Architectural Digest” or even “Sunset House”, but it has to be nice enough for us to transition into as we prepare to move into the country… much as you have done yourself.

Do you have a favorite ISBU plan that allows a small family to grow – that is affordable to build, in both time and cash?

Here’s the “hard bits”;

We could raise about $100.000 (if we had to ) for the construction budget. However…

My dad is a “Concrete Guy” and he’s offered to gift us the foundation and slab if we help with the forming and the pour.

Everyone around here can weld and use a plasma cutter. So, we should be able to fabricate openings and build trusses without having to call an ambulance.

My brother-in-law is an electrician. My sister is a plumber. So, we have the trades handled.

I worked my way through college framing, so I can use a hammer without having to dial 911. We’ll “Sweat Equity” as much as possible and we have relatives in the trades that can lend a hand.

Can we build a nice ISBU Home within our budget?

Help us, Obiewan… you’re our only hope…


Containerless Family in TX


Dear “CF”,

Yeah, we’ve been pretty busy around here.

I’m currently packing up to make a move to a new house and trying to keep everything going the way it needs to, before winter bites us on the butt. While that happens, ash is falling like Mt. St. Helen’s went off again. This fire season has been merciless…

Where we once saw sunny skies, we now see smoke that feels like it will never end. We actually pray for high winds, daily.

MANY families are opting to move out of the suburbs and into rural areas, to creates homes and “spaces sustainable”.

I personally think that it’s really important to start looking forward realistically and building plans to help deal with whatever comes… be it the economic crisis some think is pending, unemployment, or even inflation.

It’s possible to take more control of your lives, by insuring that you have what you need. That means “Strong Shelter“, Photovoltaic panels to produce power, a secure water source and a garden to insure that you don’t get scurvy! 🙂

The more hedges you have against crisis (be it man-made or Mother Nature) the more ability you have to help your neighbors as things get hard.

Beyond that, you get a chance to instill in your kids a sense of integrity, work ethics, and sustainability. They’ll be equipped to deal with whatever comes.

It’s about time, if you ask me. We spoonfeed our children fairy tales and MTV. Have you watched any of that stuff lately?

  • Cinderella snuck out and stayed out – after midnight, running around getting into trouble.
  • Pinocchio was a big fat liar.
  • Aladdin was a scheming thief.
  • Snow White co-habitated with a house full of men (okay, they were dwarves).
  • Pac Man lived on drugs – by eating performance altering pills.
  • Batman can’t seem to keep his speedometer under 200 miles an hour.
  • And don’t even get me started on MTV…

Man… kids have it hard…

Okay, I’ll get off the pedestal. Let’s talk about ISBUs;

On page 60 of my book {Introduction to  Container Homes and Buildings) I show readers a plan that uses a pair of 48′ High Cube boxes to create a home for a family of six, much like you describe.

It’s a large home that uses reclaimed space between the boxes to create the common areas – Kitchen, Dining Room, Home School Zone and Living Room.

A clerestory roof over that “Great Room” allows light to “drop in” from above, keeping the house airy and bright. It also allows for great ventilation.

Here’s what it looks like;

Look at the spaces that offsetting those ISBUs creates.

By setting ISBUs apart, you reclaim the spaces between for the cost of concrete. This is great for you, since you have a “Concrete Guy” in your family ready to help out.

You have plenty of multi-taskable area to take care of “family business” without feeling like you’re pressed into a “tiny house”.

(Look, personally, I think that “Tiny Houses” are cool – I admit “discipleship in the Church of Michael Janzen” – but admittedly the beautiful little homes he inspires and creates are NOT for everyone.)

Before you ask, I’d do it as a “Saltbox” style home. You get great “shed” for snow and water (increasing your ability to rainwater harvest) and you get a nice front roof to use as a “Panel Farm” for your photovoltaic panels that will provide your power. Additionally, those clerestory windows will provide great “toplighting”  to your family areas even in the dreariest of winters.

THIS is what a “saltbox” looks like;

It’s important in smaller homes to create large spaces so that you don’t feel “hemmed in by walls”. The large “Great Room” is spacious and “feels” larger than it actually is.  

SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels) will form the roof system without a requirement for trusses – with proper planning and design. The savings on traditional trusses will help offset the price of the insulated panels that form the roof. Additionally, SIPs “spline” together, making the installation fast and efficient.

Again – I’d definitely go “Clerestory roof”. The idea is to suck light from outside into the center cavity of your home, without making sacrifices.

Clerestory Ceilings add volume and really open the space up.

Standing Seam Metal Roofing (SSMR) goes over those SIPs. Now you have a “fast-built” and extremely efficient roof system that requires little to no maintenance for years.

This plan has everything you asked for – and more… including a home office that could easily become a craft room or additional (perhaps GUEST) bedroom.

Admittedly, we didn’t go (2) bathrooms, as some people might.

The reason we didn’t add an additional bathroom is due to the fact that bathrooms are expensive to build and require more  maintenance. Most of my families are on really tight budgets and that means that extra bathroom is a “luxury” and not a necessity.

I know, I know… I can hear you groaning… but many families are willing to make sacrifices, to gain additional living space with less maintenance requirements.

If your mileage varies, that office can indeed become an additional bathroom.

The U-Shaped kitchen provides ample space for everything from cooking to canning, and the dining booth and home school area could even be utilized as additional prep space for large tasks.

If it was ME –  I’d build in as much furniture as I could. In my view – Frank Lloyd Wright was absolutely correct. Build it in… and they can’t break it… 🙂

I’m a big fan of built-ins as they maximize storage (by using the pedestals underneath), minimize maintenance and are QUITE affordable, once you think them through. Plus, all you do later to “change things up” is change the coverings on the cushions and the accent pillows.

All that said…

IF you did a LOT of the work yourself, enlisted volunteers to help in areas that you couldn’t tackle by yourself, recycled and repurposed building materials and kept a close tab on your cash, you COULD build this home for pretty close to your budget.

It WILL require careful thought and “proper planning”, but it’s do-able.

And, if you need help with the paperwork, I know the guy who designed this plan… <wink!>