If you build it, they will FALL..

13 Dec

Many of  the regular readers know that “the old man” is suffering from a face to face battle with that cruel trickster – “Shut up! I’m a Superhero”.

“Mr. I can do everything!” worked himself into a state (in this case, Washington via Canada)… while… something inside him (in his chest actually) reminded him that if you work too many hours, you don’t sleep and you don’t eat… you fall down.  Hard.

So, now, “Mr. Smarty Pants” (yes, we CAN call him names. Why? Because we’re HERE… and he’s somewhere else… LOL!)  is currently “confined to quarters”. In fact, we’re positive that he spent at least a few days in bed, trying to recuperate. I know he was in bed all day yesterday (Monday Dec 10th) as  he wouldn’t answer his phone. It’s that little black box that is usually super-glued to his ear as he barks out orders to his troops, usually while driving from site to site in his work-truck.

So, we’re picking up the slack, helping him stay on top of things, so that hopefully he’ll stay on his back… and get some much needed rest.

So, since he’s provided the “theme”… in today’s exciting episode, we’re going to address “falling”.

Picture us reaching for the mailbag… Ah, here it is… our next “victim”… 🙂

(Actually, we chose this one specifically because we’ve gotten this series about 11 times in the last few days. We can only presume that it’s made some Architectural site or Trade magazine…)

Dear Ronin,

I recently saw several photographs of a wonderful little mountain cottage that just begs for us to duplicate it in steel.

We know that you’re a big fan of 20′ ISBUs and one of the reasons is that they’re so “transportable”.

We long for a sustainable, affordable home of our own, set ideally in some remote and peaceful setting. We don’t need a McMansion, we’ve outgrown cleaning from dawn until dusk…

We thought that a design like this would lend itself to duplication in an industrial warehouse…  and then get moved to a mountainous site to be set in place, possibly with cranes. WE have just the place in mind. It’s just begging for a cabin to be perched on it.

So, we thought that we’d share this with you and then ask you if it’s do-able or even affordable using those Corten Steel beauties that you’re always talking about..






This is so cool that we’d really like to take a stab at it. What’s your opinion?

Mountain Bound…


Dear Mountain Bound,

WOW. It’s certainly dramatic, isn’t it?

While at first glance, it seems really compact and potentially “Corten Cool”… it’s really anything but… This isn’t a series of photographs. It’s a series of RENDERS that came off a CAD Station someplace deep in the bowels of “I wish, I wish…”

Let’s address the obvious issues about “mountain building” first;

(The reader attached a site plan of where they’d like this little cabin dropped. It’s a remote site, accessible by a seasonal dirt track that somebody called  a “road”. It’s actually more like a “4wd trail”. We even used Google Maps to look at it in an aerial. Wow. I’m thinking that a motorcycle would have a hard time with sections of it…)

Transporting ISBU components to a remote building site is definitely do-able. We do it all the time in fact. But remember that you have to have several components to make this scenario work;

You need roads capable of supporting the trucks hauling your gear in, hopefully without damaging it. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been asked to survey  a potential building site, only to learn that the road that allowed access was actually something that resembled a goat path.

Then, you have to be able to get a crane in there to set your ISBUs once you get them successfully delivered. (The only other way is  to either set them using bucket tractors OR hire a helicopter of the “sky crane” variety to set your boxes for you.) In your case, you’re going to have to fly them in from “wherever you can get them close”. $$$

Even if you could get those boxes in there somehow on trucks (and we doubt that you could), once you get them offloaded and set in their final positions, you have to get those trucks and heavy equipment back OUT of there. In your case, those trucks would have to back out the way they came in. Miles of switchbacks. Not gonna happen. I can already hear the truckers laughing… “You want me to do WHAT?”

This series of requirements will sometimes negate the use of ISBUs in the first place. In your case? I’m sorry to report that there’s a four word answer for your set of conditions.

“No way, no how.”

So, assuming that your site will meet all of those criteria… and again, your’s  does NOT even come close…

You have to now mate your building with the environment that it’s going to reside in. Here at RR, we believe strongly in co-existing with the land, not “achieving shelter in spite of it”…

We’re not tree-huggers, militant environmentalists, or ecologically minded zealots. We’re just very aware that working WITH Mother Nature is far easier than working against her. We’re “lovers”, not “fighters”… LOL!

Okay, Alex is a “fighter”. It’s in his nature. We suspect that it’s encoded in his DNA. Ever have trouble with a contractor or a sub that get’s ugly? Call Alex. Need someone off your site or out of your face? Call Alex. We heard a Planning and Zoning guy muttering under his breath one time after an encounter with him… something about Alex having missed his calling… he should have been a serial killer…” It’s why, to this day, Alex’s construction helmet (you have to wear a “hard lid” on job sites) doesn’t read “Mr Klein”, or, “Boss” or “Alex” or anything like that… it reads;

“Serial Killer ”  on the front and something unspeakable (unless you want your mouth washed out with soap) on the back.  His welding helmet is even worse… LOL!  

Okay, back to the pretty pictures;

This series of renders does provide some potential, but it’s probably not the potential that we feel you were probably hoping for. While it does make you really think about the way space is used in small abodes, this small cabin isn’t buildable as depicted.

In fact, after having studied it, it’s probably not even drawn by people with a lot of actual “construction” experience.

Alex talks all the time about projects that never get off the whiteboards in the conference room.

THIS is one of those designs. While it looks elegant and even simplistic, it’s anything but.

We don’t see a bathroom. It’s possible that they plan to use a composting toilet that pulls out of the lounge pedestal.

We don’t see a kitchen. It’s possible that they plan a “pull out kitchen system, on casters” from under that lounge area.

But, that would put it right next to that “pull out composting toilet”.  Double Ew…

And, you’d have to be REAL good friends with whoever lived there with you. I doubt most marriages are strong enough for that one… LOL!

Heck, we don’t see any support for that staircase. You COULD execute an “alternate tread” stair design like this out of steel but it’d be a trampoline, I’m telling you now. 🙂

The guys that drew this, couldn’t in our opinions, BUILD this. In fact, nobody could, unless you threw a LOT of money at it…

That means, in our book, that this is a really expensive TENT.

And, that shoots your idea about “sustainable and affordable”… right between the eyes.

And, while stacking ISBUs can provide some really unique and cool spaces. you can’t just eliminate the rails (top OR bottom) to create your building envelope without addressing significant engineering issues. And, that means that at some point you eliminate the reason for using the ISBU in the first place. THIS is one of those times.

It’s the same as when people approach us about burying ISBUs in their backyard;

You CAN bury an ISBU, but unless you engineer the hole it’s going to go into, it’s just a big coffin. By the time you’ve reinforced that hole in the ground, you’re going to find out that you no longer even need the ISBU in the first place.

Anyone (and we do mean ANYONE) who says otherwise is absolutely full of crap.

We’ve personally dug bodies out of shattered ISBUs that were buried in the ground as “bunker/shelters”. It’s no fun. ISBUs aren’t designed to be buried.

And, above ground, it doesn’t change. You still have to live within the rules created by the guys who designed the boxes. If you take those rules to heart and then incorporate them into your design, you can do cool things… and you can stay within prescribed budgets.

If you don’t… if you try to make ISBUs do something that they were not designed to do, you’re going to either;

(a) fail miserably, or

(b) you’re going to ruin your building budget spending money to correct all the conditions that you’ve created.

We could go on and on, but we won’t. In fact, I’m headed for the truck to go look at a site near Bozeman, MT. Another “Can we build WAYYYYYY up there?” kinda site.

Stay tuned.

:The Corten Crew


3 Responses to “If you build it, they will FALL..”

  1. Paul Jordan December 13, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

    Wonderful info again! You guys really are the ‘go to’…’ know how’ crew!

    We are about a year away from deciding on which to do, a Deltec house frame for the winds we get or ___?___ Don’t know. Been looking into wind 3 manufactured home as well.

    We already have 7 ISBU’s for storage, tools and tack room…can you tell I like them lots!

    I joke about making it look like a train with all of them lined up. But we have three in a ‘c’ shaped for down the road cover and shop idea.

    Our solar and wind support system seems to be cleaning us out of $’s for any kind of affordable dwelling! (Already up over 34 thousand!) So we have had time to really make a final decision on a home…….many times! Ha!

    Our location is completely off the grid, not an electrical power source from the grid in sight for many miles.

    Good solid roads and not much in the way of trees, shrubs as it is the high desert.

    I hope all goes well with the recuperation, and there is no sharing going on there! Thanks for the info. Keep up the stories of building, it helps to read about successes and failures!


  2. Charles William Stout December 13, 2012 at 4:55 pm #

    So how do you go about finding an architect that will help you plan and do a pay as you go to build your dream home of living without a mortgage?

    • Renaissance Ronin December 13, 2012 at 8:38 pm #

      You find someone with decades of ISBU experience, someone with a focus on “family builds” and then… you send him an email.

      Let’s see… do we know anyone like that? Hmmm? 🙂

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