ISBU Homebuilding – an Armageddon Artform for the Locally Insane?

23 May

I get a lot of mail from people who wonder if it’s really possible to live in a steel box.

The concerns range from “life in a flimsy refrigerator shell” to “exposure to the elements in a recycled beer can”.

After doing this for years (I’m talking like… three decades plus), I have to laugh about the fact that there are still people on the planet who think that ISBU construction is still some kind of “Armageddon Artform for the Locally Insane”.

I’m thinking about the devastation of the recent tornadoes in the American Midwest.  In fact, as the Corten Cavalry scrambles to provide aid to those who need it, I can’t STOP thinking about it.  I’ve lived through earthquakes and hurricanes in ISBU homes, personally. While I’ve never experienced a tornado while sitting in an ISBU, I have to think that my odds would be much better than those families who literally watched their homes burst into shrapnel as the winds tore them apart. Weld a solid steel box to a foundation set firmly into the ground and you have far less “shrapnel” to lose. Your home might get bent or even buckle, but it’s NOT going to “blow apart” nearly as easily as the stick houses (or even brick/stone homes) that will surround you.  That means you have a better chance at survival in those situations where you literally have no warming before something terrible happens.

To make this premise work, to argue that steel boxes are better… first you have to look at what you’re starting with. If you’re building with ISBUs, I’m talking about that big metal box in your yard.

I’ve personally been to the plants in China that build these boxes. It’s really something to behold. You’d be amazed at just how fast these big containers pop out the other end of their facility. It literally takes less than a day to build a box in some of the factories that produce them.

Usually, it’s quite difficult to get permission to film video inside a  Chinese shipping container production plant.

I was sent this video link by a member of the Canadian Gov’t, as we began discussions about building them ISBU  facilities on the Canadian side of the Bakken…

It’s very interesting.

Rather than just describe HOW a shipping container is constructed, I thought that I’d show you;

Okay, first, these are “commissioned” boxes. They’re being built for a client for a specific purpose. There are some subtle differences between these and “regular” containers.  However, the process is very similar to the one that spawns the sea-going brothers and sisters of these boxes we see stacked up in shipping ports across America and beyond.

Look at the assembly line process they employ.

Pay close attention to how the flooring goes in. Watch as they use those guns to screw the floors down. It’s THAT gun that has become the bitter enemy of ISBU folks everywhere. Installing the flooring with that tool strips out the head of the screws a large majority of the time! Grrrrrr!

Note that you have to remove that flooring the same way it went in, after you drill out all those damaged screws.

Remember that standard ISBU flooring is laden with really nasty chemicals. In order to live in that box, you have to replace that floor. You can’t cover it up with carpet, tile or linoleum, or encapsulate it with some “miracle sealer”.

Folks, I’ve been doing this for over thirty years. There are no short-cuts. Do the work, or die in the box. Your choice.

Resist the urge to re-use that flooring material, no matter how good it looks. The only way that I would ever consider reusing it… would be to create another “quarantine storage zone” for some type of long term NON-CONSUMABLE storage. You know, stuff like machined parts or tools. And I’d still hesitate to do it. You’d have to guarantee me that it would be a “low traffic zone” and that you’d restrict kids, pets and pregnant women from entering that area.

And if I found out that you lied to me? Well, I’d probably kick your butt. Seriously. This flooring is nothing to fool with.

Moving on;

Watch as they install the roof panels. See how they bow and flex when they pick those big sheet assemblies up to place them on the top of that “box in progress”? That’s what that roof section will do if you get on top of that box and stand on it. It’s NOT structural unless you reinforce it.

Here at RR (and our business op CHC) we actually cut the removed flooring into strips as it comes right out of the container, feed it to a “water sprayed chipper” (to prevent dust and contaminants from getting into the air) and then we conveyor-feed it to a small blast furnace equipped with an air  scrubber, to make steam that produces CLEAN heat and power. The resulting ASH is pulled off into 55 gallon steel barrels to be sealed and then disposed of properly, by guys in suits and respirators. We don’t fool around.

My thanks to the “BigSteelBox” folks for taking the time (and walking through the minefields) to produce this video. It really demonstrates not only their devotion to their work with ISBUs… but just how tough and rugged these boxes are.

Stay tuned.

RR Avatar And please… IF you are able, please reach out to those families in Moore Oklahoma who are suffering the terrible aftermaths of the tornado on May 19th. As these families begin burying their dead, healing their injured  and rebuilding their lives, they’re going to need help. PLEASE… if you can… do something. If all of us do “just a little” it will add up to a LOT.


Alex Klein