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Basking in the glow of Builder’s Hell!

21 Sep

We’ve all seen the photographs.


You can past any shipping port in the United States and you’re going to bear witness to evidence that somethings wrong in America. You see, as you drive past ports like Long Beach, you are bound to see mountains made of steel. I’m not talking about skyscrapers. I’m talking about row after row of empty shipping containers stacked up to the sky like a child’s Legos,  colorful building blocks piled on top of each other until they almost kiss the clouds.

We know why this  is happening. It’s a testament to the failure of American Manufacturing… the lack of export commerce. Yes, I said that out loud. It’s a reminder that today’s economy is suffering and it’s not getting any better, despite what you read on the internet.  In the global arena of manufacturing of goods, we don’t compete. We simply import more goods than we produce.  American households are filled with possessions and a lot of them come from “someplace else”. Think about that for a minute.

This also means that we don’t export products to other countries to support a growing America competitively. Due to America’s trade imbalance with foreign countries, countries like China, over half of the shipping containers that enter our ports never make it back to their points of origin. It’s just not cost effective to return empty containers to China to refill them. It’s cheaper and more efficient to build new ones to ship that Chinese TV over so you can buy it at Walmart.

And, these monuments to our manufacturing failure have to get piled up someplace, right?

It’s because of these metal mountains that more than a few creative minds have started to think outside the box. I mean, we’re stuck in traffic, staring up at them.

You know where this post is going…

Over the last few years, many outspoken architects and engineers have addressed the use of shipping containers as structure. Readers of this blog know that we are heavily involved in taking these cast-off steel boxes and turning them into incredible, sustainable, affordable homes for families across America and beyond it’s shores.

Recently, I’ve witnessed yet another resurgence of naysayers from the trades who claim that building with containers is a boondoggle. They claim it’s a “budget busting peril” to be avoided at all costs… especially when cost is a determining factor. They say that building with containers is anything but affordable.

Yeah? Bull.

Let me tell you WHY these “tradesmen” are so outspoken. We live in difficult times for housing. Money for building is getting harder to get. Many building firms are going out of business due to the lack of projects. Fewer families are entering the housing market. They’ve simply been forced out of them as the economy squeezes their paychecks harder and harder each year. It’s because more and more Americans are learning that there are other paths to take… paths that lead away from tradesmen stuck in “doing traditional things in traditional ways.”

Your decisions to look beyond the “run of the mill” aren’t “normal”. They don’t want you to save money. They get paid a percentage of what you spend. They don’t want to be forced to learn new skills. That costs them even MORE money. Your decisions about housing are affecting their bottom line.  They’re scared…

What scares them the most is that people are listening to people like us…

(And we have the hate mail to prove it.)

Many of our building families offset budget expenses by using “sweat equity”. That’s right. They do it themselves. By enlisting friends and relatives in the trades, they reduce their construction costs by reducing their labor costs. Of course they have to factor in expenses like beer and burgers… but it’s a trade-off they’re willing to make to insure that they build the house of their dreams affordably.

Some of these building families break the $100 a square foot threshold on a regular basis. Even in 2016, It’s possible to build a 1,200 square foot 3 bedroom/2 bath home for $70 a square foot. I know that this is true because we’re witnessing it in locations that stretch from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic, inclusive of the Gulf Coast of America.

Case in point:

I want to take a moment to remind you that some of the most famous homes in Shipping Container (ISBU  – Intermodal Steel Building Unit) history were built for under the $150 a square foot threshold that most of these naysayers claim is the “starting point”.

Indisputably, the most visible Shipping Container home in America is the work of Peter DeMaria in Southern California. Now, we admit (even openly) that we think that Peter is a genius. He’s a visionary who decided that he didn’t care where his hairline moved as he played “David” to LA’s “Goliath”. We don’t agree with every step he takes but he designed and built a Container Home amidst the hostilities of some of the toughest building codes in America.  Peter and the Pirkls (the building family) captured what many think is “lighting in a bottle”.


In Peter DeMaria’s hybrid 2 story design for the Redondo Beach House, conventional stick-frame construction was combined with eight repurposed steel shipping containers to form this wonderful “Corten Castle”. This isn’t your “run of the mill” typical tract house, either. The contemporary house sports four bedrooms, three-and-a-half baths nestled beneath soaring 20-foot-high living room ceilings and it was outfitted with glass-panel airplane hangar doors that actually disappear by folding out to create a seamless indoor-outdoor living space. To accentuate the industrial looks of the containers, the Pirkls left the corrugated steel walls exposed or enhanced with siding to replace the sturdy maritime wood floors that come standard in cargo boxes.


If you’re  a regular reader, you can see where we differ with Peter, but still… the results were amazing. There are many paths to Corten Heaven… Peter journeyed along his passionately and it shows.

This home wasn’t a “slapped together shell made of recycled/junk steel”. They included all the bells and whistles. The home was designed and constructed to provide long-term energy savings. They employed carefully selected low-flow plumbing fixtures. They embraced LED lights and Energy Star appliances. Stick-frame walls were insulated with a material called “UltraTouch” manufactured using recycled denim material. Using simple passive solar techniques they oriented the home to catch the prevailing Pacific Coast breezes so that the residence remains cool and comfortable year-round.

Did this incredible feat of Shipping Container engineering cost a proverbial arm and a leg?


Did it cost the typical $250 a square foot (or more) that most of our naysayers project this home’s constructions cost demanded?


Is the construction of a home like this cost prohibitive for middle class families across America?


According to the guy paying the bills, home-owner Sven Pirkl:

“Once all the bills were tallied, using steel containers for more than half of the Redondo Beach House’s 3,500 square feet equaled big savings.”

Let’s read that again, shall we?

“Once all the bills were tallied, using steel containers for more than half of the Redondo Beach House’s 3,500 square feet equaled big savings.”

Remember that they built their home on Los Angeles County, Ca. Remember that when they built this home in 2006, the average cost of construction for a typical (middle class) semi-custom single family dwelling ran an average of $250 a square foot or more. The median price of single family homes in Los Angeles CA in 2016 is $477,000.00. The average SIZE of these homes runs in the $412 per square foot range.

Take into consideration that this cost represents a home that is much smaller than the Shipping Container Home built by the Pirkls.

In order to afford to purchase the median-priced home in Los Angeles, you’d need to earn $96,513 a year, according to, a mortgage information website.

But consider that the median income in Los Angeles is about half that: $49,497, according to census numbers from 2009-2013.

So it’s no surprise that Los Angeles has been rated as the most hostile, most unaffordable city to rent in America by Harvard and UCLA.

So think about this for a minute… in the worst possible place at almost the worst possible time…

A time when the average price of building a custom home in their area was upwards of $250 a square foot, the shipping container housing project cost roughly $135 a square foot to build. Best of all, says Sven Pirkl:

“We’ve been living in the house for five years, and we’re still very happy.”

Years after that, the energy savings and the performance of the home have more than met the families expectations.

Even with the adjustments to cost projections that would be factored in over the last 10 years, the Pirkl house doesn’t begin to touch the median selling price of new construction in LA.

And remember, this is Los Angeles CA, a land where “you must make $33 an hour (over $68,400 a year) to be able to afford an (average) apartment at all.”  – Matt Schwartz, president and chief executive of the California Housing Partnership, which advocates for affordable housing.

The average RENT of a typical apartment in Los Angeles exceeds $1,700 a month. The average Los Angeles resident spends over 47% of his/her income on rent… or they drive into work from another county.

So the next time you talk about Shipping Container dreams with your friends and relatives, remember that you can show them a photo of the most photographed Shipping Container Home in American History and proudly exclaim;

“Totally cool! Totally Huge! Totally famous! 3,500 square feet as good as it gets! They built it for $130.00 a square foot in the middle of “Building Hell”! Shut up!”

It’s okay to dream. It’s even better to be able to do it when you have the facts to back it up! LOL!

— end of transmission —


Oh Magic 8-Ball – What will cities look like in the future?

2 Jan

Here on RR, we talk about “sustainability” a lot.

“Sustainability” is the act of  meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It’s a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony.

A blog contest asks what will occur due to changes in energy, transportation and water technologies, and how will they transform how you live?

What makes up a “sustainable” city exactly? How can a city provide for itself and its citizens in a sustainable matter? That is to say, in a way that doesn’t rapidly invalidate itself, through the exhaustion of the resources that it’s dependent upon.

sustainable city

That’s the question that was posed recently by the Masdar 2015 Engage Blogging Contest — and it’s one worth considering. Despite the outward language used by many in the renewable energy and “green” industries, the question of true “sustainability” is not one that’s often truly broached in any meaningful way (to my mind) by representatives and proponents of said industries.

As an example, while photovoltaics are certainly of great utility and no doubt have a place in the energy infrastructure of many regions/cities throughout the world, there’s no doubt that their manufacture and use depends heavily upon complex supply/trade chains, cheap international shipping, and relatively rare/expensive resources, amongst other things.

Wouldn’t true sustainability be based around simpler, easier-to-implement approaches/technologies — good passive solar building design for example — with more complex technologies perhaps as more of a complement than a foundation?

Read the rest of this great post, HERE.

Little Boxes – BIG Changes!

25 Jun

Quite a  while back, we had some discussions with some people in England about building small, transportable residential modules to address local affordable housing issues.

Recently, I spent a week with the (gasp!) Canadians… having the exact same discussions.

We refer to these teams as “HSPs” (Housing Solution Providers).  They’re often part of “outreach programs” or simply collections of local businessmen and women who see the value in rebuilding failing neighborhoods.

The premise is that (much like here in the US) many people simply cannot afford to come up with the funds required to secure safe, sustainable housing. Students, singles, seniors… Economic bubbles, unemployment and day to day hardships actually push many people into homelessness. It’s a vicious circle that bites hard and then rarely lets go.

In the US, we’re actively involved in several projects (across 7 states) targeted to provide innovative, affordable housing to those in need.  The goal is to help these people live independent, self-reliant, self-accountable lives, without further hardship. Further, the idea is to use these projects to rebuild communities that have fallen into dormancy or disrepair.

Remember that ISBU housing is a tailor-made solution for this. Easily transportable and modular, you can delivery these units to empty sites (even large abandoned strip mall parking lots, for example) and create small “Corten Villages” that are capable of housing “many”.

Couple these residential unit clusters  with “community spaces” or even “medical outreach operations” and you have the ability to insure the future of many people almost seamlessly.  And, as the stabilization of that neighborhood bears fruit, you can then dismantle these units and move them to the next place where they are required.

They’re doing it in the UK, with great success.

Here’s a peak of what some of these “housing solution providers” have accomplished, just to wet your appetite.

20ft ISBU Homes



Now, with all the US Military VETS coming home to homelessness, unemployment and despair, I have to ask;


Our brothers and sisters are returning from war, to face “another war” at home.  It’s a war that contributes to Vet hardship and even suicide –  as these fine men and women, the very backbone of America…  find they have no place to go.

If we were to build “transitional settlements” that allowed Vets to reintegrate safely (using empty sites that are already available locally), we could save a lot of men and women, who in the face of these hardships, simply run out of strength to fight…

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Do Building codes really SUCK?

31 Jan

There are those who will tell you that in order to insure that minimum standards of construction are maintained… in order to insure the health and safety of the general public… we need building codes.

Does this mean that building codes are simply guidelines assuring “safe construction practices” are upheld?

No. It’s far more political than that. Here’s how it works;

States have adopted what is commonly referred to as “Universal Building Code” standards.

But, there isn’t anything “universal” about them. You see… we don’t live in a “universal” world where one size fits all.

I mean, have you BEEN to Alabama? 😉

The realities are that as you change locations, you change the requirements for housing. There are different needs for different regions of the country. These differing requirements need to be addressed locally. What we don’t need is to be forced to build a “one size fits all” dwelling that neither meets location or need.

Any thoughts to the contrary are absurd.

They will tell you that you need a government bureaucracy to tell you that you must live, in the manner they deem acceptable,  because THEY know better.

In their eyes (because you are seen as simply stupid, incompetent children) you don’t get to make the choice for yourself.

The fact is that politicians and planning officials line their pockets using ridiculous rules and regulations. This process is as old as the history of building. Remember Egypt? The first architects were priests and they had complete control over all building – period.

You didn’t argue. You built what you  were told, or else.

They made the rules and abidance was mandatory, under penalty of death.

Obamacare is a good example of the carnage that results. Unfortunately, once “rules” are accepted as common practice, once something becomes law it’s nearly impossible to repeal it. Faced with these laws, one seeking another path must make remedy by finding ways to work within/around them to get things done.

It is this mindset that probably prompted Obama to utter the words; “I have a pen and a phone,” as he blatantly threatens to use executive orders to circumvent Congressional Authority.

We live in an era where “money” has more rights than people do. Corporations have voting rights. When you build a house that differs from “the norm”, a home that is perceived to fail to enhance your neighbor’s property values (thus affecting their “money”) your neighbor’s can actually sue you. It should be noted that your neighbors probably won’t have to do that, because the government shares their interests in money (and not yours for personal freedom) because they exist by collecting property taxes… and we all know that bigger, expensive houses, bring in far more tax dollars.

It doesn’t matter that these homes require more energy. It doesn’t matter that these homes waste space and resources. What matters is that they use more material to build, that they require more labor to construct and that they’re capable of generating higher property taxes, thus insuring the health and welfare of… you guessed it… the government.

So, we have laws (building codes) that define things like “minimum size”, and “approved materials” that only feed bureaucracies and banks and administrations.

We the People deserve the “RIGHT” to freedom of shelter choices. This includes the RIGHT to build alternative housing (like ISBU – Shipping Container Housing, for example) , as long as it does not endanger the lives and physical safety of others.


What I AM suggesting is that reorganizing and rebuilding areas to be more compatible with both “Mother Nature and Mankind” can be both cost-effective and a huge boon to the people living there – not just NOW, but for the generations to follow.

By really putting some thought into action… (in the trade we call it “Pre-Design”) not only will they establish more comfortable and sustainable environments, the architects of these new places will rekindle long untended fires – hopefully fueling the desires of our kids, who might just have a shot at home ownership when they reach an age that requires they tend their own created nests…

In my opinion – If we are to be smart about rebuilding homes, cities and provinces, we shouldn’t rush into construction without planning to meet the needs of today as well as considering the needs of tomorrow, by specifics dictated by location and environment, not by “generics” designed to generate income by short-sighted officials claiming dominion via “oversight”…


But at least for the time being, if you desire to live in a home of your own crafting, especially one that uses alternative materials and alternative building practices, you may have a long road to hoe, to get from where you are – to where you need to be.

So, to those of you who chide me for paying close attention to political gyrations which craft the envelope we are forced to reside within, I ask you this;

Who says ISBU Homes are not political?

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“Hard Teepee”… It’s NOT the name of a Rock Band.

30 Oct

We’ve been talking a lot lately about “tiny houses”.

Corten Containers can lend themselves to the creation of small and really cool spaces, but once you’ve accomplished that, you sometimes have some yard left over!

The way I see it, the more I build in the yard, the less lawn I have to mow. right? LOL!

What would happen if you built a teepee on a raised (insulated) octagonal deck (that sat on pilings up off the ground to get you out of the snow and muck…)

What if you then sprayed SPF (spray foam insulation) on the inside to not only insulate it but to add a vapor and moisture barrier…

What if you then sprayed it on the exterior with lightweight concrete?

What if you added photovoltaic panels to runs the lights and electrical appliances?

What if you did it, in about two weeks?

What if it looked something like… um…  THIS?

Native NowTech - web

You’d have a 24/7 shelter that was easily four season. And that’s exactly what some guy (I”m still trying to find out WHO) did, in the California Desert.

Let’s step it up a notch…. By building it large enough, you’d get a sleeping loft up where all the heat got trapped.

Cool, huh?

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You want “Alternative Homes”?

13 Sep

As our team works their proverbial butts off building a remote oil/gas facility deep in the wilds of North Dakota…

This is a “repost” of an article I ran way back in March of 2013, after a reader contributed content to the blog. Apparently (several months later) a realtor claims ownership of the descriptions of the homes depicted, so we pulled the post. Originally, we were just going to trash it, but I didn’t like the idea of taking the influence of these novel homes and shoving them back into the dark. So, we locked the post until we could do a quick re-write. After doing some research, we discovered that the ORIGINAL photos came from a YAHOO post. We’ve maintained the same image sequence (which the realtor does NOT own) and simply rewritten the content to match.

Note that “Full Credit” is given to the owners of the photographs.

That said; I’ll give you some “alternative” homes to ponder.

Recently, I’ve been bombarded by emails from people who want to build “cost effectively”. Most of these people are under the impression that in order to do that, you have to either sacrifice all your hopes and dreams, or live in a hovel.

Folks, it’s just not so.

People who live in “altie” homes come from all walks of life. Some are bold, some are modest, some are just “average Joe’s and Joanne’s”.

Recently, one of my readers sent me a bunch of images of “alt homes” that he’d collected – with some attached narrative and then he asked me to compare them to “what I do”.

Let’s just jump in, shall we?

(Editor’s note: As previously advised, I’m NOT going to use the “reader supplied narratives” that have now been contested. I’ll just add my own two cents worth.) 🙂

Boulders Home
This house (is) just ROCKS!

Ever felt like you were caught between a rock and a hard place?

Apparently, the Portuguese family that built this home didn’t let that bother them. It’s easy to see what they’ve  done using masonry, concrete tiles and a lot of back-breaking labor.  I love the whimsy in it, but it is what it is… a pile of rocks.

Credit: JSome1, photographer

No Bumpy Landings
Some little boys grow up to be pilots…

(It’s not MY home, it’s some other guy’s home!)

Boeing 727. 1,000 square feet. Big cargo hold for your significant other’s shoe collection. This poor guy spent a hundred grand on the fuselage and then went to town. He doubled the cost of the aircraft body MOVING it to it’s final resting site and then building it out.

Okay, that’s some pricey square footage, but you can bet that nobody else in the neighborhood has a home like that. Can you imagine the shock that pilots would get, flying over that valley and seeing that carcass in the bushes? Oy. I bet they’d drive the NTSB crazy! 

Can you imagine the shock his guest get, as they try to figure out how to get back in the “house” after a night of drinking and carousing? LOL!

Credit: From

Silo Home
It’s “Doomsday Prepper” on Acid…

We’ve all read about decommissioned missile silos. In fact, there’s a score of them all over the US that have been turned into residences, commercial facilities and “other” habitations. This one’s located in upstate NY. The owner’s claim that it’s one of the strongest homes ever built, with 2300 square feet located in the earth, surrounded by several feet of concrete. When the nukes start to fly, you just descend into the abyss, to find a kitchen entertainment area and a pair of private suites. Ironically, this “high tech” home is hidden under a log cabin.

And yes, you can fly in and land at your own private runway, just in case you have to flee Metropolis to get to your hidey-hole. TIP: It’s a short runway so bring your “small” plane or you’re gonna end up in the woods…

If you have deep pockets, this home is for sale. It’s gonna cost you about $750,000, if the owner has anything to say about it. I wonder what this house actually sold for – if it sold at all… It’s gotta be a tough sell, in this economy.

Beyond that, I’m not saying nothing. Not a word… LOL!


Dr Seuss  House
Horton Hears a House

When I first saw this, I thought it was a children’s preschool, or a restaurant, or a retail store. But, it is indeed a home. Okay, so it’s built in a place where it gets dark for a really long time. So, not that many neighbors will complain about his use of every single color in the palette! The builders of this home thought Alaska too gloomy. LOL!

Credit: Peggy Asbury

Mud House
Careful! Don’t wash the house off your hands! 

Here at RR and over at Owen Geiger’s site, we talk about building  a lot of house for little money. “A lot of house” means building the home you NEED, not building (or buying) some big-butted McMansion with a soul-killing mortgage attached.

Contrary to “popular opinion” you don’t need a realtor or even a mortgage to solve your  housing  needs, if you’re one of those people who isn’t afraid to get their hands dirty. This 200 square foot Missouri cob house is evidence of that.  Cob houses are built of earthen walls using a slurry of clay, sand and straw. And since you may already have the materials you need on hand, the construction technique is labor intensive, but quite cost effective. We’re talking about less than $25 a square foot.

This isn’t a hovel by any means, In fact, I think it’s pretty cool. I love the idea that it blends in with the earth so effectively. It’s not imposing itself on it’s surroundings, it’s living symbiotically with them. Too Cool!

And, note the construction price – $25 a square foot.

Credit: Brian “Ziggy” Liloia and April Morales / photograph by Stephen Shapiro

Field House
Here’s a construction worker’s nightmare…

I’ve personally been to Wyoming several times. I’ve personally seen this “home”. It’s a “timberman’s wedding cake, layer after layer of  balconies, staircases and rooms crafted by madness. I’m not sure that “whimsy” is the  right word…

I suspect that it’s more the product of “What in the world am I gonna do with all this old lumber?”

As you can probably imagine, the owner no longer lives there. I can’t imagine why… 🙂

Can you say “World’s biggest bonfire”? I know what this guy did. He approached his architect and then said;

“See that big-assed pile of sticks over there? I want you to use EVERY SINGLE ONE of them… and don’t worry… I can get MORE!” LOL!

I bet that poor architect had an aneurysm on the spot.

Credit: Robert Elzey

Glass Houses
Some people live in in Glass Houses, figuratively. SOME take it literally…

People in Florida do crazy things. Maybe it’s “too much Epcot” in the air. I’m not sure WHY it happens, but this glass house is a good example of HOW it happens. Apparently these guys started scrounging old windows and mirrors and then bought the world’s largest tube of silicone caulk. You have to admit that it has a certain “charm” to it.

“Okay! Who wants to drive over and see grandpa and grandma running around in their skivvies? Hello? Anyone? Um… Hello?”

Okay, I don’t want to see this house sold to some poor person suffering from OCD. They’d be running around with a bottle of Windex for the rest of their lives! And, I bet they don’t let ya play baseball in their front yard, either! 🙂

Credit: Gordon Borman

ISBU Insanity!
Welcome to Ironman’s Playhouse…

Florida, again. Gainesville this time. Okay, maybe they’ve been “sniffing Busch Gardens”? I’m an ISBU guy. Everyone knows that, but this…?

It’s 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, 2,200 square feet of “I thought this was in Haiti or the Philippines when I first saw it…”

(Picture Ronin biting his knuckles and trying NOT to comment further…)

Image Credit; Unknown – we found it listed in the creative commons archives. If you’re the owner of the image, please contact us.

That ain’t an ISBU house. THIS is an ISBU House;

Strong and Folksy

It’s a “sleeper”, yes indeed. Unless you witnessed it’s birth, you’d never know that this was an ISBU home.

Just over 1,200 square feet, 2 bdrm 2 bath, nestled down on a sleepy little street in a sleepy little town. And by repurposing, reusing and recycling (as well as by strong-arming relatives and anyone else walking past the construction site) this home was built for under $60 a square foot in 2005.

Using contractors and subs, building it now would probably set you back $100-$125  a square foot in most parts of the United States. We just completed a pair of these in the South (Texas) for right about $92 a square foot.

Credit: Alex Klein

Last but not least…

This House will stand up to everything but Kryptonite and “Habanero based” House Paint! 🙂

Constructed from repurposed ISBUs (Shipping Containers), this solid steel 2 story house is perched just “Off Bay”, allowing views of the waterways from the second floor. 3 Bdrms and 2 baths, it’s fire-resistant, water resistant, earthquake resistant, bug resistant (termites don’t like hardiplank), and sustainable.

Better still, it blends in with the rest of the homes on the street and is rather inconspicuous in it’s origins.

And contrary to those naysayers out there, it was built for under $70 a square foot, from start to finish.

In 2013 a similar home (mirrored) was constructed by a family in Louisiana for under $100 a square foot. The Cajun family that built it threw a “housewarming party” with a banquet so spicy hot that it nearly killed all those who ate it! LOL!

Credit: Alex Klein

Of all these “alt homes”, which one is your favorite?

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A box is a box…

29 Aug

Many fans of RR know that we’re involved in a lot of “unusual designs” where alternative housing is concerned.

Here’s one that we were NOT involved with, but we readily admit that we’ve had similar thoughts about a structure like this – using 20′ High Cube ISBUs;

This unusual design-build structure consists of a basement structure, with a manually-operated tilting metal box placed on top of it like a wedding cake topper.


Note that with little to no natural light available when the “lid” is secured, this dwelling is probably not going to work for those with a fear of being trapped in a small enclosed space…

… but if you’re looking to “Zombie-proof” your home, this might be a great starting point.

The 1 bedroom, 1 bath – with a basement – home  (I’d call it a cabin)  measures approximately 914 sq ft and contains a kitchen and living area located in the metal box above. A staircase gets you up and back into all the designated spaces.

But here’s the fun part;

The entire upper area of the home is transformed into a semi-outdoor space once raised with a steampunkish hand-crank, and the metal box itself is constructed from iron tubes, with a galvanized corrugated metal exterior and MDF interior.

(If it was me, I’d resolve that “open air” issue with retractable skirts made of mosquito netting or something to keep insects out. Can you imagine the reverberation of a thousand flying insects trapped in there, swarming around your head?) 😉

When the “lid” is closed, the structure is transformed into a sealed vault, private, secure and defensible against “any miscreants that might wander into your yard”… you know, like those “undead stumbling around looking for brains…”

The article about the home (featured in Arch Daily) says;

“The actual impetus behind THIS home’s unique design, and whether or not such mundane practicalities as adequate ventilation and fire safety issues have been fully handled, isn’t altogether clear.

“The project of Caja Oscura is a project of material and immaterial technology at the same time,” explains Javier Corvalán (the architect).

“In some way it is an antithesis of many known definitions of architecture, as the idea is made by absence of light.”

I can see how this could be done. And, it could be quite affordable. I’d still use a 20′ ISBU or two to pull it off as the increased strength that they would provide would be an asset in the face of heavy weather, zombies… or worse, visiting relatives. 😉

Built with a budget of $30,000 US, the home was completed in 2012 with a few grand left over for “stuff”… 😉

Consider this also;

When “open”, that raised lid “face” could be used as a splendid “photovoltaic farm”.

Cut in a few skylights or sola tubes to bring light into the cavity and it’d be a lot more comfortable.

Add a padlock hasp to the box so that you can sneak up and lower the box when it’s inhabited by your idiot brother in law and break out that bullet-resistant Master Padlock and you have the perfect place to teach that bozo a lesson for drinking all your frosty cold beverages…

I’m just saying…  🙂

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It’s just “Ice Water” – How about a dip?

23 Jan

I’m constantly getting email from “housing professionals” that claim I’m all wet.

They read my posts about “the state of the housing market” and then they saber-rattle about the media’s claims of recovery.

Yeah? It’s just “wishful thinking”.

No one wants to see housing stabilize as much as I do.

Most of America’s primary source of personal (family) wealth comes from the house they live in… wealth that is quickly disappearing as those housing values plummet.

How many of you lost your retirement saving in 2008 when the market ate everything in it’s path?

After 2008, most families TNW (Total Net Worth) was reduced to little more than the values invested in their homes.

Is your house worth as much now as it was a few years ago?

Are you “underwater” in a condition that makes your outstanding loan value more than the current street value of your home?

When “the experts” and other ilk spout that:

“The housing market is rebounding! Don’t worry! It’s Happy Happy Fun Time!”…

I get really hacked off.


There’s a reason that I teach families to build their own affordable, sustainable homes.

From the Federal Reserve FOMC statement September 21, 2011:

“…the housing sector remains depressed…To help support conditions in mortgage markets, the Committee will now reinvest principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities. In addition, the Committee will maintain its existing policy of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction.”

What does this mean?

It means that the FED realized that forecasts defining the bear housing market for 2012 were spot on. So they used their control of the fiat money supply to temporarily inflate demand of the highly leveraged purchases.

The result was not naturally occurring “supply and demand” market conditions as some “experts” claim. The results were just a “Created and crafted market condition” – one that cannot be maintained “forever”.

First, anyone foolish enough to “forecast promise like Moses getting tablets off mountainsides” in  a sector that is so dependent on government action (or more accurately government inaction) isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. In fact, those forecasts should be printed on toilet paper, because then they’d be worth something… appropriate to their substance.

I have to wonder just how deep these people have their heads stuck in … um… the sand. They use words like “job creation” and “household formation”.

The best way to disguise failure is to try to redirect your attention.

“We’re producing jobs!”

Nonsense. Define the “jobs” being created, please.

Sure, the administration is producing Public Sector jobs, despite the requirement for “private sector jobs” to fund them.  Remember,  Public Sector jobs, regardless of how important they may be, do NOT contribute to the GNP. The creation of Public Sector jobs actually creates a hole… that taxes must fill.

And these taxes are paid HOW? By private sector workers in a job market that is slowly eroding, like ice on a hot sidewalk, that’s how.

Demographics don’t support the conditions that some “experts” claim to be in effect.

Sure, the fat cats are getting fatter. However, there aren’t a lot of fat cats. Most families lack an abundance of advanced degrees, high paying job skills or “work in a market that they’ve cornered”.

Now, add an economy that isn’t as strong as the media claims, higher taxes (checked your paychecks since the first of the year?) and a wage scale that is slowly eroding as bosses demand more and more work for less compensation (because you should feel lucky that you have a job) and you have a time bomb waiting to go off.

Want to really screw up product values? Eliminate millions of potential buyers from it’s purchase group.

The housing market is just such a product;

  • The millions that got foreclosed are no longer buyers.
  • The millions that will be foreclosed in 2013-14 are no longer buyers.
  • The millions that are unemployed will not be buyers.
  • The millions of graduates without jobs will not be buyers.
  • The millions of empty-nesters whose homes have devalued (and will devalue more) as additional foreclosures (bank reo – “Real Estate Owned” inventory) are released will not be buyers.
  • The millions of families that will see their taxes, healthcare and other expense increase will not be buyers.

How many of us have said things like;

“I should have sold in [fill in the blank]!”

When housing values return to previous highs and then SURPASS them, I’ll buy that the housing market is recovering. Until then, moves north of the baseline are just making up a small percentage of housing value LOSSES that lived under that baseline for years.

This isn’t about blame. You can finger-point anywhere you want. It doesn’t change the conditions. It’s about common sense.

Until the economy rebounds, until jobs are plentiful, until governmental spending is balanced by “fair and equitable” taxation… things won’t change.

Who will buy all this housing to drive values and sustain the allegations of growth?

It won’t be “Mom and Pop America”, let me assure you.

It’s going to continue to be the rich and famous… like wealthy Russian “Oil” children and the denizens of Hollyweird…

The Renaissance Ronin

Anniversaries, pageviews and ISBU Home Building – A definition of Terms…

24 Oct

I recently received an email from a group congratulating me on hitting 1 MILLION pageviews, this year.

While we appreciate the acknowledgement, the truth is that we actually reset the counter on the anniversary of the blog each year, which is in MAY.  And, that number doesn’t include syndication, which accounts for a similar (in fact, LARGER) number of pageviews. RR has gotten several million pageviews since it’s origins, a few years ago.

So, if nothing else, we’re confident that the message is getting out there.

As a result, we get email. A TON of email. I had no idea when I started this blog that there would be so much email. Oy! 🙂

After reviewing my email (I have 4,000 emails – I’m not kidding – to sort though as I type this);

I thought that maybe it’d be beneficial to start defining the terms that we use here on Renaissance Ronin so often.

Most of my recent “questions” are about insulation. (I have 23 emails currently asking me the difference between SPF and fiberglass batts – the answer is simple; SPF is good. Fiberglass batts are BAD. :))

It’s pretty obvious that you need to insulate a shipping container, unless you want to turn it into an oven or a refrigerator (depending on season). Additionally Shipping Container (ISBU)  homes require ROOFS! That means that you need to insulate THEM, as well. Be they wood based, metal framed or something else… you guessed it… SPF is liberally applied to insure  that the home is efficient and warm.

We’re HUGE advocates of SPF – Spray on CLOSED CELL foam.

When we’re not using SPF, we’re using Rigid insulation that is basically the same (or a very similar) material, preformed into sheets that are applied directly to your structure.

SO, let’s start building a glossary of terms and materials, shall we?

Here’s a few for today;

Closed Cell Foam Structure – Foam with no holes or voids that water can penetrate. It resists moisture and will maintain its R-value over time. The result, high compressive strength and unparalleled resistance to water penetration.

R-Value – A measurement of resistance to heat flow. The greater the R-value, the greater the thermal efficiency—and a small increase makes a big difference. Cavity insulation (as depicted above) only insulates between the studs, leaving those studs un-insulated.

That un-insulated wood creates an effect called “thermal bridging”, which we’ll discuss again in great depth, as a later date.

Rigid insulation –  like SPF (that is applied by spraying it directly onto the surface of your building or residence),  is foam sheet material that covers the entire wall, providing a continuous layer of thermal protection and increasing the overall R-value and energy efficiency of your structure.

Stay tuned.

The Creation of “Corten Country”… One Home at a Time.

25 May

We’ve been talking a lot lately about ISBU homes built “out and beyond” the subdivisions normally inhabited.

The way we see it, the benefits of living on your own land – in an ISBU  home you built with your own hands,  – growing your own food and (gasp!) making your own power far outweigh the “conveniences” of “urban sprawl”…

Many of you understand what we’re talking about. Some of you are “more optimistic” about where things are headed. We hope you’re right, but we’re going to prepare for hard times by taking on more personal responsibility, “just in case”.

Despite what your relatives tell you… us “Alties” (alternative housing fans) really aren’t part of  “the lunatic fringe”.

(Okay, our buddy Owen Geiger may be a little crazy, but he’s “crazy like a FOX”.) LOL!

For the most part, us “alternative home builders and dwellers” are  a cautious lot.

We have to be. We do what we can with what we have, using common sense and careful optimization of what is usually termed “reclaimed or repurposed materials”.

In layman’s terms, we “scrounge, scaffold, scrap and scour”… until our homes perform the way we designed and built them to.

 Look, I’m not gonna mince words;

Times aren’t getting easier and despite the liberal media and the rants of politicians… there isn’t any “magic bullet”.

Times WILL get harder. Those who recognize that and plan accordingly will have a much better chance of dealing with whatever circumstances present themselves. This “hard earned luxury” will hopefully allow them to help others around them.

A buddy of ours “in the Eastern part of the US” is making progress with his ISBU Homestead.

We’ve been working with “JH” for a long time now, helping him get all his ducks in a row. “JH” isn’t a “nut” or a “dreamer”. He’s a red-blooded, G_d fearing, middle class American who sees the times changing. He sees unemployment killing towns. He sees inflation driving up food prices. He sees values changing – seemingly with the quickly changing  direction of the wind…

Like us, “JH” sees America changing.  

Truth be told, “JH” is one of our favorite people around here.

“JH” is a “grass roots” kinda guy.

He doesn’t trust anything that he can’t build with his own hands. He knows the value of a hard day’s work, and he knows that by providing for himself and his family, he’s not going to be dependent on anyone for anything, no matter what comes.

Like us, “JH” believes that hard times are indeed coming.

So, he’s quiet about HOW and WHERE he’s shoring up, But, his heart is in the right place and he’s a smart guy. He knows that others need to see progress, to build confidence.

“JH” is a guy near and dear to our hearts.

He recycles just about everything that isn’t nailed down. He pays for his progress with sweat equity and he uses common sense and ingenuity to solve problems.

As we’ve watched him evolve, we’ve been poking him for pics to share with the tribe, so that others can see the great steps he’s taken to build a sustainable, affordable homestead to shelter his family, come what may.

After a lot of arm-twisting, he’s starting to pony up the photographs.

“JH” says;


I have been a little reluctant to show pics of the work. If the situation gets bad, my “out of sight – out of mind” place may be the place to be.

I need to paint an exterior dark red south facing outer ISBU wall white to reduce the heat inside and to reflect light for plants. I am thinking of putting a greenhouse against the container and using it as a support wall. Would be small for now, maybe 8×16 or 24.

I just deer fenced in 1 acre total from two garden plots. I took advantage of the natural land topos and captured the rain in a series of dams with pipes. Had 70 loads of tree company mulch delivered free. Engineered staggered beds for water retention (and conservation). Plants are taking off. Will eat fresh green beans, potatoes, and squash tomorrow for Sunday dinner.

Here is some from my two garden areas on the two downward slopes from boxes. Pics are taken from the tops of my containers. Rain water flows to each bed from three directions down a slope, fills, then flows through a pipe to the next to fill all the way down the hill. Used chicken wire, metal fence posts, and bamboo for deer fences. CHEAP. Wood chip mulch was delivered for free and it is a foot thick between the raised beds which are 1.5 ft thick of top soil from the land. Really holds moisture in between rains for weeks and keeps the weeds down. Win-Win. Plenty more is turning to compost for future use. I plan on having the richest soil possible in a year or two using compost and other additions as I go. I have a pull behind 36″ tiller and an old lawnmower for the tractor. CHEAP. I can till the whole place now in a couple of hours. Terraces, mulch, and pipes control erosion.

Needless to say, the place the coming along nicely.

I have a long way to go on the boxes. Work in progress. I will do the (ISBU)  interiors in the off season and the deck on top as I go.
Been focusing on the garden and food production as the Bible says to do first.

We are eating the first vegetables now. Good stuff. Gardens are something to brag about. The way I have engineered things, they should only improve in fertility/output over time. I have one acre in production right now. I may do the greenhouse in addition. Plan, gather info, optimize, and work.

That is just how I do things.

I am growing cantaloupes, beans, peas, watermelons, corn, peanuts, potatoes, blackberries, raspberries, grapes, apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, plums, blueberries, peppers, radishes, squash, figs, etc. on the place. Total garden area is about 1 acre. Additional area is wheat for a dove field and turkeys. We hunt the place which has plenty of wildlife.
Boxes are a work in progress. Been getting the garden up and running mostly.
I don’t mind helping others but I don’t want a lot of people showing up at my little secluded spot getting my stuff. Only takes one to ruin my work. The only security is out of sight out of mind since I don’t live there yet. I like my privacy.”

(Note: I’ve reformatted the narrative.)

“JH” is taking steps to insure his family is safe, secure and well fed.

“JH” is doing it on a tight budget, and he’ll create a sustainable, affordable and most important COMFORTABLE environment that his family will be proud of for decades to come.

Are YOU?

If not, every day that you aren’t acting on your desires is a day lost…