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Something old plus something older = Something NEW!

28 Oct

So, a funny thing happened to me on the way into oral surgery…

While dealing with the  pain of a shattered molar, I started  thinking  about a hillside on a mountainous piece of canyon that was giving me fits.

The heavily wooded hillside rolls down into a belly that holds a natural groundwater pond. Beyond the approximately 1 acre pond is a pasture that will hold a beloved Percheron Stallion that’s literally as big as a mountain himself. The property is SO untouched, the discovery of that big beautiful beast so inviting, that it seems only natural to keep it as natural as possible.

From the gate above the property and it’s accompanying  drive down the hill to the homesite, it’s essential to allow the casual spectator to bask in the wonder of all those trees, flora and fauna, without being confronted by a monument to someone’s ego.

And, I have an excavator… LOL!

So, the idea is to cut a pair of ISBU homes into the hillside by cutting into the existing hill and then shoring the cut up with a CMU (concrete block) retaining wall. They’re going to look something like this;

ISBU Hand Qtrs and Guesthouse for back 15

Think of it as “Montana Mountain Minimalist Modern”. LOL!

A 2,400 square foot 3 bedroom, 2 bath home with detached garage will face down the mountain across the stallion pasture.The garage and workshop are detached because of the severity of the  grade and the desire to keep some of the sounds of  machinery and tools away from the residential structure. Don’t worry, it’ll be easily navigated in spite of the difficulties of the site.

A small (approximately 800 square foot) guesthouse will be located on the opposite side of an enclosed courtyard framed by the  retaining wall and the building clusters. A  single ISBU container will form a “bridge”  between the pair of residential structures, allowing movement between the homes in the dead of winter without having  to actually “go out into the snow”. Think of this as a simple “Mother-In-Law” quarters arrangement. And that Corten created “pass-thru” (reinforced, insulated – with SPF of course –  and glazed) will actually serve as a small walk-through greenhouse supplying  fresh produce to both households.

The guesthouse will look out over the pond, which is framed by the trees and mountains behind  it. A stone patio and recessed firepit will allow guests  to bask  in the splendor of the Montana Mountains. One of the luxuries of living in a deep Montana canyon is that you’re  surrounded by breathtaking mountain vistas  on all sides.

We’ll close off the courtyard using reclaimed barn siding from a few old structures already located on the site and the stone for the fireplaces and retaining wall veneers will come from a local quarry.

You literally won’t see the residences until you round the corner as the grade drops. As you enter the property all you’ll see is trees, mountains, deer and elk.

Most of the materials and fixtures used in the construction of this hillside project will actually come from the “reclaimed and repurposed” piles. I can’t begin to tell you how happy that makes me. I love it when a plan comes together.

Once the pain killers wear off, I’ll give you a better idea of what we’re doing. It’s going to be incredible!

Stay tuned!


Texan Rocks the Corten!

5 Apr

Happy Easter, Campers!

Readers know that in the ISBU (Shipping Container) Home realm, we not only build a lot of ISBU Projects…

…we SEE a lot of ISBU Projects.

It should be noted that some of those “other” projects are a disappointment, honestly. We often find ourselves saying; “Why didn’t they do THIS or THAT? I mean, they were RIGHT THERE!”

But every once in a while we see a project that is so good… we just look at each other and smile.

Recently, we came across an ISBU Build in Texas that just begged for a second look;

This ISBU Guesthouse really is one of those ISBU Projects you have to take a hard look at. So, we thought that we’d share it with you.

We’re sharing it not only because it’s very well executed, but because we thought that you’d find this ISBU home quite inspiring. For a ton of small families hoping to build their own shipping container home. this just screams; “BUILD ME! Build me NOW!”

Builder: CampCo Texas
Single Story Family Residence \ Guest House
Approx. 1000sq.ft.
1 BDRM with a full bath that includes a composting toilet.
(The upper area of middle section has a “hammock floor” for lounging.)
Foundation; Pilings (sonotube) CampCo Render

Inspired by Containers of Hope, this Builder family is building an ISBU guesthouse in a similar style, to “learn even more about ISBU building”. You see, in Texas, they don’t just talk about it. they actually pick up their tools and DO it.

The builder is a Custom Homebuilder with 30 years experience. It SHOWS.

Still under construction, this wonderful ISBU project is already turning heads. Architects, Builders and interested families are already flocking to it to take in the Corten Goodness!

CampCo1After experimenting previously with ISBU based outbuildings, the light bulb literally went on and this Builder family decided to build an ISBU Guesthome as “proof of concept”. What they’ve managed to prove is that they not only know what they’re doing…

… they build a High Quality product that anyone would be proud to call home.

CampCo2If you want more information on this incredible ISBU guesthouse, please contact us and we’ll follow up with more details on an incredible ISBU home that will soon become a benchmark for family ISBU builds both nationally and internationally.

Folks, it’s just THAT good.

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

2 Jan

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

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

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

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

sustainable city

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

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

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

Read the rest of this great post, HERE.

May your Corten be Merry…

11 Dec

In the beginning, there was Corten Steel…

ISBU (Intermodal Steel Building Unit) homes, also called “Corten Container Homes”, also known as “Shipping Container Homes” are often called much more…

(And most of it is even printable!) :)

When you talk to your neighbors about ISBUs, they immediately envision Apocalyptic Sci-Fi fantasies painted with a canvas of burning oil drums in the street, wrecked vehicles in the distance and Zombies crawling toward you  to eat your  brains.

When you talk to your brother-in-law (you know, the one that works in Construction) about ISBUs, he’ll tell you that they’re unsightly, complicated and expensive.

When you talk with your architect about ISBUs, they’ll usually tell you that they have a drawer full of renders and floorplans, but they’ve never built one.

Despite  the fact that we’ve been building ISBU Homes and Buildings since 1977, less than 1% of Architects and Builders have ever constructed one of these Corten Clad beauties.

When you talk to your local planning and zoning office about ISBUs, they’ll either embrace you with open arms, fascinated that you’re  about to build  a Corten Ark for your tribe… or they’ll slam the door in your face and race to the water cooler as fast as their fat little legs will carry the, trying to try to knock back the rapidly forming sweat over their eyebrows.

When you talk to families who have actually “coveted the Corten” about ISBUs… families that have actually built Corten Castles for their clan, you’ll hear stories about sustainability, affordability and a monumental strength that usually only come from textbooks or Grandparents  as they remind you about the pioneering stock of Americans who expanded and then built this great land. They’ll tell you about determination and dedication and hope and dreams…

And, if you listen to them ALL, you’ll start getting an idea about  what the road to “Corten Coolness and a life lived within ISBUs” is paved with.

Are there potholes along the way? Sure.

There are always bumps in the road less traveled. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it! The key to navigating these roads is to have a goal, make a plan, involve the right people  and then communicate your project clearly and concisely with all the participants.

We teach our Corten families to push their boundaries by integrating well thought out and proven architectural and interior design disciplines  into construction practices that implement affordable, space and time saving techniques that fortify and protect a family’s building budget.  By re-using, reclaiming and repurposing cast off materials, we’re  building incredibly efficient affordable homes while actually “acting on green initiatives to promote wellness both within and without our own yards.

The goal isn’t to simply build a metal structure, or even to publicly reclaim or repurpose old cast off materials…

… the goal is to build a HOME where wellness and comfort thrive as “person and place combine” to create an environment of sustainability and positive growth.

You’re building a “Corten lifestyle” where that ISBU “home and hearth” participate in your lives on a daily basis, symbiotically.

You’re  building a low maintenance, high efficiency, sustainable, (even – GASP!) GREEN home that works with you to shelter and cradle your family securely as you face the pleasures and perils that life brings to our porches.

If this idea, if this “lifestyle” interests you, you might just want to stick around. We’ve been “sticking around” since 1977. We didn’t “re-invent ourselves” to explore another niche as the economy drop-kicked us. We didn’t just suddenly shift gears to embrace an emerging trend on TV. We saw (early on) the potential for these “weathering steel beauties” and we started exploring the road with our own hands (despite the nay-sayers).

It’s funny… when we started this trek, we were “young, foolish, simple idiots helping hippies”.

Few actually saw the merit in the road we were traveling. Now, 35+ years later, we’re suddenly “Green Gurus, Geniuses and Pioneers”. In all that time, you want to know what’s changed about  us  (besides the position of our hairlines)?

Nothing, except that the tools have gotten better.

We’re working with the same kinds of families – with the same concerns and the same kinds of care.

Our mission remains the same. Every family deserves a safe roof over their heads.

In three decades, we’ve built a lot of them. We have a lot to share on the subject.

Stay tuned as we introduce some of our newest projects;

  • A 900 square foot 1BDRM/1 Bath Corten Cabin in the mountains…
  • A 1,200 square foot 2BDRM/2 Bath Corten Cottage perched by the sea…
  • A 1,600 square foot 3 BDRM/2 bath Corten Castle sailing the prairie of Kansas…
  • A 2,250 square foot 4 BDRM/3 bath Metal Meadow Manse fit for a King and Queen…
  • A family owned and run ISBU Island Destination Resort so cool that you might not ever want to come home…

…and a few more projects that you might find pretty interesting.

ISBU Farmhouse 440 Concept - web
All of these ISBU projects share something in common;

In every one of them, we’re going to push the boundaries of “normal and expected” to places rarely imagined. We’re talking about homes where energy efficiency, integration and affordability combine to create monuments to families dedicated in living out their days cradled firmly by Corten comfort… by creating a new style  of “lifestyle luxury” for demanding families with small budgets.

Stay tuned.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Do Green Buildings really make a difference?

29 Nov

Creating ‘greener’ buildings will help address climate change… right?

Green buildings can make a difference, but only if we start asking the right questions. If we can start to see the whole story of how our buildings impact the climate then we can start to make strides toward real ‘net-positive’ change. The technology isn’t new, the strategies aren’t rocket science – the hard step is shifting our thinking about what it means to build ‘green’.

Bryn Davidson wears many hats. Sure, he’s a LEED-accredited building designer, sustainability consultant and small business owner with degrees in Architecture (UBC) and Mechanical Engineering (UC Berkeley).

But he doesn’t stop there. He’s also one of the co-founders of Lanefab Design / Build; a Vancouver-based design and construction company that built the city’s first laneway house in 2010. Since then, Lanefab has continued its specialization in energy efficient green homes and infill ‘laneway houses’ by completing over 40 of the small infill homes.

Bryn Davidson has been on the leading edge of the laneway house industry, and we don’t see him slowing down anytime soon.

 Thank you, TED. 🙂


Brrrrrr. It’s cold in here (he said as he reached in for a cold one).

18 Sep

It goes without saying that one of the great inventions of our time is the modern refrigerator. And now, that big metal box in your kitchen will get an efficiency makeover when new national efficiency standards go into effect on September 15, reducing energy use of most refrigerators and freezers by about 20-25%.

refrigThe new standards take effect 100 years after the first modern refrigerators were mass-produced for general use. Before that time, consumers used iceboxes (literally boxes with ice) to keep their food cold, but food safety was an issue. When the ‘electric refrigerator’ was finally introduced it was more than just a convenience, it was an invention that saved people’s lives.  Refrigerators have evolved considerably since the 1900s both in appearance and function. The early units placed the cooling device on top of a small boxy unit while today’s sleeker multi-door units place the cooling units unseen on the bottom.

The new efficiency measures are the latest in a series of standards over 40 years that have helped to significantly bring down the cost of running a typical refrigerator. A fridge that just meets the new standards will use $215 to $270 less per year in electricity than a comparable unit that met the first state standards set in 1978.


The refrigerator story is filled with intriguing plot lines – from the initial energy crisis in the ‘70s, to negotiations between disparate groups of stakeholders, to national legislation signed by President Reagan in 1987. It’s a good story packed with positive outcomes. The graph above gives a birds-eye view of some of the changes over the last 40 years. While energy use decreased more than three-fourths, refrigerator volume increased, and price (in $2010) decreased by two-thirds.

Read the rest of this great post, HERE.


Apocalypse WOW!

16 Sep

When you work with steel every day, you start to feel like you’re surrounded by it.

In my word, a part of life is defining your space.

Here’s my dream fence;

Steel Fences make good neighbors

To the Mountains! To the Sea! Wait! BOTH! :)

13 Sep

Dear Container Gurus,

My wife and I have been readers of your blogs for a long time. I bought your book. We loved it and it actually gave us hope. On television, all you see are the high dollar builds by people with huge wallets  and even bigger egos. Your ISBU homes are affordable and efficient, aimed at caring for growing families. It’s exactly what we crave!

(I even sent you fan mail hoping that someday my ship would come in and I’d be able  to build my own Corten Castle using shipping containers under your leadership!)

We’re sold on the ability to prefab the ISBUs in a garage and then haul them to the site. We love the idea that ISBUs are just modular building blocks. We love the idea that due to their nature (they’re just big blocks) you can make them look like anything you want.

We love the idea of a rustic ISBU cabin type weekend home clad in plank siding and shingles.

Well, my ship came in and this time, I wasn’t waiting for a plane at the airport. I’ve inherited a small parcel up in the mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the Olympic Peninsula. It’s ours free and clear and it already has a well and a septic tank installed.

Sounds good, right? Well…

Every pearl has it’s price. This little hunk of heaven in Washington State is the site of a settlers cabin that burned down. After we cleared away all the debris and the garbage, we discovered that we only have about 480 usable square feet to actually build on.

What we’d like to build is a small/tiny ISBU weekend home that incorporates the following;

  • A single car garage – we drive a sports car and not a 4wd truck
  • Garage area needs the ability to convert into a make-shift art studio
  • A main floor for communal purposes with 1/2 bath – possible Murphy bed
  • Dishwasher – love to cook, hate  to do dishes
  • A computer desk instead of a dining table
  • A full bedroom with shower bath
  • A rooftop terrace so that we can take in the sunsets with PVs on the roof

We’d like to keep as much of the cabin’s structure as “non-organic” as possible. Living in the forest means fires. We’d like to avoid combustion as much as possible. 🙂

People will hang decks off ever side they can to capitalize on the view. If we build a  rooftop deck, we don’t NEED the eyesores that everyone else builds. Our ISBU home will be “monumental” and not “ornamental”, if that makes any sense.

The actual building  site is approximately 20′ x 24′. Is this  even possible  using ISBUs?

Dear Sunsetters,

Can you climb a loft ladder? LOL!

If so, I think I have an ISBU Tiny Home that you might find interesting.

For several years, I’ve been fascinated by the “Fire Tower” type structures scattered throughout the National Forests where I live in Montana.  I love the idea that you can actually live high enough in the treeline to be able to take in “the big view” every single day and night.

A while back, somebody sent me a rough line drawing of a single level “tiny house” that was laid out “studio style” above a natural stone first floor. It looked like it belonged in a Forest Ranger’s custody as he/she guarded our wilderness. And it made me start thinking about the possibilities.

Actually, it made me start thinking about how you could easily adapt that idea to use 20′ High Cube Containers stacked 2 wide and 2 high. Stacked 2 over 2 on a first floor constructed  of CMUs (concrete block), you could literally build a three story “tiny home” quickly and efficiently.

I’ve played with the original drawings myself, adapting them to ISBU construction and it’s actually much easier than it looks.

Build your first floor garage (16′ x 20′ approximately) out of cinderblocks. Obviously, this means that your garage door goes on the  “short wall”. I’d build a steel “cradle” into the top of that garage structure to receive the ISBUs. Clad your first floor in native stone for that rustic “cabin” vibe.

ISBU Micro-Condo - GarageNow, set (2) 20′ ISBUs onto the top of that cinderblock garage to fly your “main” floor.

ISBU Micro-Condo - 1st(2) Additional 20′ ISBUs get set on top of the Main Floor ISBUs to form your bedroom level.

ISBU Micro-Condo
The interior of the garage gets SPF or Rigid insulation and a covering of plywood. Yes. Plywood. Stringers set  before SPF (spray foam closed cell insulation) is applied will give you anchors for your interior (plywood) cladding and that plywood will allow you to hang whatever you want, wherever you want. The Olympic Peninsula is legendary for it’s rainfall. Why hang sheetrock that will get damaged by moisture? If you want to stabilize the temperatures to do artwork, you have to insulate.  If you’re  worried about the plywood interior combusting in a firestorm, fire retardant materials can be applied.

Insulate the exteriors of the ISBUs with SPF or rigid insulation and then apply your siding in the usual manner.  I’d suggest that you use something like Hardiplank. Hardiplank is a fiber-cement siding material that consists of a combination of cellulose fibers, along with cement-like materials.  It doesn’t expand. It doesn’t contract. It’s extremely stable. If you want strong, durable  concrete based siding that is good looking and guaranteed to last for decades, you want Hardiplank.

(NO! They don’t pay us to say that. It’s just pointless to reinvent a wheel that works so well. It’s a little harder to install. You need to wear eye protection and a mask to work with it – to keep the dust out of your lungs and eyes. But once it’s on, it’s on for decades without maintenance. )

Again, consider running the siding “the wrong way”. It will draw viewers eyes UP to the roof, increasing the stature of your structure.

IF you run the siding “up and down” with a gap between panels, you can actually catch rain to focus into a rain gutter located at the base of your wall. Use this “gutter” to not only collect rainwater for irrigation, but to actually plant herbs in. We fab a “channeled gutter” that actually has space in it specifically for planting. Weepholes in the channeled gutter allow water into the root area of your planters. Think of it as “drip irrigation” with an assist from Mother Nature. It sounds crazy but it works better than you can imagine. You get herbs and garden watering without lifting a finger. 🙂

A rainwater harvesting system built into your roof will provide a  LOT of water in your location. One of the really nice things about the  Olympic Peninsula is the regular rainfall the area is blessed with.  You can build 1300 gallon tanks out of galvanized pipe.

ferguson-residence- 2 - 1300 gallon -outdoor-rainwater-retention - tanks

Okay, forget the hokey chain link fence. Don’t blame ME. Blame Dwell Magazine. It’s where the illustration came from! 🙂

Clad the upper ISBU levels in dark earth tone Hardiplank. Again (can you tell I’m serious?), I’d run the plank siding vertically instead of horizontally to visually “pop” that structure straight up into the sky.

Think BIG glass. You don’t need to go get “custom windows” made. I’d use the large insulated panes we use on malls and skyscrapers to fill in “the big holes”. It’s important to draw nature in when you’re building confined spaces.  Use high quality, energy efficient windows everywhere that you need windows for ventilation. We often combine big panes with repurposed basement windows below them to allow for ventilation.

The “Main level” incorporates everything from your wish list and includes a custom “lift up” living room table that expands into a dining room table. It’s not really “customm”. It’s a catalog table easy to resource.

(2) Chairs could be exchanged for a “pull out” sofa bed system.

The bedroom is comfortable, cozy and spacious. Pedestal bed system for added storage. Glass Block shower to let in light so that you don’t feel “confined” while you shower. Full sized organizer closet. You get the drift.

Beyond the mini-split A/C Heat units on both levels, I really want you to consider using the flue from the woodstove to help heat the bedroom level.  We put diffusers on the flue pipe that not only protect you from the hot flue but add a cool artistic element to your room. It’s not Sci Fi, it’s just heat radiation. Hot air rises. Between the heat generated in the main floor area by that wood stove and the heat that radiates from the flue pipe, you’ll be cozy even in hard winters.

I can easily picture an alternating step staircase that could be set into the Bedroom staircase landing leading up to the terrace level. Or, you could  use a traditional ladder affixed to the bathroom wall. In either case, a hatch would allow easy access to the terrace. I’d op for a big alternating step staircase because of it’s added artistic element and ease of transit by everyone from children to adults. I know you want to keep the cabin “non-organic” but it’s hard to resist framing your rooftop terrace level with timber-framing and then topping it with shingles. Realistically, you could steel frame the terrace and then clad the structural members with siding, boxing them in so that they appear to be solid beams/timbers.

A nice gable pitch would give you more than enough room for a photovoltaic panel farm on  the roof with enough pitch to shed snow.

You might also consider building in glazed frames to make that three season rooftop a four season wonder to behold. Hinge them to swing down onto locking sashes and you’d be able to secure the entire terrace in minutes.

I can just imagine sitting in a soaking tub on that terrace, watching the sun set into the Pacific… while I think about buddies  of mine in Seattle, stuck in downtown traffic… LOL!

Until next time…

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Create Corten Art!

20 Jun

As we toil on ISBU projects (projects that encompass the finest in residential, industrial and commercial ISBU construction) that span countries and even continents, we thought we’d show you what other people are doing with ISBUs across the rock;

What better way to display art, than to display it WITHIN art?

Art gallery “cc4441” is located on the corner of a small alley in Torigoe, Tokyo.

When you approach it, you discover that the gallery consists of two shipping containers that appear to have been dropped haphazardly on top of each another.


But, you’d be wrong. On closer inspection, a large rear door opens to reveal a modern office and gallery space that stretches up across two levels.

cc4441 was built using two reclaimed (is there a better way?) 40 ft High Cube shipping containers.  This ISBU based gallery (measuring 394 square feet) was designed by the brilliant guys and gals at Japanese architectural firm, Tomokazu Hayakawa.

To address the site and maximize the use of space, the bottom ISBU container was cut into two parts that were then placed  perpendicular to one another, forming two small rooms that face in towards one another. They are connected via a central exterior courtyard.


The second container was then placed above the two smaller rooms and is accessible via the exterior staircase.

We’ve often reflected that the use of ISBU containers lends itself to intimate little spaces perfect for the pursuit of endeavors like art.


But don’t feel left out if you’re a working professional. Imagine a small architectural or design firm, an insurance agency, accounting firm or similar operation working out of this same building.


Or imagine this as a modern little ISBU home dropped into a scenic setting…

We’ve done similar projects  that sat ON TOP of existing buildings. Holy corrugation! Talk about the Corten Tiny House in the Sky! 🙂

You can read more about this wonderful little gallery, here:

I want a Florida ISBU Beachhouse… like THIS one! :)

3 Jun

Every once in a while, we come across an ISBU home that just screams; “I LOVE THIS!”


We have a lot of friends in New Zealand. In fact, we’ve helped families BUILD homes in New Zealand. And, they send us stuff… incredible stuff. So, since they’re sharing with us… we thought that we’d share with YOU. We thought we’d share this Auckland, NZ ISBU home with you, located on Muriwai Beach.


This wonderful ISBU home is built from (6) 40′ High Cube ISBUs (shipping containers) and in our view, it’s “form and function” defined! These guys definitely did it right! There’s very little that we would change…


(And you guys know US… we change EVERYTHING! )


This  ISBU home was designed to be all the thinks that we love here art RR… It’s affordable, green, visually stunning and fully functional. Better still, it shatters the myth that ISBU homes have to be small and dark, long boxes filled with tiny claustrophobic spaces. This ISBU home is designed and oriented to let the outdoors in, making you feel like you’re living in the wilds, while you’re still in your living room!


Drop this beautiful little beast onto a beach or a bluff overlooking a terrific sunset and you’ll end up with smiles that last for days! In fact, I know a lass in Florida looking for a coolISBU that might just love this…

See more of this incredible home, HERE.

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