Help! I think I’m RIGID!

17 May

We’re out trying to beat ourselves to death (with all the travel, incredibly long hours and almost endless long lists of things that MUST be accomplished as “Spring” roars to life) , so I’m going to take a moment or two over the next few posts to answer question from readers;

One of our readers asks;

Hey Ronin,

I’m building a small cabin on Sonotube pilings out of a pair of 20′ High Cube ISBUs. This is seriously right out of your playbook. We got the idea after reading your book. After consulting with you on the phone, our road to “Corten Cabin-life” was paved!

(Editor’s note; He’s talking about “Introduction to Container Homes and Buildings” and you can find about it in the right-hand sidebar of your screen.)

We’re doing this in the mountains of Wyoming, not terribly far from where you hail from. Would that we could afford to live in the Bitterroots! It’s so beautiful there! We’re envious! 🙂

We need to insulate in a big way. Lots of snow and cold in the winters, which seems to drag on into early summer. I know you can understand this, as you’re  getting “frozen” similarly. We want to insulate on the >OUTSIDE< just like you teach, and we’ll cover it with a siding product that looks amazingly like a log home after it’s applied.

Like you suggested, we’re using SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels) to construct our Gable Roof.

Boy, were the SIPs expensive! I know that the lack of support trusses and the ease of installation will help pay them down, but I had to sleep on the couch for a week after that argument with the Mrs… 😦

In the rest of the cabin, we want to use SPF (Spray Foam Insulation), we really do, but it’s just not in our budget. They want over a $1 a square foot, in 1 inch thicknesses. We figure that we need at least 3″ of closed cell foam in the walls and over double that in the floor.

The insulation contractor told us that he’d “give us a deal” and then he quoted us $4,300.00 if we paid him in cash. I nearly fell down.  My wife uttered a curse word and left the room.

(Fir the record – that SPF quote included 3″ in the walls and 8″ in the floor.)

I’m glad that we’d already purchased the containers and the SIPs, or we wouldn’t be building this cabin now. My wife is pretty hacked off.

(Boy, were the SIPs expensive! I know that the lack of trusses and the ease of installation will help pay them down, but I had to sleep on the couch for a week after that argument with the Mrs…) 😦

We want to heat the cabin with a small woodstove very efficiently.  So, insulation and glazing are really important.

Help us, oh “Sage of Steel”! We need help, before winter reappears!


Frozen in Frostbite Falls, Wyoming


Dear “Frostbitten”,

First, love the Rocky and Bullwinkle reference! I thought of Boris and Natasha immediately. 🙂

boris and natasha

(When reading this out loud at home, my 5 year old son yelled out “Better Frostbit than SNAKE bit!” as he raced giggling out of my room…)

Second, in a cold climate, a high performance building is REALLY important, especially when you’re dependent on cordwood for heating.

SIPs really are the best way to go, in my opinion, when building a roof. When SIPs are topped with Standing Seam Metal Roofing (SSMR) it’s a combination that is really hard to beat. And, once installed, you won’t touch that roof again for decades! 🙂

Now, about your insulation dilemma;

Usually, around here when you hear about “spray foam”, people are talking about this;

Firefighters_spray_foamWildfires in these parts make people REALLY nervous. If you follow the blog,  you know that we actually abandoned a house last year as the wildfires in the canyons closed in on us.

But we’re talking about Closed Cell-  Spray Foam insulation. It’s one of our favorite things around here. It’s an insulation that is really high performance and it fills in all the nooks and crannies where moisture and air can leak in and out of your home. It also grants you a vapor barrier a AND a moisture barrier, all at the same time.  It’s just goodness, I tell you what.

But, all that goodness doesn’t come without a price.

It’s true that  SPF is pricey. It can be had for less than you were quoted if you shop hard, but in some locales, there just isn’t any room for bargaining. The insulation guy is probably one of a small handful in your region and he knows that he’s got you over a barrel.

sprayfoam installation
Let’s go back to “the Playbook” (Intro to Container Homes and Buildings).

I PREACH the dogma of recycling, repurposing and reusing. I do it all the time. You know it and I know it, so I won’t preach that sermon again here, except to say this;

I know where you are located and actually, I have not only a plan, but a source for you.

“Run… Do not WALK… to Repurposed Materials in Denver, CO.”

10220 Brighton Rd Unit #7 Henderson, CO 80640

(Technically, it’s just NE Denver. Same same…) 😉

Here’s their telephone number so you can call for directions. 303-321-1471

I DO like these guys (with this caveat); “These guys don’t always have the greatest stuff, or even the best prices, but this time… they have you covered… literally.”

They are within easy striking distance of your cabin. They currently have “bunks” (in 12 sheet quantities equaling 384 square feet of coverage) of reclaimed 3.5″ and 4″ Polyiso (ISO) foam sheeting for sale. My understanding is that the rigid insulation is coming out of a Casino Remodel in Las Vegas.”

You want the ISO boards. PolyIso is the best Rigid Insulation you can buy, as far as performance goes. You’re  going to see r-values of r6 to r6.8 per inch, easy. You need “high performance”. So, it’s ISO that you need. And you need several inches of it on your walls and double that in the floor.


A lot of this rigid insulation will have a foil side, to allow the creation of a radiant barrier.

We find a lot of this material on Craigslist and Freecycle, but in this case, it’s a “one stop shopping trip” for your guys.

(Seriously, we find recyclable rigid all the time, for almost nothing in comparison with either buying it new or shooting SPF on your walls.)

The last time I checked, the RM guys in CO had bunks of rigid insulation for sale for under $260 – $300 per bunk. In the 3.5″ thickness ($21.66 per 4×8 sheet), that works out to about $.70 per square foot for an r-value of R21+  and just a bit more for the 4″ sheets. Those 4″ sheets (at $25 a sheet) will get you pretty close to r26 for far less ($.80 per square foot) than you were quoted for SPF from that contractor! And remember that it’s in the FULL thicknesses required.

Once you get it home;

You’re going to apply it using construction adhesive, between furring strips that you apply to the outside of the container. You’ll fill the seams using SPF tubes out of a spray can  type applicator to keep it all tight. You can easily do this yourself  and the sheets are light enough that just about anyone can handle them with ease. That means your “idiot brother in law” (Stop it! We ALL have an “idiot bro in law” or a reasonable facsimile thereof)  can help without complaining that the work is JUST TOO HARD for him… 😉

You can DO this… for about $1200 worth of recycled ISO insulation, a “travel day” and some sweat equity.  You’re going to have some extra sheets, because RM doesn’t sell PolyISO by the sheet. You DO have to purchase the entire bunk.

BUT, you can use that extra insulation somewhere else in your home. I’d use it in partition walls like in the bathroom area, to not only help control heat, but for it’s acoustic properties.

“$1200.00. Done. Finito. Pass me a beer.”

Hmmm… your quotes for  “Contractor Applied – SPF” were  almost 4 times that amount! And you’re being “green” by recycling insulation! Good for YOU!

That’s EVEN better for your wallet!

NOW you can afford high-performance windows! 🙂

(I’ll see if I can find you a good source nearby. Stay tuned for that.)

So go on! Git! That “ISO board bunkage” ain’t gonna be there long!

Happy hunting!

And we just saved you over $3000 on insulation. Go take your wife out to a nice dinner in Denver.

Are you still here? GO. NOW.

Stay tuned,

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