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Jamb THIS!

29 Jan

Okay,  so you’ve  dropped your metal boxes, replaced the wood floors with concrete and now – you’re faced with interior space.

It’s time to start divying up that  “Corten Castle” into rooms. Just like in a “normal” home, you’re going to cut some holes or build some partition walls to start creating bedrooms, bathrooms and other areas. This means that you’re going to be installing doors. In most ISBU Homes, the partition walls inside the home are built from dimensional lumber, just like their counterparts in “normal society”.

We do this for a lot of reasons. It allows you to use regular materials that you’re already used to. It allows you to buy (or reuse-recycle-repurpose) materials anywhere and it allow you to use your  ‘idiot brother-in-law” to help you without having to worry that he’ll cut off his own hand with a plasma cutter.

Sure, the self-inflicted wound will cauterize itself, but he’ll still cry like a little girl. You don’t want your kids to see that, do you? 

And that brings up a question I get asked a LOT;

“What size should the rough opening for my doors be?”

Today, we’re going to talk about “swinging doors”.  Pocket doors are abit more challenging and it’s a separate discussion. Trust me on this.

Look, determining your rough openings for doors is one of those parts of construction where it’s important to get it right on the first attempt.

Creating rough openings for doors is really pretty simple;

“Just add 2″ to the WIDTH of the actual door size you intend to install.”

Now, once you know how WIDE you’re going, you need to determine how HIGH that opening should be;

“We add 2.5″ to the height measurement of the actual door. This allows you ample room to space to door frame off your sub-floor.”

We like 30″ wide doors. In the trades, they call these “2/6″ or 2’6” wide doors.

Add 2 inches to the width.  What do you get?

You get 32″.

Yep, that’s how wide your opening is going to need to be.

Now, your door height is probably going to be 80″.

Again, we do some math. Add 2.5″ to 80″ and you get…

82.5″ – which translates to “6/8″ or 6’8” in “doorspeak”.

There are a handful of reasons why a rough opening needs to be bigger than the door and it’s frame;

First, it’s called a “rough opening” for a reason. These openings aren’t usually done by surgeons, they’re usually done by guys in a hurry. That means that the door opening isn’t going to be perfectly square or in some cases, even PLUMB.

You need room to adjust the door and frame (plumb, level and square) in it’s opening.

There’s no such thing as a “universal” door size. Door sizes vary by manufacture. We’re not talking about HUGE differences, but the differences are enough that you could end up with a jamb that is too tight, or a door that doesn’t work properly. You will probably need room to persuade that door to fit.

And, that wall isn’t going to remain that exact size forever. The wall will expand and contract throughout the seasons by taking on humidity and then drying out. Expansion/Contraction. We’re not talking about a LOT, but it’s enough “material movement” that you will want to allow the door to work, year round, without sticking or refusing to close (and more importantly “latching”) properly.

And then there is floor covering…

If you’re going to install carpeting, you will want to shim your door framing up a little bit (about 3/8th of an inch) so that the carpeting can be tucked UNDER the jambs. That way, your door never rubs or chafes the carpet.

Remember also that not all doors are level. Providing some “fudge room” allows you to move your latch jamb into the correct position so that your door will close properly.

Homebuilding Part II: Building always starts with using a (gasp!) pencil… :)

13 Jan

Green Building Recommendations

I shared a book with you recently that I think belongs on your Home Building reference shelf.

Over the next several days, I’m going to teach you to design your home by setting up guidelines. I’ll share lists of things to consider with you, to help you start planning and refining your goals.

Many of these considerations can be further explored in my book;

Introduction to Container Homes and Buildings

(find out more in the right sidebar)

… as well as Daniel Chiras’s book;

The New Ecological Home

You can use these lists when building a home, remodeling, or even considering a home for purchase.

Note that a few items will be repeated because they pertain to several aspects of green building.

Today we’re going to start making lists by defining where you’ll actually live;

Selecting a Place to Live

  1. Build in already developed areas within cities and towns.
  2. Choose a site with good solar exposure.
  3. If considering the use of wind energy, choose a site with good, reliable winds.
  4. Choose a site suitable for earth sheltering.
  5. Avoid building in frost pockets.
  6. Be on the lookout for favorable microclimates.
  7. Select a well-drained site.
  8. Select a site with stable (nonexpansive) subsoils.
  9. Avoid building in hazardous areas, such as floodplains, arroyos, and locations potentially in the path of mud slides and avalanches.
  10. Avoid building on or near marshy areas.
  11. Do not drain wetlands to build a house.
  12. Select a site with rich, productive soils for growing food and fiber.
  13. Select a site that could provide some or all of your building materials.
  14. Select a site with a reliable, clean water supply.
  15. Select a site that is easily accessible and does not require extensive grading for placement of the house or driveway construction.
  16. Avoid noisy areas.
  17. Check out environmental and community amenities such as recycling facilities, bike paths, parks, and recreation. Consider living in a cohousing community, ecovillage, or ‘new town’.

Stay tuned for more!

I’ll have my BBQ wrapped in steel, please.

15 Aug

Need a few extra bucks?

Looking for the ultimate lemonade stand to put in your yard?

Got a recipes for Chocolate Chip cookies that the neighbors would kill for?

Take a 20′ High Cube ISBU and turn it into a roadside restaurant or kiosk!

Remember this?

WE talked about this when they dropped it on the sidewalk in Canada.

But, it doesn’t have to be elaborate at all.

Spotted in Nairobi, January 2008 at Lagoon, a bar/nyama choma (roast meat) joint.”

This was passed along by my pal, Owen Geiger –

The King of Earthbag Construction

Thanks, Owen!

Man Makes $329,984 from a $16 investment. Thank You, Internet!

10 Aug

They say you can find anything on the internet.

Now, I know they say that because I hear it all the time.

Well, now I’ve seen everything. Kenneth Robinson, a diehard Texas Real Estate man, proved it to be true.

You see,  Robinson used an obscure Texas law he researched online called adverse possession to obtain property rights to an abandoned $330,000 McMansion in Flower Mound, Texas.

From Google Earth

The $16 bucks wasn’t for bandwidth, either. It was used to pay a court filing fee to allow him to get legal access to the property.

Read more about it HERE.


I thought this sounded really fishy, so I called a real estate lawyer and asked if it was really possible. He said;

“Like others have noted, there is a “hitch” to using the “adverse possession” loophole;  to take advantage of it, the new “owner” must immediately pay all outstanding and current property taxes owed on the real estate.

Now, we’re talking about a house that costs $300+ grand and that’s not chump change in the property tax department. You have to figure on about $5 grand a year, at least.  And there are probably going to be outstanding penalties too.”

So Robinson is looking at being out of pocket somewhere between $30 and $50 grand before it’s all over.

That considered, he’s still getting the home for less than 15% of it’s appraised value.

When I started checking this story out, it became clear that people were really agitated at Robinson for;

(a) figuring out how to do it, and then

(b) actually pulling it off.

The question of the day seems to be;

“Would you even want to live in a nearly free home if everyone else in the community were out to get you?”

Lemme see… I just got a nice home for 15% of it’s value, in a good neighborhood, because I used my wits. The neighbors don’t like it.

Hmmm… Too bad. They’re probably just jealous that they didn’t think of it.  😉

Does The Building Code Grasp Tighten?

28 Mar

Okay, you know the drill.

If you desire to live in a home of your own crafting, especially one that uses alternative materials and alternative building practices. you already know that you may have a long road to hoe, to get from where you are – to where you need to be.

I’ve spent the last few days taking care of Joshua as he starts rebounding from his accident, and it’s allowed me to catch up on my reading – 10-15 minutes at a time. If you’ve ever had a three year old, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

If you happen to have a sick three year old, you have my profound sympathies. Oy, what a handful! 😦

A friend of mine, Laren Corie (of “Little House” fame) recently addressed the implementation of Universal Building Codes (and IRC/IBCs) by more and more States across the US.

I thought it was so interesting that I thought I’d get permission to post it here, in order to stimulate some discussion.

[Editor’s note: The content is Laren’s. The reformatting is MINE and I take sole responsibility for screwing up a very good post.] 😉

So without further adieu, I give you that “Sage of Small Places both Near and Far”…

Laren Corie.

Most states have a mandatory, universal residential building code.

They did not used to. They used to allow the people to make their own choices about what kind of house they lived in. New York also appears to be the only US state that require ALL working drawings, for virtually any work on a home, to carry a seal from a New York State licensed architect, or structural engineer.

There are also minimum house size requirements. They are part of the state codes. They require a minimum size (conditioned floor area) usually of 700+ to 960ft², which means that you can not build a Little House, then add onto it. Building and living in a LittleHouses is ILLEGAL. in most of the United States.

A LittleHouse is outlaw housing. In most states you must “permit” and build 700+ to 960ft², as a minimum, right from the start.

Then there are energy efficiency requirements. I am definitely a strong advocate of energy efficiency. But, why is Winter efficiency requires for a Summer cabin, or a hunting cabin that only is occupied a week or two per year. And, why should such a structure be required to have fossil fuel or electric heat, a well, a septic system, and an electric system, that has a minimum amperage? There are also mandatory plumbing requirements that you will be forced to follow, or you will be considered a criminal, and risk government actions.

Unfortunately, unless you move into an existing house, your dream may be fraught with peril. Most states did not used to micro-manage every little bit of work that people do to their homes. In fact, most had no residential building codes, especially for owner builders.

But, it creates jobs for bureaucrats, that need offices, and lawyers and accountants, all to tell you how to live, while claiming that it is for your own good.

But, you don’t get to make the choice for yourself, you stupid, incompetent children ;O)

You need a government bureaucracy to tell you that you must live in what THEY decide for you.

And, that is what is most important, to both them, and to you. This  is an issue of a RIGHT to personal freedom, as long as it does not physically endanger others.

But, we are now in an era where “money” has more rights than people do. When you build a house that does not enhance your neighbor’s property values (their “money”) they can even sue you. But, they generally do not have to, because the government shares their interest (not yours for freedom) because it collects property taxes, and bigger, more expensive houses, bring in more tax dollars.

It has only been recently that New York state has adopted the extreme law that virtually all building, and home improvements, require working drawings that carry the seal of a NY state licensed architect or structural engineer.

I think we can all figure out what lobby wrote, promoted, and got that sucker passed. It is nothing more than blatant nepotism, for the sake of taking your money and placing it in the pockets of a special interest group.

I just read, only yesterday, that Indiana, one of the last bastions of owner-building freedom, has now adopted a universal mandatory residential building code. That is how the building departments can bring in necessary cash, to support themselves after the building bubble, which they had used, as an excuse, to overly bloat their departments. Now, they want to maintain them, but they do not have enough work.

So, they need to create work, where they had none before. It does not matter that things were just fine without them. Who pays? Not the bureaucrats that got the government into debt.

No! They not only do not pay, they actually get paid.

Who pays, is owner-builders (and really all homeowners), and everybody loses another huge piece of personal freedom.

We deserve a “RIGHT” to freedom of shelter choices, such as the RIGHT to build LittleHouses, as long as it does not endanger the lives and physical safety of others. Instead we have laws (building codes) such as minimum sizes, that only feed bureaucracies and banks. Who says LittleHouses are not political?

[Editors Note: Replace “LittleHouses” with “ISBU Houses” and the same exact sentiments apply, in my view. Laren is exactly right.]

-Laren Corie-
Natural Solar Building Design and
Solar Heating/Natural Cooling/Energy
Efficiency Consultation Since 1975

Read my Solar house design articles in:
-Energy Self-Sufficiency Newsletter-

Home base-LittleHouses YahooGroup

Founder-WoodGas – Power from wood


RefrigeratorAlternatives YahooGroup

My Music –

Yeah, he’s a freakin’ expert at everything… 😉
I suspect that Loren practices Brain Surgery and AstroPhysics as hobbies when he gets bored. … 🙂


Help! I’m freezing my BUILD off!

24 Dec

While I’m busy on the roof (carefully concealing “reindeer traps”) I’m going to reach into the mail bag and haul out another gem.

Hi Ronin,

We’re build our ISBU home (thanks to you).

Our containers have been living in a barn, getting cut, folded, spindled, mutilated, sandblasted, coated, refloored, hammered and pounded.

(No thanks to you… We HATE you now. It took us all summer, one weekend at a time. We still have sand and grit all over the place.) 🙂

As you know, we are located in the North… where snow and cold wind are considered the evil that one suffers for living away from the rat-race.

We hope to build as  we can, doing a little bit each weekend, as we LIVE in the shell while it becomes a home.

We realize that once the ISBUs are dropped, we’ll be weathered in. But having to leave the walls open and exposed to run wiring and plumbing is going to extend the time (that we won’t have) to get inside, warm and safe.

Note: This family is building a 32’x40′ High Cube ISBU – 3 bedroom/2 bath home on one level. Piling foundation.  Gabled SIP (Structural Insulated Panel) Roof with SSMR (Standing Seam Metal Roofing) over that.  I made them start at “Square One” with the containers so that they’d be prepped properly.

This included sandblasting them down to bare metal, making needed repairs  and then recoating them with RustGrip.

Contrary to “naysayers”… my builds ALMOST ALWAYS include this step.

(I say ALMOST, because some choose to “simply encapsulate” using something like RustGrip, instead. No, I’m not fond of this “alternative”.)

I do not let ANYONE proceed with an ISBU Build without first dealing with paint and flooring issues.

Additionally they are going to insulate (gasp!) inside the home… using rigid insulation boards (they were “gifted” with them) so that the Corten exterior remains visible. Internal framing is 2×6. 4″ of PolyIso get stuffed into those cavities. That’ll get them almost R-23 in the walls.  Note that 1″ equals approximately R5.7. Yes, it gobbled up square footage. Oy.

We’ll use a special “soda based spray” on the boxes to help them “discolor”, to help them blend into the treeline. It’s part of their “desired look”.

What can we do to make things work? Any tricks? We don’t relish the idea of freezing!


Cold in Wyoming…

Dear “Feeling the Frostbite”,

I’ll just jump right into this;

It’s that time of year and several blogs and forums I’m aware of are all talking about this very topic.

Yes. There ARE ways to speed things up.

Traditionally, we’ve always just run the electrical and plumbing down exterior walls (or in crawlspaces), distributing it to wherever it needs to be, in “runs”.

This has never made any sense to me.

First, running wires and pipes in exterior walls or “crawls” means they get cold. Sometimes, they get TOO cold. Then, you have to open the walls back up, or crawl under the house into the wet, frigid mess…  to make repairs. That’s just adding insult to injury.

I opt for something called “open construction”.

What’s “open construction”?





If you read the blog, you know that I like to create “run trays” in the floor.

I’ve been telling you about it for years. But would you listen to me? Nooooo! 😉

Using old “K-Style” rain gutter material (you can even use the half-round gutter material)  “notched into” my concrete floor slab, I can run my electrical (or even plumbing) in those –separate– trays.

(Don’t run both power and water in one tray – just for safety’s sake… unless you like that charred, frizzy “Angela Davis” Hair-do!) 😉

I’ve been doing this for years. It works perfectly.

Using architectural gratings (which you can find in piles at architectural salvage yards), I can then cover that tray system up and not only allow access, but add considerable character to the build. Plus, no holes in walls for outlets. You just make holes in the grating large enough for your plugs to fit into.

Or even better, notch one side of your grating so you can just slip the cords in and then plug into a SIDE LOADING outlet box.

You can also run your electrical and even your plumbing overhead, up in your  Attic.

This allows it to be run right “out in the open” and easily identified, because you took the foresight to clearly label it.

You DID, right? Nope? Go stand in the corner. Here’s your sign…

Put your hot water tank up there too… and let gravity do all your work for you. Plus, doing that means that it’s easy to access any system later, should the need arise.

You can still use the attic for storage, just be careful how you lay things out. 😉

You can also run all your plumbing and electrical in furnace or heating ducts. The heat will help keep things from freezing.

The only time this “open construction” theme doesn’t work flawlessly is when you’re running communications cables and lines that require isolation. The solution then is to just keep track of your lines (like Ethernet CAT 5 cables, etc…) and use specified spacing to slay any demons.

Think it through carefully, make a plan and then stick to it.

And you’ll be able to build as you can, and not all at once. You’ll be warm, weathered in, and you can use those heavy snow days to make some serious headway in your building progress!

After all, you don’t wanna be out in the cold, do you?

Stay tuned!

PS. Hey! Rudolph will taste just as good as Bambi, if you marinate him long enough! 🙂

Note: No reindeer were consumed during the writing of this post. I can’t say that will hold true… on December 26th!

Happy Holidays!

Have a GREAT Christmas!

Me? I’ll be skinning a reindeer… 😉

HELP! The Walls are closing in!

25 Oct

Mailbag time.

If you want to guarantee that you’ll see your comment or email in “lights”, it seems that all you have to do is call me a name. 😉

Here we go:

Dear Ronin,

C’mon, Ronin. You’re full of beans. Standard Shipping Containers are awfully small. You can’t really live inside one. You’re lying.

I have almost 8′ ceilings in my house, now. I don’t want to have to “stoop my head”, to live in a scavenged metal box that is best used for shipping stuff to Walmart. Only an idiot would do that!

It does make me wonder… Can you tell me how eight-foot ceilings became the norm?



(Editors note: I was asked this question three times in the last three days. This same question – or a variation of it – just got asked on another forum I read, so I suspect that I’m being “taunted”, but here goes:)

Hi there, naysayer;

Whoa, there. You’re operating under a “myth-conception.”

High Cube shipping containers are just as tall inside as the house you’re probably living in now, possibly even TALLER. And even using “Standard” shipping containers, you’re going to easily get a finished ceiling at 7’6″ out of those boxes.

(Editors note: I just realized today (Oct 31) that the wrong version of the post was inserted by accident. I’m having computer issues and I kept losing paragraphs in the transfer process. So, I’m “fixing”  it here, to clarify the post. Consider this a “quick re-write”. Sorry for the confusion.)

Standard shipping containers have a finished ceiling at 7’8″. As you probably know, if your read the blog regularly, I always tell people that they want “High Cube” (or “HQ”) shipping containers when building a home, as those boxes are a foot taller. So, using HQ ISBUs, you get an 8’9″ ceiling , all day long…

And, I’ll point out that 8′ ceilings are NOT “the norm” – at least not here in America, according the National Builder Statistics over the last few decades.

Sure, 8′ ceilings are “cool”. And I do admit that they are in that “Not too hot, not too cold… just right” zone for a lot of us.  Not too far away, not too close.

(FYI: I ruthlessly stole that last “Not too far away…” part from Laren Corie, a savant and extremely savvy “Little House” guy who sponsors a forum I get heckled from occasionally.  The guy is a freakin’ Gold Mine of information. And, he’s a pretty good musician, too, I hear! ;))

Building Code spells out ceiling heights depending on the room it’s located in.

For bedrooms and common areas, it’s 7’6″. I’ll point out that this is lower than the existing ceiling in that ISBU in most cases. (Remember: The “rough ceiling” of a Standard ISBU is at 7’8″)

And in the kitchen and bath department, building codes say that you need ceilings at  7’0″ (min.).

U m… unless I screwed up my math… that’s BELOW the finished ceiling height of that same “Standard Shipping Container” ceiling you were referring to.

So, it’s QUITE possible to live inside a steel box, even one that used to live on a container ship, hauling TVs to Walmart from China.

And by the way, we don’t like being called “idiots or liars.” Your momma should have raised you better.

So there! 😉

Stay Tuned.

This post was brought to you by the Letter “C” and the Corten Coalition.

A Tight Box is a Happy Box :)

29 Sep

I know what you’re thinking… Ted! Stop it! This is a family show! 🙂

Readers of this blog know that this week, I started a series of posts on ISBU insulation.

It’s the hardest part of ISBU construction, to hear people tell it. Who tells it that way?

Um… well… people who are either “idiots”, people who have never done it, or people who are insulation professionals who want an unhealthy chunk of your building money, to send their kids to college or pay for that second honeymoon…

Okay, okay, maybe it’s not that bad… 🙂  but from the email I get, you wouldn’t believe the things that are happening out there.

As I wrote the first post, I knew in my gut that I was going to immediately get hammered by readers. And, I was right. By Monday night, I had 27 emails in my Inbox, all asking for “insulation help”.

I’ve found that using reader mail to address ISBU issues has been pretty productive, so I’m going to take one of the letters I got and share it with all of you, so you can see how this works.

Brad’s mission is to build a (2) container ISBU home, using a pair of 40′ High Cube containers as the shell. He’s going to do this in the Houston area of Texas. When you read his letter, you’ll see just how much thought he’s put into this and you can see that he’s intent on achieving his goals.

Let’s see if we can help him.

Here goes:

Brad says;

Hi Ronin,

Thanks for your response about insulation.  Since I’m new to your site I suppose I missed previous comments about the subject. (Editors note: READ the ARCHIVES!) 🙂  I appreciate the input and above all your belief that this is not rocket-science and can be done inexpensively.

Just yesterday I was looking into closed-cell foam and rigid board as options and then recieved your email backing up that idea.  I want to insulate the exterior.  Have you seen furring strips attached, then foam sprayed between strips and then siding attached to the furing strips.  My question here is how to attach furring strips to the metal container without penetrating the metal wall.  The interior wall I would like to remain corrugated metal and just paint, as it is.  How difficult is the metal to penetrate with screws and drills suited for the job?

You asked about my particular design so I’ll describe it for you.  (I have a degree in architecture, btw, and practiced residential + hospitality design 25 years.)  The shell is simply 2-40ft high cubes (9’6″high) with the 40 sides of each unit joined side by side to form a rectangle (16×40).  Currently I have two-8′ sliding glass doors joined and centered on the front 40′ wall.  Then within each of the 4 corners (left to right) is kitchen, office, bath/closet/storage and bedroom.  The plan is open with no doors but with 21 LF of interior partion (most of this partition forming closet and closing off bath area).  2 windows, one kitchen + one office.  The 2 doors at the end of each container would be in the bath (shower/toilet) area and bedroom area.  If money held up (did I mention 30-50k max) I would intall sliding glass doors just within clearance inside of the container metal doors.  Allowing what you have already seen done before, the metal doors opened and exposing the sliding glass door for light and air.  Basically the center area of the 2 units joined would be the living/work/open area.  This area is currently 15’8″ x 12’8″ which flows without walls into ajoining spaces excluding the bath/storage area which is entered around the corner partition from the bedroom space.  Confused?  More than you wanted right?  So the plan is 640 sq.ft. with about 950 sq.ft. of exterior wall to insulate.

I want a roof garden to do the insulating on the top of the units.  A feature in Dwell mag had a unit in San Antonio with a beautiful roof garden.  Do you know if 12″+ of soil will insulate the roof?  The Ford motor plant in Detroit uses a green roof for cooling and a variety of sedum grows there.

Sorry for the rambling I just had coffee.

thanks for your help, Ronin.


Hi Brad,

First, welcome to the fray.

Second, start hitting the archives. There’s a ton of stuff in there.

Third, you’re on the right track. Regular readers of the blog know that I ALWAYS insulate on the EXTERIOR of the ISBU when given that option. Sure, some people like the industrial look and want a “Mad Max” front yard, but most don’t. 😉

And, that insulation of choice is SPF, every time.

That leaves the trick;

How do you attach the insulation and the siding to an ISBU, to form your finished exterior?

The idea of drilling and then attaching fasteners, hence puncturing the sanctity of that weather resistant Corten Steel shell is crazy!

What is SPF? GLUE.

Your furring strips are made of WOOD, right?

How do you attach wood to metal? You can use fasteners, and make a mess of that waterproof box, or you can use construction adhesive to glue your furring strips into place. Sounds crazy, right?

Here’s what I often do;

I just fab a long steel “L” out of lightweight sheet steel (think gutter or flashing), that runs along the top and bottom of the container. Using light enough steel, you can literally do this using a “brake” made out of dimensional lumber. Seriously.  Just weld it into place, like a bizarre flashing. Top faces down, bottom faces up. Are you seeing it?

Now cut your furring strips to length so that they fit inside that “tray” up against the container corrugation. That added metal lip is just going to help hold everything in place.

Apply glue to the furring strip, and then stick it where it needs to be located. The “siding flashing” will help hold it in place. Once your furring strips are “glued” into position, drill your holes and run a fastener (screw) into each furring strip thru the flashing and into the furring strip.

Congrats! Your furring is now “glued and screwed”… with “ZERO Penetration” to the box.

NOW… insulate using SPF. SPF applied between the furring strips is going to glue the entire thing together in one huge monolithic mass. Think about this. The foam is going to expand to fill the cavity between the furring strips and the corrugated container, in effect gluing everything together. It’s what SPF does! The end result is going to be a vapor barrier, a moisture barrier,  an insect retarder, insulation, and even some structural assistance to help your home deal with racking and shearing.

Apply siding. Predrill, and use SCREWS! If you work fast, that insulation will even help GLUE the siding to the house…

Trust me, once the SPF sets up, that entire wall section isn’t going ANYWHERE. I’ve come back after the fact to add more containers (7 years later) and getting that “siding mass” off the house and out of the way was an ORDEAL. We inspected the removed panels for “insulation or furring strip failure”. Zip. Stuck like Chuck.

Would your typical Planning and Zoning Nazi like this? Nope. They’ll have kittens. But, the insulation and siding that you install in this fashion will be a part of that house until the houses demise.

Sounds simple, right? Too simple, maybe?  Build a dummy panel in your garage, and then test it, if you don’t believe me. Try to pull it apart in 24-48 hours after the SPF has set up. You’ll see what I mean.

Now, let’s address that  “Green Roof”:

First, how are you reinforcing your roof, to accommodate that “green roof” dirt load? And better still, what are you going to use as insulation, below it?

The corrugated steel roofing isn’t going to support the weight of a realistic Green Roof. That roof isn’t even “structural” in the traditional sense. It’s simply there to keep water out of the cargo. Any ideas about building “Green Roof Surfaces” has to include a structural support system.

The R-value of dirt always varies greatly depending on its composition, and how high the moisture content is.

We all know that in the construction world,  the term “R value” is used as the reciprocal of thermal conductivity…

A pile of dirt equals “thermal mass”, right?  Big pile, big mass.

But it gets tricky. “Thermal Mass” isn’t the same thing as “heat transfer resistance”. And, for those of us working in the biz, we figured out long ago that R-Value is just heat transfer resistance.

A check of the material tables will show you that (typically) R-value for earth is R0.25 per inch.

That means that the foot of dirt that you’re talking about isn’t going to go very far against the heat of Houston, Texas  Summers. You’re gonna get about R3, tops. And… the “thermal coefficients” aren’t “bankable”, they are affected by several  other factors, and the biggest killer is soil moisture content.

Granted, this can get pretty complicated and we’re not going to cover it here, suffice to say that soils are inherently “heterogeneous and nonlinear.” That’s a couple of three dollar words, huh? 😉

Translation: Get soil really wet, and it’s worth about zilch as “insulation”.

Really want that Green Roof?

Start with SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels) to get both your insulation and your roof support. Then top with a waterproof membrane system. Once that is applied, you can go as green as you want, without fear of a roof failure from wet soil due to that Corten Steel’s longterm exposure to moisture.

Third – I’ve sketched out your floorplan, from the notes you’ve left.

If I’m understanding it correctly, have you considered putting the bath and kitchen close enough to each other to save some plumbing costs? Say, back to back?  With the budget that you’re working with, every penny you save is going to count.

What are you doing for a foundation?  NOT an uninsulated slab, right? Readers here know that putting a container onto an uninsulated slab means that you’re just hemorrhaging energy directly into the ground. You’re insulating the bottom of the containers, right?

A tight, super-insulated box is a happy box.

I hope that I’ve given you some ideas, and some things to think about.

“Living in a box” means “thinking OUT of the Box”.

Some of the tasks that you’ll complete will be accomplished differently than in a “traditional” housing situation using conventional materials. But if you keep your wits about you, take your time, and exercise “care and caution”… soon, you’ll be living in a sturdy, affordable Corten Castle of your very own.

My Thanks to Brad, for sharing his project with us.

Keep us posted!


Cantilever THIS!

4 May

As we sit here, turning ISBUs into Emergency Kitchens, to feed hungry workers tasked with cleaning up thousands of gallons of oil spill…

Our breaks from the Plasma Cutters and grinders are used up on the phone, trying to get supplies in place, things like chickens, meat, vegetables, canned goods, beverages, and the lot.

Although the oil isn’t here yet, it will be soon.

And those workers are going to want something more than MRE’s… let me tell you.

So you think YOU have problems…

Instead of dwelling on “OMG Projects”, let’s look at another adventure into engineering, shall we?

We talk about ISBUs all the time. It’s a “Shipping Container” blog… hello?

And one of the biggest mysteries in the ISBU arena is whether or not you can “cantilever” containers, to build “willy nilly – helter skelter”  buildings, with containers sticking out everywhere, in every direction.

It’s not a mystery. You CAN’T do it, without some additional support, and a lot of engineering in the background. Those containers aren’t designed to do that. You can cantilever a container, IF you have a ton of cash to throw at it. But on most of my friends budgets, it’s not bloody likely.

But, sometimes the idea of a cantilever can be fun, and even cool. For instance:

This guy in Greece decided that he wanted to really tick off his neighbors, by building a big pool sticking out of  his house. I guess some middle aged guys deal with getting old by buying a Red Corvette. Evidently, in Greece, other phallic symbols do the trick.


Just try and tell me that you wouldn’t kill to have this pool in your backyard… um… on your roof… um… er… never mind.

Designed by Ensamble Studio & Antón García-Abril,  this gravity-defying cantilevered swimming pool at Hemeroscopium House in Greece was constructed out of a single concrete slab, and then picked up by a crane and lowered into place. Amazing stuff, huh?

Now, you can swim laps, and give yourself a coronary (by “swimming into the “abyss”) at the same time. I don’t know about you, but that kick-turn on the glass wall end would stop my heart every time! 🙂

People call it “stunning”. Me? Um… I think it’s just nuts.

For all you DIY’ers out there… Here’s how they built it:

I wonder IF you COULD do this with a Corten box…. Nahhhhhh! 😉

Stay tuned.

Plywood and You!

20 Apr

In honor of the upcoming Earth Day:

And because I’m under the weather and I didn’t feel like writing a long “ISBU” post today…

(When the heck IS Earth Day, anyway? Anybody know? The 22nd of April?)

Here’s a “Construction Site Recycling” project for you!

  1. Got some extra plywood scraps and a bucket of wood glue laying around that nobody wants?
  2. Got a battery powered screwdriver with a knapsack fulla screws?
  3. Wanna tick off the neighbors by filling your street with every News crew from a hundred miles?
  4. Got WAYYYYYYY too much time on your hands?

Build this!

The Ultimate Plywood Pachyderm:

If this don’t get your kid an “A+” at the Science Fair, nothing will!

Stay tuned!