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Modern Metal Adventure starts HERE!

6 Jun

It’s just madness, I tell you.

Everyone and their brother is starting their ISBU builds.

And that means that between emails, phones, messages and messenger, we’re getting pounded. LOL!

I’m working on a new project that may be of interest to small families or people looking to build a remote cabin  or waterfront getaway.

I was originally contacted by a Development team in Idaho who wants to build a MODERN destination resort in Colorado. Perched in the mountains overlooking lakes and wildlife, they wanted  to expand on a single ISBU cabin idea that they’d seen in Russia. They supplied us a photograph of that 40′ ISBU cabin. We don’t know anything about it’s origins and we’re doing research now to determine who designed and built this first unit. Whoever they are, they provided us with awe and inspiration! As a single ISBU cabin design, it is a wonderful thing to behold.

We’ve taken that idea and run with it. Add another container alongside the first and you get a really nice 16’x40′ 600+ square foot cabin. By insulating on the exterior and flooring (under the crawlspace)  using SPF, installing high efficiency windows and glazing and using SIPs (structural insulated panels) on the roof, you get a highly efficient structure capable of withstanding both high heat and low cold temperatures. BY adding a photovoltaic farm to the roof (as well as rainwater harvesting) these cabins will operate off-grid.Water is supplied via well and the septic is actually above ground, installed in a 20′ ISBU container that will handle four cabins each.

Here’s a rough render of what I think our Colorado project could look like:

We’re at the very beginning of development but here’s what I want you to consider;

This rental cabin could also make a wonderful 2 bdrm home in the mountains or meadows of America. It would be easily accomplished and the  views could be spectacular. Surrounded by a deck system, the cabin would appear to float on the edge of the meadow. I can imagine how wonderful it’d look perched alongside a beachfront area looking out at magnificent sunsets!

Note that  these two containers are carried by three “Sonotube” type pilings and a concrete foundation in the  rear. (In this case there’s a sub-grade storage access area plus a ramp system for the disabled so concrete walls and footings are being used to carry the ISBUs so that they will form the roof of that structure.)

It should be noted that this foundation system is easily “family built”. You can “sweat equity” this  foundation without a hitch at relatively low costs.

Here’s how it’s done;

These pilings are constructed by digging a hole (usually with an auger) and then dropping round construction forms into them that look like the form depicted here.  A “bell” is usually placed on the bottom of these forms to give the piling a better base. These bases come in several shapes  and sizes and you can find them at the same construction supply store you buy your forms from. The bell shaped base snaps on the bottom of the tube (you usually apply screws to hold it into place) and then you insert the “based piling tube” into your hole.  We add rebar to the pilings to reinforce them and you should consult your structural engineer for the specs.

The containers don’t simply “rest” on top of the pilings. We also insert large J-bolts into the top of the piling so that we can add a steel plate to the top of it. This steel plate, attached to the concrete piling is the base that your ISBU will be welded to to secure it to the foundation. Concrete is poured into the piling and it fills the base at the bottom as well.  Like any concrete component, you’re better off waiting for the concrete to cure. Nobody likes to set containers on “green” (uncured)  pilings! 30 days should do it!

You could just as easily carry this entire structure using pilings and concrete pads. It’d be pretty simple. Because very little site prep is required (as you sit OVER the land and not ON it) it’s an inexpensive solution that eliminates a lot of heavy equipment costs usually associated with construction.

Normally, we’re not big fans of cantilevered containers. The reason is that they’re “harder to fly” without that support. But what you don’t see here is the steel cradle that  carries the front of the containers all the way back to those pilings and foundations. The cantilevered deck is carried by steel cables. No “hanging from thin air” here.

Sitting on the deck, you’re high enough to observe Mother Nature without having to worry about wildlife trying to eat your meals or bother your decking plants. LOL!

A lot of people ask us if we’re doing a lot with Tesla Solar Roof systems now that they’re available to the public. The simple answer is; “No.”

While we love them (and the concept of them in general) I’m still not a big fan of Tesla Solar Roofs simply due to the costs involved in building them into your project.  With Photovoltaic Panels operating at high efficiency for less than a $1 a watt, spending $8 a square foot (or more) for a beautiful Tesla Solar Roof is simply beyond the reach of most building families.

Forbes Magazine recently published this:

The average home in the United States is 2,467 square feet. According to Tesla’s handy solar calculator, the new system will set an average homeowner back $51,200 for a 70% solar roof. The company also recommends purchasing the additional, but optional, Powerwall battery to store all that new energy at $7,000, bringing the grand total of installation to $58,200.

 The percentage of solar paneling is an important metric when deciding if you really want to buy the system. It all depends on a homeowner’s energy needs, if the roof is partly shaded or sunny and how much he or she already spends on electricity each month. When all these things are considered, the ratio of solar paneling and non-solar paneling can greatly vary, as well as the price. For example, if the typical American home only purchases 40% solar tiles the price drops to $36,700, plus the $7,000 battery, totaling $43,700. And that 40% may be all you need. As Tesla noted on its site, “If you choose to increase the portion of your roof covered with solar tiles, your home may generate more electricity than it needs. In this case, you may not realize the full value of energy your Solar Roof produces.”

To help combat the sticker shock, Tesla also noted the tax credits associated with buying solar. For the 70% solar roof, homeowners may be looking at a tax credit of $15,900, while a 40% solar home can expect a $10,000 credit. The company also explained that over 30 years, a 70% solar roof will generate $73,500, meaning a homeowner could net profit $31,200 over 30 years.

But still, the price is a tremendous leap from traditional roofing. According to the calculator provided by Roofing Calculator, to completely replace the average home’s roof with traditional shingles will only set owners back between $9,000- $14,000.

Another added cost is a home’s tax estimates. As senior technology editor at Ars Technica Lee Hutchinson shared on Twitter TWTR -3.62%, “My 2600sqft **HOUSE** only cost $200k. My property taxes would explode w/adding another 50% onto the home’s appraised value.”

Musk immediately, and honestly replied, “This is true. The economics are not yet compelling where housing and utility costs are low and property taxes are high.”

Would I put that really expensive Tesla Solar Roof on my own home in the mountains of Montana? Yes. I’d probably consider it. Combined with the Powerwall battery storage system, I think it’s an incredible solution to explore and before I’d use it on your home, I’d really like to live with it on mine to insure it works without a flaw. Now, also consider that my home includes a design studio and a music studio, so I will be able  to justify the expense of all that power production. I won’t waste any of it with “too many tiles and not enough demand”.

WILL I include it in my own building budget?

It will depend on final pricing and installation costs. I suspect that in all honesty, I’ll probably wait for the second generation of the roof tiles and Powerwall units and that commensurate price drop that will come as production costs begin to decrease. I will have several other structures on the property (including guest houses) that require power and we’ll more than likely select one or more of those structures to experiment with.

Stay tuned to learn more about this project. If current responses are any indicator, it’s going to inspire a lot of cabin and remote builds in the future.

Every Tree Needs Roots!

23 May

As we venture into Spring (we still haven’t gotten our 15 seconds of Spring in Montana yet…) LOL!

We’re getting questions from readers about “process”. Everyone is eager to start their building adventures, paving their roads toward their ISBU (Shipping Container Home) dreams and we couldn’t be more pleased and inspired.

Many families are beginning their paths by talking to local experts, trying to gauge the places they’ll put their trust, their dreams and their futures.

We received this email recently and thought it was relevant enough to share it with the rest of you. Building projects begin as hopes, dreams and aspirations. The holder of that dream then gifts it to someone else who will become responsible for turning that dream into a reality.

But along the way, that custodian of your creation will call on others to assist him/her in order to insure that your dream becomes a reality.

Let’s just jump in, shall we?

“Dear Alex,

Q. I just left an interview/consult session with a local Architect. When we were discussing fees, he included fees for several other engineers, including a structural engineer. WTH? If an Architect goes to school to learn to design a building or residence, why then does he/she even need a structural engineer?

Isn’t that the point of Architecture School in the first place?”
The short answer is this:

Successful Architectural projects are collaborations. The architect designs the building. The engineering team ensures the building meets local building codes and that it is physically possible to build. Most engineers have no idea whatsoever or little experience on how to maximize light exposure for certain facilities, including both natural and artificial light, but an architect does. Most engineers have little to no idea how play with materials and textures to maximize comfort, but an architect does. Most architects have little to no idea how to even measure a complex structure response to most accidental load scenarios like earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding etc. But an engineer does. Most architects have little to no idea how to design infrastructure projects such as dams, bridges, highways, railroads, etc. But an engineer does.

Think of it like this:

An architect is like a big, beautiful tree…  and that engineering team is a vital part of it’s trunk and root system.

This engineering support system gives life to the tree. The input of the engineers provides the strength to the tree and makes it possible for that tree to live (and even bear fruit) for a long, long time.

Architects don’t know “everything” about construction.

Some like to think they do but the reality is actually much different.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Architects know a LOT, but an architect is still just a “generalist”. An architect actually needs all sorts of engineers to create and complete a project successfully.

In a nutshell, the architect is the conductor and the engineers (and other specialists) are the musicians. They have to work together to complete a project. It’s a orchestra of skills.

It is up to the conductor (architect) to take overall responsibility and coordinate the overall intention of the project. The conductor has to have some basic knowledge of the musicians’ (engineers) instruments. However, the overall success depends on the skill and experience of the individual musicians (engineers). You can’t do one without the other.

The architect creates, orchestrates and oversees the building project design and usually provides oversight during construction. However, the engineers are specialists and they play their parts in the orchestra by being tasked with the design and oversight of their specific trades and project aspects only:

  • The architect plans, organizes (orchestrates) and gives form and space to the building project.
  • The architect develops a design that finds solutions and fulfills the client’s requirements.
  • The architect presents this information to the planning boards, review committees and building authorities.
  • The architect obtains planning approvals, obtains permits and other required documents required for the construction of the project.
  • The architect is also responsible for special (particularly safety) aspects such as building code classifications, fire separations, exits, emergency exits, emergency systems, and egress stairs as well as insuring that all accessibility requirements are met.

In addition to this, the architect usually provides the “Architectural Artistry” the project brings to the community – this because the determination of whether it is a work of art or not depends on how it will later be judged by the clients and the public at large. You can bet that this judgement will be based in a large part on the actual design of the project.

As the design leader, the architect usually conceptualizes the structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems – and coordinates all of it. Again, he/she is the conductor.

However, the architect relies on the various specialist engineers to assess and assist, to finalize and take responsibility with calculations, detailing and oversight. The “musicians”.

For most buildings constructed in most places, only qualified engineers can provide these specialized engineering services. The architect is – by law in most places – required by virtue of their generalist training and certification and is licensed to “practice architecture” and NOT engineering.

Structural engineers don’t go to traditional architectural schools or classes. They are required to study Civil Engineering courses designed to build the required skills allowing them to resolve structural and other engineering aspects of a project. Because of this education, they are licensed to ‘practice structural engineering’, and not architecture.

You don’t need an architect to design “everything”. Certain buildings that are not intended primarily for human occupancy may not be required to be designed by an architect.

In those cases, a civil engineer usually takes the lead role – as in the case of the construction of bridges and roads.

Also, building projects such as small square footage houses often don’t need any professionals at the design level to be involved. These projects are often designed by technical / design drafting services or even design/build contractors.

While your architect will bring your dream to life, those engineers involved are vital to it’s creation. Put simply, engineers have to come up with solutions to complex problems and implement them; they literally shape the world that we live in.

For those of you out there considering a trade path, there are many different specialties within civil engineering. These include environmental, structural, electrical, municipal, transportation and geotechnical engineering services. Civil engineers design, build, supervise, operate, and maintain construction projects and systems in both the public and private sector. These projects include roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, and systems for water supply and sewage treatment.

If you really want to push the envelope, look for a University that has an Architectural Engineering program.  If you do this, send us your shipping address and we’ll start sending you as many Tylenol tablets as you can eat. You’re going to need them! This challenging path insures many, many long nights of bookwork and studying!  LOL!

Wandering with “Weathering Steel”…

31 Aug

Recently, one of our readers sent us several photographs of a “tiny house” constructed from a single 20ft ISBU.

The boatbuilder owner used his yacht skills to design and build a really nice little house that could be shipped anywhere in the world.

(This can happen because he didn’t cut any exterior doors or windows into the existing shell.)

We were particularly pleased to see the innovative kitchen he laid out in that small home. Frankly, it rivals many of the small kitchens that you or I may encounter in our day to day lives. He used a full sized refrigerator. The space behind it houses his water tank. He didn’t waste an inch. Good lad!

Take a look;

ISBU Bunkhouse - Corten Cabin3

His “corner kitchen” even incorporates a washer/dryer unit. We use similar LG washer/dryers in many of our off-grid cabins in remote areas.

His container isn’t “conventional” as one entire wall surface opens up to expose the inner shell. You can find these boxes from time to time and he’s taken full advantage of the space that it provides. On nice days, he can literally open up one entire wall section to the outdoors. Talk about bringing the outside in!

And because he can ship his little Corten home anywhere in the world, that “outside view” can change whenever he wants!

Guys like this are literally rethinking housing.

As we looked at his little gem, I was reminded of another kind of “traveling ISBU Home” concept we’d seen lately. Many of our readers know that we’ve spent years working on “disaster relief housing” and the establishment of rapidly deployed shelter systems for victims and volunteers after natural disasters strike globally.

The use of ISBUs as a shelter component means that you can “rack and stack” them together to form housing units very quickly. We’ve stacked as many as a hundred units together in less than 24 hours. Read that again slowly. LESS than 24 hours. These temporary constructs can house workers, clinics, first responders and more.

But what if you could just take your home with you wherever your future  led you?

Jeff Wilson, an environmental science professor at the Huston-Tillotson University, had a similar dream. It’s called “Kasita” and it’s basically a little 20′ High Cube ISBU based apartment that actually fits into a steel exoskeleton. By “racking” these apartment units, they can be removed and shipped to other locations with similar exoskeletons.

ISBUs in exoskeleton

Small extension modules are added to the ISBU to expand it’s livability. In fact, those add-ons increase the size of the little apartment by 30%.

ISBUs in exoskeleton4

Inside, you have room for a full kitchen and even a washer/dryer. The bathroom is “normal” as well. No microscopic toilet or shower to force yourself in and out of.

ISBUs in exoskeleton5
The whole idea of a “transportable condo” sounds complicated, but it isn’t. While you wouldn’t be able to ship the little apartments overseas (because you’ve modified the shell) the small ISBUs are easily trucked from site to site. The small exoskeleton footprints allow these units to be “racked and stacked” 3 or 4 levels high without much difficulty.

If you get transferred to another city, you simply call the mover and have him disconnect and remove your unit.

You don’t pack, you don’t box up your gear. You simply take the entire residence and it’s contents with you. When you get to your new location, your unit is racked in an empty space in an exoskeleton and you’re back in business.

ISBUs in exoskeleton2
The fact that the exoskeletons that house the units take up such a small footprint (as little as 1,000 sq ft) means that they can be constructed as in-fill in almost any urban city that you can imagine. These steel racks could bolt together in the configuration that benefits the lot and observe the local building codes.

You could even build a small village of these units in previously unbuildable lots and locations. You could revitalize neighborhoods. You could build them along greenbelts.

Are you listening, Detroit?

Now add a power system like a TESLA Powerpack to this little condo and you have a unit that’s even capable of going off-grid.

Despite a long list of smart-tech and energy saving features, the size of the condo and it’s ability to be placed on small lots that no-one wants makes this a very embraceable idea in many metropolitan areas. And it solves one of biggest dilemmas for employers;

“Where will my workers live?”

Companies could even embrace these versatile condos as “corporate housing” for their workers.

Think about this for a moment;

NO Roomates

NO searching Craigslist for a rental

NO calling friends and relatives in those cities to crash on their couch while you hunt down that elusive new apartment.

NO hunting through boxes to find your packed goods.

The only thing that changes is your street address.

Imagine how workers in places like NYC or San Francisco would embrace these.

ISBUs in exoskeleton3
It’s the idea of transportable housing taken to the next level. It will allow us to house friend and families in a whole new way.

We can’t wait.

A bed is just a bed unless it’s not!

15 Apr

From the “why didn’t I think of that?” files;

There’s this guy who has decided that the best furniture encompasses every need in one small footprint package. His name is Roberto Gil and he calls it “Urbano”. After looking at his work, we think he’s pretty darned smart.

roberto-gil-casa-collection-urbano-loft-bed-1
His forte of late seems to be “loft beds” where your bed is actually perched on top of your other bedroom  furniture to maximize room space. Now, it should be noted that we build loft beds into containers all the time, but I have to admit that his system makes ours look like something cobbled together in shop class by comparison.

They say that “good things come in small packages”. In this case, they hit that nail square on the head.

roberto-gil-casa-collection-urbano-loft-bed-2
Measuring 119 inches in length and a width of 83 inches, with the furniture system topping out at 107 inches, you can see where I’m going with this. Let’s do some math, shall we? (Not that new “Common Core” crap. I don’t possess enough patience, crayons or even paper to do arithmetic that way!) Let me see, carry the one, divide by hammer-struck thumbs and a few splinters and you get an entire bedroom suite in an approximately 9’11” long x 6’11” wide x 8’11” tall package.

roberto-gil-casa-collection-urbano-loft-bed-3
The Urbano system, based on a King sized bed is the largest furniture unit in Roberto’s “Casa Collection” line. It features interior and exterior closets, dressers with drawers, shelving and a desk underneath its bed. The clearance under the bed platform is tall (almost 6’4″) and that’s enough to enable most people to walk under it without stooping or hitting their heads. The cool part of this system is that you can purchase it with either ONE or TWO staircases depending on your needs. Each staircase has built in storage drawers. To make things light and bright, mirrors and lighting are installed.

As intriguing as this is, it does make me wonder what this format would look like tucked into the bowels of an ISBU bedroom.

Imagine a suite of “sleeping rooms” built from ISBUs that had these units installed. Imagine three containers placed side-by-side, with the outer ones being “sleeping rooms”. Now imagine the center one being a shared “Hollywood” style bathroom.

If you were to build a gable roof with a decent pitch (say 6/12) over these (I’d build that roof on a kneewall of about 3’… and run the single staircase configuration on the inside walls (to take advantage of the gable height) you could do something pretty cool. It would also allow you to utilize the top of that “bath” container in the middle as a shared loft. The best part is that the kneewall floating that SIP (structural insulated panel) roof could also have integrated glazing to allow you both sunlight and ventilation.

You knew I was going to slip SIPs into this conversation, didn’t you? Hands down, SIPs topped with a waterproof membrane and SSMR (Standing Seam Metal Roofing) are my alltime favorite. I’ll mention them every chance I get!

Think about this;

If you used 20′ High Cube ISBU containers to do this you’d have (2) King Sized bedrooms and a large, spacious bath suite tucked into a 20’x24′ footprint. Okay, so you’d be just a little cramped in the headroom department on one side, but by using high cube ISBUs you have a ceiling height of 8’9″. Couple that with a kneewall and this is actually doable.

It the Urbano bed system is just too much for your needs they even have a smaller Arca system that might fill the bill.

roberto-gil-casa-collection-urbano-loft-bed-6

roberto-gil-casa-collection-urbano-loft-bed-7

roberto-gil-casa-collection-urbano-loft-bed-8
Unlike the Arca series of beds, the Urbano beds really do have the whole shooting match installed. They feature interior and exterior closets, dressers with drawers, shelving and a desk underneath the loft bed.

roberto-gil-casa-collection-urbano-loft-bed-4Roberto knew that one color wouldn’t be enough so both the Urbano and Arca beds are available in two color options and prices start from (hold your breath) US$15,000 and $6,000 respectively and you’ll wait about 10-12 weeks for your units to arrive.

Look, I warned you to hold your breath…

You CAN buy these in the United States, but I’m thinking about something else entirely. Wait, I’ll tell you about it after I catch my breath. That price tag had me hyperventilating… LOL!

Okay, I’m back…

What if you went to a big box store like IKEA and purchased prefab cabinets and such and then cobbled this together yourself? Look at the photos. You can SEE how easy it is. Heck, a couple of carpenters could build a similar unit for a lot less than $15,000.00. (Well, unless maybe they’re Union Carpenters!) LOL!

(I know, I know… please send your hate mail to alex@nahnahnanahna.com) 🙂

After passing the photos around here, I’m thinking that we might just have a go at building something similar, based on ready-made “catalog” cabinet kits. No offense to Roberto (because quite frankly his idea is pretty darned good) but we don’t know anyone with enough extra cash laying around to shell out $15 grand for a bedroom set for the kids.

Stay tuned.

PS. ALL of the images for Roberto’s bed systems were collected from Gizmag.com. Why? Well to be honest, I don’t have $21,000.00 to go out and buy copies of these bed systems! That’s actually more than it’d cost me to build the ISBU structure for the three rooms we’re talking about!

(But I have to admit that I wish I did. I think they’re pretty spectacular!)

All you need is a little “bump”!

1 Feb

Greetings, Campers!

It’s that time of year…

You know, that time when (faced with the winter snow and ice outside) thoughts drift (no “snowdrift” pun intended) to “things Corten”.

Elk Tribe - web

As we look out into our yards, many of our building families are eagerly exploring their hopes for Spring, as they begin to draw final lines for their ISBU Home projects. And they better keep at it, because Spring is rapidly approaching. Heck, we’ll get our few days of Spring here, eventually!

As these families get their plans in order, we’re seeing a LOT of indicators that demonstrate that the US isn’t in “recovery” in the housing areas. A lot of investment is happening in Real Estate, but it’s not in the areas you’d expect. It’s in the “rental housing” arena. As times grow hard, more and more families and individuals are renting in lieu of buying that “dream home”.

We’ve received many, many responses lately from singles and couples asking about affordable ISBU (Shipping Container) solutions that use a single 40′ ISBU as structure.

We’ve all seen the medium and even high density buildings being created using these boxes to house people.

High Speed Man Camp - from ISBUs - Oil Country

And, YES… it does make us feel like we’re looking at sardines packed in a can.

But, what about if you simply bump the box out to gain additional footage?

Adding 4′ to a box in width isn’t particularly challenging. In fact, we do it all the time (usually to gain an entry foyer or a space for built-ins). All you are doing is expanding that ISBU to sit on a 420 square foot footprint.

And, dropping it onto pilings that you cast by hand (using Sonotubes and concrete) makes it a no-brainer.

TheSingleBoxRocks
We’ve shown you this before, but I think it’s time to show it to you again. 

Imagine this as a Mother-In-Law apartment or even as an income apartment on your existing property. It’d make a nice guest house as well.

  • Do you have a student in High School or College itching to “get out of the house” without leaving the property?
  • Do you have a rental property that needs more units that are potentially duplexed or even stacked?
  • Are you looking for a “tiny house” type residence?

The “bump” wall is perfect for additional glazing (windows not shown) or even a big sliding glass door and deck.

Or, executed in “rowhouse style”, you could add a front and rear deck to this lil gem and it becomes quite luxurious. Imagine this plan staggered so that each home and deck had privacy! Simply offset these units by 8 feet and you’d have a very attractive rental complex.

While this unit was originally designed to be “home built” by “sweat equity” families, it could easily be executed by builders and contractors without a ton of headaches.

(For all you “naysayers” out there, this home has been built several times in the $50 per square foot range. The costs vary by location, labor costs and choice of materials. If you build it yourself and reuse, repurpose and recycle materials diligently, you can achieve amazing things. Don’t forget to add “beer and beef” to your budget to help your friends in the trade, and volunteers! LOL! )

And you don’t have to DIY this home. While the price per square foot would rise (because builders and sub-contractors don’t work for free) it would still be quite cost effective.

The solutions are out there, folks. You just have to reach for them.

O Magic 8-Ball – Where, oh where is housing going?

15 Jan

Here at “Corten Central”, we’re pretty concerned with the direction of family housing. It’s vital that families have homes that work with them and not against them, especially in troubled times.

We teach families globally to create symbiotic housing environments that provide a nurturing of family life and not a seemingly endless maintenance cycle that requires infusion of resources to keep going forward.

As housing evolves, we find ourselves more and more dependent on systems and gadgets that seemingly make life worth living. But do they really?

yoda

Yoda said; “Live in harmony, you must.”

He was exactly right. Sure, he was 800 years old. But he knew that to live a good life, you have to eliminate the stress and chaos.

(Okay, you can begin this process by NOT telling your relatives where you are moving… but at some point you have to think about the home you’re living in.) LOL!

In a perfect world, your home and lifestyle merge to create a sustainable path that makes the burdens of home ownership easier. In some cases with good design and the right elements, it makes home ownership seamless.

Are you paying attention to the AIA’s (American Institute of Architects) recently announced “future housing trends” for 2016 and beyond?

These “future trends” look suspiciously like a return to the past, at least in our case. For example, we’ve always been proponents of using natural materials that lack synthetic or chemical components that can prove harmful to family members or pets.

We’ve always urged families to build redundant power and water systems that will insure family safety, seamlessly. It’s about being self-reliant and self-aware. It’s about taking control of your life. It’s about being responsible for your family.

We’ve always urged families to use “environmentally responsible materials” whenever possible to insure family health and well-being.

We’ve preached recycling, repurposing and reusing. It just makes good sense and done correctly it can produce amazing results. We love reclaiming materials and turning them into magic.

We know exactly what we are talking about. We have a lot of practice and field work behind us. We’ve earned our scars.

We don’t just “build stuff”. Many of you know that on the philanthropic side, CHC and RR are heavily involved in “first responder” humanitarian aid. Our non-profit foundation is internationally known for being there first and doing the job required no matter what chaos exists. We understand “disasters”, both natural and manmade, at a level that few others can even have nightmares about.

haiti

(Ask us about Haiti, the Philippines or Nepal sometime…)

Let’s look at the “trends” that the AIA just announced as “pivotal”;

1. Disaster-resistant designs

This means designing and building “environmentally responsible structures”. With more extreme weather brought on by climate change, architects and builders are already seeing that design features meant to insure the durability of homes in low-lying areas are being embraced nationally, regardless of GPS location. There is, indeed… a need.

agaton-floods-philippines

Architectural Design firms are already incorporating protective features intended to safeguard homes from flooding, fires and wind damage in impact areas. This will become common even in noncoastal areas.

Such protective measures can include elevating a home several feet up in the air on pilings, building safe rooms in the home to protect the residents and installing water cisterns or providing back-up power generation.

2. Healthy building materials

Everyone is talking about this lately. We’ve all seen the “local farmers market movement”. We’re reminded that eating healthier leads to a better life and it improves the local economy at the same time. It’s win-win.

This “organic” movement is influencing building material selection as well. Home builders and their buyers have become more educated about building materials that don’t promote good health and clean living.

Think of all of the materials in your home that “linger on after the tradesmen, construction workers and installers have left the building”. Paints, flooring, adhesives, and even cabinet materials off-gas, giving off fumes that can make you and your loved ones sick. Remember also that those off-gassing materials are often installed low enough in your home to be harmful to your pets as well.

TIP:

Look for caulking materials that are solvent free. Look for adhesives that are water based. Insulate with cellulose instead of fiberglass. Look for solid wood cabinets and fixtures instead of their laminated or particle board counterparts. Anything laminated or particle board based probably contains formaldehyde.

Did you know that although plywood is NOT a “healthy choice”, the exterior grades of plywood are actually preferable to their interior grade cousins? It’s because the phenol formaldehyde binders of exterior grade plywood are waterproof and more stable than the urea based formaldehyde binders used in the construction of interior grade plywood materials. And it should also be noted that the binders in interior grade plywoods are only water resistant, and not waterproof. It makes a big difference.

3. Smart-home automation

Architects anticipate that smart-home automation will continue to intrigue families as the features include more and more “relief of input” in areas like temperature control, elevated levels of security and more efficient lighting programmable from a laptop, tablet or even your cell phone. Costs for these products have dropped significantly. They are no longer gadgets for the rich and famous. With a little planning and foresight, they are easily incorporated into your home.

home-automation

The idea is to make the home work FOR YOU. If done properly, the home becomes a nurturing family member.

4. Designs catering to an aging population

We’ve known for a long time that good design means building responsible structures that look after the inhabitants as they grow older. Trend driven design fixes that will allow people to continue occupying their homes longer are likely to become more popular as the families age.

Hallway2

These features will include elements like wider hallways. Think about this for a minute.

In our view, hallways should NEVER be dark, narrow gauntlets crafted to be navigated with caution.

Hallways should embrace a family and add functionality and efficiency.  Wider hallways provide the opportunity to utilize that space by allowing the creation of multipurpose areas, additional (and quite stylish) storage and even provide display locations for family heirlooms and galleries.

They become focal points instead of confining and herding you to other locations.

Great design contributes to your quality of life. Great design increases function, reduces costs associated with building and focuses on efficiency and reduction of maintenance.

Now add lower windows and features like smaller footprint structures similar to that of cottages and bungalows to the mix and you have something. 

5. Energy-efficient design

We’ve always known that homes should work with you and not against you. We’ve always known that resources diminish over time. Looked at your power bill lately? Has your water bill gone up?

Good design includes efficiency, especially in areas of water use and energy consumption. But you can pursue this too far. Take LEEDS for example. While it SOUNDS like a great idea, LEEDS adds significant costs to construction that few homeowners realize as a viable return. GOOD design will lend itself to not only efficiency and saving, but provide alternatives in times of hardship.

SONY DSC

For example, photovoltaic panels (PV’s) sound expensive and complicated when first embraced. But boiled down, they’re simple, relatively easily understood systems that are easily monitored, insuring that your family has reliable power despite local conditions. Remember that when your neighborhood is suffering rolling brown-outs and your house is the only one on the street with power because you get it straight from the sun.

We’ve always thought “out of the box” despite teaching families to live within them. And as we grow older, wiser, more experienced… It’s good to see that we really weren’t the “crazy guys” our peers claimed we were, way back when.

It’s funny what a few decades does to prove theory (and dispel myth and urban legend) when properly applied.

2 is better than 1! ;)

28 Nov

We work, we toil…

… and the piles of paperwork, reports and plan sets just doesn’t get any lower!

In fact, they’re getting higher as the year draws closed! 🙂

Mailbag time!

Dear Ronin,

I’ve been watching this blog for a while. In fact, we’ve been thinking about you for years…

(That’s a lot of Tylenol I owe you, I suppose…)

We have a rather crazy and unique problem that you may be able to solve.

Um… I’m not a psychiatrist, but I’ll try.)

We’ve come into a piece of property that has an existing small cabin on it. Somewhere along the last four or five years, one wall of the cabin was consumed by fire. The fire started in the kitchen and then razed the kitchen and attached half bath.

Subsequently, the “burnt out wall” was supported by installing an new header and a couple of “jack studs” and they just put plywood over it to close it off. I’ll assume they just figured that whoever inherited it would resolve the conflicts they left…

Long story short;

Brother inherited property, took one look at remains of cabin and location of land… and punted.

It’s located “very rural”. 5 acres. Graded road in summer – impassable by anything but 4wd in winter. No services. Well, water tank (tank farm), septic, generator and batteries.

We bought it for a song from him, literally. It will make the perfect “getaway” for long weekends and a week here and there in the summer.

We closed on it last week.

What I’d like to explore is something you talked about early on, in the blog;

Using ISBUs to form ADDITIONS to existing structures.

I cook. My wife does dishes. Nothing “sexist”, it just works out better that way.

I’m a “trained” chef, if you count some school and endless hours of the FOOD Network…

(Bought one of those “on-line” bogus diploma/transcript sets, did ya?)  😉

If possible, we’d like a layout that allows both of us to work simultaneously, without stepping all over each other. We’d also like a breakfast bar, as it’s a tiny cabin and it would eliminate the need for a dining room table. It’d only need to seat two adults.

(If we have guests, we’ll simply eat outside on the screened porch.)

WE really DON’T want an island kitchen. We don’t feel like we have enough room for it.

Thoughts;

Warm light colored woods / low maintenance solid surface countertops and backsplash.

Farm Sink, not a double sink made out of stainless steel.

GAS oven, not electric.

The most energy efficient refrigerator we can find.  Refrigerator just large enough for a weeks groceries, please.

We’d also like to rebuild that half bath as we plan to demo the antiquated full bath in the bedroom, to enlarge the bedroom space. We’re going to build out a TUB Bay in the bedroom. “Kinda hokey”, but we think it charming. The wife has always wanted one.

We have a 22′ opening on one side of the kitchenless/bathless cabin now.

The installed header (simply to shore up the building “for later”) can be removed and moved UP to create an opening up to 14′ high.

What we’d like to explore is building a kitchen and bath into a 20′ ISBU and then hauling it out there to set it into place once it’s finished, just lke you’ve been talking about. In fact, we got the idea from YOU…

You’ve talked about doing exactly this several times… so now we’re calling your bluff.

Can you help us?

Signed,

No Kitchen, No Bath, No Glory…

***
Dear NoKBG,

Sorry. Can’t help ya. Nope, not gonna do it. 😉

Seriously, it’s a easy fix.

On many occasions I’ve talked about how modular ISBU builds are.

We’ve discussed on the blog the idea of using ISBUs as a base for Home Additions, simply by fabbing your box in another location and then transporting it to site, to plug into a demo’d wall waiting to receive it.

You have a lot of ambition and approximately 160 square feet to work with. Let’s see what we can do;

Objectives;

  • Dedicated Cooking Area
  • Dedicated Dishwashing Area
  • Half Bath
  • Breakfast Bar with seating for two
  • Ample Storage and pantry area for vacation use.

Here’s what I’d do;

[insert 20′ kitchen/bath sketch]

You don’t have building codes, so you have some “liberty/flexibility” in the design process and execution.

Now you have 2 separate kitchen prep areas. You have your side, she has hers.

You have the ability to use that sink faucet as a pasta faucet or to shove pots and pans directly into.

The Wife has a large farm sink and some countertop to pile drying dishes.

Using a High Cube ISBU means taller cabinets – “Mucho” pantry and storage space.

As the kitchen opens to the main room, you don’t feel “hemmed into a tight space”.

You get easy access to the half bath – which is really nice sized so you don’t feel like you’re doing your business in a closet.

You have a breakfast bar that can also be used as additional cooktop prep space if required. It’s also a good place for spectators to perch while you dazzle them with that “Iron Chef Morimoto” knifework you’ve probably been using…

Window placed to allow ample lighting to both sink and range, so you won’t get bored staring at each other. 😉

If you want to pursue this, you know where to find me.

Start by clicking HERE.

 

The Times – They are a definitely a’changin…

19 Oct

Okay, okay…

We’ve been SUPER busy lately and we haven’t posted an article for some time. I hope that this will serve as an update to our faithful readers and building families.

And yes… I know, I know. we’ve “been slacking”… but we have a pretty darn good excuse.

There simply aren’t enough hours in the day lately to get all of our projects and missions accomplished.

I’ve personally been swamped with planning new projects, the development of a brand new “CORTEN TECH” TV SERIES, and even rewriting a construction book that will help pave the road to “CORTEN Country”. It’s incredible and it’s a pretty big undertaking.

During this process and the reorganization of our teams, there have been some massive changes. Most of these changes make us better, stronger, more productive. Sometimes it’s better to take the long, hard look at your processes and then stop what you’re doing and change them. These changes for us have bordered on “radical”. We’re doing things a different way, a more productive way.

Here’s a hint at what we’re up to; We thing that Henry Ford would be very proud of us.

Alas, this change has also included a streamlining process that has removed obstacles to growth. We’ve been forced to take a hard line along the way and there are some projects that we are no longer involved or affiliated with. As in any endeavor, you sometimes find yourself  faced with projects that don’t participate in progress and growth. Those obstacles have been removed. Change is often difficult and there are those who hesitate to embrace it.

While many are thrilled at the new roads and opportunities ahead (if for no other reason than for the sake of disclosure) not everyone is happy about what we’ve accomplished. Our only solace in this is in the recognition that we must serve the greater good here. If you aren’t a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem. Enough said.

On our “teaching side”; To say that many are awaiting the arrival of our new book on ISBU Construction is an understatement. What happened in a nutshell is that the delay we were forced to endure at the hands of the publisher ran so long that essential tech and practices changed while we were eagerly/frustratingly waiting the distribution date.

As a result, after consulting with many building professionals and building families who were waiting for “Nuts and Bolts”… we’re actually reworking and rewriting the book to include information so vital to the construction of these incredible homes that it could not be ignored or excluded.

Sure, we could have saved this new information for the production of a third book, but it just didn’t seem fair to our readers and building families. We voted and the majority rules. From all the input and commentary we know that you wanted  answers and not just a buy-in to an expensive construction book “trilogy”.

If you’re on the distribution list, you already know all this. If you’re not, you need to know that you must exercise your option (located in the sidebar) to reserve a copy of “Nuts and Bolts” ASAP as the pricing is about to reflect all the current changes and costs incurred.

On November 1st, 2015, the price of “Nuts and Bolts” (as well as ALL the other data and tools directly associated with it) will rise. In fact, the price will almost double. There will be NO MORE discounted reservations for the book project.

It’s been a long time coming and we’ve spent considerable amounts of money (and legal time) prying the book (and related materials) back out of the hands of a distributor who dropped the ball. Those who are eagerly awaiting the arrival of this book will not be disappointed.

While all of that is happening we’re planning, plotting and beginning the building processes for a Sustainable Architecture Ranch project (located in rural Montana) that will essentially become a demonstrator for all the technologies we employ when building rural family projects and homesteads. Additionally, this ranch will actually become a teaching facility to help train new architects and crafts/tradesmen in the construction of ISBU related projects.

Corten Creek

Imagine a blissful life wrapped in a “CORTEN Cocoon” with a deck that looks out onto this little creek every single morning… Incredible! We can’t wait!

Ironically, we’re literally so busy that we’re negotiating fractional use of aircraft to stay on top of everything that is happening internationally.

If you’re interested in ISBU Construction, you’re going to want to stay tuned. There’s never been a series of Shipping Container projects like these ones in the history of ISBU construction. Several well-known development firms and major universities are going to participate in this process as part of their architectural extension programs to allow their students and tradesmen to actually experience “hands on” Corten Coolness while they actually use their experiences to develop Sustainable Architecture curriculum.

It’s going to become (quite literally) “Corten Construction Camp“.

We’ll keep you posted.

AK

Fly me to Corten Country!

17 Jun

People have asked me how to approach Planning and Zoning authorities to test the waters when considering building an ISBU (Shipping Container) home.

Remember that to most of these “official” guys and gals, your ISBU home will simply be an “abstract”. Many of them will simply have no idea what you’re talking about. What they’ll visualize is those depictions of graffiti covered “Corten Shanties” so prominently displayed in apocalyptic Sci-Fi slasher films!  You know the ones that I’m referring to, those dilapidated steel shells surrounded by zombies and burning 55 gallon drums filed with trash… LOL!

You need an ice breaker!

Consider doing a series of renders of your proposed ISBU project and include a “fly-by” if you can. With the tools available to us now (even free programs like SketchUp, etc…) it’s pretty simple to do.

Here’s one that someone recently sent to us that was pretty slick;

Additionally, I never use words like “Shipping Container”, or “ISBU” when talking to Planning and Zoning guys. I prefer to use words like “prefabricated steel framing” or “modular steel frames”. Shipping Containers are simply steel building blocks.

Enjoy!

Your “Normal” might be NUTS!

16 May

It’s been said that “normal” is;

Getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work…

Eating a store-bought breakfast for as long as you can afford to…

Turning off all the lights and cranking the thermostat down to reduce your energy bill…

Driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need…

in order for you to be able to afford to pay for the clothes, food, electricity, car and the big mortgage on the house that you leave empty all day…

And, you do this in order to afford to live in it in the first place.

That’s just crazy. Maybe that’s YOUR normal.

It certainly isn’t MINE. And it’s not the life that my friends, families and crew live either!

  • Water comes from a well.
  • Hot water comes from the sun.
  • Energy comes from the roof.
  • Breakfast comes from chickens and the garden.
  • The big mortgage? Non-existent.

We build our homes using paychecks, barter, ingenuity and sweat equity.

Most of us even work from home so that the commute is to the office on the opposite side of the house.

And we do it in our jammies…

(Don’t wanna see it? Don’t SKYPE us…) LOL!

Not everyone can live this way admittedly. It’s a blessing to be able to do this.

But many of us can adapt some of these “ways” into our lives, regardless of where we call home.

Stick around and we’ll teach you how to do it. You’ll be amazed at the freedom that self-sufficiency, self-reliance and self-accountability yields.

And, sometimes the homes look like this one;

CampCo1

CampCo Steel Farmhouse

At least the cool ones do! This is one of my favorites, coming out of a fab barn staffed by a crazy bunch of Texans…

Stay tuned.