Were you born in a barn? ISBU Student Housing gets a new face in the USA…

2 Nov

The use of ISBUs (Shipping Containers) as University Dormitories has been well documented overseas. In places like Denmark and Germany, ISBUs are used regularly to provide housing for students and faculty.

Here in the United States the use of ISBUs as Student Housing is just beginning to take off. Over the last few years, we’ve seen ISBU Student Housing Projects in several American cities as Commercial Real Estate Investors begin exploring the marketplace.

Recently, I spoke with University Administrators to discuss the potential for the creation of “Modular” Dormitories for married couples attending school.

What normally occurs in these situations is that the projects are “Design by Committee” type projects and as a result, nothing is ever accomplished. Politics, in-fighting and squabbling generally derail these projects.

In this case we were pleasantly surprised when the Regents basically gave us “carte blanche” to construct a prototype (to be used in an Agricultural Research Facility located off campus), provided we met their basic criteria and matched the existing structures on the campus site.

Okay, the proposed site is covered in barns and Agricultural outbuildings. So, we’ll do “barn”.

AgriDorm Project - 10x40HQThe units are to be “all-inclusive” 1 BDRM and 1 Bath apartments that will be provided to students with all utilities and services included.

Photovoltaic Power
Solar Hot Water
Radiant In-Floor Heat (Potential)
12.5K BTU Mini-Split AC/Heat units
Basic (Dish based) Cable and Internet

While the Regents want Radiant slabs to provide heat, we’re pushing for the use of Mini-Split AC/Heat units. They’re energy efficient, easy to install and cost effective.

In a project of this size, labor will need to be tightly controlled to insure success. Mini-Splits are far less labor intensive.

Further, to meet budget requirements the prototype units must be constructed using skilled students currently enrolled in the University’s Sustainable Architecture and Construction Technologies programs and they must be built in existing Campus facilities.

Let’s talk about heat and AC for a moment;

We’re huge fans of Mini-Split AC/Heat units. They’re ductless, they’re quiet and they’re energy efficient. An easily sourced 12k system would easily condition and heat an approximately 320 square foot apartment with power to spare.

Combine this heating/cooling unit with high-performance energy efficient windows, SPF (Closed Cell Spray Foam) Insulation (or PolyIso rigid insulation) in a structure topped with a SIP (Structural Insulated Panel) roof and you have a tight, energy efficient envelope that will last for decades without heavy maintenance requirements.

A smart team would clad this high-performance building using durable Hardiplank, virtually insuring the same levels of high performance and low maintenance requirements for many years to come.

(Hmmm… I spec and use so much Hardiplank that James Hardie should be sending me checks!)

A few years back (we were still in the South helping families recover from Hurricane Katrina) CHC (Container Home Consultants)  designed a series of “small footprint” 4-plexes using ISBUs. A few of these were actually constructed and then implemented as “Senior Housing” in Louisiana and Alabama. Another was built by a team in Georgia who needed to create a Woman’s Shelter for women undergoing occupational training. The design works flawlessly.

That design, with a few subtle twists is perfect for this project.

This gives us the ability to not only utilize “Sustainable Architecture” curriculum that we participated in creating, we get the opportunity to mentor students by providing “hands on” training during the build-out processes.

It doesn’t get a lot better than this. It gives us the opportunity to help these young students to “lead by example” as they create the housing that fellow students require.

We’ll actually build these modules in the University facility this winter (in weather-controlled environments) and then truck them to site in the Spring for erection and project completion.

This exact same design could be used in urban areas to create worker housing or even in rural tracts for use as “seasonal labor housing”.

Additionally, since these units are “stackable” (by design), you could go up three or four levels high without difficulty. In today’s marketplace you can imagine the potential for capitalizing on rental profits with projects like this one.

And mark my words that in the future, some kid will look at his/her mom and dad and answer that age old question;

“Hey! Were you born in a barn?”

“Nope, but I was conceived in one!” 🙂

Stay tuned because this is going to be exciting.

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