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Project Larry

7 Feb

We thought that we’d try something different…

We’re reading posts from “the allegedly learned” who claim that you can’t build an ISBU Home for under $150 a square foot.

It’s… “entertaining”, especially when it comes from people who have never actually built an ISBU home.  

Rather than just cry “Bull-Puckey“, we’re going to let you tag along as we build ISBU homes in “budget areas” that others claim “unbuildable”.

You see, we want YOU to understand that those making these “It’s impossible” claims are just full of crap.

We’re building a trio of ISBU home right now, for three brothers living in Coastal Washington State.  We refer to them around here as “Larry, Moe and Curly.”

Career bachelor. Larry works 12 hour days, plays the guitar and sleeps when he can. Sometimes he eats. It’s usually “fast food”. We know the type.

Each one wants a small ISBU home built from 40′ High Cube boxes.

The idea is that the similarly sized homes will sit near enough to each other to be tied together by a common deck facing a small “man-made lake”.

The first home (Larry’s house) is pretty straight-forward, (2) 40′ ISBUs placed side by side with the inner walls removed.

Like most families, Larry brought us some floorplan ideas that he thought that we could “twist”. It didn’t take much.

Washington - Thirty One
His ISBU home will be pretty “run of the mill”. It’s going to provide basic comforts with just a tad of flair.

The only thing that we’ve really done different is that we’ve designed a “bump out” that showcases an oversized “Moorish” carved door (that pretty much defined the space). It’s your basic Arctic Entry with a pocket door into the Great room (not depicted).

We’re talking about an ISBU home of a little over 700 square feet.

1 bedroom with a full sized bath, pocket kitchen, Great Room living and dining with a modern woodstove for heat.

We’re still debating overhead cabinets so they aren’t depicted but I’m confident that they’ll run all the way up to the ceiling.

The dining table pulls out of the cabinet. It can be extended using leaves to seat up to five.

Structural Insulated Panel/ Standing Seam Metal Roofing –  SIP/SSMR – Roof,  Spray Foam – closed cell SPF – on the exterior of the walls and subfloor. Insulation in interior walls for “acoustical suppression”. Hardiplanked over.

Sonotube piling foundation. Entry deck with floating staircase.

An 8′ deep deck will run the length of the container on the South side, allowing occupants to walk right out into the outdoors from every room.

Window placement dictated by site.

Septic with a macerator…

Well water.

Photovoltaic Power and a battery bank.

Solar Domestic Hot Water

Back-up diesel generator.

Built using mostly recycled materials by three brothers in the building trade, we’re looking at a “typical” family build with a little “tradesman experience” bump.

The budget for structure??


Unless something really stupid happens, we’ll have money left over to help pay for panels, septic and playtoys…

Stay tuned.

The Renaissance Ronin

Hachets are best used for chopping wood…

4 Feb

Gather ’round children, I’m going to tell you the story of when BOB got disrespected;

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again;

Here at RR, we don’t hate “Professional (licensed) Architectural tradesmen“.

We work with them all the time. Fully accredited and licensed Architects and Engineers have invested a large portion of their lives to education, licensing and garnering experience. They need to feed their families too. We certainly don’t begrudge them that. But, some of OUR families simply cannot afford to feed THEIR (Architects and Engineers) families too, as they seek solutions…

This said, we start “dispensing the medicine”;

No One CaresArchitects and Engineers send us hate mail all the time because they allege that we “steal business from them” by educating “small home building people” to understand that they don’t NEED them, or all of their high-priced services in the first place.  We counter that if they were willing to help these families in an affordable and integral manner, we’d send them “business by the bucket”. THAT’S how much “business” we turn away because we simply don’t have enough staff to fulfill it. These guys aren’t looking to gouge you or looking to steal your money, folks. We understand they have overhead. Architecture is expensive. We get it.

But sometimes it gets “ugly”. We’re not going to allow ourselves to become targets for abuse by those who either seek to compete with us, have demonstrated repeatedly that they wish us ill, or both.

It should be noted from the beginning that here at RR we actively WANT more qualified, experienced ISBU design professionals to dedicate themselves to teaching and assisting middle class families to build affordable, sustainable homes.

To those guys and gals; We want you to excel at what you do so that frankly, we don’t have to do it. We’re busy enough now. It breaks our hearts to turn families away. We do it weekly.

RR started because we wanted to help families getting hammered by hardship or the economy to “build themselves out of the box, by using cast-off ones”.

RR was never about “high dollar metal mansions”. RR is about striving to provide “DIY Basics”.

Here at RR, We don’t operate out of glass corner offices perched high in Metro skyscrapers. We don’t drive Porshes, or Mercedes Benzes. We don’t wear fancy suits.We live on farms surrounded by trees, cattle horses and an occasional wild beast (which usually ends up in our freezer). We grow our own food. We drive ten year old 4wd farm trucks. We wear Carhartt coveralls and we wear stout hiking or work boots.

We don’t make any PROFIT on family builds. We actually have to take on other “commercial and industrial” projects to cover it, so that families can afford to build in the first place. We don’t urge families to “work outside their pay grade”.

If building families need help performing a specific task or achieving a trade standard, we strongly suggest they seek it out and then secure it, especially when it’s the services of a  plumber, an electrician or  even a structural engineer.

Most of the projects depicted and described on RR are “family builds”. That means that a LOT of sweat equity, volunteer work, material resourcing and recycling is invested. It’s the only way these homes actually get built.

In fact, I’ve said publicly on the blogs (and in my books as well) that if you’re looking for a high-dollar, high profile Shipping Container home, we are NOT the guys you want to talk to.

We’ll laugh at you and then send you on your way. I’ve talked about these kinds of “My House Is Greener Than Yours” or “Man, I spent so much more than you – because I’m so cool…” guys on the blog (and in my books) a lot, so there can be no confusion about that. It’s simply not our mission.

There are plenty of other guys out there who will be happy to take your money…

We’ve stated repeatedly on the blog (since it’s beginnings, in fact) that RR is not about touting ourselves or getting pats on the back.

RR is about educating families about how alternative homes can be built and then helping them understand the processes involved. No matter what some will infer, RR is NOT now, nor has it ever been a “gravy train” created so that we can cash in on “hysteria or hardship”.

Truth be told, we do a lot of “Pro Bono” work and we don’t make a profit on “family funded” home builds.

There are comments all over the web that talk about us helping families, usually at our expense.

It’s WHAT WE DO (when we can) to insure that families are safe.  We don’t “echo” the praise here because, quite frankly, we don’t need our egos massaged. We simply believe in what we’re doing. It helps us sleep at night. The monies collected in “family builds” wouldn’t even keep the lights on or the rooms warm.  We do this because we believe that it’s important that it gets done, while we drive ten year old trucks and scavenge thru cast off “construction garbage” and “architectural salvage operations” to recover materials that can be recycled into affordable homes built on tight – sometimes almost suffocating – budgets.

While there are those who imply otherwise;

We don’t EVER urge families to use inferior materials.

We NEVER suggest that people build homes that are not built to meet code standards (in fact, our ISBU projects are usually “overbuilt”).

Nor do we urge families to “build illegally or skirt local laws”.

Allegations to contrary are absolutely preposterous.

Recently, I learned from a prospective commercial ISBU client that that there was a drafting guy (he’s not a licensed Architect, nor has he ever been) who reviewed/attacked one of our ISBU creations, “BOB”. Now, I’m not talking about “Robert Redford”, or a “Bug Out Bag”, he attacked a plan I’d shown people to demonstrate how a handful of 20′ ISBUs could  be set up to quickly form a small “vacation-type” home.

We laughingly referred to it as an ISBU based  “Bug-Out-Bunker“.

“BOB” – get it?

The reviewer states that one of the reasons he did this was the he doesn’t like our “politics”.

You see, we feel strongly that in order to prepare for the future, you must recognize the conditions you face.  He accuses readers of the blog of apparently being  mind-washed victims of “cool-aid” (his exact words) served up to lead you to believe that things are difficult in America.

He implies that everything is fine. He calls our discussions about eroding economic conditions in America, the Trillions of dollars of deficit, the inability of Congress to balance a budget or cut spending, and the hardships they create for the middle class… “complete nonsense”.

Nonsense? Really? Tell that to all of the families losing their jobs as companies leave the US, the families faced with losing their homes and worse, the families faced with the loss of the the ability to feed their families.  Here at RR, we are”realists”. We don’t buy the media BS and we don’t stick our heads in the sand (or up anywhere else) and hum… Honestly, we don’t give a crap if the reviewer or casual reader likes our politics or not. They can simply turn the channel.

We personally suspect that he’s the one drinking the “Kool-Aid” being served up those empty headed suits in Washington DC.

Let’s look at the “RR Victim” he offered up to his sacrificial altar;

First, BOB isn’t a REAL bunker. It was never intended to be.  BOB is just a “Corten Cabin”.

The idea was to simply to build  the maximum amount of enclosed, habitable shelter (“c0ntractor grade”, no less) for the price of a middle of the road USED RV.

BOB was a “off-the-cuff” counter to million dollar bunker suites built with the prospect of inhabiting radon filled, abandoned Missile Silos to avoid disasters. In fact, the guy doing exactly that was discussed in that same post – he’s building  an incredible underground complex within a missile silo he purchased. By now, most of us have seen this project on TV, on “Doomsday Preppers” and other places. 

It stands to reason that for all the money “Mr Silo” is spending on the project that he mitigated any radon contamination (he’s been pretty thorough). From a “bunker” standpoint, it’s really quite impressive, albeit extremely expensive for most “common folk”.

We threw BOB into the mix when several families made it clear that they wanted to (a) build out ISBUs in their yard or garage and then (b) personally haul them to rural locations, to allow for easy installation onto existing pilings.  They didn’t want a traditional “metal box”. They wanted something “novel”, something expandable, something that could offer as much outdoors as indoors.

20′ High Cube ISBUs are perfect for this task. They’re plentiful, easy to work on, easy to transport (using something as simple as a pickup and flatbed) and easy to manipulate on-site using farm “bucket” tractors and straps or chains.

Now, all that said, it should be noted from the “get go” that the price of 20′ ISBUs has gone up considerably since we first published “BOB” the first time in late 2009, so the numbers that we were working with no longer apply…


RR Tidbit; There is another BOB floorplan  floating around someplace that makes reference to buying (2) 40′ ISBUs and then cutting them in half. We did it as an “inside” joke, to see if anyone was paying attention because of a set of plans we were sent by a licensed architect (for overview/approval) who actually proposed that, but no one even caught it. (We referenced it several times on the blog, later.)

So, for the record, in case you’re  still scratching your heads over that “rogue drawing” that was offered up in SATIRE;

No, you cannot just “cut” 40′ ISBUs in “half”.  It’s more trouble than it’s worth and it’s a monumental waste of time and money. It CAN be accomplished, but it’s got to be for really compelling reasons that frankly, elude us.


Now without further adieu, meet BOB;


Here’s a tidbit for you “nitpickers” out there; On RR, if a drawing or floorplan is posted without a legend or a scale actually drawn on it to indicate exact dimension – it’s NOT drawn to scale. It’s basically an “illustration”. We usually put “NTS” (Not To Scale) on them, but sometimes we forget. So sue us.

Why did we choose this “shape”?

Small spaced are great for “defined tasks” but they leave a lot to be desired when you start thinking about living in them, 24/7. You need to incorporate these spaces into “larger spaces” to make them “livable”.

Basing the design on an octagon allowed us to create an easily constructed (no wall is longer than approximately 8 feet)  central gathering space and an easily modified single level plan. BOBs purpose was a “response to disaster – high speed setup, low entry costs, minimum budget” solution.

It’s come to our attention that a “reviewer”  has apparently taken one of my ISBU floorplans off the RR blog, published it on his site (without our permission – quoting “creative commons” –  because asking for permission to publish it would also have provided him with enough information to quell his “confusion”) and then assigned his own special brand of “home decorating” to it, to demonstrate that he (a kid who we’ll point out has never actually built a single ISBU home in his life to our knowledge – or even navigated the perils of architectural licensing) knew more than we did.

Aside from his attacks aimed at me personally (some of them actually “blind stabs” as he had ZERO idea of how we contract business – or anything else for that matter having NEVER been involved in any of those processes – including material selection for production), he took “liberties” with the floorplan illustration and then tried to dissect it.

In the reviewers post, he (I’m not going to “name names” to give him further publicity because we assume that’s part of his motive) makes a lot of assumptions;

You remember the old saying about assumptions, right?  

“When you assume, you make an ass out of u and me.”

~ Oscar Wilde on Assumption
We’re told that it’s recorded in the Congressional Record that Al Gore prompted Congress to define the term “Assumption”. In our opinion – Al probably did this to quantify his position on “Global Warming”.
Congress, always up to pursuit of a boondoggle, came back with this;
“Assumption” means; “to decide on something without proper evidence” – a feat that (in our view) Congress practices regularly.
Now, I rarely agree with Congress, but… I’ll give ’em one, this time.
In the reviewer’s piece, he makes several observations based on “assumption”;

The foremost of which is the implication that this floorplan is “unlivable”. That will probably come as a shock to the three families that are living in modified “BOBs” built in the multi-container configuration that he’s so critical of.

The reviewer does have an understanding of the use of space. He’s a draftsman. But, I think what he fails to understand is “the act of designing and building – using ISBUs, especially on an almost non-existent budget”.

SOME of the ideas and floorplans we share are simple alternatives to foreclosure and the payment of escalating rents – by allowing families to build modestly and achieve BASIC SHELTER. While we do help families build “full blown family homes”, some of these ISBU builds are “vacation cabins, fishing cabins and hunting cabins.”

They are totally different animals than “tract homes” or Custom Homes designed and built by architects and contractors built on much larger budgets.

BOB is a “low-budget” beast.

BOB, specifically is about creating “high speed – inexpensive – pop and drop” shelter.

It was a response to some of the “disaster response – housing schemes and programs” out there.

BOB was never meant to be the “Perfect ISBU Dwelling”.

Again, the idea behind BOB was to quickly and inexpensively use small portable (using pickups and small flatbeds) ISBUs to create livable space, using something as simple as farm bucket tractors and chains (in lieu of cranes) to set them on pilings that you build on-site, by hand out of recycled Sono tube bits and concrete.

The overall “octagonal” design allows further expansion by reclaiming pre-existing, partially framed in spaces, as time and budget allow. Obviously, when you start adding ISBUs, you lose walls to mount media and storage on in the central core.

Hello? It’s called a “TRADE OFF”. You can clearly see that by comparing the (6) container BOB to the published (4) Container BOB floorplan that ran in the same approximate timeframe.

The reviewer claimed that in the (6) container version of BOB, there were no existing walls capable of being used as “display or media spaces”.


In the three versions of this multi-container ISBU house built to date, the NW or West ISBU “Niche” was actually bumped out toward the core slightly, allowing the niche to be filled with standard, off the shelf  entertainment center type furniture and the L-shaped sectional seating was placed in the proper orientation in the center of the room.  with it’s back to the front door (in the NW version). Bob’s interior partition walls aren’t “written in stone”.

You move partition walls as you need to – in order to define and maximize the use of created space.

BOB Ent Ctr2Something like this is often used. Even in lengths up to 60″ wide, it allows for a media wall with a 60″ flatscreen to be used and… it still allows room for a 30″ wide interior door to the bedroom beyond. (Remember  that the rough opening for a 30″ door is actually 32″.

A Sofaback table was usually deployed between front door and seating.  Table and benches in front of sliding glass doors to the rear deck.

So much for “no media or entertainment capabilities”.


By being able to add more containers as you go (by removing short, easily constructed ISBU sized segments of exterior perimeter wall), you create “instant weatherized space” as you build it out AND the by-product is that you create defined areas (exterior triangles) between the containers that can be reclaimed using decking/flooring and “traditional framing construction practices”.

The weight of the octagonal (SIPs are highly recommended – if affordable) roof  is carried by the massive “endframes” of the original (4) containers. The roof basically sits on beams secured across the top of the ISBUs to allow the insertion of  framing to support inclusion of “toplight/venting glazing”)

Contrary to what some would have you believe (who “review” without so much as inspecting actual plan sets), the removal of wall surfaces to install more containers later (as time and money allow) doesn’t compromise roof integrity at all. They are DESIGNED to be removed, to allow for future expansion. You unbolt the wall section from the top and bottom, cut the insulation around the edges away, and then remove the wall. It’s a structurally framed opening, by design. It doesn’t require “jacks” or “supports” to accomplish this task. Once the old wall is out, you carefully “sister up” your new ISBU to the opening that you’ve just created. Once that ISBU is in place, you’ve created yet another “room” that is already weathered in. This means that you can finish out the room at your leisure, as time and money allow.

It should also be noted that this “future expansion” is accomplished by “families” and not by expensive return trips from contractors, engineers or expensive trade personnel. It’s been done several times.  The welding skills required were learned and mastered in the first pass.

This is all “schoolyard” – almost “textbook” construction.  It’s NOT “rocket science”.

floorjoistTo reclaim the area between the containers, you simply tackweld floor joist hangers onto the existing ISBU frames, pop a piling or two in to support the new deck and wall framing and then you’re off to the races. Obviously, you’ll build a (SIP hopefully) roof section for each “reclaimed room” you create. A smart family will crawl under that newly created floor deck and shoot a few inches of SPF onto it, as insulation.

Please – Use RIGID Insulation, at the very least.

Doing this allows you to open up existing Corten Steel walls later (with a plasma cutter – again a skill learned in the first phase of construction) to create larger bedrooms capable of providing space for things like “traditional Queen Sized bed layouts” the reviewer complained about, typical in your “vanilla” tract home.

The reviewer’s rants about the use of space  reminded me of the tale of Cinderella’s sisters trying to cram their big feet into a shoe they knew was too small. Oy.

Note; You don’t even have to wall these “triangles” in, you could simply deck them and add sliding glass doors to the Corten bedrooms. That additional glazing would easily make these rooms feel spacious and bright, all by itself. In two of the builds, it’s exactly what the homeowners did.

Okay, that said;

The reviewer hated the idea of placing a bathroom on the end of a galley kitchen and walk-thru pantry.

He says it’s “gross”. He had “last night’s burrito smell” issues with it, to use his own words.

Perhaps he should invest in a bottle of “Bean-O”.

First, the bathroom is located several feet away from the kitchen on the other side of  a large pass thru pantry that also would have incorporated a (say it with me) “pocket door”. Keep reading and you’ll learn why we like pocket doors. This would allow you to tuck a washing machine into the pantry (on the wet wall) and then dampen the washer noise by closing the door.

In small spaces, sound travels fast.

NO, in small spaces the sound doesn’t defy the known laws of physics, it just SOUNDS that way. 🙂

(In a perfect world – one with enough budget, the bathroom and laundry room would be incorporated into a separate 20′ ISBU.  In fact we’ve talked about it before. And yes, it would cost you a bedroom. But, if you did it that way the kitchen and pantry could be expanded. We don’t have issues with the bath being so “close” to the kitchen, but we do recognize that it makes it harder to go to the bathroom when someone is cooking in that gallery kitchen. It’s just another trade-off when you have a really tight budget.)

After the reviewers rant about burritos,  he drew in the bathroom fixtures HE presumed would be installed in the bathroom space and then…  blames US for their placement?

(There is not a single “published” BOB drawing from RR that includes fixtures, doors or even window specifications).

He condemned our use of that bathroom space – space that HE himself assigned the wrong fixtures into. It’s just nonsense.

It doesn’t matter that he clearly didn’t understand the space to begin with.

First, if you are building  “off-grid” on a really tight budget, you DO NOT use a tub in this configuration…

If you’re on a well on top of that… you’re probably going to insist on “water conservation” being  incorporated into your design. It’s just common sense.


Which uses more water?

A full bathtub, or
The average shower (with a typical – in most places MANDATORY water-saving shower head)?

Statistically, (according to US Dept of Energy Water Resources Reports)  comparing a typical bath (40 gallons) to a five minute shower reveals that you’ll use approximately 25 more gallons of water in that bathtub, soaking. (A typical shower uses approximately 3 gallons per minute.) And according to most studies, you’ll spend an average of twenty minutes in that tub.  That means that tub water’s gonna get cold.

So, if you’re building rurally and water is an issue OR you’re just simply paying for water, you can save 1000’s of gallons of water a year by SHOWERING instead of bathing.

Where BOB  is concerned,  you’d probably use a SHOWER stall to maximize that available space. In fact,  this shower not only saves water, it ends up being big enough for two, easy. Can you say “Rain Head”?  If the reviewer had asked, we would have told him.

Yes.We acknowledge that you COULD  also “reuse the bath water” from person to person until it was ICE COLD, but I personally think it’s a really lame idea.

Did you know that the old saying;

“Throwing the baby out with the bathwater…”

… actually comes from the old days when the head of house took the “hot” bath and then everyone else followed (mom, oldest to youngest in order), until the water was dirty and tepid/cold?

If you want to talk about GROSS, it’s not about the allegation that BOB’s  “bathroom is too close to the kitchen”. It’s about taking a bath in several other people’s dirty bathwater, cold bathwater, at that.  

There are many possible bathroom layouts. You can run the shower down one wall and then put the toilet on sink on the opposing wall. This creates a pass-thru bath that would allow an exterior door to a deck. Now, you have a bath that can double as  a mud room if desired.

Typically in this situation, the shower stall has been installed across the back of the ISBU. Building a smaller length shower allows for linen storage, or even inclusion of a hot water tank in that location.

There are those who build a tub into a pedestal, not only to have a place to sit (for shaving etc… but to allow the tub to be used in emergencies to store water. The Toilet and Bathroom cabinet/sink oppose each other.  This obviously requires that one internal wall be slightly longer than the other (because of the length of the toilet dimension from the wall) to place/frame the door and create adequate traffic flow.

There are many available solutions. Pick one.

Beyond that, the reviewer’s apparently never heard of bathroom vents or fans. Nor has he apparently ever been in a house that has a half bath or powder room directly adjacent to a kitchen to utilize the wet wall or even (gasp!) the concept of building all of your systems into a single box, to dramatically cut down the production costs because you’re trying to build on a tight budget.

TIP: Can you say PEX? It’s a luxury, but well worth it.

It should also be noted that most families then install some kind of exterior hot tub set into a deck to allow for “family relaxation/soaking”. We even know of one woman who gave birth in that outside hot tub on the deck of her “BOB”.

(I can’t even begin to imagine how much cleaning THAT took afterward…)

To build for “rural” families, it helps to understand “rural” values.

Here’s another one of our published (years ago, actually) “examples” of what you can do with those alleged “too small” spaces. Note the use of a storage pedestal bed against the wall, a small bath in an ISBU end and POCKET DOORS to eliminate door swing and interference. This is microscopically small, but not only buildable – it’s liveable. We know of at least three people who have built this box.

ISBU - Queen Bed Use

Did you know that pocket doors, even though they are more expensive initially, are frequently used in small ISBU builds to allow for the reclamation and optimal use of that precious floorspace.

It should be noted that NO doors were drawn or depicted into the originally posted “BOB”  floorplans, it was simply a quick “You could do something like this” kind of post series.

The reviewer further complained that there was “only one bathroom”.

Why is there only ONE bathroom? Well, because BOB is meant to be built on an almost non-existent budget. It’s about providing BASIC services.

Hello? Mission?

Clearly defined –  low budget build.

The reviewer didn’t bitch about the kitchen. As he himself states, it’s been done hundreds of times. It’s a 16′ Galley kitchen with 8 feet of counter-top or appliance space on either side. There’s easily enough kitchen there to prepare a meal for 6 people or more.

Again, remember that HIGH CUBE containers are taller. That means you have more kitchen cabinet potential.

TIP: Build in a rolling library ladder to allow access to higher cabinets.

The pantry is MASSIVE. You can’t even imagine how much storage there is, floor to ceiling in that pantry. It will easily support a family of six throughout the hard winters of “wherever”. What we like to do is build the cabinets so that they open out with a deep door, allowing you to capitalize on storage. It’s easier to find canned goods when you don’t have to try and reach way back into a pantry for them.  Deep door pantry units can be built, or bought at places like Home Depot or Lowes.

Then the reviewer started in on the bedrooms; which are basically in two configurations;

  • “Closet ended”
  • “Closet run on long wall”

Why two configurations?

Well, because we want you to determine what you’re  building and then use the experience from building the first one to repeat the process. We actually do this  in several of our ISBU projects. It builds confidence (“little victories” are cool!),  insures quality control, increases your safety factors (by building jigs and templates from simple engineered drawings) and helps to control waste.

Typically, one folding bed system gets built (3) times, up to (6) times actually, if you double them up to form “out of the wall” bunk beds. We’ll talk about that more in a minute.

The reviewer tried to stuff queen or full sized beds into an “almost 8′ wide” rooms, lengthwise?


It doesn’t work. In a single ISBU, you create “sleeping rooms” (in this type of layout, these created spaces are small for a reason) – all you do is SLEEP in them – why in the world would you spend a large chunk of your building  budget on  space that you won’t use frequently?

In BOBs many potentials for bedrooms, the reviewer overlooked a lot;

The reviewer laments the lack of dressers in the BED end bedrooms, claiming the floorspace of the room is too small and that the created cavity (for shelving) at the end of the closet is unusable for storage.

Of course it is. He KILLED the space trying to shoehorn that huge bed in there.

He also overlooked the 8 linear feet of built in storage bins as you enter to door. If you can’t store your folded underwear, socks and sweaters in (42+) 1 square foot bins, you have too many clothes.Where BOB is concerned, you do NOT need dressers unless you’re trying to make a fashion statement.  BOB was designed to be built in the woods, in phases. I assure you that Better Homes and Gardens isn’t going to show up with a film crew. The only one who’s gonna see your furnishings are the occupants and guests.

And if your guests get cranky about your lack of dressers, you have the wrong friends.

In the “storage closet end”  bedrooms, BOB gets “fold-down beds” or even twin bunk beds. It’s not much different than some of the smaller mobile homes bedrooms that we’ve seen over the last several decades.  There’s plenty of room to stand at the end of the bed and open the closet, unless you’re simply not smart enough to figure it out.

In most of these BOB type bedroom builds – home-built “Fold Down” TWIN bed systems (that also incorporate fold down desk surfaces, et all) have been constructed (cost effectively) allowing them to fold up into the wall, out of the way when not in use. This allows the child or young adult to drop that “built in table” and then pull a folding chair off the wall (stored there on simple hooks – for example – just like the Amish do) so that they can multi-task and maximize floorspace, or even… play.

… Or, you can just do “store-bought” bunk beds.

In the post titled “ALL ABOUT B-O-B” , we even showed bunk beds in similarly sized room being used to allow those “too skinny spaces” to be used as bedrooms.

When it was recounted to us that the reviewer got yanked about the shelf systems in the bedrooms… we were told that he claimed that the shelf was only 6″ deep. His rant about the lack of dresser space for clothing store puzzled us.

… We were frankly puzzled. With the creative use of  “modular or soft bin” (12”  deep – we thought that he must have screwed up scaling the floorplan) “storage walls” (we’ve all seen these displayed at Walmart and Home Depot), it’s easily possible to create significant amounts of storage to be reclaimed from every possible square inch of the dwelling. In the posts, we even made it clear that it’s exactly what “the too skinny shelf” we thought he was griping about, is for.

We use them in almost every small build we do. In fact, we either buy or build them in several lengths and heights to allow a maximum of created storage. Here’s a photo of a set we put together for a “short” storage wall (this is actually minus one entire cabinet – we usually stack them in threes so that they go almost all the up to the ceiling.);


We don’t currently have a “single Queen” ISBU under construction, but this is the same (albeit smaller) basic system that goes along that opposing closet wall as you enter the bedroom. Please excuse the “olive and dark wood” color scheme. Old habits die hard… LOL!

This storage system (representing ONE HALF of the typical storage system depicted in a single BOB plan bedroom) is constructed of MDF, PINE and 1 ft square soft BINS and it contains storage space for the following;

(30) pairs of Underwear, 25 pairs of Winter socks, 12 pairs of thermals, 24 T-Shirts, 15 Hendley knit pullovers,  8 knit sweaters, 8 hoodies, 10 pair of jeans, 12 pairs of hiking shorts, 10 pairs of tactical type pants, 12 tactical type shirts, 12 pairs of swim trunks and athletic shorts, a bin full of knit hats, gloves and gaiters, a (high placed – to avoid a small child’s “interests”) bin full of wristwatches, pocket knives, bracelets, etc… and I still have bins left over.

I actually use a pair of  the empty bins for clothes hampers, each lined with a drawstring clothing bag. 1 full bin is just about a decent sized washer load.

If you can’t get all your clothing in this storage wall, augmented by extra storage in the bed pedestal.. you have way too many clothes.

Now… add an “organizer closet” to the mix. Trust me when I tell you that you won’t need a “dresser”.   We even add dividers to several of the cavities so that your wife will have a place to tuck her “vast” shoe collection.

Then we realized that he was actually talking about the built in DVD and CD storage system in the “Laptop” Desk OFFICE…

… which the reviewer also complains about, stating that the desk is 3″ too shallow. 

Give. Me. A. Break. It’s a “pocket office laptop desk”.  WE wanted to buy back a few inches for a chair and occupant without killing the access to the small “guest” room behind it.

And that “too skinny” shelf behind the desk? I can assure you that 6″ is PLENTY deep enough for the storage required for TV and Computer media, DVDs, music CD’s and software, directly adjacent to the “pocket office”.

We also noted that he once again stuffed a giant bed in a tiny space behind the office. At this point , we’re actually laughing…

You don’t use a “conventional” QUEEN or FULL sized bed layout in a single container.

Beds-in-20sYou know it’s a “hatchet piece” when you know the reviewer knows the right way to do things and then he still does it wrong intentionally.

You see, we KNOW that the reviewer understands the concept of “large bed placement in a small space”  (like a single width ISBU, for example)  as month’s prior to his “review” of B.O.B., I personally directed him to draw a “preliminary floorplan illustration” for us that depicted it – accurately – for a multi-container project we were working up for a discussion that we were having with some California builders interested in ISBU housing solutions for the Central Californian Metropolitan rental market.

Let’s cover the bases;

20′ ISBUs have an inside container width of 7’8″ – 92″ (IF you insulate on the outside of the container.).

How long is a mattress?

Here’s the measurements;

  • Twin Mattress             —  39″ wide x 75″ long
  • Twin XL Mattress       — 39″ wide x 80″ long
  • Full Mattress               —  54″ wide x 75″ long
  • Full XL Mattress        —  54″ wide x 80″ long
  • Queen Mattress          —  60″ wide x 80″ long
  • Cal-King Mattress      —  72″ wide x 84″ long
  • King Mattress             —  76″ wide x 80″ long
  • King Split Mattress   —  76″ wide x 80″ long

So, obviously, in a “Bed all the way back against the wall” ISBU scenario – unless you’re using a twin sized mattress – you turn the bed SIDEWAYS to run along the wall.

You shove it against the wall to fill in the space. (See the above drawing for an example of how to do it right.) Then,… you put that bed on a storage pedestal, possibly with bookcases over it.

(HIGH CUBE – Tall Ceilings – HELLO?)

In the case of BOB, where you’re trying  to milk every square inch you can… you also incorporate a pull out “nightstand” shelf or a step into the storage pedestal., so that when you don’t need it, it’s tucked out of the way, freeing up floorspace.

Sure it means that one of you may have to crawl over one another to get to that “gross” bathroom he rants about, but if your relationship is close enough that you actually sleep together, we’re confident that you’ll figure out a way to handle it. 🙂

In my house (and many other small ISBU houses) that means the guy sleeps against the wall, so his significant other can get up to visit the bathroom or check on the kids without obstruction.

If you can’t figure this stuff out… then combine containers to make wider spaces. Jeez… it doesn’t take a NASA engineer to figure that out… or even a lot of “Structural engineering”.

The bottom line is that way back in the beginnings of the blog, I was responding to people who had almost NO money to build  with. Thus, we usually did things, minimally.

We became notorious for being able to rub nickles together to make quarters. We HAD to, to insure that families could actually build.

And, to this day, it hasn’t changed much. There’s a lot of hardship out there.

Where BOB is concerned, anyone interested in pursuing this kind of ISBU layout was (and is) advised as to it’s advantages and disadvantages, as well as being provided with detailed instructions as to HOW to make the spaces work, as part of the exploration process.

Also note that this “review” didn’t originate after the publishing of a 30 page HOW TO guide or a provided set of construction documents –  I published a post with an illustration to fuel creativity and give people ideas about what you could  do, while “thinking out of the box”…

In the reviewer’s “attack” he goes on to say;

“If I’m a regular Joe building this home myself, I better have some serious knowledge of welding, construction and structural engineering. Otherwise I’m putting myself and my family at risk of injury or worse.”

It demonstrates to us that;

  • (a) he knows pretty close to nothing about welding or metal fabrication or that he’s getting terrible advise,
  • (b) he’s never heard of  storage walls or “organizer closets” that can include drawers, shelves, etc. (remember that in a high cube ISBU you have more room height to capitalize on)
  • (c) He doesn’t understand the depth of a standard hanging closet or the cavity for shelving that a little additional framing out one end of it will create…
  • (d) his construction experience is probably best described as being based on “drawing pretty things” on his monitor…
  • (e) he’s apparently clueless as to how to lay out a small bathroom. (He DREW in the fixtures and then criticizes their placement? What?) and…
  • (f) there’s actually very  little aside from the octagonal SIP roof and the foundation pilings in this plan that require anything even remotely close to the “intensive structural engineering” scrutiny that the reviewer implies. ISBUs are “engineered boxes” to begin with. Just don’t ask them to do something they aren’t  designed to do.

BOB is a single-story,  multi-container cabin set on handcast Sono-tube concrete pilings. Aside from the flooring in the central core and the construction of the octagonal roofing, it can be built by high school and college kids with some supervision. In fact, here in Montana, we’re going to put that to the test, AGAIN,  this summer.

Is the reviewer suggesting that his “I better have some serious…” position is based on the fact that we suggested that you could  even STACK the containers on top of each other?

Um… last time I checked, Shipping Containers are already “designed and engineered” to be stacked on top of each other.

About the reviewer;

We actually had some dealing with this cat, way back when. We showed him some support and then tried to show him some love.  Initially, we’d anticipated using him as a (gasp!) compensated off-site DRAFTSMAN, since that’s what he is qualified to do.

Even thought his site is littered with statements that begin with “As an Architect…” he is NOT an Architect. He is NOT licensed, nor has he ever been. It’s illegal to use the term “Architect” unless you are licensed. We’ll also point out at this juncture that telling people or leading them to believe that you are an architect when you aren’t – is a felony.

We figured that he’d learn to “speak Advanced  ISBU” along the way – as he exhibited good potential over the phone and on the internet. We were never even in the same room with him.

Back then, RR was literally operating across a dining room table. We were all spread out across America, communicating via email and Skype. I miss those days… not.

He did a few (less than a handful) of “preliminary floorplan drawings and illustrations” (we supplied him with basic layouts and he employed his stylus/puck) for us – and we parted ways shortly thereafter.

We didn’t like the experience and neither did he. He went his way and we stayed on course, helping families build.

In our opinion, the reviewer’s real intent about “BOB” isn’t to “inform” or even “enlighten”, it’s simply a self-serving attempt at manipulating or even “creating” data (by addition), allowing him to take shots at us and/or stroke his own ego – for personal gain.

The facts are that: The reviewer took a design (without permission) intended for one application, then took liberties with it and then tried to force it into “a box of his own design”. And when it failed, he then blamed us.

Architecture and Engineering include the extensive use of math. So, it seems appropriate that we do some math, don’t you think?

In the reviewer’s case;

ZERO licensing + ZERO Practical Experience  building ISBU homes = ZERO.

In our opinion (and the opinion of legal counsel), this “review piece” is just a “hatchet job”.

I’m sure that readers will agree that being able to use a scalpel does not make you a surgeon. Nor, we observe,  does being able to use a CAD station make you an Architect.

We look forward to hearing that the reviewer has one day passed the Architectural Exams required to allow him to practice his trade as a licensed Architect. Further, we look forward to observing what he actually builds and we hope that he invests as much attention to that project as he does in attacking others. Until he achieves the required licensing or actually builds something, he has no value as a “critic”, in our view.

Suffice to say that having read all this, you can probably begin to get a feel for why it didn’t work out between us.

The reviewer claims that his point is that you should “hire an Architect and not an expert”.

Yeah, yeah… we get it. “Don’t drive a FORD, drive a CHEVY.”

  • In order to become (or claim to be) an architect, you actually have to take and then successfully PASS the tests for licensing.
  • To be an expert in the field of building ISBU homes or buildings… you have to actually BUILD them.

Clearly, based on the reviewer’s lack of both practical ISBU experience and Architectural Licensing… the reviewer is neither one.

The Renaissance RoninNor does the reviewer understand “defamation of character” or the legal definitions of the terms “slander” or “libel”. One of our investors is a “Lawyer”. After reviewing all the documents, he’s assured us that he’s more than willing to protect the name and integrity of the ISBU Group that he’s personally invested in.

Further attempts to “defame us”, “slander us” (we have the notarized affidavits ) or “libel us” (we have the published documents) us will result in legal action.

And if you’re using our content or images without our express written permission, you are violating copywrite and you have 15 days to remove said content. If we imply “Creative commons usage” it’s clearly depicted in the images and content.

You know who you are and you’ve been warned.

Just Add Papayas!

24 Jan

Okay, it may be winter in Montana, but it’s looking pretty nice in the Caribbean.

Recently, we were approached by a pair of Papaya eating miscreants who wanted to take a small Carib valley, a monster grove of fruit bearing trees and about $100 grand (maximum), and build a small  “Corten Garden Getaway”.

The budget is to include the incorporation of Photovoltaic power, a well and a septic system.

We asked them if they brought us any Papayas when they arrived to talk with us.

They claimed that USDA Regs didn’t allow them to bring them into the country…

We countered that if they really wanted our help… way up in Montana, they’d have done us the decency of smuggling some of those wonderful, delicious, delectable, mouth-watering fruits in, even “if it meant risking a cavity search”.

Um… they just called us bad words…. 😦

Once the dust settled, we got down to it;

The idea is to build (2) small Corten based cabins, one for living and one for processing  fruit and local libations into candied confections and liquor soaked chewies. Can you say “RUM-Soaked”?

The budget is unmovable.  They’ve spent their life-savings getting ready to move to the tropics and they’ll augment their SS (Social Security) incomes by “pimping papaya”…

They want minimalistic. What they described sounded like one of those “metal tents” we tease the “Tiny Housers” about.

(Stop it… We LIKE the “Tiny House” guys. Talk about providing opportunities to be challenged…) 🙂

The only real hard rule was that they didn’t want to see the PV panels from the road.

Okay, we’ll put them on frames “out and behind” the house site.

The main concern was that they’re an older couple and the closest they get to hand tools is trips through the “Craftsman Department” at Sears…

So, we’re going to build the (3) ISBUs near Homestead, FL and then ship them from Miami south.

There’s a lot of good reasons for doing this (beyond the fact that we now have access to a facility near Homestead AFB);

  • First, the owners won’t be forced with “re-inventing  the wheel” in order to get their boxes fabbed or fitted out.
  • Second, materials are far more abundant (and considerably less expensive) in South FL, compared with local sources in the Islands.
  • Third, they won’t face educating local contractors (on their own dime) as they get their project built.
  • Fourth, the only thing they’ll need to do once to boxes arrive is truck them to site (which will be easy due to the fact that they are 20′ ISBUs) and then set them onto precast pilings, prepared by hand.
  • Fifth, they are pretty good at doing roofing in the Islands. After all, they get a lot of practice. Every tropical storm or Hurricane in the region gives them plenty of practice. So, this project won’t happen without creating a few jobs in the sun…

When it’s completed, it’ll look something like this;

Caribbean Cabin

This is just a quick render done while we were talking with them. They’d seen a similar project in Europe and wanted to duplicate it. We’ll tweak it a bit to bring it into “tropical time”… LOL!

The floorplan (using a pair of 20′ High Cube ISBUs) will look something like this;


What we may do is turn the tub into a “walk-through” shower stall with entrances “both interior and exterior”, out onto a rear deck. Using “oversized” trusses will allow us to easily create a big covered porch. While the family that we’re working with doesn’t like the look of PV’s, a case can be made that using this kind of roof system will allow the creation of a large photovoltaic panel farm.

Stay tuned.

The Renaissance Ronin

Finally – an affordable oven for the Apocalypse…

14 Jan

How many handfuls of apple chips do you use when preparing roast, smoked  zombie?

We’ve talked about the “Corten Coolness” of 20′ ISBUs before, remarking on their transportability via a pickup truck and a flatbed trailer.

But what if you took an 8′ ISBU and did something cool with it?

During Katrina, many families rented these to store goods in while they repaired their homes… after Hurricane Katrina started the remodeling for them.  A couple of years after the hurricane, we ended up with a bunch of them. In the beginnings, we really scratched our heads trying to figure out what the best use for them was.

We’ve modified some of these “almost ridiculously small” ISBUs and turned them into “walk-in” meat smokers.  We’ve turned them into “Corten Chicken Castles” to keep predatory critters out. We’ve turned them into playhouses. We’ve turned them into “Armored Guard  Shacks”. We’ve turned them into fully insulated walk-in Tool Storage for “terribly cold climates”. You can do a lot with approx 64 square feet if you really think it through.

To that end… we’ve even toyed with turning them into securable “Deluxe Guest Rooms” for when the in-laws drop in “unannounced”. We love that once they’re in there, we can close the doors, padlock the box and ship it back to “whence they came”… on a flatbed trailer – behind a pickup truck if necessary. 🙂

Oh, stop it! We’ll toss in a container or two of “Pringles” and a couple bottles of water… we wouldn’t want them to starve or die of thirst… 

But, if it was a competition, Brian Richer wins, hands down.  

Image credit: UNCRATE.COM

Image credit: UNCRATE.COM

Brian Richer at Canadian based “Castor Design” wanted a “pop and drop” sauna that he could haul up to his remote cabin property.

It’s rumored that Brian actually said: “I want a sauna I can tow up there and then plant on the ground… not one I have to waste my retreat weekends actually building…”

So,  Brian and his group of guys turned one 8′ Corten Steel ISBU into a pickup truck portable “People Smoker”.

Image Credit:

Image Credit:

From the outside, you wouldn’t really know the difference. Except for the chimney, it’s just a big metal box in the woods.

He took a “perfectly good metal box” and turned it into a cedar lined oasis, complete with wood burning stove and a photovoltaic panel to power the lights.

Image Credit:

Image Credit:

Looks pretty plain, right?

But when you open the doors…

Image Credit:

Image Credit:

It looks (and probably smells) like a high end, Armani Showroom style “organizer closet” for (gasp!) P-E-O-P-L-E.

Castor is selling these for a bit over $40 grand a copy. They come with some bells and whistles, like tunes to sauna by via iPod stereo, an electric guitar hookup, a stool, a magnetic truck light, and a set of handy bronze antlers, presumably so that you’ll have a place to hang robes and towels?

Image Credit:

Image Credit:

While I cringed when I saw that poor SG electric guitar perched so close to that heat… (say goodbye to the poly finish if you do that one too many times)… I’m guessing they thought it through…

Remind me to never loan them one of MY guitars… Nuh uh! 🙂

Now, add a couple of bottles of good white wine and that’s some “Smug Sauna Saturday”, there, boy…

While $40,000 seems like a lot, you just need to decide what’s it worth to you to sit in a sauna at the edge of the beaten track, while the rest of the world does the “Sardine Samba” like lemmings in the big city?

The Renaissance Ronin

I’m thinking about building one of these myself. It’d be perfect in Montana, especially in the dead of winter. You could probably even find a sauna kit that could be modified to slide right in. Add a “metal shop” built woodstove (after all, I’m surrounded by welders and metal) to heat it up to “well done” and voila! I could drop it down by the river on skids (using the “twistlock cavs” as attach points) and then stare out the window at the scenery while I “relax”…

‘Course around here, some joker would probably attach a tractor to it and drag me into the middle of town…where people could stare at ME through the window…

OY. How embarrassing… 🙂

PS. We’re gonna give the guys at Castor Design a run for their money. We’re currently working with a Nashville Dad who wants to build a “Corten Clad” Space Station for his wheelchair bound young son. Watch for the post to follow…

Ronin Recycles? Heck YEAH!

20 Jul

Many of you  know that I’ve spent the last few weeks in the fields, chasing TV cameras away as we load trucks with hay headed for fire victims in Colorado.

While it’s a “good deed” in the traditional sense, like many other things we do here, it’s just “part of the cosmic balance”…

I suppose that I’m secretly hoping that when I get up there in front of the big guy… he actually mentions a few “good days” I had, before he starts on that litany of “bad days” I wandered into… 😉

So, while I’m grateful to my crew for helping out with posts, they’re really making a big deal about nothing. We HAVE to help. It’s what we do.

While  I (Yeah, like I’m doing this all alone… my entire CREW) was toiling and boiling (it goes from almost a hundred degrees here, to balmy thunderstorms, seemingly in the blink of an eye)…

I started getting barraged by requests for ideas about FINISHING the interiors of ISBU homes. On a budget. As in, “El Cheapo por favor”.

“Oh sure, Ronin, you can build a box for cheap. But, then it’s hard as heck to get it finished out inside. And, it’s because you have a CHEAP BOX! Are you nuts?”

Okay, you “wisenheimers”… Like any other Homebuilding task… Building your own ISBU home DOES take creativity. If you’re not up to the challenge, you should probably stick to trying to stay inside the lines when you color with your kids.

That said… I have to laugh, because first… I ain’t no decorator.

Second, I use stuff I find and then repurpose it, about 75% of the time.

Third, I build in as much furniture as I possibly can, for several reasons;

  1. Built in furniture means that the stuff doesn’t get dragged “hither and yon” scratching up the floor.
  2. Built in furniture doesn’t come with a “Honey, let’s rearrange the living room” requests when I’m trying to hide in my shop.
  3. Built in furniture doesn’t come with huge price tags. It’s BUILT IN. As in… “I BUILD IT”… usually from scraps and reclaimed “coolness”.

To change it up, all one needs do is change the foam padding and the pad covers.

And since  I don’t sew (after years of mending sails, I refuse to even ponder the prospect of that) I don’t have to do it! 🙂

However, my better half reminds me constantly that I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed… um wait… that’s not it… (Well, technically it IS, but I’m never going to admit it out loud… wait… um… DOH! I just did! ARGH!)…

It’s easy to find inspiration for cool furnishing projects that are possible using a little bit of thrift, common sense and ingenuity.

I went out on the web a few minutes ago and found several that I think have merit, just to get you started;

Build it out of scrap plywood. Set it on a cheap storage pedestal (we find them at Goodwill and a few thrift stores all the time) and you have a sturdy storage bed that will last for years. And since YOU built it, you can fix it.

The same technique can be used in living rooms or family rooms to build sectional seating. Just use foam pads instead of mattresses and cover them with fabric. The beauty here is that in a pinch, you have extra sleeping area on the cheap, for when you find yourself headed to the “Doghouse”… Am I right? 🙂

“Don’t hate me cuz’ I’m beautiful… Hate me because I’m easy to build and hence, in demand.”

If your better half finds out how easy this chair is to actually build, you’ll be slaving away in your shop for weeks.  You can build these in a weekend. And, you can do is using scraps of lumber left over from other jobs. Since they’re “straight”, they’ll peacefully co-exist with just about everything in your room. Don’t like wood? Paint ’em.

Bored with the fabrics and textures that you’re seeing at the local fabric shop? Cannibalize some old T-Shirts that you’ve been saving since the 70’s. I’m gonna do that, if only just to justify dragging them around for decades. MY wife says I’m a “Packrat”. ME! What the heck? 🙂

This is gonna be worth a whole bundle of “See? I told you so’s…” when I pull them out and then turn them into stylish furniture dresses… on the cheap. ‘Course, somebody’s gonna have to SEW them… Mumble, grumble, Snort…

You can find cool old T-shirts at thrift stores. Converting them to cushion covers is pretty simple. That means that you can change out the look of your rooms whenever your insane wife demands… um… whenever your lovely wife thinks it’s a good idea.  want. AND, it won’t hurt your wallet.

Me? When that topic comes up, I’m just gonna fling a whole pile of old t-shirts at her and run like the devil was chasing me…

Rooms need lighting. We all have lamps stuffed in the garage that we either hate, or that need repairs. So, why not wander out into the back 40 and find some “local coolness” to add character to our homes, on the cheap. This is REALLY easy, folks.

You don’t have to pay the kinds of prices listed in some of these high fashion catalogs or glamor sites… YOU can do this inexpensively. AND, it’ll add some local charm to your abode.

Let’s face it, once the roof is on, the biggest headache is getting your family to live there happily. Pay attention to the little details. They go a long way toward contributing to happiness. SIMPLE little “charm points” can brighten a day and make you smile.

Cool idea, but stone is a tad hard to work with. Use cool pieces of weathered wood to make wall plates. They’ll just reinforce that “This is MY home” vibe you’ve worked so hard to create. I know it sounds trivial, but trust me when I tell you that it’s those small details that people will talk about.

Use your creativity to bring the outdoors in…  I’ve actually built door hardware using rocks, bone and wood to add a “natural vibe” to the interior of ISBU homes. This guys doing the same thing, but he’s getting high dollars. You CAN do this affordably, trust me on this.


You just have to think it through and then sweat over it a while. I know it’s true, because some of my “betters” are constantly reminding me that I’m neglecting my garden. So… guess where I’m headed… as soon as I find those danged gloves… ?

(If any of you out there are recycling WEEDS, I gotta ton of them in my Winter beds you can have. All you gotta do is come pull… um… get em… LOL!)

 This post is brought to you by the letter “W” (as in Wall Street Journal) and the color ISBU BLUE!

Image credits included in posted images.

Blame ME for the rest of this.

I’ll be the one in the garden, cursing under my breath…:)

Usage: (.. x form)
       (.. x form & more)

“BlueBlood Boxes”? Oy.

5 Jul

Okay, Corten goes “High class”…

It’s not in Cali. It ain’t in Miami. It’s in the Hamptons.

You know, that place where valet parking your SUV costs you as much as the window sticker for the truck…

I’m just gonna show it to you.

Note: It sure as hell ain’t one of MINE. Anyone who reads my books knows that if you can afford a Tesla Roadster or a membership at an exclusive country club, I’m probably NOT the guy you want to talk to.

We design and build ISBU homes fur us “little guys”…

… you know the ones that I’m talking about…

… the  families that worked to BUILD our country using sweat equity and baling wire… LOL!

For the record: I have absolutely no problem with fatcats and rich guys building “Steel houses”… mind you. I just cringe when I hear about what they cost them to build and what they expect to reap from them, when they sell them to other fatcats…

That said…

Sure, it’s a multi-million dollar Seaside Steel Manse…

But don’t look at the price tag they’ve attached to it.

Look at what they accomplished.

Even for those rich folk up on the hill, the same ISBU rules apply.

Reusing ISBUs is indeed a “recycling” step forward.

The boxes themselves don’t present any real challenges as far as design goes, once you’ve paid your dues.

These are just steel boxes.

From a creative standpoint, you have a blank slate to work with. They can be anything  that you want… if you’re creative enough to “connect the dots”.

Despite what the “Design-Build” and Architectural shops will tell you (in the majority) there are cost savings to be had, if you’re smart enough to both identify and then employ them.

IMHO – This is a terrific home (on the inside).

He’s used MANY of the same elements and design motifs that we use on OUR ISBU homes. The exterior just doesn’t do it for me. But then, I didn’t build it and it’s not for one of MY families.

It was designed for a client who built what HE wanted.

I say KUDOS to him and I hope that it “finished” fulfilling ALL of his dreams and aspirations.

If SG Blocks was involved, I’m sure that somebody built the hell out of it. SG Blocks is a class act.

And, while I personally cringe at the pricetag on this ISBU home (I could build several homes for the price of this one, and IMHO most of them would rival it), ALL homes are indeed sold for whatever the market will bear, and NOT what they cost to actually construct.

Learn more about this ISBU Home – HERE.

Image credits go to the fine folks over at: Jetson Green

A trip to their website is like a trip to the Candy Store! Enjoy!

How do Aussies build Shipping Container Homes?

7 Dec

Hi Campers,

Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of flack about my “urging” people to build their own home, using ISBUs (shipping containers) as a part of the structure.

So, rather than tell you how to do it… like I’ve been doing for almost two years now…

I thought that I’d show you how other people (besides me) do it.

Here’s a three minute ISBU primer… Aussie Style!


More to follow.

Stay tuned!

The Renaissance RoninAnd no disrespect intended, at all!

These guys are my heroes.

They’re not talking about doing it… they’re DOING it.

Debunking “Big Rig BS…”

30 Nov

Greetings, campers…

Welcome to another psychotic episode of:

“Okay… Who didn’t take their med’s today?”

It’s me… at least for now… 🙂

Read fast, ‘cuz I may channel “Clark, or Roger, or even Scott” here pretty quick! 🙂

… You know me, you love me (at least the way I “imagine”  it) … that “Corten Crusader” on a mission, to house every family in America and points North, South, East, and West… by recycling steel boxes, and turning them into safe, affordable, sustainable, energy efficient Shipping Container Homes.

Lately, several people have asked me whether or not they can re-use those trailers you see plying the highways, to build housing.

There seems to be some confusion as to whether or not a tractor trailer is considered a “shipping container.”

While technically, a tractor trailer is used to ship stuff from “point A to point B…” NO.

An ISBU and a “highway hauler” are two entirely different animals. An ISBU is made of  durable Corten STEEL. It’s weatherproof, tougher than tough, and capable of withstanding tons and tons of pressure.

A tractor trailer is built out of flimsy aluminum, and other “junk.” You can’t stack them, you can’t “build off” of them without basically rebuilding them, and you can’t endure heavy weather in them.

Okay, it’s not actually “junk…”  but it’s stuff that you wouldn’t build a house out of, in the way they have it configured.

But it get’s even further confusing, when you witness shenanigans like this;

Jimmy Lee's "Shipping Container " homes... Bah!

  1. Is it a stealth home?
  2. Is it an RV on steroids?
  3. Is it a viable housing solution?

Well, somebody thinks so…

Some guy in Costa Rica has decided to skirt most of the regulations involved in building housing…

… by recycling tractor trailers and turning them into rolling “container” homes. And he actually wants to export them… to the United States.

Why “rolling?” Because that way, he claims that you don’t need a building permit.  What???

He claims that his homes are;

“Earthquake, Fire, and Hurricane PROOF.”

So right off the bat (if he actually said that, and it’s hard to believe anyone could be that incredibly stupid), he’s a liar out to steal your money.  There’s no such animal.

And, he’s calling his homes “Shipping Container Homes.” Are they? Absolutely NOT. They aren’t even close. They’re based on using tractor trailers. You know, those flimsy boxes you see hauling goods, and butt… up the highway at breakneck speed.

Do I think it’s a good idea?


Not just “nope,” but “OH H-E-double-L NOPE!”

Now, this guy… he’s talking about these “conversions” like they are “container homes.” And if you read all the hype about him, he’s selling them that way. But, they aren’t. They’re not even on the same planet.

There’s several problems with this “solution.”

First… you KNOW it’s just a tractor trailer, because the wheels are permanently attached. He didn’t set an ISBU on a flatbed. Plus, that slick siding and big old gooseneck make it a dead giveaway…

Um… BTW: The trailer part of a “highway hauler” is usually made out of  lightweight aluminum. In fact, the lighter the better. After all, it’s job is just to keep the cargo covered, until it’s offloaded in a few days.

They design those trailers to be lightweight for a reason.

It’s not designed to be “heavy duty” because you PULL IT WITH A TRUCK.

Sorry, didn’t mean to shout. Much!

A heavy ISBU type STEEL container would use more fuel and when you’re hauling cross-country, that’s a big, giant no-no… 10-4?

Sure the chassis is steel, but little else is.

And, if you’re crazy enough to buy into this nonsense, you’ll be living in “the other part…” the flimsy aluminum “and other crap” part. And, that part is hardly capable of withstanding high winds and other heavy weather scenarios.

The trailer sits 4′ off the ground.

This means that your center of gravity is way up in the air. Even wonder WHY the DOT makes truckers pull over during heavy weather? It’s because these trailers get blown over onto their sides in strong gusts. It doesn’t take much wind, either…

And your “container home” would be basically empty. Let’s face it, home contents and a few flimsy partition walls to separate your guests from the “bathroom view of the throne”… aren’t all that heavy. It’s just a horrible accident waiting to happen.

Talk about “scrambled eggs!”

This is WAY worse than even being hunkered down inside a mobile home, and you’ve seen time and time again how they hold up to heavy weather events. You want that to happen while you’re inside it? I didn’t think so…

Then (supposedly) he goes on to claim that these “conversions” are “Hurricane proof.”

Yeah, right. Know how? They’re on wheels. The hurricane is coming. You’re sitting there, 4 feet off the ground in a flimsy billboard, waiting to become a sail…

Wait! I know how he can make that statement, and be right! You hook your home up to a Freightliner, and haul tail for anyplace but “hurricane ground zero…” thus avoiding the hurricane completely!

Bingo! Instant “Hurricane proof.”

But, using that same reasoning, my bicycle is “hurricane proof” too… if I can peddle fast enough to get out of the way of the storm… What a load of crap…

tractortrailer-container-home-interiorBut, let’s look at what they do with the space, huh?

After all, even if the shell is based on “idiotic ideas…”

… the internal dimensions are close to what you’d expect to see in a traditional STEEL ISBU container.

You can see how they laid out the living area.

tractortrailer-container-home-kitchenHere’s the “business center…”

For a “temporary” home… that you spent a few days a week in, it might work. Just add a hot plate, and a dorm sized refrigerator.

And you could build a cool fold-down “murphy” bed, to get a nice living room/bedroom layout, too.

The bath (located behind the kitchen to keep everything – like the plumbing – all together) could be decent sized.


That trailer “skin” is paper thin… It’s hardly a deterrent to anything hurled at the outside of your new “house.”

And a decent RV built to American industry standards has a much thicker and more durable skin. That means more insulation, and a broader range of use, geographically.

Will the roof of a tractor trailer take a big snow load, accumulated by sitting in the same spot, over time, during winter? Nope. It’ll bow.

I have PERSONALLY repaired damaged tractor trailers that got snowed in, and buckled under the snow load. And I’m not talking about the Artic. I’m talking about Idaho.

Look folks, don’t fall for this. It’s not anything close to “permanent.” It’s temporary at best. And, I’m not even going to guarantee you that this is even safe.

For that to happen, you’d have to anchor it down, enclose the bottom, reinforce the sides and roof, and just generally start over. Why bother?

Just buy a REAL ISBU, and start with steel.

Stay tuned.

The Renaissance RoninYou can find out more by following the link in the YouTube video (IF you double-click on the video and watch it on YouTube). I’m so “P.O’d” at these guys that I’m not even going to ‘hardlink’ their site to mine. This is complete B.S. as a “housing solution.” They’re just going to take people’s money, and get people killed. 😦

A Home without clothes…

22 Nov


It’s time for some ISBU Inspiration!

Greeting, you “Minions of Metal!” I’ve gathered you all together today…

Wait… that’s not it…

Most of you know that I’m plotting and scheming… and even conspiring to build a house out of recycled and repurposed ISBU (Shipping Containers).

A lot of you know that we’re helping several other families do the same thing, in fact, as you’re reading this!

Most of you know that I’ve further complicated that build, by including components recycled from steel aircraft hangars that were torn down…

And, most of you know that it’s been a battle from day one…

So… as my family plots and schemes, quietly and cunningly crafting “our house that locals might loathe…”

I thought I’d show you some of the things that inspire me, as I craft our Corten Castle…

Ain’t it cool?

In the dead of Winter, you’re all ‘snuggly’ warm…

And in the Spring, Summer, and even the Fall (depending on your climate – your mileage may vary) … it’s like living in the outdoors! Talk about an inspiration! This would make me WANT to get up and greet the day!

Now, if that don’t make you wanna break out that treadmill, I don’t know what will…

I mean, you don’t want to scare the neighbors… or DO you? Hmmm?

If you built this out of SIPs, and then installed it on tracks, you could open and close it using an electric motor (powered by photovoltaic panels, naturally). It would be easy… using, say… something like a garage door opener motor, or even an old 4wd truck winch. Just apply a little bit of  “Grey matter” (but not as “track lubricant! OUCH!) and you’d have a push-button house to rival some of that stuff you see on MTV Cribs! 😉

Now where’d I put that “man-thong?” It’s time to play, “Mess with the neighbor’s minds…” Muuuwahahahah!

Hey! If they didn’t want nightmares… then they shouldn’t have looked!  😉

Stay tuned!

The Renaissance Ronin

I’m in the hole… and it’s wet in here…

20 Nov

NOTE: Apparently there are those among us that mistook this abbreviated response to a question for a COMPLETE BLUEPRINT on how to build a swimming pool out of a shipping container.

This is a Brief OVERVIEW to demonstrate that it can indeed be accomplished. There are several steps that are inferred or not described here that must be taken in order to make this work.

Anyone expecting a “one page do-it-yourself to completion” novel is naive and shouldn’t be around tools with an edge. Capish?

Now… back to our regularly scheduled program;

Daddy, I WANNA POOL! I want it NOW! Daddy? Are you listening, Daddy? Daaaaaaady!

Yes, young Jedi… It’s easy to build a lap pool from a 40′ High Cube ISBU shipping container… IF you start planning now.

Recently, I was lurking a friend’s blog, where there is a rampant discussion going on about using ISBUs (Shipping Containers) as housing.

And, one of the readers asked about whether or not you could actually use one of these big steel boxes, as a Swimming Pool.

The answer is: YES.

Note: Don’t do this if it’s already snowing outside. Playing in the snow is for kids and idiots. Remember, H1N1 is not your friend. Just tell your kids;

“Hey you should’a spoke up sooner. Maybe next year!” 😉

Where was I? Oh yeah…

We’ve used ISBU’s as the “mold” for lap pools a few times. I personally plan to do it again. It “mystifies” the neighbors.

Hurricane Katrina knocked the heck out of my photo collection, so you’re going to have to visualize this. You can do it… I’ll type slow. 😉

Now, before you think I’m completely nuts, here’s a guy who’s doing the same thing… albeit above ground, with trash dumpsters.

Yeah, I know “New Yorker’s” are crazy!  Have you seen what they pay for apartments in the city? Oy freakin’ Vey! I’d have a heart attack once a month, when the rent came due!  But… this guy… he gets paparazzi and media hype, and everything! 🙂

So… First thing you do, is grab a shovel.

Not that namby-pamby “use your hands and get some blisters” kinda shovel… THIS kind of shovel;

Once you get that… find a sunny spot, dig your hole, and then shore up the insides, to prevent a cave-in, later.

Dig your hole several feet longer than the container, on the “door” end. You’ll see why later.

Remember, the skin on a container is just that. SKIN. It’s not designed to take a load – soil OR water. If you don’t believe me, read THIS.

Now, to build a retaining wall to PROTECT the ISBU that will be the pool…

You can use cinder blocks, a thin steel-reinforced (rebar) concrete wall, even railroad ties… But use SOMETHING, or you’ll be either sorry, or a guest star on “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”

(BTW: If you win the $10 grand, remember your ‘friends,’ huh?) 😉

First, lay the ISBU on it’s SIDE.

Now, cut out the NEW top. Grind the “cut” lip smooth. Guess what? Wider pool.

And that pool’s gonna hold about 11,000 – 12,000 gallons of water.

Added for clarification: (Dec 2010)

NOTE: OBVIOUSLY that means reinforcing the ISBU.

Hint: 2″x2″ steel tubing. LOTS of it.

Cut out your drains in the bottom. Install your water returns in the sides. Do your plumbing.

Remember, don’t sniff the glue, and rightie tightie… LOL!

Now, install your drain lines in your hole, and then build a one course outline of your container bottom so that the container will sit above your plumbing. Now fill in ‘that’ inside hole until it’s level… with gravel.

Now, drag the ISBU into your hole.

Okay… don’t drag it, drop it in there carefully, after lining everything up. Be careful of the returns if you’ve placed them outside the container, in the gap between the retaining wall system.

Some people actually prefer the “outside plumbing” method. I’m not one of them.

But if YOU are… Now, you can backfill into the gap between the container and the retaining wall, if you want. Some people use gravel, some use dirt.

Hey, use old socks if you want to, but just make sure that you fill up the gaps. You don’t want the container to “bow out” after you’ve filled it with water.

I prefer gravel. It’s easy to place, strong, and easy to get back out if I have to… Click heels three times… I hope I don’t. I hope I don’t…

On the inside, most people line the container to get smooth sides. It’s easier to clean. Plus, it gives you a place to run your water return lines INSIDE the container.

Just some inspiration!

This is the best way. It’s the “Ronin Way.” Several sheets of plywood. Sand it smooth, or get the good stuff.

If your kid keeps missing his curfew, it’s a weekend of “Wax on, Wax off” with an orbital sander…

Who says you have to beat them? 😉

Now, here’s where it gets tricky…

You need a place to put the pump and filters, right? Well, that container has doors on it.


At the door end… (remember the container is on it’s side now, so the doors will be hinged at the top and bottom) build a wall out of concrete, masonry, or whatever you can handle about 4 feet or so into the box. Make it “strong and thick” and insure that it’s firmly attached to the container because it’s going to have water pressing against it. Use tapcons or something similar to attach your new wall to the container sides.

This is going to form the ROOM for your pool apparatus, and supply storage.

Now, it’s below grade, so you’ll have to build steps down to it. But that will be cool, literally. Use cinder blocks to build retaining walls on either side, to keep the dirt from falling in Again with the cinder clocks… I know, I know… But, you’ll look like you did in high school, when you’re finished!

Think of this as Corten Calisthenics.

Build some cool steps down into the hole. Don’t bump your head on the “door/cover.”

Now, go get some sand. A LOT of sand… A truckload of sand. Builders sand.

Don’t steal it from the beach! The Green-Peacer’s will beat you to death with a biodegradable bucket and shovel!

Relax, I know what you’re thinking… All that sand… Oy Vey! Use a backhoe or a Bobcat, or a bunch of unruly kids that you are currently punishing for setting the house on fire or wrecking the car.

Even MORE inspiration!

Dump it into the big empty end of the container, and then sculpt it to form your slope for the bottom. Nobody wants a pool without a shallow end. Not all of us are Michael Phelps!

Build some steps down into the shallow end. You can use lumber, if you’re careful. Otherwise, consider forming and using concrete.

Okay, if you did it right, you now have a pool that’s about 34+’ long, and over 7 feet deep now, at the deepest point. You also have a built in pool room that is almost 8′ high, about 4 ‘ deep, and almost 9’ wide.

Now… Open that top door UP, and put a post under each end. Now, you have a covered porch on your pool room.  Open the bottom one, and either remove it, or even use it as a deck.

You can easily enclose this space using a small insulated wall and a door, to cut down on pump noise.

That done, get some liner track from the pool supply store, and install it around the top edge of the container. Once you’ve finished doing that, install the plastic pool liner that you can buy from any pool supply company or store. It will fit into the liner track.

WHAT? A Vinyl pool? Ronin… Are you freakin’ nuts?

Nope. You wanna do this “yourself” or not?

The idea here is to take an ISBU container and turn it into an affordable pool, for less than half the cost of going to a turnkey pool company.

You can go fiberglass… But not in a ISBU shell. It’s a shame too, because frankly, fiberglass is the way to go. Easy maintenance, lower chemical usage, and long life that is relatively hassle-free.

But you had to go and use an ISBU… 😉

I’ve never seen a fiberglass shell that would drop into an ISBU cavity.

You can go “Gunite,” but you better have an extra $10,000 – $15,000 laying around, because you’re going to need it. Oh yeah, you’ll need a couple of contractors too. And laborers. Lot’s of laborers…

And Gunite (or concrete) pools require more chemicals, have a rougher surface (thus they are harder to clean) and they usually need replastering at about year 8-10.

Now… IF you go VINYL, you’ll be able to install most everything all by your “onesies.” As in, you and the family. And they’re easy to maintain, and fairly easy on chemicals.

There are drawbacks. People will tell you that the liner will wear out in 3-5 years. Bull. Liners last 10 years, easy. Some last longer. And, the current crop are starting to approach that 25 year “degrade and decay” mark, IF the pool is properly maintained and taken care of.

Realtors will tell you that a homebuyer won’t like your “plastic pool.” So what? You’ll have gotten years of pleasure out of it.

And you didn’t have to drive all the way to the beach, lake, or river…   waste relaxation time stuck in traffic, fight for a parking space, fight for some sand to stake out, buy “overpriced and under-quality” concession stuff that they try to pass of as “food and drinks,” or dirty up your car with sand and debris on the way back.  You’ll have saved enough to pay for this pool, and then some.

Just look at the Realtor and laugh. Screw them. They don’t like it, THEY can haul it out to the curb!

Yes, you’ll probably have to buy the pool liner material (which isn’t exactly cheap), and you might even have to make your own, depending on the length you go with. Or you might find a custom house that will do all the work for you. If you do this in the off-season (when work is slow), you’ll get a terrific bargain. You’ll figure this out with a few phone calls.  And, if you’re really worried about that alleged pool liner “imminent failure”… this is a perfect opportunity to DOUBLE the thickness of that lining, to help prevent any tears or leaks. This isn’t nearly as difficult as it sounds. Ask your local pool guy.

We did. Our last lap pool liner was a  “thick” vinyl custom, and it cost $2800, straight from the liner company. (It cost more than a normal “custom” liner because we used a much heavier vinyl that was harder to work with. If we’d used regular pool liner, it would’ve come in about $1500 or so.) We sent them detailed dimensions, they did all the work, and we got a really high quality product. If we’d “done it ourselves,” or waited until Spring…  it would’ve cost about $4000.00 or more. Your mileage may vary.

Put it in the hole. Make sure the shallow end of the liner is in the shallow end of the pool. You’d be surprised how many people make this mistake and waste time and effort. Install your drains.

Here’s a good “blow by blow” of installing a pool liner.

It includes how you attach the liner to each pool step. It’s not as colorful as it would have been if I’d written it, but hey… that just guarantees that you’ll understand it! 🙂

Now you have a plastic lined rectangular custom pool in a steel reinforced shell.

After you’ve installed your pool liner you can secure it using decking, tiles, or whatever suits your fancy, No one is going to know that you used a shipping container.

Now, install your pool water returns, traps, etc… and the pool pump/filtration system.

Now’s also a perfect time to add that solar pool water heating panel into the loop…

And maybe a few photovoltaic panels to run the pump and filter…

Can’t you just picture yourself lounging out here?

Now… about the top of that “pool room…”

Frame in a wood deck the same size as your “pool room” roof. Make sure that there are spaces between the wood decking slats. Now your pool room is basically weathered in, and it can breathe. If you’re a pool pump or filtration system, you need to breathe, trust me.

Add water, jello, or even chocolate milk. I don’t care.

Well… I do care. Chocolate milk is gonna get pretty stinky in about six hours… If you plan on doing this, make sure that you’re downwind of me, huh?

Here’s a tip for you;

SALT Chlorination.  It’s much cheaper, and a lot safer.

Did you know that seawater is used to make laundry bleach? Yep. That’s right. And if it works in the laundry, it’ll work in the pool.

All you have to do is use a Salt Chlorine Generator. But why would you do this?

Ever get out of a pool with red, burning eyes? Well, it was a chemical burn from the chlorine.

Using SALT is WAY better than using chlorine chemicals. Initially, a certain amount of salt is added to the water. As water passes over the chlorinator’s specially coated plates, an electric current breaks down the salt and water into their basic elements to form sodium hypochlorite, which is the active sanitizer in all forms of chlorine. The chlorine kills algae and bacteria in the water and oxidizes the waste. Thereafter, the chlorine regenerates itself back to salt and begins the process over again in a virtually unending cycle. Since salt does not evaporate, an occasional addition of salt is needed only to replace what is lost due to the splash out, pumping out, draining or backwashing.

The obvious advantage is the cost effectiveness of the salt-water chlorination system. Imagine you spend $15 per day currently on chlorine, over a period of five years you will spend in excess of $25000. An equivalent salt water chlorination system will cost around 1/10th of that amount, with running costs being equal to 1/5th. The system would pay for itself in less than one year.


(Sorry, didn’t mean to yell…)

Stay tuned…

And send me a picture. All I have left now are these “inspirations.”

Stinkin’ Hurricanes, anyway… mumble, grumble, snort!

And since you’re still here;

If this blog has helped you, educated you, amused you, or even just made you shake your head and wonder why I’m not locked up in some room clad with rubber tiles…

Please know that this site has required a great deal of money, time and effort to develop & maintain. If it’s been useful to you at all, and you can afford to… You can help my family and support this site by making a small donation by hitting that Paypal button up there on the right.

Paypal is the VERY BEST “secure” way to donate to any cause… like ours.

This will help keep us alive while we try to remedy our own situation, and empower me to carry on writing, maintaining, providing countless hours of hard work, and including any updates or topics that you might suggest.

And… No anatomical impossibilities, huh? I’m not as young as I used to be…