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We’re back… almost.

19 Nov

Okay, it’s… um… what the heck day is it?

Monday. Yep. Definitely Monday.  Don’t even ask me what today’s DATE is. We’ve gone from planes the trains to automobiles… And, it’s not over yet. We got back yesterday.

And today (in just a few hours) the crew is headed down to Idaho to load trucks and trailers with supplies destined for NJ and Sandy Family Relief.

Seeing what is happening there on the ground is horrific.

Despite what you’re seeing in the media, most of the help on the East Coast isn’t coming from FEMA or RED Cross, like you might be led to think it is. The majority of the help is coming from caring American FAMILIES trying to help out other families in need. I am so proud of these people… interrupting their daily lives to render aid to families in need.

On the “up” side, we may actually see local agencies embracing ISBU housing as “replacement housing ” for families affected by Superstorm Sandy. The talks so far are quite encouraging.

While we try to get some difficult tasks completed, I’ll leave you with some “ISBU Porn”. In fact, some of these images are just to get you thinking about how you can duplicate them, using ISBUs.

Look at these examples and then think about how these elements could be combined or transformed,  to fit into “your world”.

Can you say “Tiny House 20′ High Cube?

An ISBU by any other name would be… an office?

This is NOT an ISBU home, but it easily COULD BE. And, it’d be quite affordable to build.

Need a shed or home studio? Ever see those 10′ ISBUs? Want to learn about converting ISBUs into housing without taking that “giant leap” of faith? With a small “bump out” this little steel box can even be “overflow sleeping accommodations”. Don’t believe me? Go ask those really talented guys and gals laboring at Sarah House in Utah. You’ll hear more about these people from us, later in the program.

Another “Hey,  I could do that with ISBUs” moment…

In fact, we’re doing something quite similar to this up near Flathead Lake in “Upper Montana”.  While the ISBUs are bring prepped and fabbed in barns (you[ll see more about this later) in the Spring, this ISBU cabin will get set on it’s piling foundation in one of the most beautiful and natural settings that you can imagine. Completely off-grid. Completely self-contained. Completely Blissful.

In fact, that’s the name of this ISBU project: “Fort Bliss”.

Can you live in ONE 20′ ISBU? If you’re creative enough, you certainly can. So, while we show you what WE are doing, we’re going to let others show you what THEY are doing. This guy’s ambition will make you smile and then ponder whether or not YOU can do what HE’S going to do.

In fact, take this floorplan and then stack TWO 20′ ISBUs (instead of building it as a loft) and you get something that resembles that third image up there.

“Heartbreak Hills High-Rise!”

I’d do that in a heartbeat. Better still, those 20′ boxes can be trailered in behind a pickup truck.

Stop whining, this isn’t a “boutique build” I’m suggesting.  There’s nothing “high dollar” about it.

I can hear you gnashing your teeth as you spit out those age old words;

“But Ronin! Cranes are expensive!”

Yeah? So what. Let cranes do what cranes do, where cranes do it. We don’t need no stinking cranes! LOL! You can stack these ISBUs using one of those septic tank crane trucks, thus avoiding expensive crane rental and the access headaches encountered when trying to move a big piece of equipment down a little tiny road.

Don’t have a septic tank crane? You can use a pair of bucket tractors. Seriously. We do it all the time.

Speaking of time. I have to run. While I”m away, the blog and the office are in capable hands… I’ll be back soon.


Looking Forward to 2012

4 Jan

This IS a tad off topic for a blog that is focused on building homes with ISBUs, but I think it’s worth mentioning:

Randy Gage (a guy I read regularly) says;

“Happy New Year.  Be grateful for EVERYTHING that happened in 2011:  the things you wished for, and the things you had to go through and grow through. 

Because all of that helped shape you for your next step in development, your next step to becoming who you are meant to become.

2011 is in the rear view mirror.  Learn from it and stride forward into 2012 with faith, anticipation and confidence. 

You have the power to determine exactly what kind of year you will have. 

Because you choose the thoughts you give precedence to, which changes your daily actions, which changes your results.”

Instead of looking backward, examining what has already become the past, he’s looking to the future. I have to tell you, I find his views and outlook inspiring.

Here’s a bit about who Randy Gage is (beyond the fact that he’s successful, driven and a pillar of what is great about America);

“Call me a philosopher, a Jedi Knight or the millionaire messiah, just don’t call me late for dinner. I like hot cars, warm beaches and cold Dr. Pepper. Quiet confidence and loud ideas are sexy. When I’m not prowling the podium or locked in my lonely writer’s garret, you’ll find me playing 3rd base for a softball team somewhere.

I believe in my work, because I believe in you.”

I encourage you to go HERE to read more.

A Corten Commune? Whaaa?? ;)

27 Apr

Some quick thoughts as we take a breath…

We’re busy organizing and gathering aid for some families in Mississippi that just got pounded by Mother Nature. She must really be mad at Mississippi… First, multiple Hurricanes, and now Tornadoes that ravaged entire communities.

Yep, I guess that tornadoes aren’t just for Kansas and girls named Dorothy… Recently, Mississippi (and Louisiana and Alabama as well) got pounded by the devils.

And once again, people are homeless and in need of fast emergency housing, while they try to figure out what happens next…

As more and more of those people start thinking “about the road ahead”…

I’m being asked more and more about how you can build something “reasonable” for a small family, without killing yourself financially in the process. Nobody wants those FEMA “death-trailers…”

And I don’t blame them.

You’ve probably already seen my ideas for using larger containers to build “dorm-style mini-homes” for site workers in Haiti.


Can you build a small “cluster” community out of 20′ ISBUs?


The best way to cut expenses is to spread the costs out between the families. Right? So…

First, build a separate series of bath/shower containers, and pair them up with small “residential” units built from 20′ High Cube shipping containers.

It would be easy to build several toilet facilities, enclosed shower units, and even stacked laundry units into a single 20′ box, that could just be dropped into place to provide immediate relief from the wrath of Ole’ Mom Nature…  You could even put solar panels on the roof to heat the water… Easy. And… since we’re talking about panels, add a panel or two to power light systems.

(Yes, I realize that adding laundry units means generating more power, like by using a small portable generator…)

Now, since you wouldn’t have a bath and shower in each family unit…

You’d have plenty of space for a small kitchenette, a fold down bunk system and some comfortable living area, that is sheltered from any further storm activity.

Build (1) bath unit for (4) Family units, and you’d have an instant “settlement” that could be dropped off the back of flatbed truck beds, onto precast concrete blocks.

Okay, so maybe it’s fast, but say people don’t wanna share baths…

And, hey… nobody likes to hike for a  CBF – “communal bathroom facility” at all hours of the night, so why now just nestle one between two 20′ residential units, to form a big “U” by running One 20′ High Cube across the back, between the two opposed (sleeping) ISBUs.

Now you have big apartment sized baths back to back, and water easily reached on both side, for kitchens, and even a huge greenhouse that would fill that big hole you just created.

Now, drop another 20′ High Cube ISBU on top of your pair of opposed units, and you have a second floor, to use as a big bedroom loft.

Voila, now it’s not “emergency housing… It’s “instant apartments.”  11′ kitchens, normal sized baths, a neat LR/DR area, and a cool loft bedroom overlooking a lush greenhouse filled with produce and life-giving plants, year round!

Now, go a step further.

What say we place that whole shooting match on an insulated slab, and then earth berm around the outsides of it? What do you get for all that effort? You get a pair of semi-underground homes, without much digging. Now, think about the possibilities. Like for instance, radiant in floor heating.

All you need is a bunch of cinderblocks, some rebar, and some concrete. And PEX tubing… Lots of PEX.

(PEX tubing is what you use to run your hot water thru, to heat your slab.)

Now you have great South Exposure, protection from the cold North, and you’ve done it all yourself, over a series of weekends.

Okay, now take that same idea, and build a single family home.

U shaped ISBU structure, 2 levels high.

20′ x 28′ foot two story room in the center, complete with Island Kitchen and Washer/Dryer area.

Now you have 4 bdrms, 4 bathrooms (including (1) common bath on the first floor, an office, a banquette seating area, (2) small decks, and enough great room for a decent woodstove.

Put a standing seam metal roof over it, in that hipped shape that I’m so fond of…

Instant home.
Just add water.
And power.
And AC.
And Insulation… don’t forget the SPF!

All for the low, low price of… um… er… how much ya got? 😉

Gimme a day or two to get things here under control, and I’ll draw something out, to demonstrate exactly what I’m talking about. I can see it in my head, but you really don’t wanna go there… 😉

Stay tuned.

To Dome, or not to Dome…

11 Nov

It’s me again…

I’m like that unruly relative who keeps showing up at the front door because: “My wife threw me out again, because I didn’t do nothing wrong, except get really hammered… again… and then wreck the car… again…” 🙂

WAIT! That’s not it! Nuh-uh! I’d shoot that guy in the head. Twice!

I’M the guy building a home for his family, out of shipping containers and aircraft hangar parts. And, I’m teaching other people how to do it, too! And… some of them are actually listening to me… the rubes! 🙂

Seriously, we’re trying to demonstrate by example that you can build your own affordable, sustainable, energy efficient home without being a NASA scientist or tying yourself to a huge mortgage, or living a life fueled by “keeping up with the Joneses.”

And we’re doing just that. 7 of my families are building their own homes, as  I type this. You could be  too…

NO! Not “7 of my families” in the biblical sense! What are you, nuts? 🙂


In between fighting with Planning and Zoning Nazis and the State of Mississippi, and helping other families get their projects moving, I check my email. I don’t know WHY?  Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment.

Every time I open my email… I get accused of being (a) stupid, (b) crazy, or (c) both.

But… you know what they say… “sticks and stones…”

I’m just going to have to change my email address so that my Mom doesn’t know what it is! 🙂

Lately, I’ve been getting a ton of flack over this whole “ISBU” thing…

Okay, so it’s not just “lately,” it’s been since Day ONE…

And, I get all kinds of people who send me stuff that starts out with:

“Forget that ISBU nonsense! I’ve read all about these polycarbonate domes on the market now, that are touted as being ‘the next big thing’…”

camo_domeI keep having people ask me about the “domed shelter” idea… you know the ones I mean… that come in a 20′ diameter (314 square feet) configuration.

Of course, they’re talking about Intershelter’s Polycarbonate Dome system. And, I’ve gotta say that at first glance, they’re pretty enticing.

And okay, I’m warning you up front, that I’m going to have some fun, at Intershelter’s expense. And, I hope that they have a sense of humor.

Look, I’m well known because I say exactly what’s on my tiny little mind.

You don’t like it? Well… Tough Noogies…

I’m not a politician or a diplomat. If you have any doubts about what I’m talking about, read the disclaimer  over there on the right side of your page. Capish?

In advance: I don’t hate their product at all. In fact, it’s kinda cool. But like every “shelter solution,” it has it’s potentials, and it’s pitfalls.

You want something that you can deliver by C-130 aircraft or military helicopter and slap up in a hurry, when you’re on an expedition into the Great White North, to document Sasquatch, or Bigfoot, or even a bevy of attractive Eskimo girls in seal fur… this may be the solution.

Wanna explore the Sahara looking for buried African treasure troves? Well, give a bunch of camel’s a humongous hernia… or parachute a bunch of these puppies into your base camp. Hey, all those Nigerian Internet scam artists had to hide the loot somewhere, right?

Wanna start a cult out in the middle of nowhere (that you can pack up and move at a moments notice)?  You know… like when the trigger-happy guys from ATF  (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) and DHS (Department of Homeland Security) show up dressed in bulletproofs… after they figure out your “current” address? Okay, here ya go!

001_ADozenDomesv02And, they can even interlock, to form big old “chemistry class bubbles!” Yahoo!  🙂

Wanna have a “Jewish Jamboree” in the land that Moses spent 40 years exploring? I bet you could even find a Kosher bunch of “half shells…” Um… maybe not.  Shellfish ain’t never kosher!  And… Probably not even plastic “half-shell – Jonah eating”  shellfish. We’ll have to  ask a Rabbi… Oy Vey! 🙂

Looking for a cool camping “tent” that ain’t a tent? One that’ll make your kids really mad at you, when you make them haul it out of the truck, piece by piece, to erect in the clearing of your choice? Okay! This will do the trick!

(And, it’ll keep the little buggers out of your hair all weekend, because they’ll be so mad at you for making them do chores! And, they can’t kill you by sneaking up and burning it down… that burning insulation will make a terrific popping sound as it combusts! )  😉

Hey all this talk about “popping sounds” is making me hungry… Time out while I make a batch of popcorn!  🙂

Okay, where was I? Oh yeah…

Does the dome system have some really cool “Military Applications?” Probably, if you can find a way to insure that it’s capable of being transformed into something “anti-ballistic.”

Nothing screws up “a nice dream about home…” like getting shot in the butt… while it’s still in your rack.

But is it really an affordable housing solution? I’m not so sure…

Let’s run it up the flagpole, and see who salutes… okay?  😉

The domes we’re talking about are made of a very cool polycarbonate panel system (that you can insulate for $2,500 extra) that costs about US$12,000+  for the base structure. (This figure is based on the  most recent pricing data I’ve seen – as of November 10th, 2009)


So… that’s $14,500.00 plus crating and shipping, for an empty, non-floored, non-foundationed, insulated 20′ beer cooler/dome. And that shipping and handling is going to add at least another $500 bucks…

(I’m being generous here, it will probably cost substantially more.)

But hey… they gotta be cool, because they (somebody overheard one of the manufacturers reps say it, repeatedly…) claim that Brad Pitt bought some of them, right?

So what? That’s almost $48 per square foot! WTF? Are you absolutely freakin’ nuts?

Sorry… lost it there for a moment… Let me just take several deep cleansing breaths… ah… that’s much better! 🙂

Evidently… my suspicions have been confirmed. Even if Brad was “mondo cool enough” to get Angelina… (sigh! excuse me a moment while I pleasure myself with a little daydream about “Angie baby“)…

angelina-jolie-pregnantHow can you not love this face? (sigh!)

… if Mr. Pitt thinks that these domes will work as “affordable permanent housing,” well… Brad Pitt is a complete whacko! He’s “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs” crazy… His “bats” have bats… in his belfrey.

But; “wait a minute…” you say… “domes have some good things going for them!”

They look really cool!

Yeah, I agree. They DO look cool. IF… you’re an Eskimo! Otherwise, you live in a house that looks like it fell out of a seagull’s butt…

And hey! I mean… NO corners – So… No place for the wind to grab, during a “big storm event.” No wind shearing!

Okay, I’ll give you that one…

“They’ll withstand a Category 5 hurricane direct hit! I know it’s true ‘cuz they said it on their website! I think… “

Uh huh… Sure it will. Prove it. THEY haven’t. Give me the address of the house. I’m POSITIVE that they didn’t say that. That would be incredibly stupid. Not even an idiot would say that.

And… because it has NO corners… floodwater goes around them  without knocking them down… right? Well Ronin? What you gotta say now, Mr Smarty Pants? Huh?

Um… Jeez, you are one gullible sap, aren’t you? You honestly believe that a wall of hurricane driven water won’t knock down a plastic dome that weighs nearly nothing, in comparison… Uh huh… again… PROVE IT!!

Well, okay… you gotta admit that they’re easy to wash… Just start hosing off the top, and it’ll all come running down, and wash the sides.

Seriously, when’s the last time you washed the outside of your house? Me? Like NEVER. That’s what G-D made “rain” for… duh! 🙂

And when they’re all shiny clean? Those domes will still look like great big bird droppings.  🙂

So, when the poop hits the fan… there’s gonna be a line for them at Walmart, huh? Just whip out that GoldCard, and “Kerblammo!”

Instant shelter…

Well, “bull-hoo-hoo-hoo-freakin-hooey!”

First, who is their right mind would live in a plastic dome, without any insulation? And, what Planning and Zoning Nazi would let them, even if they wanted to?

That said, why does the insulation cost extra? Hmmm? Why didn’t they just include it in the first place?

That’s just kinda STUPID, with a “capital” STUPE! But, I could be wrong. It could happen… some day. 😉

And, I could go on about the polycarbonate shell, but I’m trying not to make you feel like a complete imbecile… sort of…

I mean, it IS kinda fun… ya big dope!  🙂

Here’s the one big problem with a dome…

Ever tried to live in a round room?

Ever tried to lay one out so that you could use decent “off the shelf” materials to finish it out?

Ever tried to do it without being a Master Carpenter? Ever tried to cut exactly correct complex curves, into every single piece of wood in the freakin’ place? Huh? Well?

Ever tried to squeeze every wasted part of a circle into something usable?

clint-eastwood-dirty-harryWell, have ya, punk? 🙂

There’s a better way… if you’re not stupid.

You’re not, right? Cuz’… I mean.. If ya are, you better stop reading now… and head on over to “Google Games” or something… 🙂

Now where was I? Oh yeah… and pay attention, because there’s a “pop quiz” at the end….

I need an insulated shell with an area of approximately 310 square feet, right? One that I can haul in by myself, without any heavy equipment…

Here’s how I’D do it;

(Now remember, Ronin don’t have a team of NASA engineers, or a plastics lab, or a manufacturing facility, or a million dollars in start-up money. He’s flyin’ solo…)

Start with 1″x 4′ x 8′ sheets of plywood. Exterior grade, about (16) of them will do. Match that with (12) 4′ x 12′ x 1/2″ sheetrock panels. Get the mold resistant ones, huh? Condensation is a real pain in the butt…

Put that all together with some spray-on closed-cell foam insulation, and you’ll get pre-Insulated and Interlocking 4′ x 8′ “sandwich” panels, that paired up… will form (8) 8′ x 8′ Wall assembly sections of your octagon.

NO! Not “Octomom…” If  she’s gonna live there, you’re gonna need a LOT more room… and medication. A truckload of med’s….

2″ of sprayed on closed-cell foam would provide approximately r14 walls. You’ll need that much insulation at LEAST.

But, just for the sake of holding you up to public ridicule, we’re just gonna go “cheap…” 😉

Precast steel corner pieces will adjust each wall assembly to the “right” angle, and that will allow assembly of  the “octagon.” These pieces already exist, off-the-shelf, so why make them, when you can buy ’em already? Look ’em up in a catalog on-line… that’s what I did.

Buy em LONG. At least 10′. We want at least 18″ up over the top of that wall. Why? Well, if we extend the supports up past the top of the insulated panels we just made, we can put thick clear plastic sheeting in there to “daylight” the center of that octagon.

And, if you keep following this post series, you’ll see what else you can do with an 8’x9’6″ opening.

But for now;

Several different “panel component” assemblies will allow for window insertion or door insertion, etc…

(16) panels would create an (8) sided, 310 square foot housing unit, with (2) 36″ entry doors and (4) 32″ windows.

Of course, you could always install a set of 8′ sliding glass doors, too. Just replace one wall assembly with the door set. That’d bring in a ton of light, and even help you heat the home, if you used a thermal mass floor… like maybe concrete. And you could do it for the price as one of the wall assemblies,  if you used a “salvaged set” from a scrapyard or salvage supplier.

The octagonal roof would simply be (8) interlocking SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels) approximately 10″ thick. Each panel would be light enough to be handled by (2) men. The assembled roof would require no “support.”

In the center of the roof would be a “draft inducer assembly” built into an 8 sided SIPs “receiver” to complete the roof.

This inducer would allow a wood stove or other heating device to be placed in the center of the housing module, to heat the unit. Or… forget the draft inducer, and install a skylight.

This entire housing module would “flat-pack…”  enabling it to be transported by a pickup truck or small flatbed trailer..

Assembly onto a pre-built wooden “foundation” platform would take approximately 3-4 hours, with 2 able-bodied men.

Yield: (1) Small (approx 310 square foot) family unit with a 12′ roof, includes sleeping loft, kitchen, bathroom, living area, and additional sleeping quarters for Ma and Pa Kettle.

Cost for shell:

Note: I’m just talking about the empty structure (just like the dome shell quote), the foundation is extra.

$108.00     (12) 4′ x 12′ x 1/2″ Sheetrock  @ $9.00 each

$  40.00     (16) 104″ 2x4s – for bottom and top plates  at   $ 2.50  each

$850.00    (10) Blank 4′ x 8′ x 3.5″ Insulated Panel at approximately $85.00 per to fabricate

$770.00   (4) Window 4′ x 8′ x 3.5″ Insulated Panel at $192.50  each

We used “good” Dual Pane insulated glass 32″ x 60″ windows.

$390.00    (2) Door 4′ x 8′ x 3/5″ Insulated Panel at $195.00 each

We used decent – contractor grade 6-panel 36″ steel – (foam insulated) doors.

$ 80.00     (8) Panel Interlocks – Straight at $10.00 each

$ 96.00     (8) Panel Interlocks – Angled at  $12.00 each

$680.00   (8) SIP Interlocking 10″ Roof Segments  at approximately $85.00 each to fabricate

$ 85.00     (1) Draft Inducer Roof Crown at $85.00 to fabricate

$100.00   (1) Hardware/Sealer Kit full of nuts, bolts, screws, silicone caulking, flashing, and other stuff…

Grand total:

$6,199.00    OR   $19.99 per square foot.

Now… you have a complete shell with r15 (actual) walls that perform like r19, and r41 (actual) roof that performs like r62.

What? What’s this “actual/perform” crap?

Because air-tightness, moisture resistance, and thermal mass are properties that are inherent with closed-cell foam and SIPS, so they will out-perform their given R-Values in comparison to fiberglass batts. That’s why! Don’t you READ the blog? Well? Huh?  🙂

Not feeling silly enough yet? Okay, let’s pave the road to “Dufasberg” further… 🙂

Now… just add (on your own dime, because we’re just trying to compare “likey-likey”) a concrete foundation or an elevated wood deck platform, maybe a solar panel to help with domestic hot water production, and even a photovoltaic panel or two, to bump that utility meter backwards a little bit… plus the necessary electrical and plumbing.

Back to “spendy-spendy…”:

Waterproof it (just in case, even though that closed-cell insulation forms both a water AND a vapor barrier), side it, and slap some felt and shingles on the roof.

Roofing material for that 325+ square foot roof is going to cost you about $600.00

After all that, you still have about $8,200.00 to play with.

Put some kind of siding on the outside of the house.

I’ll give you a grand to do that with…

Now, you’re down to $7,200.00.

Figure a kitchen at  (let’s be generous, okay?) about $3,000.00;

$500    36″ Stove
$500    Refrigerator
$250    Sink (double) and fixtures
$200    Microwave (?)  Or your wife will kill you…
$900    Cabinets – Home Depot or Lowe’s – El Cheapo’s
$165    Countertops (I’ll make them outta stained concrete)

That’s $2,515 bucks… So, you can afford a new set of pots and pans…

… and a decent bathroom runs right at $2000.00;

$725    60″ x 42″ Tub/Tub Surround/Shower Access
$250    Toilet
$150    Sink and fixtures
$250    Lavatory Cabinet
$250    Tile for flooring

$500   Hot Water Heater  (40 gallon at least…)

$2,125.00 IF you bought everything at retail.  Oops… My bad…

But, we did have a few bucks left over from the kitchen, so we’re okay…

And you’ll need a heat source…I’d buy a wood stove, if I wanted to stay in budget. Can you say “Craigslist?”

But… Here’s what I’d actually do… even if I had to cut out my kid’s allowance to pay for it;

I’d go out and get  a 1.5 ton Heat-A/C unit like this one…

m_s_splitAnd, yes… even the “Dome nuts” agree with me that it uses 50% less energy than other existing HVAC units.

If you’re “careful shoppers,” and you “google” your brains out… that HVAC system is gonna cost you about $3,000.00 to $3,500.00. I know it sounds steep, but you’ll thank me later…

Now, you have a home that can be heated to 72 degrees year round – summer heat or winter snow… for just pennies a day. Plus, it has a built in battery back up system that will operate it for up to 12 hours, if the power fails.

It runs on DC voltage, too. Couple that baby with a dedicated photovoltaic panel array, and you’d have a killer heat/cooling system, that didn’t cost you a dime to operate. Ever.

Okay… ‘cept maintenance. Sheesh… everybody’s a critic! 🙂

It’s not like I’ve actually thought this out or anything, but…

Do all that, and then throw in some nice patio furniture (because it’s cheap, durable, washable, easy to haul up there in your pick-up, and it’s probably on sale right now, at a Walmart near you!) and voila!

Instant “BOB” (“Bug-Out-Box”) easily assembled in a week.

A WEEK. TWO weeks… TOPS.

And, if you’re careful, you’ll probably have spent that $15,000+ that those dome guys were trying to “bamboozle” you out of… but you’ll have AN ENTIRE HOUSE, filled with BRAND SPANKING NEW appliances and fixtures.

Okay, they’re not really trying to bamboozle you!!  Those domes cost money! They put some serious work into producing them. They’re worth every penny that you spend for them, in the right conditions and circumstances.

If  I was faced with ANY of the scenario’s that I described up at the top of this post… (especially that “cult one…”) I’d buy one, myself… or maybe 12!  😉

But, for that kinda money, or maybe a little bit more (if you buy the “super deluxe” HVAC unit I showed you) you can have an entire house that will last for years… that any idiot can build… all by themselves in just a few weekends….

AFTER they built the foundation, and installed the septic tank. Duh!   😉

So what if it’s not an ISBU! I don’t care, as long as your family is safe. That’s the ONLY thing I care about…

And… it’ll be complete and ready to move into at a moment’s notice.

For a few bucks more, you can turn that same box into an eco-friendly completely off-grid home (simply by adding some more photovoltaic panels to your array), perfect for weekends in the mountains, or even as an emergency shelter, when things go nuts.

brad_pittBrad Pitt… what a moron… lucky… but a moron if he thinks these domes are the answer to “permanent housing”… IMHO.

I hope he doesn’t.  Angelina deserves better…  😉

(Picture Ronin rolling his eyes, and waving his finger in a circle around his ear…)

Now, if I build one of these little houses… (again… Shhhh!)… I’m gonna come in WAY under that…

… because I’m going to use salvaged cabinets from a “Habitat for Humanity” store, recycled “appliances and fixtures,” and anything else I can get “recycled,” like doors and windows.

And, I’ll do almost ALL of the labor myself.

I’ll spend about $10-12,000 to do it, all the way through. And, you’ll never be able to tell the difference.

Wait… yes you will… Mine will be the one surrounded with barbed wire…  and “Border Buddy” landmines. 😉

YOU could do it too. This ain’t rocket science…

In conclusion (I bet you thought that this would never end, huh?);

Those polycarbonate domes would be terrific as “fast-set” Emergency Housing, or a FEMA alternative. Any idiot (myself included) can see that! And, they’d also be great for temporary quarters for a homeless population while permanent structures were being prepared.

But as a “permanent” solution? No, I’m not convinced.

But wouldn’t they make a cool “camping” alternative?

“I’m sleeping in that camo speedbump, right over yonder…”

(I know… I’m gonna get “hate mail,” and probably even a letter from Intershelter’s lawyers…)

But Ronin… I have 8 kids…

I bet you’re wondering WHY I chose to build 8′ x 8′ wall segments, right?

How big is the business end of a shipping container? Hmmm?

POP QUIZ: Do the math.

C’mon… you knew I was gonna slip a container or two in there somewhere, now didn’t you?  😉

Stay tuned.

The Renaissance RoninOkay, you all know what’s going on with my family, so I’m not going to beat you up with that…

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…

Another Container Home hits the street!

11 May

Recently, I was contacted by “The Divine Miss M’s” designer (you remember HER, right?)… 🙂

Michael Mardis (of asked me to post pictures of ISBU houses I’ve participated in building, because he wanted to know “what I thought an ISBU house should look like…”

Now, I suspect that he’s pissed that I “took issue” with one of his clients, or he might have thought that I had problems with his design of her house. Who knows? Maybe he’s just curious…

Nothing I ever said would lead you to believe that I was “slighting” him, but hey, I’m game.

(The emphasis  here [color, et all] is mine, added to make reading the blog easier.) Like that could actually happen! 🙂

Here’s what I told him;

Are you under the impression that I have issues with the design of the house?

The issues I have (and always had), is the negativity perceived by authorities who were influenced by the actions of the owner, due to the “rampant publicity and theatrics.”

And there is NO set way for an ISBU home to “look.” The beauty of an  ISBU house is that it can look like “anything.” It’s a box, for cryin’ out loud!

Side it, brick it, veneer it, stucco it, or leave it “industrial,” it’s just a steel starting point to house a family.

Gable roof, shed roof, Cape Cod,  Salt Box, or Clerestory, you name  it… You can wrap a Corten box any way you want.

Now, my personal house is hopelessly mired in Mississippi Politics, and we’re fighting it out at the legislature level again… but…

I’ve posted photos (and drawings) of old projects, and I have three more solidly in development now.  Stay tuned, and you can watch,  just like everybody else. 🙂

And as to “what I think a container house should look like”; I’ll point  out that all three of “mine” (in the role of “consultant,” as I’m helping the owners”) currently under development are different (animals of a different color).

One is a clerestory roofed (SIPs) hardieplank “single story with loft” assemblage of boxes.

One is a three story multiple “stack” design (24×40 on each floor) and  it gets glass and stucco. It’ll look “Spanish Modern.”

The third is a 2 story contemporary (24×40 – main, 16×40 – second) that get’s brick and siding.

(Note to readers: There is a fourth, that uses 53′ monster boxes, but we’re still all caught up in the multiple wants/needs…  “OMG, what do we do now? mode…  So, we won’t count that one… yet.) 🙂

Again, I have no issues with design (“M’s” House), it’s owner impact I’m concerned with. Agree or disagree, if people come away from a project carrying a grudge, it makes it harder for the next guy.

All I want is to see families in homes. Period. Anyone that chooses to side against me, is going to have their hands full. In part, that’s why I’m speaking to politicians in Jackson so often.

In fact, I’m headed back to Jackson the week of the 18th (yep, once more… they moved the meeting date) to go “bare knuckles” with the “backwater bozos” again.  It’s about releasing the land that was acquired by grant, to allow the build to begin, for those of you following along.

And, he asked me to check out another container build in Kansas City, MO, being completed by the Glassberg family.

So, I did. And here’s the result of THAT query;


Thanks for your input. And, I checked out the Kansas City build:

I don’t expect you to read all this, I’m sure you’re too busy, but here goes;

About the Glassberg Container House in Kansas City, MO;


Overall, I’m siding with most of the comments. There are valid points  being made.

As to the house, by itself,  here’s the deal;

Although the Glassberg house is a “designer house,” (more on that later) it’s a “stack and pack,” and that’s not bad. I actually like the more “industrial” look of ISBU’s, but it’s hard to shoehorn that look into an existing neighborhood, sometimes.


FYI to my readers: As the result of a “salvage gift,” I’m currently playing with the idea of using 10′ sections of salvaged highway drainage culvert as “pillars” to “float” ISBUs on top of, up out of the flood plain. They’re big enough inside to allow the installation of spiral staircases from grade, and (accessed) at grade they can also be used as “storage vaults.” It’s possible that we’ll tie them together with masonry or concrete walls, to form an enclosed garage/shop.

The Glassberg’s state a price of $115 a foot to build ($300k budget for 2,600 sq ft), and that’s not bad for a custom “designer” home, but I’ll point out that you can build a container house (or even a conventional stick house) with much less money. This $300k build is well beyond the reach of the majority of families looking at ISBUs for construction projects.


2,600 square feet. Hmmm… Not exactly a “zero-carbon footprint” but I’m the last person to harp on somebody else’s need for space. I just say build as responsibly and as sustainably as you can.

Designing the containers as modules, so that you could disassemble the house and move it again is a concept I preach to potential ISBU builders. I have one in NC right now, where the ability to move it again later is a confirmed part of the integral design.

glassberg5Like many of the comments… It grieves me to see that she actually went to China three different times to supervise the construction of her  “designer” containers, when there are plenty of them sitting right here, waiting for new owners.

I suspect that she spent enough airfare to buy several containers (and possibly an extra one or two), if she’d bought ISBUs here. The average business class fare to China ran about $1,800 bucks in her travel timeframe (if I’m understanding the article correctly)… times three…  divided by 40’s…


I’m wondering where ELSE the actual differences in their construction lies (aside from height), compared to “standard” ISBUs… They may be built to “stronger spec’s” for example. I’m sure they had their reasons, but from our  more “grass roots” perspective here on “RR,” we can’t duplicate it.

I’ve got a few (3) 53′ boxes sitting here that are almost 9’2″ (110 inches) tall on the inside.

(2) of these are headed to an Indian family on a reservation near here for a “clerestory” SIP roof build. We’ll frame in a “spacer” between the containers, out of scrap steel from an aircraft hanger demo.”

Almost 1,700 sq ft, plus huge 16’x24′ “sleeping lofts” on both ends…

(2) 8’x16′ (approx) upstairs decks off lofts, separated by an 8’x21′ (approx) greenhouse. Clerestory windows over. We’ll see over 2,400 sq ft of living space.

Oh yeah, the house sits on a masonry main floor box (32’x32′  approx. of garages and shop) cantilevered off each end), to get it up out of the flood plain.

(BTW: As to “carbon footprint,” it’s a multi-generation family of 10, plus relatives 4 months a year.)

And this build will come in just under $75 a foot (not counting sleeping lofts, or glazing for the greenhouse). We have a $125,000 budget.

And there are thousands of 53′ boxes here in the States, sitting idle. They ARE available, if you dig thru channels to find them.

(I prefer the 40 HQ’s… these behemoths were a “gift.”)

Although I love the idea of  the G;assberg’s 12′ ceilings, they’re not really ISBUs any longer. It’s like saying that the Verbus Systems boxes that Travelodge built that hotel out of are ISBU’s.  Although they are containers, they’re 12′ wide. Hardly shippable, stackable, or even usable in conventional shipping. They’re only good for one thing. Building. I don’t count them or their use, as real “Container Projects” except in “theory.”


They (Travelodge) could’ve just as easily designed rooms using (2) 8’rs… They had their reasons, Verbus used that build as part of “proof of concept” and gave them a huge discount…

The Glassberg “green roof” is something I incorporate every time I can. If for no other reason, most of these builds seem to be near or off grid, and it gets the garden up and away from the critters. It’s also a great place for a greenhouse.

It doesn’t add a ton of insulation value, as dirt isn’t that great for r-value, unless you have several feet of it used as “isolation.”

I love how they left the influence of the tree. “Nature play,” and whimsy rule, when it comes to these homes. They can be quite charming.


The press impression that the Glassberg house is “one of the few container houses in the United States” just drives home my point about “media ignorance.” There are hundreds, if not a thousand. At one point (back in the late 1990’s), I had a listing of over 400.


I (sure) can’t fault their (the Glassberg’s) philosophy about the impact that ISBUs could have. I’ve long been an advocate for FEMA use of ISBUs to build emergency shelter. They could build them in factories, just like travel trailers. The “tech” is already there. And, when not needed as “Disaster Shelter,” they’d stack back up for storage, just like they do now at shipping ports. Plus, they’d be secure, and last forever…

The Glassberg’s house will use eco-friendly technologies, including sugar beet foam insulation, geothermal heating and cooling, bamboo flooring, tankless water heaters and LED lighting.

First… LED lighting is great, but it’s still way too expensive for most people to embrace. I’m waiting for that day too, because it will be a huge boon to people living “off-grid.” I’m envious. Truly!

Bamboo flooring? Probably after market, too. But, did you know that standard containers can be found with bamboo flooring already in them? Bamboo is good, though. I can’t complain about the use of that.

Sugar beet foam insulation? Makes a “green” statement, I suppose, but too expensive, not commonly available yet, and out of most individual’s price ranges.  I wonder how “dense” it gets, and how insects and critters like it? I’m seeing a lot of conflicting reports from manufacturers. I’d use rigid PolyIso or spray foam (closed cell).

While not “green” in the traditional sense, it’s an affordable, reliable and durable alternative, that gives “green” (energy savings) benefits over batts of fiberglass.

Geothermal heating and cooling is something I already incorporate into my designs. It just makes sense.

Tankless water heaters? Nope! It’s too hard on PV arrays! I opt for high-efficiency solar hot water systems. I also “warm” my slabs to get radiant heat that way. But, remember, most of my builds are “near or off grid.”

I didn’t see anything about water retention, or grey water usage, or… ah… never mind.

“A Kansas City Art Institute student is designing rain-barrel benches.”

I wonder if that’s “rain Barrels that become benches,” or “benches that act as rain barrels?” Hmmm… Give’s me an idea!


For what it’s worth (probly’ about .25 cents) that’s my take on this project. I envy the Glassberg’s and their new “designer” abode, and I hope that it serves them (and the terrific community that embraced them) well, for decades to come!   I’m sure that we’ll see it on Cable TV DIY and Home & Gardens type networks! It’s a good looking beast.  🙂

There you have it. Another “Ronin Says” look at an ongoing “Project of Merit!”

Stay tuned!

The Renaissance RoninPhoto Credits for Glassberg house: ALLISON LONG! I think that she’s a staff photographer for If not, I’ll be more than happy to issue a “correction.”

Do You Enjoy Our Articles and Features? Are you interested in helping a family that is helping others get back on THEIR feet? We could sure use the help, honest! Please Consider Making a Small, Secure Donation! Use our Paypal button!

Pipe Dreams

1 May

Once upon a time…

As you no doubt know by now, my family is building a new home out of shipping containers, and other cast-off stuff. (I suppose the first clue was that blue box up there in the banner, huh?) 🙂

It’s a tale told with turmoil, torment, treachery, and even some triumphs, and we’re not through yet!  Along the way, we’ve picked up a few stragglers, and even managed to help some folks start building their homes, and get their feet planted firmly on the ground again. THAT is what this blog is all about. We want to help all of you, every single one! Why? Because we’re givers!

Actually, it’s probably because misery loves company, and it’s kinda lonely sometimes!  I mean, really… If we’re laughing at you, we’re not crying at “us!” 🙂

And trust me when I tell you that sometimes we’re not laughing “with” you, we are indeed laughing “at” you. You know who you are! 🙂

I received an email from a contractor that saw a little blurb I did, about building a “Roman Crane” out of a 20′ shipping container, a flatbed trailer, a couple of scrap hydraulic cylinders, and some scrap steel beams that we’d gotten from an aircraft hangar demolition.

Well, I dug out the original drawings, and even the detail photographs, and sent them off to him with a hearty “Good Luck… You’re gonna need it.”

Now, this contractor expressed his gratitude, and he swore up and down that he’d make it right by me, somehow. But, I just took it as “lip service” because we all know that contractors can’t be trusted! 🙂

I know this for a fact ‘cuz I used to be one! 🙂

Oh just stop it… I’m kidding. I like contractors just fine… But you have to marinate them a really long time… LOL!

Anyway, last week, I get a call from this guy;

“Remember me? Well, we followed your plans, to the “T!” And, it actually worked great! It worked so good that we got another contract, and we’ve inherited a service yard to work from, out by the Space Center!

Say, I’ve got 17 sections of concrete sewer pipe here, left over from a DOT highway build, I think. They’ve been here for a few years now. And, I bet you could use them for something, if you put your mind to it. After all, you’re a really smart guy!

Ya want ’em? You can store them here until you need them, and we’ll even help you load them. I mean, it’s not like we don’t have a crane now!”

Now, the wheels immediately started spinning.

I recalled that I’d seen them used before in novel ways. In fact, I’ve even showed them to you once before. I was kinda caught in a “Deja Vu” moment there, on the phone… Wait… here’s another one, now!

I give you… The Das Park Hotel

Here’s some hotel rooms built from giant concrete sewage pipe segments!

Although this is a one-of-the-kind hotel, it has been designed from the outset to use worldwide standard concrete drainage or sewage pipe sections – so you could well see more of them in the future.

The idea of Andreas Strauss in 2004, the first rooms were provided in Linz. Now in nearby Ottensheim, rooms are accessed by a digital keypad, whose code is provided by the self service website upon booking acceptance.

The beauty of these pipes is that their concrete utilitarian look needs little alteration to make them habitable – a coat of varnish is all that is necessary.

The tubes have also have received wall paintings by the Austrian artist Thomas Latzel Ochoa to make them seem a little more user friendly.

Each tube weighs more than you can possibly imagine! In fact, they tip the scales at over  20,000 pounds…  So although some might be tempted to rock or vandalize them, they are incredibly robust and need little maintenance, provided you can keep those pesky miscreants with spray cans away from them.  But… that’s what dogs are for, I suppose.

More advanced lock and electronic keypad systems had to be fitted in 2007,  (to keep unauthorized users out) but the original concept is working very well.

Like cave hotels, Das Park Hotel is fairly cool in the summer, and perhaps still warm in winter, although at the moment the hotel is only open from May to October.

Rooms: Three double-room pipes

Once inside the pipes, the facilities are pretty basic, but they do have everything you’ll need to get a good nights sleep –  a double bed,  a lamp, a power strip so you can plug in that alarm clock,  a couple of blankets and even light cotton sleeping bags are provided.

But, if you’re one of those guys who has  to pee in the wee hours, you’re gonna have to hike for it. The toilet and (cold) showers are a couple of minutes walk away, with details provided on booking. Ignore the guy hiding in the bushes with the big knife and the hockey mask, he’s just waiting for his turn in the pipe!

The price is right, and we’re not talking about Drew Carey or Bob Barker here! Rooms are based on a donation basis only. There is no set pricing. Nada! Zip! Bupkiss!

Located in a lovely spot next to the Danube in Ottensheim municipal camping area the tubes have had a several seasons of use but are still clean and functional.

Hello? Concrete! After all, you can just hose them out, or even sandblast them from year to year, to get them ready for the next season!

The travel blurb says: “While there are many restaurants in the town square 15 minutes walk away, we particularly recommend the El Danubio campsite bar and it’s host Sergio, who will prepare excellent rib and fried potato dinners a minutes walk from your room. Details of places for breakfast, drinks and bathroom facilities are provided in the joining instructions.”

“Joining Instructions?” Ah… to stay in the pipe, you give  “a donation,” but to eat or pee, you have to join a “special club.” I see…” Hmmmm… 🙂


The campsite has beach volleyball courts, a kiddie paddling pool and nearby spots for swimming in the Danube.

Who could ask for more?

Well, from what I can see, the only things that they’re missing are a small Photovoltaic panel to power that lamp and the alarm clock, and maybe a nice little solar hot water heater system, to allow a little bathroom to get tucked in there! You know, like the ones they put into boats! They’re more like little closets, but they do the job! If you did that… (FEMA? Are you paying attention?) these could build dandy little emergency camps!  No formaldehyde here, folks!

You could put your relatives in there, and then slam that door shut! Hey it’s not like they’ve starve… You could drop food in, thru that skylight hole in the top!

Okay, maybe not. But it’s a fun thought…

But  you could put them in an RV park, or wilderness park even… The pipes, not the relatives… It gives one pause to think… I wonder if there is any “Stimulus Package money for projects like this? I mean, it’s green, and it’s housing, and it’s recycled… 🙂

Dear President Obama,

Like Martin Luther King… “I have a dream.”

Okay, it’s not as noble as Martin Luther’s but it’s a dream, none the less! Okay, it’s a “Pipe Dream!” Gimme a break, huh? What did you expect? I’m just a regular “Bubba!” I don’t “habla” Political Doublespeak… I don’t “sprechen Senatorial smack!” I don’t even comprehend “Congressional Stupidity.”

I was just thinkin’ since you’re givin all that money away (apparently to anybody with an empty wheelbarrow), that I could sure use some of it to build a place for my “in-laws” to stay when they decide to punish… um…er… visit me.

Now I promise I’ll “build green,” and even recycle. No trees will be harmed, and no fat cats will get one penny of this project “bailout.”  The only boost that they’ll get out of me…  is my bootprint on their behind.

Thank you for considering my request!

Respectfully… for now…


PS. Hillary? Are you kidding? What were you thinking?

CC: Lawyers – so they can start preparing my defense…

BCC: Psychiatrist

I’ve got all kinds of ideas. This could get really interesting! And the bonus is that it’s gonna drive the Planning and Zoning guy absolutely nuts! LOL!

Stay tuned!

The Renaissance RoninDo You Enjoy Our Articles and Features? Are you interested in helping a family that is helping others get back on THEIR feet? We could sure use the help, honest! Please Consider Making a Small, Secure Donation! Use our Paypal button!

“Bubba Boxes” for the masses!

4 Apr

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times…

Our country imports more than it exports! “Lions, and Tigers, and Bears! Oh My!”

It’s called a “trade deficit.” But one byproduct of this development is the metal mountains of empty shipping containers piling up at  shipping ports and transport centers. And it’s not just here, either! These containers are becoming a blight on the landscape, blocking out the sun, and ruining the “environment” of the locals!

What to do with them all?

Fear not! There are groups of innovative architects, engineers, and alternative housing visionaries who have THE answer!

How about an inexpensive home? Or maybe an Art studio in your backyard? Or how about a self-contained weekend get-away? Do you need a medical clinic in a remote area? And I bet somebody could use some FEMA type relief-housing after a natural disaster that actually makes sense!

Hey, howabouts a cozy “Corten cabin” in the backyard for when the “In-Laws” come to visit? I mean, that way… they’d have their own space and they wouldn’t feel like they were intruding on you… Yeah, right!

And you could slip out in the middle of the night, all “ninja-like…” slap a padlock on those wonderfully sturdy doors, and ship that puppy off to China! I’d tell ya the rest of the “plan,” but my wife is watching me type… 🙂

Lots of people all around the planet are building prefab, ecologically intelligent structures from empty cargo containers. And this may come as a shock to some of you… but they’ve been doing it for decades.


A 40 foot container can cost you anywhere from $800 to $2000, plus a shipping fee to your building sight. That’s kind of crazy sounding, huh? You have to pay a shipping fee, to get a shipping container. Well, just like you learned in high school Science class; “There ain’t no free lunch!” 🙂

There are several companies and organizations  in America now, like [ISBU2YOU] that will actually outfit the container with doors, windows, insulation, HVAC, and all the amenities your little heart desires, from utilitarian (like building in composting toilets), to upscale (like installing solar and PV arrays).

Let’s face it, you either like ISBUs, or you hate them. I personally think that they get a bad rap, but that’s just me. Using the containers as housing is a  fascinating concept to some, and an  “industrial waste – eye sore” to others…


But whatever your view, you have to admit that our concept of the world is changing fast. “McMansions” are out, and “Microhouses” are “IN!” And, GREEN is all the rage! It’s time to re-utilize the junk we’ve spent decades creating, and reconfigure the way we think, so we can reevaluate “our right to the disposable lifestyles” that we’ve been living, before it’s too late!

Now may be the perfect time. For the first time in “real” history, the Government is actually looking for alternatives to housing. It’s quite possible that there are “Stimulus Bill” dollars available to build a home out of recycled shipping containers. We’re going through the bill line by line, looking for places where we might find some assistance.  The way I see it, if we can bail out AIG, it’s time we bailed out families. American Families. You know, the people who actually built America in the first place!

Look, houses aren’t the only things you can build out of these wonderful boxes. Containers make perfect low cost structures for clinics in remote or impoverished areas. A building such as this might mean the difference in a non-profit having the money to start medical services or letting people suffer and die. Facility expenses can be a huge burden when calculating the money needed to get a project off the ground.


A pal of mine, Paul Stankey has built a terrific “Holyoke Cabin” in Minnesota. It’s a “small scale beauty,” a masterpiece full of natural light and industrial-urban attitude out in the woods. It just takes creativity to create a sense of intrigue by capitalizing on the aspects of building with metal containers! Plus, it’s cheap, and the materials are readily available!


Although Paul used “little boxes,” all the structural load in an 8-by-40-by-9 1/2-foot container is carried by the corner castings, steel columns at each of the four corners. This means that doors and windows can occur anywhere else in  the structure. Whole walls can be cut out and replaced with glass, and interior walls can be anywhere or nowhere.

You can build in walls that slide out (just like in an RV) to make your ISBU cabin even bigger! And when it’s time to go home, you just push the sliders in, lock the container doors, and off you trot! And, Your cabin is secure!

Plus, as an added bonus… The boxes can be stacked like giant Lego blocks, cantilevered into space to create intriguing overhangs and practical decks, or cut apart and reassembled into new configurations. Talk about versatile!


So why aren’t you building one? Hmmm?

container-cabinEven a “modest” box makes a splendid cabin!

Help is available. There’s a new group setting up shop in late April, called “ISBU2YOU” that’s going to start turning out cabins you can truck anywhere, set down, and then, pick up and move to greener pastures, if you decide to! Think of it as an “Armor Plated RV.”

I call ’em “Bubba Boxes.”

They’ve promised me that they’re going to get a detail package ready, so that you can learn how to live in the woods (or anywhere else for that matter) in style, while your friends and neighbors go broke spending a lifetime paying for mortgages, second homes, and hotel bills! ! They’ll give you all the details on how they’ll fab a container cabin for you, and ship it out to your site!

Now I actually know these guys, and I’ve seen the stuff that they’ve built, “far afield” in disaster relief efforts. It’s amazing what you can do, with a little bit of creative energy, and a plasma cutter!

For the price of a new full-sized car, you could be in a nice warm container-cabin, without a huge mortgage! Think of the possibilities! Add a water line, and an electrical cord, and voila!

You’re in heaven!

Stay tuned!

The Renaissance RoninAnd please remember that we’re trying desperately to save this blog. As my wife’s illness worsens, the budget gets tighter and tighter. If you like what you read, and it helps you find your path, please consider hitting the Paypal button, and donatining a few bucks to the cause, okay? We really want to keep this blog going!

10 Steps to Housebuilding Success!

22 Jan

Greetings Campers!

Ah… life in the South is filled with adventure, huh?

First, I’m sorry that I haven’t been doing much posting lately. This has been one heck of a New Year, thus far. Between saying goodbye to a dear friend, Momma being under the weather, and the idiot upstairs flooding our apartment (yet again!) I’ve literally been up to my neck in alligators (and other stuff I still can’t identify… Yuck!)!

That said…

Many of you are “follow-along” readers. And, I’m thankful for you, each and every one of your blessed little hearts, lemme tell you! That means that you know my family is doing that “dreaded of deeds…” Yep, we’re putting down rooooots.

Now, the prospect of this terrifies the neighbors, and frustrates the hell out of the local authorities, because they know that as soon as we build our castle, we’re gonna start influencing the neighbors… and that means (gasp!) change, folks…

The first big change is our use of shipping containers (ISBU’s) as the “guts” of the new house. That little gem of a gossip piece is getting a lot of mileage around here.

And around here, those “fossils” don’t get smarter, they just get older… and crustier… and more dense… I learned that in Geology class I did… or was it Psychiatry, or Mental Health? Hmmm… Wait, I remember… me therapist told me that… she did… when I wasn’t asleep on that couch of hers… Hey, I’m used to sleeping on a couch, what can I say? LOL!

A lot of my email lately echoes the same thought process, over and over again…

“Hey Ronin! Why don’t you get on that Harley and ride the hell outta here? Hmmm?”

Wait… that’s not it… Where was I? Oh yeah…

Where do you even start, when you finally decide that you’re going to build your own home? There’s a lot of ducks to get lined up in a row, and when it’s time to put pencil to paper, that blank page can get pretty darned intimidating! There is so much to learn, and so much to allow for, that you can get lost in the process, if you aren’t careful! So, being the generous, kind, thoughtful, handsome, benevolent, and don’t forget “wise…guy”  tyrant that I am… I thought that perhaps it’s time for a little “primer,” a series of posts dedicated to HOW you actually begin the process to build a house. After all, there’s more to building a home than just pounding nails, slapping up some walls, and putting on a roof.

Much more…

Like, for instance, how do you build a house that keeps all your cash INSIDE it, instead of letting it leak out to be lost outside?

(I’m talking utilities here, folks. The rest of my cash leaks out in that most dreaded of all sports… shopping for diapers and groceries.)

Everywhere you look, and everything you hear lately, seems to revolve around “energy conservation.” Now, that’s not a bad thing. Anyone who’s been pillaging “Ronin’s Treasure Chest” lately, knows full- well that here at “Ground Zero” we are really, really concerned about not only saving resources (because we’re poor!), but living comfortably, while we do it.

So, let’s start off with 10 simple rules to live by when designing and building a home.

If you implement these “rules,” you’ll reduce your family’s long-term energy use by 80-100%, and this will result in a more comfortable, long lasting home. After all, if you’re going to build a home, shouldn’t it be state of the art and follow affordable design and construction standards? A little planning and forethought will allow you to build a home today with high tech energy performance, capable of achieving “net zero” energy consumption.

“Net Zero” doesn’t mean that you’ll be reduced to having to eat those “Free Internet” DVD’s you keep getting in the mail. It means that you’re going to build a house that is so efficient, economic, and affordable, that your neighbors will “oooooh and aaaawe” every time they drive past your house.

Remember folks, “jealousy” is a sport, and getting the gold medal is the objective here. Your neighbors treated you like the rabble heckling Noah while he built his Ark, remember? Well, who’s treading water now, you bastards? Hmmm?

I started this adventure like many of you have, by using that veritable repository of all trivial knowledge in the world… Google. But, albeit I found several good lists, they were… yawn… boring! So… I give you…

The 10 Simple… um…er… kinda simple… Rules

1. Orient your home to the South and Use The Sun’s Energy
2. Build it Tight and Insulate Aggressively With Spray Foams or SIP’s
3. Maximize your Mass
4. Use Radiant In-Floor Heat in All of your Living Spaces
5. Use High Efficiency Condensing Boilers
6. Design For and Install Solar Power Systems
7. Install Outdoor Temp. Reset Controls
8. Don’t scrimp! Use the Best Windows You Can Afford
9. Specify Efficient Appliances and Smart Controls
10. Use GeoExchange Heating and Cooling Systems Whenever Possible

Okay, them’s the “rules.” So, what do they mean? Well… if you follow them, you’ll have a happy home, filled with sunlight and laughter, instead of a hellhole of a house plummeted into darkness and griping…

(And, you won’t have to hear that harpie of an In-Law constantly griping to your spouse about her “lousy marital choice…”)!

For the next few days, we’re gonna take a look at these “rules,” and then figure out both what they mean, and how we use them, to insure our success.

Let’s begin, shall we? Hmmm?

Start by orienting your home to the South and use the Sun’s energy!

Now, I ain’t talking about embracing “grits and cornpone…” Or even stinking up your house with “greens…” And, if I catch you frying up a mess of “catfish and cornbread…” well… let’s just say all you’ll see is my elbows and my backside, as I head for the front door… Ewwwww!

We’re talking about passive solar design here, folks… and I’m talking about maximizing “free” solar energy. Orient the house with living spaces and windows opening south and carefully shade them in the summer.


Make sure you have enough overhang (control) to provide adequate shade.

Over the windows, not your belt buckle. See? That’s what you get for eating all that catfish and grits…

Use exterior sunscreens, soffits or roof overhangs to prevent direct sun from entering south windows from May through September, so you don’t fry.

Make sure that the angle from the bottom of a southern window to the overhang or sunscreen is not be less than 30 degrees. You can refer to a sun-path chart commonly available on the internet to verify these angles and then verify angles and placement.

Place ALL the main living spaces on the south, with services, bathrooms and storage on the north side of the house. Why? Because the rooms that get used the most will benefit from the sunlight, and the “free heat.” Duh! LOL!

But put your Mother-In-Law’s room as far north as you can get it. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch a re-run of the “Wizard of Oz…” Trust me on this… In fact, if you need a passport and an up-to-date shot card to get there, it’s even better!

And speaking of the north side of house… Minimize the windows, and their size, on your  northern elevations. Smaller (and even fewer) windows on the north (cold) side of your house just steal heat, and energy.


If you’re lucky ( and rich) enough to have an architect working with you, ask him/her to document the sun angles on southern elevations for various months on a dedicated sheet, in your house plans. And, if you’re looking for a good one, say it with me…


Remember that a “good” design is everything. If your design sucks, so do you… Wait, that’s not it (although your “other” may tell you that, repeatedly)… Whether you do it yourself, or you hire someone who actually knows what they are doing, insure yourself that that direct sunlight enters your southern windows from at least November 1 to March 1.


And for heaven’s sake, do everything you can to avoid structures and siting schemes that result in more east/west elevations and walls than your north/south ones.

Next time, well talk about “tight” buildings…

Stay tuned!

Addendum: I am not now, nor have I even been, in the employ of, so stop asking me! If I’m guilty of “shamelessly promoting ” them, it’s because these “Titans of the Tundra” think like I think. No, they don’t take any “mental meds” (that I know of)… Okay, they think like I “wanna” think. (If my brain wasn’t frozen from living in sub-zero weather…) Wait… maybe they ARE nuts…
These guys are great at creating innovative, out of the box solutions to difficult housing problems (like the “building economy,” for instance) in a manner that is elegant and functional. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want “the same old cookie-cutter house” that my parents had. I want something that will earn my respect and save me money, while making my family comfortable. Capish? Who couThe Renaissance Roninld ask for more? Hmmm?

“When Man Plans, G-d Laughs!”

10 Nov

I went to bed last night, thinking about the email I’ve been getting lately, concerning my family’s progress as we build a new home in Southern Mississippi.

(Some of that mail is heart-warming, representing encouragements from afar. And, as you can probably imagine, some of it is presented in the form of jeers and taunts, that inform us that we’re doing something strange and extraordinary, that will ultimately end in “horrible failure.”)

I woke up last night, thinking about my Mother.

(No, it wasn’t a “sleep-deprived” jolt, fueled by my son’s teething… it was more in the form of a gentle reminder of my “roots.”)

I was raised by a devoutly Jewish US Marine woman, truly a mother that would strike terror in the hearts of many, but to us, she was that “gentle (not “Gentile”) warrior” that both protected us and tried to poison us with her cooking, all in the same breath! LOL!

(The woman could enlighten any conversation with obscure biblical passages without missing a beat, she could shoot a tick off a cow’s back at 50 paces, and she had a right cross that made Mike Tyson look like a big sissy, but she couldn’t even boil water without having to call the fire department. Oy Vay!)


And although you might think that being a devout Jewess and a US Marine found her in conflict, it wasn’t the case.  Mom taught us to believe with a ferocity that fueled our curiosity and expanded our boundaries.

(And, she could kick the crap out of anyone who tried to get in our way!)

In that mantle of protection, our inquiry was firmly founded. Her children grew legs, and then… started to walk among you…

In its purest form, my Rabbi used to say that the “human spirit of inquiry” is indeed a holy thing. According to the renowned 12th century Jewish thinker Maimonides, nothing less than the Biblical commandment to love G-d is fulfilled when a person investigates the world around him/her, and struck by its intricacy and beauty, is filled with awe and gratitude to the Divine.

And our “inquiry” is usually driven by need, right?

This is the case with our family’s journey, one that leads us down a path that will end in a comfortable, affordable home, built out of parts that most would pass by, on the way to the lumber yard.

Our need led us to inquire about alternative materials, in the hopes that we could indeed “afford” to house ourselves, without needing huge outlays of cash (which we don’t have) and without needing a degree in “sub atomic particle physics” to understand.

And as I’ve said, along the way we’ve found some friends (and a few naysayers), all welcomed to give voice to their praise, opinions,  (or angst,) in the hopes that this input will reveal new places we can look to, as we make progress.

(Granted some of the suggestions involve “impossible anatomical gyrations,” but alas, there are always hecklers in every crowd, ready to hurl spoiled fruit at the “visionaries.” LOL!)

Suffice to say, some of our newly found tribe members, when reflecting on our “advancement,” however, are not exactly motivated by the Maimonidean quest to gain inspiration through a new glimpse of subtle wisdom that G-d has granted us.

To the contrary, they look to whatever new knowledge we may document as just further justification for denying the “powers that be,” forklifts with which to pull themselves up onto the pedestal of “I told you so…”

Our success will have the potential to lead us to a unified theory of our little place in the universe — one where people live in steel houses that withstand the tantrums of nature, all the while providing their inhabitants with a comfortable, affordable lifestyle, and demonstrate that the human mind can fully grasp the totality of creation, by using ingenuity, need, and inquiry (all in careful measure) and is thus capable of becoming the intellectual master of their own personal conditions, each and every one…

Because I aspire to be one of those who maintains my sense of wonder at the world, and I want to see the purpose and beauty in nature, in all it’s forms, be it heavenly inspired or man-made. Sure, we’ll still be hounded, and even confounded by those who choose to see our journey as fascinating but ultimately meaningless.

I was recently reminded that the builders of the Tower of Babel sought to erect a structure whose top would pierce the very heavens, all the better to assert their independence from the Divine and “make a name for ourselves.” Their plans, of course, were dashed; their arrogance did them in.


I hope… I pray that my family’s journey isn’t met with the same bitter results.

It really isn’t my goal to act like I know everything there is to know about shipping container construction, new construction technologies, or even contemporary construction practices.

In fact, I am one of those who will freely admit that although I know quite a bit, I still have much more to learn. And this “inquiry for knowledge” is fueled by my family’s need for a strong affordable house, that will protect us at a level that by far surpasses the abilities granted by my own back and broad shoulders.

There is an old saying that “When Man Plans, G-d laughs…” In Yiddish, it’s the expression; “Man contemplates, G-d laughs!” (and in Yiddish it actually rhymes). I don’t know if G-d laughs as I stumble through this project.  (I’m betting He laughs like he was watching Jeff Dunham and those demented puppets of his!) I certainly don’t laugh; I am sometimes deeply and bitterly disappointed. My thoughts, though, do frequently return to the builders of Babel, and to how, in mankind’s construction of monumental projects, success or failure may ultimately hang on your intentions.

Will our building project, a home built from shipping containers and aircraft hangar components, in fact come to fruition as planned, and allow us to see deeper into our own nature, as we enjoy a new life, lived  in hard earned comfort and safety? I suspect that we will be measured by why we’re looking in the first place.

At least it will be entertaining, huh? Admit it, you haven’t laughed this hard in years. But it’s okay, I don’t mind your laughter, as long as you learn something along the way. As long as I can make you think, it’s all good!

(My medication protects me from further psychological harm, so laugh it up!)

And, I may even learn something too. Imagine that!

Stay tuned!

The Renaissance Ronin

Drumroll please! Welcome the $8,000 Shipping Container Home!!!

1 Nov

While out scouring the web for porn… um… er… news, I came across this little gem…

It seems that the idea of using Shipping Containers as housing is picking up steam!

Rather than recap an already good journalistic piece, I’ll just butt in from time to time, okay? Hot off the AP Wire:

CORRALES, New Mexico (AP) — It was a side trip through a destitute, ramshackle neighborhood in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, that detoured Brian McCarthy from building houses in Albuquerque to an idea to offer the very poor a chance to own a home.

His answer lies in a humble steel shipping container 40 feet long, 8 feet wide and 8½ feet tall.

See, it ain’t just moi!

McCarthy, 30, and three partners, Pablo Nava, 22; Kyle Annen, 23; and Mackenzie Bishop, 22, have made a prototype out of a standard shipping container that hauls goods worldwide — a 320-square-foot home with a kitchen, bath with toilet, sleeping areas, windows and a bright blue door. The exterior is painted with a white epoxy coating that has light-reflecting properties to prevent the sun’s heat from penetrating.

Jeez… They’re just kids! How come you have to be a kid to follow thru on such a great idea? Huh?

Each small house includes hookups for air conditioning, ventilation, electrical and water systems, and the units ideally could be set up in small communities to make accessing utilities more efficient.

The idea began to take shape several years ago, when McCarthy went to the Mexican border city on a field trip as part of an executive MBA program. He found himself impressed by the sophistication and rapid growth of industry in Juarez but shocked when the bus cut through a poor neighborhood on the way out of the city.

“We saw hundreds of homes that are made out of wood pallets and cardboard and scrap metal and scrap building material,” McCarthy said. When he questioned the bus driver, he said, ‘Well, all the people who live here work in the places you just visited.’

“It was amazing to me that in an area where there was such growth and economic prosperity, that these employees of Fortune 1000 companies were living in such poor conditions.”

With Juarez growing by 50,000 to 60,000 people a year and wages low, it was evident traditional homebuilding couldn’t respond, said McCarthy, who’d worked in various facets of building homes in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

An idea began taking shape about a year and a half later, when he saw an article about a shipping container converted into guest quarters.

“They talked about the merits of the construction, how strong they are, how affordable they are and how plentiful they are,” McCarthy said.

He called Nava, his cousin, with the low-cost home idea. A year later, Nava, then a junior at Notre Dame University, suggested entering the university’s business plan competition.

Their initial three-quarter page concept expanded as they advanced in the contest. Along the way, Nava invited his roommate, Annen, to join. As the group’s acknowledged computer graphics wiz, Annen added drawings to give the presentation more life.

Eventually, they won the contest with a 55-page document, illustrated by renderings and floor plans.

In July 2007, the partners formed PFNC Global Communities; PFNC stands for “Por Fin, Nuestra Casa,” which roughly translates as “Finally, our own home.”

They operate out of a back room in a Corrales realty firm but expect offices in Juarez or adjacent El Paso, Texas, and a Juarez plant to manufacture shipping container homes.

The house faces two constraints: designing in only 320 square feet and keeping the price to about $8,000 to be affordable for the average worker at maquiladoras, manufacturing plants in Mexico along the U.S. border, McCarthy said.

The partners looked at clever designs for small condos and lofts, travel trailers and even private jet planes, adapting ideas they felt would work.

“We started with a kitchen and bathroom because they’re the most necessary and most basic ingredients of a home,” McCarthy said.

They designed a galley-style kitchen with a stove, sink, refrigerator and dinette, and a 48-square-foot bathroom with a pedestal sink, shower and commode. Adjacent to the kitchen is a bunk area for children; separate sleeping quarters for the owners lie behind the bathroom wall.

The house may be sparse by U.S. standards, but Nava said it’s a huge improvement in safety, security and health over where many now live.

When drawings and color pictures of the prototype were shown around a poor Juarez neighborhood, people said, “You know, it’d be like a dream to live in one of these,” Nava said. “You know, just the thought of having nice fresh air ventilating through the house, a large bed … a normal kitchen and a safe home that locks and closes each night was more than appealing.”

Annen cites modern architectural design, with bare metal and piping. “This would fit right in any major city,” he said.

The company has received a commitment for equity investment and is in the process of finishing details and closing its first round of funding. The partners anticipate starting production early next year, with the capacity to produce 3,000 homes in the first year and later ramping up.

They figure a half million people could benefit from such homes in Juarez alone.

PFNC doesn’t intend just to build shelter. It wants to build communities, and McCarthy said the group expects to have the first pilot community on the ground late next year.

“That was our goal, more than just four walls and a roof but to kind of raise the standard of living in Juarez and other places,” Nava said.

The shipping containers, which can be hauled by truck, rail or ship, are designed to stack. PFNC envisions a cluster arrangement, eight side by side and four high, with apartment-type balconies and staircases in the corners.

Clusters could be arranged into squares, creating “a safe little plaza in the middle where we hope to build a soccer field or a playground, some safe area for families to be,” Nava said.

PFNC wants to set up programs with maquiladoras to offer housing as an employee benefit, helping cut the high rate of worker turnover, now between 7 percent and 10 percent a month, McCarthy said. The company is working with a Mexican law firm that has handled work-to-own housing programs.

This is not a rental-type situation or free housing while you work here,” McCarthy said. “Rather, the employer takes on some of the burden in setting up the financing program to transfer ownership to the employee.”

That’s important because PFNC needs large orders to keep costs down so low-wage workers can afford the home. The incentive for employers: Studies show housing for employees dramatically increases retention, and having more workers in a given area will reduce the number of buses maquiladoras run to take people to and from their jobs.

PFNC doesn’t view its homes as the last stop.

“With our design and with our price point, we think we’ll at least be able to take the first step of getting more families into more homes and formal property ownership,” McCarthy said.

“We fully anticipate that people will move into our homes, build up some equity, sell this home,” he said. “We see this is a stepping stone to get into a bigger or more comfortable home.”


Okay, so what have we learned? You have to go to Mexico, to see a container that has actually been converted affordably, in a manner that allows a family to begin a new life!

I remember heading down to Tijuana Mexico, as a kid, to buy fireworks and other garbage, and driving trough areas that made American Slums look like upscale subdivisions. People lived in houses built of cardboard, shipping pallets, scrap metal, and whatever else they could find! Using a container as the shell would have been a HUGE improvement! And, I’m still haunted by nightmares of the aftermath of the hurricanes, as they wreaked havoc on our neighborhoods here in Mississippi, and Louisiana. Can you imagine how much better these units would have been, than those horrid FEMA trailers they tried to pass off as “safe housing?”

And remember, if you live by a coast, you live by shipping containers. With a little bit of ingenuity, and a little planning, these guys and gals have made it clear that you can build an affordable home, for just pennies on the dollar.

Folks, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the economy is crashing down around our ears right now. The next four years (regardless of who “wins”) is gonna be pretty bumpy. In most major housing markets, foreclosures and being “upside down” in a mortgage (the act of owing more for a home than it is actually worth) are getting more and more commonplace. Can you imagine taking this concept as a starting point, nad then just expanding it a little bit, to make the home less “spartan?”

You could find yourself living well, and rivaling homes in your neighborhood that cost $100,000 or more (even “manufactured homes” cost that much), for less than a third of that cost!

If you think about it, you could build a home for the price of a good compact car! Imagine that!

Now, before you start yelling and screaming, I admit that this probably isn’t the “home of the future.” But, it does have some appeal for those looking toward the “tiny home” market, to replace their high-maintenance McMansions, huh?

Obviously, I do think this idea has potential.  The applications are virtually endless, and a look around will reveal to you that there are countries all over the planet that have “slum problems.”  We could start with “Planet Mississippi!”

So, what do you think?  These could really fill a niche in the fabric of our cities! Could you live in one? Would you buy one?

In the next few days, I’m going to hit the drawing board, and see just what you could actually build for under $50,000.00, using these containers as the shell. Let’s figure on a small starter home, for a new family. So, let’s figure on 2 bedrooms, at least 2 bathrooms, and a 1 car garage… for starters…

I’ll post my results…

Stay tuned…

PS. I was only kidding about the “porn…” LOL!