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ISBU Homebuilding – an Armageddon Artform for the Locally Insane?

23 May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s very interesting.

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

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

Look at the assembly line process they employ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving on;

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

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

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

Stay tuned.

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


Alex Klein

You drink out of a container… you might as well drink IN one, too!

27 Apr

Coming soon to a neighborhood near you…

IF you’re living – or visiting – in Austin, TX.

Container_Bar - Austin TX

Image Credit:

RR Avatar


Beam me up, Scotty!

2 Apr

A few days ago, I ran a post that showed you a “truck fulla goodness”.

Glu-Lam Beams for ISBUs-3

When we preach “reusing, repurposing and recycling” around here, we ain’t kidding.

It’s just amazing what you can find if you just keep your eyes open. Sometimes “very conventional” materials can be used in really “unconventional” ways.

In our case, that means using “repurposed” utility poles as part of the timberframing between ISBU wings, to form a massive “clearspan” area between them.

Top that with SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels) and then SSMR (Standing Seam Metal Roofing) and you  have  a system that will last for decades, maybe even a century.

(I say “maybe” only because – obviously – I’m not going to be around to document it and I don’t want any “smarty-pants”: “Hey Ronin, can you PROVE that?” email.)

Glu-Lam beams are just about the coolest thing I can think of, when I start thinking about “strength”.

Glued laminated timber, or glulam (also known as “Glu-Lam”) , is an  innovative and extremely versatile construction material that is engineered for a host of residential and commercial construction applications. Intelligent design values and massively improved product performance makes Glu-lams a cost competitive material that can be the natural choice for every project from simple beams and headers in residential construction to soaring glulam arches for domed stadium roofs spanning more than 500 feet.

500 feet. Wow.

But, you ask… what Is Glu-lam?

(First, stop calling me “but”. I get enough of that at home.) 🙂

A Glu-lam  beam is composed of many individual wood laminations, or “lams”, specifically selected and positioned in the timber, based on their performance characteristics. They are then bonded together with a whole bunch of durable, moisture-resistant adhesive. Glulam is available in depths from 6 to 72 inches or greater and in lengths up to 100 feet and longer. We’re talking MASSIVE. It’s just incredible how large these beams can get, from such “small” pieces of wood.

Glu-lams have almost unlimited design flexibility!

LeMay Car Museum constructionGlu-lam has greater strength and stiffness than comparable dimensional lumber and, pound for pound, is stronger than steel. Common uses include purlins, ridge beams, floor beams, headers, complex arches, commercial roof systems, bridges and utility poles. Glu-lam is available in a range of appearance characteristics to meet end-use requirements.

The strength and durability of glu-lam beams make them an ideal choice for large, open designs where long spans are required. Glu-lam beams can also be manufactured in virtually any size or shape. In fact, Glu-lam is the only engineered wood product that can be produced in curved shapes. The arched curve profile of the roof of the LeMay Car Museum (pictured) is just one example of the virtually unlimited design flexibility offered by glu-lam integration into construction projects.

And, you’ll be surprised where they turn up. Keep your eyes open. Seriously.

RR AvatarRelated articles:

I wanna live….

20 Jan

I’ve discovered that massive chest pains not only give you what my son calls “Ghoul Eyes” (as the broken blood vessels force them to fill with blood) they also give one pause to think about the future;

As  the New Year presses itself upon us, I recently found myself standing hip deep in the snow, looking up at the stars. I caught myself wishing upon the brightest one;

I asked for one wish – a wish to live forever…

A voice boomed out of the heavens;


I replied calmly (much accustomed to “booming voices” in the night… I’ve been married seemingly forever…) 😉

“NO. I’m NOT ‘nuts’. In fact, I can’t even feel ’em. I’m standing, half buried, in the snow. DUH!! Look, the cavalry ain’t coming. It’s every man for himself down here. I have much too much to do on the Earth. Have you seen the pile of Shipping Containers stacked up in my yard? I need to live forever.”


“Look, you don’t have to yell. I have 20-20 hearing… How about this;

I want to live until the United States Congress and the United States Senate finally pull their heads out of their proverbial butts!”

A voice boomed from the heavens;


The Renaissance Ronin

Gold Rushes, Choker Setters and Home Building… in 2013

31 Dec

As I sit here, attempting to allow my “Micromanaging Fascism” to be transformed into “delegation and diplomacy”, due to health issues…

I’m looking forward into what I hope and pray will be a better year for us all.

I’m already seeing the blogs and website posts lamenting “this or that”, or promising “here and there”…

While most of these posts are apparently written by people who “cannot see the forest for the trees”… I literally can’t see the forest for the trees…

I mean, I’m surrounded by them. Having moved here (to Montana) almost a year ago (where did the time go?), it’s hard to imagine having to drive into a metropolitan area daily, amidst the flotilla of traffic and the navigation of “sardine can inspired sub-divisions”…

As we brace for the arrival of 2013, talk is flowing around the shops about “New Year’s Resolutions”.

Rather than lie about what we “wish” we could do (we cannot end war, provide for world peace or even instill peace and goodwill to all mankind… that’ll take a group effort… ),  I’m gonna take a brief look at the past and then… maybe I’ll let you in on what we’re planning here at RR;

Most of you know that I recently returned (the worst for wear) home after some “travel gyrations to seemingly everywhere.” November was a bad month for us, let me tell you. It’s almost January now and despite the weather, we’re still clearing burnt lodgepole pines. The recent heavy weather in MT has brought “push” to “shove” and now we’re forced to remove trees that endanger structure.

Admittedly, it’s hilly work and not without risks.

We’ve all watched “Ax Men” on cable.

As we plotted and debated this, one of the guys here told me about how he worked as a “choker setter” as a kid.

(Someone else I know had a similar experience. They talked about how an errant cable can cut you in half in the blink of an eye.  They talk about being crushed by  logs.)

I told them what I’m telling you… that they were just being “whiney babies”…

You see… as a kid, I’d spent some of my summers in Oregon as a “choker setter”, too…

I don’t know what the big deal is. Years ago, when I fancied myself “skilled” –  I produced a “production collar/capture” series of my own.

And as a “choker setter” I too encountered some dangers…

… usually while fastening an…

(wait for it… here it comes…)

… ornately crafted choker around the neck of some local beauty, while trying to avoid staring down into their cleavage.

(Yeah, yeah… I can hear you screaming into your monitors that I’m a p-i-g. Look… G_d  made women beautiful so you’d look at them, want them, desire them… even (gasp!) listen to them. You’d have me defy G_d? Whaaaaaa? You’re supposed to look. It’s right there in your DNA.

Don’t believe me? Go Google “Darwin”.)

Where was I? Oh yeah…

Some of the “freshly chokered” weren’t as nice as others. As I affixed those glistening gold and silver chokers around their necks… they’d look right thru you, trying to cut you in half, like a chainsaw through the heart,  with their mascara accented – steely gazes, like “if looks could kill… I’d killa you two time!”

Okay I admit it. I was a geek “genetically incapable of wooing the estrogen enabled with “daring do”… I had to settle for the ability to provide… shiny trinkets and baubles produced from the trunk of an Italian car. The “daring do” part came later… after a faithful investment in dojos and gyms and even (gasp!) recording studios (with a hunk of ash and rosewood hanging around my neck)…

And hey… I risked surviving “being crushed” too, as some of those girls were just gorgeous.

In fact, the only close calls I ever had were with the “larger limbs”…

…usually proffered by their boyfriends or husbands, should my eyes linger too long on the “foliage…”

So… while these guys cry like little girls about “the risks of logging”… I don’t know what the big deal is.

Compared to girls, WOOD is easy. All you do to fell a tree is slap a shape charge on it and then scream “Fire in the HOLE!” before you click the detonator. Then, you just duck. No Problem.

I can hear a pal of mine in Louisiana, we’ll call him “Tony”,  screaming in anguish;

“The trees… oh, the trees!” 🙂

I thought you guys and gals could use a laugh as 2013 approaches in a few hours…  even if it is at MY expense. 🙂

And so, you “Little House – Men of Men” (you know who you are)…

Despite the preaching of the Dali Lama – Sometimes it does indeed merit using a sledgehammer to kill a fly… Get over yourselves… LOL!

Hey, I’ve been burning the candle at both ends assisting families building ISBU homes, helping house oil rig lackeys so they don’t freeze to death in the tundra, and continuing to contribute to the operation of a NJ Post-Sandy Aid op.


We actually  learned a LOT about providing REAL aid after events like Hurricane Ivan and Hurricane Katrina.

Our New Year’s Resolution around here is pretty simple and even predictable;

“Build for those who cannot build themselves. Shelter those who lack shelter. Teach those who can teach others… and defy those who say that we’ll fail. “

Happy 2013. Go get ’em.


Christmas “Good Eats” on a global scale!

24 Dec

Okay, so you’re sitting there trying to figure out how to feed the hoard that is beginning to show up on your porch.

(For the life of me, I don’t know why or even HOW they show up here. I actually moved over 2,000 miles to get away from those Pantry and Refrigerator emptying” miscreants! 🙂

So, as we put up the welders and the tools and even (gasp!) turn off the computers…  as we close the doors on all those ISBUs we’re converting into homes…

Here’s some ideas, for those of you on a culinary quest that want to “visit the Holidays” on the Global Scale.

Global Goodies

Hey, this beats the heck out of that fruitcake that you’ve been using as a doorstop since 1967… huh?

Happy Holidays!

Highlights on Designing Shipping Container Homes

16 Dec

As many of you know, Alex is having a difficult time of it, healing from a recent health setback. Friday’s tragic events in Newtown, CT (the senseless murder of so many young children and their teachers)  hit him pretty hard.

(Alex lost his wife and his young son to violence many years ago. As a  result, Friday’s tragedy hit him even harder, like a sledgehammer to his already ailing heart. )

He spent yesterday (Saturday) in bed, resting. We know that much is true, as we insisted that he turn off his phone and computer and “get some much needed sleep”…

As America faces a new year, we’re getting a lot of questions about “HOW” ISBUs will play a role in developing housing for the middle class and urban/rural poor.

Alex talks a LOT about how important GOOD Architectural Design is, particularly when creating solutions in housing.

He makes it clear that discussions with families interested in integrating ISBUs (shipping containers) into their residential projects must include conversations about the complexities faced when working to improve the quality of the home by focusing on solid architectural processes, once you’ve “defined and refined”  your actual placement of the project in relationship to the environment and the sun.

This is particularly important when working on projects targeting the urban and rural middle class and our poor.  

Consulting sessions MUST highlight and then integrate new process ideas and fresh approaches, in order to enhance the living standards of the families actually building these Corten Steel homes.

The very same ideology holds true in our development of transitional, emergency and replacement housing after disasters. We MUST find ways to use ingenious and cost effective construction processes and materials to our advantage, narrowing the gap between the “haves” and the “have not’s”.

Alex calls this the “Bottom Billion” factor.

It is Alex’s goal to integrate “practice and product” to advantage, often using recycled or repurposed materials in unorthodox ways, helping families build solid, safe, sustainable homes, on reasonable, realistic “middle class family” affordable budgets. The home’s actual location matters little, he integrates the same principles in New Zealand, Australia, Africa, Japan, Russia, the Ukraine, Canada, and Central America  as he does in places like Los Angeles County, CA, using regional materials.

If Alex had a tattoo, we’re sure that it would read;

“Every Family Deserves a Safe Home.”

Many of those same concepts he espouses are used in our humanitarian aid endeavors as we design and build ISBU and “Hybrid’ homes and shelters for the world’s poor or displaced, in places like Haiti and Africa…

Geiger-Co-op Hybrid

As we spend most of the next few months (our calendar for the first quarter of 2013 is quickly filling up) speaking with (and then guiding) families preparing to build ISBU homes, we thought it might be helpful to show you “how we do what we do” so that you can capitalize on that process to achieve your goals successfully.

Over then next several weeks, we’ll begin “in-depth” conversations about HOW you design and build a sustainable ISBU home.

As I was writing this, I was reminded of this quote someone sent to us (by an attendee of the conference – a guy with a LOT of  “alphabet soup” after his name);

Recently overheard at the ISAUDC – (the International Sustainable Architecture and Urban Design Conference) where the speaker was illustrating “alternatives in sustainable architecture” especially as a response to natural disasters;

“… It’s really not all about dealing with governments or even Multi-National Architectural Houses. Oddly enough, it’s the “little guys” who roar the loudest. For example, where ISBU (Shipping Container) construction is concerned, American Alex Klein has demonstrated that he has more talent in one of his fingers than 99% of the other “Shipping Container/Corten Development Groups” on the planet…”

Shouted back from the audience;

“Yeah… I think that most of it resides in his middle finger…” LOL!

That’s our Alex…  A “David in the land of Goliath’s” 🙂

As we prepare for the Holidays, we ask that you remember the families of Newtown, CT in your prayers. The loss of a family member is horrific under any circumstances. The loss during a time of year that is supposed to focus on “Peace and Goodwill to Men…” is particularly traumatic.

May God bless these families as they begin the healing process. There are so many tears… so much pain… we pray that those affected by this terrible tragedy find peace…

Stay tuned.

: The Corten Crew

Corten in Canada

10 Dec

ISBUs are everywhere.

We know it’s true, because we have projects in 17 countries right now, with more slated.

Recently, we watched as a Canadian ISBU project that we’d been monitoring announced it’s “kick-off”.

Located in Vancouver BC, CA,  the Atira Women’s Resource Society is spearheading a twelve container project designed to house several women in need, helping them get a new start.

It’s a terrific idea… and we love it.

The 320-square-foot containers (um… approx 308 square feet, in reality) would be stacked three high and each would have a private bathroom, kitchen and in-suite laundry. Floor-to-ceiling windows would be at each end and each floor would be linked by an external staircase.

However, we’re really wondering where the money is going. Atira CEO Janice Abbott recently announced that the project is running at $100,000 (CA?) PER 320 square foot unit.

That means that each 40′ ISBU (which actually yields closer to 308 square feet) is coming in at over $300 PER SQUARE FOOT. Actually, it’s closer to $325 a square foot.

We can only think that this quoted price included the land that they are sitting on.

Here’s the post link;

Container housing project slated for Vancouver

As cool as this project is, we could build it several times, for that price. We’re going to contact the managers of this project and see if we can figure out how the math works.

Stay tuned.

:The Corten Crew


6 Dec

It’s getting silly out there.

As America starts to brace for “winter and whatever comes”…

… we’re being contacted by more and more families looking to build affordable, sustainable homes using ISBUs.

And as we begin advising these new ISBU families, the same question pops up over and over again;

“Where can we see one?”

And, that leads to this post.

We just received (3) irate emails from people seeking to build ISBU homes who were irritated that other ISBU home building families failed to allow them access to their homes, so they could “feel the Corten vibe”…

We get these all the time.

Okay, after we stopped laughing…

There are MANY ISBU homes and buildings scattered across America.

Many are well-touted, as local media and newspaper operations followed them as they were being built.

It’s sometimes possible to SEE these homes close up.

Some of the home owners are proud parents of “Corten kids” and they’re willing to let you see how they gave birth to them…

But not ALL ISBU families have an “open door” policy.

These aren’t unkind, impatient “ISBU Foster families”, folks. They’re usually people who began their journey with all the hope and excitement that most of us have when we begin actually achieving our goals.

But where it got thin was when people started driving up into their driveways and honking their horns, trying to entice the owners to come out and welcome them into their yards, so that these cars, SUVs and vans  filled chock full of  “potential ISBU home owners” could “experience the magic”.

You would not believe the stores we’ve heard;

“This family just drove up, got out of their cars and started running all around the house… looking, touching, trampling landscaping… with no regards for our rights or our property. It’s happened several times. Finally, we fenced off the house and gated the driveway. Now, they park in the street and honk the horn,  thinking that we’ll rush out and invite them in.”

“I got home to find people stomping on my landscaping, peering thru the windows, taking photographs of our interior.”

“They actually cussed  me out because I wouldn’t show them around. We were on our way out, headed to church.”

“I asked him; “So when are you planning on building your own ISBU home?” He replied; “Oh, we’re not! We just wanted to see the lengths some people go to to get attention while building a house.”

“Lookey-loos.” Gotta love ’em… 😦

“They insisted that we allow them access to our home so that they could take a bunch of photographs.”

“We’re not looking to build. We just wanted to see how you did it.”

“They climbed our fence to go into the backyard so they could  take pictures of the back of our house…”

It goes on and on. The callous disregard that some render to these pioneering home owners has quite frankly, “soured the vibe”… for everyone.

It’s not hard to understand why these families have a “Stay Out Of MY Yard” policy.

Use common sense, people.

Would YOU let people show up unannounced and then trample your gardening or landscaping so that they could become “Corten enlightened” at YOUR expense?

Would you let COMPLETE STRANGERS into your home, to inspect your house and belongings, in the name of “Corten Comraderie”?

We wouldn’t. In fact, we’d probably keep our “I’m gonna insert this boot up your… um… well, you know…” shoes by the front door. And then, we’d apply them liberally.

In fact, it’s probably the only “liberal” thing about us… LOL!

Now, the “old man”… he’d put a hurt on ’em. Quickly. Alex is one guy that doesn’t suffer fools gladly, let us assure you. All those years flapping from the handlebars has left him… sociologically impaired in that regard.

Update; He’s healing, slowly. We’re trying to get him to slow down (and take some time off), but he’s doing his “Messiah” thing again. Lots of sheep in the flock need help, right now.  🙂

There’s nothing wrong with trying to contact an ISBU family by email, or even leaving a note on the front door (or in the mailbox by the street) asking if they’d be open to letting you see what they accomplished.

Tip: Include your name, phone number or email address.

And understand and RESPECT the wishes of the home owners if they say NO, or just ignore your request.

After all, you’re asking to be a GUEST in their home.

Wanna sweeten the deal? Want to demonstrate that you mean them no harm and that you genuinely want to learn about ISBU’s? Leave them a decent bottle of wine or some flowers with the request for entry. Their time is as valuable as yours.  

There’s probably nothing  wrong with remaining in the street and taking photographs of the house from a position “off property”.

Frankly, we’re kinda used to people taking pictures from afar. It’s usually Planning and Zoning guys… LOL!

But, you have  to respect the owners rights of “privacy and property”.

Aretha Franklin said it best;

A little respect (just a little bit)
I get tired (just a little bit)
Keep on tryin’ (just a little bit)
You’re runnin’ out of foolin’ (just a little bit)
And I ain’t lyin’ (just a little bit)
(re, re, re, re) ‘spect


: The Corten Crew

HOW do you HELP?

1 Dec

Here at RR, we’d decided that Saturday will become “Update Day”.

There’s been a lot of changes here lately. Workloads are increasing, projects are defining themselves and the “old man” is slowly recovering.

(We’re still waiting for the blood to drain from his eyes, as right now he still looks like one of those “Midnight Monster Movie Ghouls.” He finds our horror “amusing”.)

Here’s the haps;

The “old man” recently spent time dealing with the Canadians. During that time, to use his own words, he “seized up”. Work round the clock dealing with “disaster and deeds yet fulfilled”… and eventually something snaps.

It usually starts with chest pains. Gasping and wheezing. Then, you fall down. It was so pronounced that he actually broke the blood vessels in his eyes, filling his eyes with blood.

He’s on the mend and he’ll be back, soon. He’s actually spending a lot of his time in bed working from a laptop on a “hospital bed table”.

While he’s mending, we’re picking up the slack.

We’re getting more and more contact from disaster areas where many others are trying to work their “solution” into the system as well.

Many of you  know that we have an ongoing presence in Haiti (many areas), Japan (Fukushima), New Zealand (Christchurch area), as well as a relief operation assisting families on the East Coast, after the devastation of Superstorm Sandy.  This on top of a pretty  impressive pile of ISBU projects targeted at families around the globe…

Each disaster and geographic location defines the “solution”. There is NO “one stop” drop to solve the dilemmas that are faced.

You saw us sending HAY to Colorado families after devastating wildfires endangered their livestock.

We sent HUNDREDS of tons of hay.

Each disaster defines it’s solution.

We thought it might benefit others to talk about HOW you aid, before you actually DO it.

We’re watching another well-placed group navigate this right now.

You have to start at the grass roots community level. If Haiti taught us anything, it was that dealing with multi-level “.coms and .orgs”, tied in closely with government just didn’t work.

The focus quickly turned from humanitarian aid, to “profiting from disaster”.

Many of you that followed along and watched us testify in front of Congress, witnessed the “horrors of humanitarian aid” firsthand and then… watched as we just “did it ourselves using our own resources”.

Many of these groups asked for hefty donations or set up investment trusts to finance these boondoggles, making their managers and companies rich… and their “projects” targets poorer.

When you consider making a donation start by determining how much of each dollar of your gift will actually make it to “the fields and families” that you intend it for.

The Red Cross is profiting in the millions of dollars by soliciting donations for Sandy aid. How much of your Red Cross donation money is making it to those families that need help?

You’ve read about what WE discovered in NJ.

The percentages will make you sick to your stomach. The actual performances? Well… let’s just say we were REALLY disappointed. Want to help others? Give the help to people who are in the field doing the work. First Responders, Volunteer aid groups. Better still, donate goods that can be distributed, or materials that can be USED to help rebuild.

TARGET your aid, by determining what is needed.

HOW do you render aid to families facing devastation and crisis?

You start by asking them what they REALLY need.

For example, many groups showed up in Haiti with highly touted “disaster solutions” that were so foreign to the people who would use them, that those solutions weren’t embraceable.

In fact, in many cases,  those solutions became “parts and pillage”, as projects were stolen, stripped and then repurposed by people who tried to build what they needed, instead of what was “offered”.

(And that was IF the components could make it through “Customs” and the pillaging that occurred there regularly.)

In Africa, we watched projects fall into disrepair due to lacks of maintenance and care.

Greenhouses were dismantled and carted off to by used as glazing in huts and shanties. Wells and pumps were stripped of equipment which was then sold on the black market or worse, just abandoned, preventing the units from providing water.

You have to start with FEEDBACK from the families that you’re trying to aid.

When you do that, you’ll quickly determine how “popular” and embraceable your solution will be.

In South America, there is resistance to “aid oriented housing” due to the fact that you’re asking families to abandon what they have, for the “unknown”. It’s almost “territorial”. Families don’t WANT to leave a plot of ground they’ve staked out and secured to move to a “crafted community” that is meant to bump their standards of living.  Despite your good intentions, they just can’t get their heads around that “progress”.

To leave where they are  means abandoning their stake on that little hunk of dirt. They might then strip your project for building materials to enhance their cardboard or trash-built shelter, but you’re not going to reconstruct their society. It just doesn’t happen that way.

Your housing solution must apply to regional and cultural definitions, or it will be rejected outright.

We helped a group build ISBU based homes for families using 40′ boxes. The project failed miserably as people waited long enough for the “providers ” to move on, and then they stripped out the boxes, leaving the metal carcasses abandoned, to repurpose the materials in smaller, mud and mortar shelters that they were more familiar with. The boxes? They gradually cut them up and harvested the metals for other projects and fortification.

Don’t get us started on “tool control”. You might as well drop tools out of airplanes. In many areas, you’ll need armed guards to protect tool caches, unless you want to arrive at your project and face empty tool lockers and black marketeers looking for quick profits.

We’ve personally provided 20′ ISBUs FILLED with tools for relief projects, only to learn that the contents were stolen by “customs authorities” or pilfered and sold by people in the field, who knew that those tools represented more money than many of their families made in years. It was far easier to just steal the tools and sell them than it was to “work for progress”.

There ARE ways to “build into” these areas. But you need to insure that your solution is targeted at the occupants of those shelters you’re going to build. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel, or try to force your solution down their throats.

We ARE just sick to death of those groups that show up and then preach their dogma because the locals just don’t know any better;

“We have to save them from themselves…”

We’ve actually heard this… sadly, more than once.

Honor the local cultures and traditions.

Unless you do that, unless you incorporate that into your project, you’re going to be a pariah…

Many governments in South America and Africa have money for “family housing” available.

Brazil is a good example;

The Brazilian government set aside money allowing qualified builders to build over 2 Million 42 square meter homes for poor families. However, to work in this endeavor, you’ll need start up capital, the ability to TRAIN local workers to build the required skill levels… and then you’ll need real access to materials to build with.

Sounds easy enough, right? NO. It’s a minefield.

IF you can navigate the perils, the Brazilian Government will pay you for the homes… at the end of your project. Then, THEY will  determine who gets them and how the housing is used.

We’ve seen workers who toiled for months in projects (aiming to get access to the homes they were building to house their own families) put out on the “curb” at the end of the projects. We’ve seen the housing sold off to local “developers” who then completely re-organized the projects for “profit”, and we’ve even seen these housing projects deeded over to companies to use as industrial housing in sweetheart deals that made local politician and authorities rich at the expense of poor families.

Did I mention the bribe system that always pops up as you toil to define your projects within local and governmental building codes?

If you can navigate all that (put on your body armor and eat your Wheaties first…) you need to build real solutions.

It’s not just “beyond American borders” that this happens.

The “old man’s” wife is a Native American. We’re talking “reservation” Native American. Many of us (two of us on “The Corten Crew” are Native Americans as well), including the old man have spent YEARS on the reservations trying to assist them in building safe, affordable housing.

Why is this necessary?

I’ll answer a question with a question.

Have you seen the “Government Solution” to housing on Native American Indian Reservations?

The US Government does indeed “provide” cheap housing for Native Americans. It’s usually tendered in the form of cheaply constructed modular trailers that are totally worthless when you take into consideration the climate that they were designed for.

Every single year, Native Americans freeze to death in these hovels, because they lack sufficient insulation and heating systems.

The victims are predominantly children and the aged.

The solution to this dilemma is readily available and even affordable. It’s just not “profitable” to the government contractors that build into these programs.

It sickens us. Truly.

Ambition and the desire to help others is a great thing, but it’s just a part of the recipe. You need to add heaping handfuls of local knowledge, research and then careful planning and design, guided by realistic resources and local skillsets.

Involve the locals. Their input will weigh heavily if  you are to succeed. And then understand if they aren’t interested in your “$300 house” solution. While noteworthy and valuable, it’s real value is going to be determined by the people that USE it.

We’ll keep you posted on the “old man’s” health and what’s happening here at RR. In the meantime, help a neighbor. Help someone you don’t know. Buy a toy and drop it into a “Toys for Tots” box. Donate warm clothing to your local thrift store.

It’s the Holidays. Give in to the disease. 🙂

Ho, ho, ho…

:The Corten Crew