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Basking in the glow of Builder’s Hell!

21 Sep demaria-redondo-beach-container-house-rear-view

We’ve all seen the photographs.

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You can past any shipping port in the United States and you’re going to bear witness to evidence that somethings wrong in America. You see, as you drive past ports like Long Beach, you are bound to see mountains made of steel. I’m not talking about skyscrapers. I’m talking about row after row of empty shipping containers stacked up to the sky like a child’s Legos,  colorful building blocks piled on top of each other until they almost kiss the clouds.

We know why this  is happening. It’s a testament to the failure of American Manufacturing… the lack of export commerce. Yes, I said that out loud. It’s a reminder that today’s economy is suffering and it’s not getting any better, despite what you read on the internet.  In the global arena of manufacturing of goods, we don’t compete. We simply import more goods than we produce.  American households are filled with possessions and a lot of them come from “someplace else”. Think about that for a minute.

This also means that we don’t export products to other countries to support a growing America competitively. Due to America’s trade imbalance with foreign countries, countries like China, over half of the shipping containers that enter our ports never make it back to their points of origin. It’s just not cost effective to return empty containers to China to refill them. It’s cheaper and more efficient to build new ones to ship that Chinese TV over so you can buy it at Walmart.

And, these monuments to our manufacturing failure have to get piled up someplace, right?

It’s because of these metal mountains that more than a few creative minds have started to think outside the box. I mean, we’re stuck in traffic, staring up at them.

You know where this post is going…

Over the last few years, many outspoken architects and engineers have addressed the use of shipping containers as structure. Readers of this blog know that we are heavily involved in taking these cast-off steel boxes and turning them into incredible, sustainable, affordable homes for families across America and beyond it’s shores.

Recently, I’ve witnessed yet another resurgence of naysayers from the trades who claim that building with containers is a boondoggle. They claim it’s a “budget busting peril” to be avoided at all costs… especially when cost is a determining factor. They say that building with containers is anything but affordable.

Yeah? Bull.

Let me tell you WHY these “tradesmen” are so outspoken. We live in difficult times for housing. Money for building is getting harder to get. Many building firms are going out of business due to the lack of projects. Fewer families are entering the housing market. They’ve simply been forced out of them as the economy squeezes their paychecks harder and harder each year. It’s because more and more Americans are learning that there are other paths to take… paths that lead away from tradesmen stuck in “doing traditional things in traditional ways.”

Your decisions to look beyond the “run of the mill” aren’t “normal”. They don’t want you to save money. They get paid a percentage of what you spend. They don’t want to be forced to learn new skills. That costs them even MORE money. Your decisions about housing are affecting their bottom line.  They’re scared…

What scares them the most is that people are listening to people like us…

(And we have the hate mail to prove it.)

Many of our building families offset budget expenses by using “sweat equity”. That’s right. They do it themselves. By enlisting friends and relatives in the trades, they reduce their construction costs by reducing their labor costs. Of course they have to factor in expenses like beer and burgers… but it’s a trade-off they’re willing to make to insure that they build the house of their dreams affordably.

Some of these building families break the $100 a square foot threshold on a regular basis. Even in 2016, It’s possible to build a 1,200 square foot 3 bedroom/2 bath home for $70 a square foot. I know that this is true because we’re witnessing it in locations that stretch from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic, inclusive of the Gulf Coast of America.

Case in point:

I want to take a moment to remind you that some of the most famous homes in Shipping Container (ISBU  – Intermodal Steel Building Unit) history were built for under the $150 a square foot threshold that most of these naysayers claim is the “starting point”.

Indisputably, the most visible Shipping Container home in America is the work of Peter DeMaria in Southern California. Now, we admit (even openly) that we think that Peter is a genius. He’s a visionary who decided that he didn’t care where his hairline moved as he played “David” to LA’s “Goliath”. We don’t agree with every step he takes but he designed and built a Container Home amidst the hostilities of some of the toughest building codes in America.  Peter and the Pirkls (the building family) captured what many think is “lighting in a bottle”.

demaria-redondo-beach-container-house-exterior-front

In Peter DeMaria’s hybrid 2 story design for the Redondo Beach House, conventional stick-frame construction was combined with eight repurposed steel shipping containers to form this wonderful “Corten Castle”. This isn’t your “run of the mill” typical tract house, either. The contemporary house sports four bedrooms, three-and-a-half baths nestled beneath soaring 20-foot-high living room ceilings and it was outfitted with glass-panel airplane hangar doors that actually disappear by folding out to create a seamless indoor-outdoor living space. To accentuate the industrial looks of the containers, the Pirkls left the corrugated steel walls exposed or enhanced with siding to replace the sturdy maritime wood floors that come standard in cargo boxes.

demaria-redondo-beach-container-house-rear-view

If you’re  a regular reader, you can see where we differ with Peter, but still… the results were amazing. There are many paths to Corten Heaven… Peter journeyed along his passionately and it shows.

This home wasn’t a “slapped together shell made of recycled/junk steel”. They included all the bells and whistles. The home was designed and constructed to provide long-term energy savings. They employed carefully selected low-flow plumbing fixtures. They embraced LED lights and Energy Star appliances. Stick-frame walls were insulated with a material called “UltraTouch” manufactured using recycled denim material. Using simple passive solar techniques they oriented the home to catch the prevailing Pacific Coast breezes so that the residence remains cool and comfortable year-round.

Did this incredible feat of Shipping Container engineering cost a proverbial arm and a leg?

No.

Did it cost the typical $250 a square foot (or more) that most of our naysayers project this home’s constructions cost demanded?

No.

Is the construction of a home like this cost prohibitive for middle class families across America?

No.

According to the guy paying the bills, home-owner Sven Pirkl:

“Once all the bills were tallied, using steel containers for more than half of the Redondo Beach House’s 3,500 square feet equaled big savings.”

Let’s read that again, shall we?

“Once all the bills were tallied, using steel containers for more than half of the Redondo Beach House’s 3,500 square feet equaled big savings.”

Remember that they built their home on Los Angeles County, Ca. Remember that when they built this home in 2006, the average cost of construction for a typical (middle class) semi-custom single family dwelling ran an average of $250 a square foot or more. The median price of single family homes in Los Angeles CA in 2016 is $477,000.00. The average SIZE of these homes runs in the $412 per square foot range.

Take into consideration that this cost represents a home that is much smaller than the Shipping Container Home built by the Pirkls.

In order to afford to purchase the median-priced home in Los Angeles, you’d need to earn $96,513 a year, according to HSH.com, a mortgage information website.

But consider that the median income in Los Angeles is about half that: $49,497, according to census numbers from 2009-2013.

So it’s no surprise that Los Angeles has been rated as the most hostile, most unaffordable city to rent in America by Harvard and UCLA.

So think about this for a minute… in the worst possible place at almost the worst possible time…

A time when the average price of building a custom home in their area was upwards of $250 a square foot, the shipping container housing project cost roughly $135 a square foot to build. Best of all, says Sven Pirkl:

“We’ve been living in the house for five years, and we’re still very happy.”

Years after that, the energy savings and the performance of the home have more than met the families expectations.

Even with the adjustments to cost projections that would be factored in over the last 10 years, the Pirkl house doesn’t begin to touch the median selling price of new construction in LA.

And remember, this is Los Angeles CA, a land where “you must make $33 an hour (over $68,400 a year) to be able to afford an (average) apartment at all.”  – Matt Schwartz, president and chief executive of the California Housing Partnership, which advocates for affordable housing.

The average RENT of a typical apartment in Los Angeles exceeds $1,700 a month. The average Los Angeles resident spends over 47% of his/her income on rent… or they drive into work from another county.

So the next time you talk about Shipping Container dreams with your friends and relatives, remember that you can show them a photo of the most photographed Shipping Container Home in American History and proudly exclaim;

“Totally cool! Totally Huge! Totally famous! 3,500 square feet as good as it gets! They built it for $130.00 a square foot in the middle of “Building Hell”! Shut up!”

It’s okay to dream. It’s even better to be able to do it when you have the facts to back it up! LOL!

— end of transmission —

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Happy Independence Day!

30 Jun

Greetings Campers!

Now I know that you’re expecting another “Gather round the campfire whilst I tell ya a story about steel and determination”…

But today we’ve put the welders down and picked up another set of tools…

You see… campfires are now officially a no-no!

Let’s just jump in, shall we?

That “Hail and how are ya?'”  camper reference seems perfectly appropriate as we dive into the July 4th weekend!

I say “dive” as I’m hoping that you are all headed to some glorious beach, river or lake to find respite from the heat waves baking the country!

Here at the homestead it’s been 100 degrees plus daily and it’s not just tempers that are flaring.

Mother Nature has decided, in her infinite wisdom, to try to burn off most of the surrounding forests and we’re seeing the wildfires double in size, in less than a day.

Wildfire4

Just south of where I live (by a few miles) a wildfire is raging out of control. The fire line is miles long as it consumes everything in it’s path.

Many readers remember that a few years back I had to evacuate my own home to get clear of the horrific wildfires that threatened our canyon.

Now, many other Montana families are revisiting that adventure…

Property owners who haven’t evacuated their homes have dug in and fire crews from all over Montana and elsewhere have been mobilized to help combat the flaming inferno that is now the Bitterroot Montana forest. I say “flaming inferno” because the surrounding forests are filled with “beetlekill” timber that is almost incendiary when it’s introduced to a spark. “Beetlekill” trees (trees killed by insects) are literally “standing dead” trees just waiting to go off. The trees literally burst into flames like bombs when embers hit them.

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Despite my personal injuries (I’ve torn muscles in my abdomen), I personally spent the wee hours of last night up in the fire zone, surveying the fire’s growth and photographing it as it jumped from canyon to canyon. You could literally see the trees exploding as the fire races from ridgeline to ridgeline.

As I did this, property owners not in their yards clearing out a firebreak or standing the lines in the surrounding mountains… were packing cars and trucks with precious belongings in case they needed to flee the path of destruction that roars toward them.

Why  I telling you all this? I mean, I’m sure you have better things to do than worry about rural Montana, right?

I’m telling you about this  because I want to remind you to BE CAREFUL as you enjoy your July 4th Independence Day extravaganzas!

One stray spark and you can literally turn your party into an inferno!

Wildfire7

Q. What do Montana Firefighters see as they battle flames in the darkness? . A. They see HELL 80 feet tall and raging out of control.

If you’re  camping or playing in the  woods, PLEASE EXERCISE SAFETY!

Please be careful where you point those sparkleys!

Please make sure that the remains of your fireworks displays are  extinguished! Put a bucket of water next to your display area!

Please make sure that campfires are out and doused with water after you’re  through roasting , burgers, hot dogs and marshmallows!

Please exercise safety in every aspect of your celebrating!

The lives you  save… may be your own!

Corten Canopy – Simple, solid structure…

11 Apr Image Credit: HisCoShelters.com

Dear Ronin,

Unless you live under a rock…

We all know that when it comes to ISBUs and Container Construction, you’re the man.  You’ve become our “Corten Champion” for good reason. We know your dedication to “everyman” and it’s greatly appreciated.

I live on a farm property in Iowa. Outbuilding space is at a premium and I need a place to store hay temporarily. I mean that I need seasonal storage. The hay comes in and then it leaves to market. By early winter, it’s all gone. At this point the cover is no longer necessary.

Lots of people have suggested that I simply purchase and build one of those prefab steel buildings. You know the ones, the ones that look like Quonset huts. I guess they don’t understand what “temporary” means.

I already have a pair of 40′ Containers that house farm tools and provide a place for a secure workshop. They sit about 25′ from each other with dirt in between them.

I can weld and I can follow instructions. I don’t need a crayon drawing, I just need some inspiration.

So, I’m gonna venture  out from my village full of idiots and ask the stupid question;

“If I offset a pair of 40′ ISBUs, how do I cheaply and effectively provide seasonal cover between them that is weather resistant?”

Help Me, Obiwan… all my friends are dopes.

The Hay Jedi

***************

Dear Jedi,

Okay, you piled so much praise on top of that question I can’t really ignore you. I was going to talk about world peace, space exploration and cold fusion, but… oh well. LOL!

First, the praise (while greatly appreciated) is really unwarranted. There are a number of ISBU specialists (okay…. maybe 8…. or 9) out there who recognize that ISBUs combined with “Sustainable Architecture” are the future of this nation. We realize that for this great nation to heal, we have to first have safe, affordable, energy efficient, environmentally responsible places for our families to sleep.

(Oops, that cost us two… 7 left!) LOL!

I suspect that there are those who among us who actually overthink structural solutions because it’s simpler to just “buy” a solution and modify it to serve their purpose. That’s a luxury that  many of us don’t have.

(Yikes… there goes three more ISBU guys! Now we’re down to 4!)

Jedi, your question isn’t really “strange or even odd”. We live (by choice) in rural America. We’re actually lucky enough in life that we got to choose where we’d live and raise our families. It’s a great blessing to us and we wouldn’t trade where we live with anyone on the planet. That said;

We get asked this question all the time and we’ve even been faced with your “storage problem” ourselves. As working ranchers, we build shelter for horses and cattle all the time. As working ranchers we also grow hay. We bale in large and small squares and that hay either gets trucked or railed to the buyers. While it’s sitting, we want it protected from the elements.

Now you can either simply tarp it (like we do our round bales), or…

You can build a canopy out of galvanized pipe and tarps that runs between a pair of ISBUs to form a “tent” of sorts. Once you’ve seen the photos of the finished product, you wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself. At least we did.

Image Credit: HisCoShelters.com

Image Credit: HisCoShelters.com

You can see how simple it is.

What you want is something that is easily erected  and taken down (in a few days by a few guys), something that breaks down for easy storage (perhaps stored in the cavity of one of the ISBUs that supported it in the first place) and something that is durable and easily repaired if necessary. The reasons for the canopy are obvious. It has to provide protection from the sun, rain, wind and snow.

(We actually cheat and use the stacked hay as the “scaffolding” required to erect the canopy cover. It beats hanging off the end of a cherry picker or a forklift.)

The canopy has to be “idiot proof”. The reason for this is simple. At some point, your idiot brother-in-law is going to have to help you erect it and you want to insure his survival through the project.

(Oh stop it! I’m just saying what you’re thinking. Admit it. You love the big dork, you just feel like thrashing him or pushing him off a roof every once in a while! Huh? Okay, well maybe it’s just me.)

Where was I? Oh yeah…

Your “canopy frame” is going to be constructed out of galvanized pipe that you can find at any big box store (like Home Depot or Lowes).

Remember that it’s not necessarily the OD (outside diameter) of the pipe that implies strength. It’s the WALL THICKNESS of the pipe (the pipe material thickness) that determines how strong that pipe will be when used as structure. You want that pipe wall to be as thick as possible. You’re using it to create rafters that will interconnect to form a big tent frame. We use 11 gauge pipe for the risers and at least 13 gauge pipe for the rafters.  Yes, it will be more expensive to construct. But built of high quality components, it will perform well and last for decades.

The connector fittings that you’ll require to construct your galvanized pipe frame will come from the same place. We’re not going to use anything exotic or “special order”. Using “off-the-shelf” parts insures success and easy replacement if you need extras.  You’ll need the typical L fittings, T fittings, 3 ways and 4 way fittings.

The only thing that you’ll want to “special order” will be the twistlocks that we’re going to use to take advantage of the mounting points already engineered into your containers.

What?

Yes. You said you could weld. We’re going to make you prove it. We’re going to affix the canopy to the shipping containers using the twistlock cavities built into them. The reason for this are twofold;

(a) You have a perfectly good mounting point already sitting there waiting for you, and

(b) There are some people out there that actually drill mounting holes into the container to affix the canopy to. We think this counter-productive as you’re then perforating a previously weather resistant structure.

What WE did was to use a pair of fabricated 40′ steel channels (you could even use angle iron) to create a bottom plate for our “tent runs”. (We used scrap steel so the only fabrication we required is to weld similar segments together to establish your “run”.) We modified and then welded twistlocks to the bottom of the channel at the appropriate mounting points for our containers to affix the frames firmly to the top of the container.

And yes, before you ask, we DID flash the connection point between the rails and the containers to further weatherize the structure.

This gives your canopy a “resting place” to nestle into. Here’s where I’m going with this;

We’re going to build a freestanding, weather-resistant canopy assembly that fits down into that created and secured rail on either side, using bolts (drilled through the canopy frame base) to secure it into the new shipping container channels.

We based the entire frame on 1 7/8″ OD  galvanized pipe. Over trial and error, we’ve found that this pipe dimension is cost effective, works the best and proves itself to be the most durable over time. All of your connecting fittings will be sized to allow use of this pipe.

And once you build your frame, you have to cover it with something, right. Well, by now, you know us and the way we think. We reuse, repurpose and recycle everything that we possibly can. While there are those who applaud us for our “green environmental” status, I assure you that it’s just good design, common sense and reflective of the fact that we aren’t made out of money. We don’t know anyone else who is, either.

We used old billboard tarps that we got from a local advertising agency for scrap costs. They’re durable, cheap and easy to source. Overlapping them makes covering a large frame pretty simple. Using billboard tarps also makes canopy replacements easier if Mother Nature spanks you…

We’ve found that by using a multi-panel solution, you’re only replacing a damaged panel and not the entire top. You can replace a panel quickly and then repair the old damaged one when time allows.

FYI: Turn the tarps over so that the white surface faces up. That while surface will reflect sunlight and your hay (or your livestock) won’t care if Subway is having a “supersale” on Spicy Italian sandwiches. It might make YOU hungry, so we suggest that you simply refrain from staring up at that delicious, mountain sized sandwich if at all possible.

(I wonder if that qualifies as an endorsement of Subway Sandwiches? Maybe they’ll send me a fistful of coupons? LOL!)  

Maybe you don’t LIKE Subway. Well, that’s just unAmerican and around here we have names for people like you, but… if you  wanted to go “high tech” with your canopy cover you could use large multiple layer (4 layer) poly covers (12 mil at least) that were fabricated from Ripstop with UV treating and grommets every 12″ on the borders to allow for secure fastening to your canopy frame.

It seems like a lot of grommets but you’re going to want as many tie-down locations as possible. A cover like this will last for about 5 years at least – barring Mother Nature trying to bite you on your behind. There are other tarp materials that give longer lifespans and they’re priced accordingly.

Okay, you get the jist of what we’re building. You’re going to build a freestanding cage out of that pipe to span your two existing containers. It will set on top of the “inner” top rails of the boxes in that new channel and provide you with one long continuous covered bay to put your hay, horses, disobedient children or unwanted relatives into.

I’m not telling you how to raise your kids or your relatives, but I can tell you that making good on the “Subway Solitary Confinement Module” threat at least once will get those dishes and the yardwork done a lot more often without an argument. Just saying…

I’m also not going to get into dimensions because I don’t know how much hay you’re actually storing, but I can tell you that you can get a pretty significant peak height (over 7/12 PITCH) if you think out your solution.

When we determined that we needed more “height”, we simply added containers on top of the pair we’d started with.

(I know, I know… it’s easy to do that when you’re the self-proclaimed “King of Containers”. But hey, it worked. And now my kids have a playhouse that even the elk and deer can’t get into!)

Plan on running rafters consisting of a “galvanized pipe rafter assembly” every 4′ on center. With additional pipe stringers placed between the segments (at least 2 per side) you can build a sturdy, long-lasting pipe canopy cage that will last for years and years. The closer those rafters are, the stronger your canopy will be. We like 4’OC. You can like anything you want. It’s a free country… for now. LOL!

One of the things that we did (that isn’t depicted in these photos) is that we added those “stringers” into the runs between the tent rafter assemblies to add more support to the canopy in case of a freak snowstorm or heavy rain.  When observed without the canopy the framing looked like a gigantic “skeletal” roll cage. I told my kid that it was the start of my new “Transformer” barn. By the rolling of his eyes I could tell that he didn’t believe me.  However, he DOES understand that if he doesn’t do his chores… LOL!

Image Credit: HisCoShelters.com

Image Credit: HisCoShelters.com

There are those who do NOT add stringers in between the  rafters. The claim is that the snowload tends to create sagging of the tarp cover at the stringer points. Okay, that’s reasonable… but we prefer the inherent strength of the galvanized pipe tent cage assembly as described to the replacement of a damaged tarp panel. YMMV. Again, free country… so far. LOL!

The tarp is secured to the frame using ball bungees passed through the grommets and you’re  going to need a lot of them. Figure on at least 150 (and I’d order more of them so I had plenty of spares over the life of the canopy). Note that if you’re  using billboard tarps, you’re gonna be punching a lot of holes in the borders of those tarps and applying grommets.

I’ve found that this task is best accomplished by kids who don’t want to be grounded for the entire summer. Okay, it’s tough love, but I do need a tough tarp. I’m just hoping that the kids therapy bills don’t eat up the savings this build gained me in my annual ranching budget. 

This canopy is a pretty easy solution and one that can literally be constructed by a family in their yard or service bay area. We’ve done these as “family projects” and even as “vo-tech colunteer projects”.

Before I close this I want you to know that there are sites where you can buy these canopy solutions, pre-packaged. If you’re not feeling particularly handy, you might google them.

A cursory search revealed HisCoShelters.com and I spoke with the company owner, Larry this AM. His canopy solution is efficient, pretty durable and cost effective. If you contact Larry’s company with your dimensions he’ll ship you the tarp cover (which comes in several thicknesses depending on your goals and objectives) and a big box full of the fittings you’ll use to build your frame. While his fitting are proprietary and designed specifically for this purpose, the provided drawing will give you all the galvanized pipe lengths (which you’ll source at your local hardware supplier).

Then it’s as simple as following the diagrams to erect your canopy.

He also has a downloadable book on his website that further defines the canopy building process and the products he provides. I highly recommend that you download this book and then use the information in it to help you design your solution.

Here’s his contact information;

HisCoShelters.com
larry@hisconw.com
360-217-7186

It should also be noted that I have no affiliation with Larry or HisCoShelters.com and I receive no compensation for his participation/inclusion in this post.

So campers, there you have it. If you need a canopy to store hay or feed, a shelter for horses or livestock, a carport for your truck or tractor… this might just be the solution you’re looking for.

Until next time…

Holy Hernia, Batman! Can you “heavy lift” an ISBU?

12 Jan

Okay, while we sit here in the snow and ice pondering our next post, I thought I’d share this little gem with you.

The proud folks at Boeing, the parents of air transportation everywhere on the planet…

… have finally decided that maybe, just maybe, a shipping container is for just that. Shipping stuff.

You see, when aircraft move cargo, they don’t use a shipping container, they use a palletized system that allows that cargo to be loaded with a high level of versatility and efficiency.

But what if you could just shove that loaded shipping container (and several of it’s friends) into the cargo bay of a modern aircraft and just fly off into the wild blue yonder?

I mean, military aircraft carries heavy equipment all the time.

So, the idea of moving containers using aircraft should be doable, right?

Check this out;

And BOEING is serious about this;

Patent Information:
Number – US 9,205,910 B1
Title – CARGO AIRCRAFT FOR TRANSPORTING INTERMODAL CONTAINERS IN TRANSVERSE ORIENTATION
Inventors – Lowell B. Campbell, Mukilteo, WA (US); and Victor Ken Stuhr, Seattle, WA (US)
Assignee – The Boeing Company, Chicago, IL (US)
Filed on – Aug. 20, 2015
Appl. No. – 14/830,867.
Application 14/830,867 is a division of application No. 13/968,422, filed on Aug. 15, 2013, granted, now 9,139,283.

Coming up;

Looking at “Future Architecture” sometimes means looking at the past.

Stay tuned.

 

 

It’s a brand New Year!

1 Jan

As the New Year dawns;

New Years Day 2016

I’m reminded that this IS the year for change. Many of us have spent long hours on the couch, saying things like;

“Woulda, coulda, shoulda…”

Look, you’re not getting any younger, my friends. All of us are caught up chasing the same clock. You know, that one that ticks off days, weeks and months of your life, as you sit idly by wondering where the year went.

And now… 2015 is GONE. As 2016 debuts, it’s time to dream, plan and then act.

Okay, okay… many of us will make New Years Resolutions that aspire “hope, change and challenge”…

But few of us will actually rise to the occasion and embark on that long, lonely road to happiness and fulfillment that requires almost immeasurable amounts of sweat, blood and tears… and the realization that success will actually require communicating at high levels with your significant other, your kids and (gasp!) your relatives.

The facts are;

While the administration and Congress touted growth in 2015, we just didn’t see it in our driveways.

The recession has left new home construction on shaky legs due to the less than robust economy, the scarcity of land to build on and the ever rising costs of construction… and IF you could overcome all those obstacles that same recession has left many families out of the buying market.

Those traditionalists who have purchased homes are bringing with it a new view on home ownership. Gone are the days of “swapping up in pursuit of that perfect abode”. What we’re seeing in the data is a sentiment that make homes far more durable as investments. People are buying “the good bones” and then remodeling that home to suit their family’s needs.

They’re digging in and they’re making no bones about it. (I know, I know… a pun. Go ahead and groan. It’s okay. I groaned a little bit too!)

“First timers” aren’t gonna revitalize the market either. Kids aren’t getting those degrees, getting married and then rushing out into high paying jobs that stimulate growth in the economy. Businesses simply aren’t building jobs to fuel a new economic revitalization.

Less than 30% of all home purchases last year were by First Time Buyers. In fact, it’s been that way for the last 19 months in a row. You can blame that on the economy, the fact that we’re not growing new jobs and that the future is uncertain despite optimistic claims to the contrary.

With housing prices and rents rising, many “first timers” are already struggling to save for down payments without splurging for extras. They’re still trying to get into the door.

Housing starts are always a good indicator that the economy is moving the right direction. But new housing construction isn’t exactly setting any records either. The only real growth has been in… you guessed it… rental properties.

People aren’t buying. Investors are. Guess what they’re buying?

You guessed it. Savvy investors are buying rental properties. It’s because the economy has created a vacuum that has caused the rental market to boom. Many families are simply renting as they wait for the dark days to end.

Multi-family structure starts are moving rapidly and are doing better than they have been since 1989. In fact (since we started tracking these starts in 1974) they’re at an all-time high.

Did you know that over 90% of all recent construction over two units was rental based or inspired?

Back in the day, these structures were being built as condos. Now, what we’re seeing is “simple rental”. Build ’em, book ’em and then keep them full.

It should be noted that the construction of single-family homes hasn’t improved much. While some tout that building permits for single-family homes hit their second highest level since the downturn in October, permits are actually running just 1% ahead of last year’s pace through October. That’s hardly inspiring.

Okay, enough doom and gloom. Let’s look at the other side of that coin;

What we’re seeing here is that our building families are redefining HOW they will live and then, they’re going after it. They aren’t scared and they aren’t comfortable following the neighbors in herds down the path. They’re blazing new trails.

These families are embracing the hope by taking control of their own lives. They aren’t as concerned with gadgets, fancy textures and upgrades.

They’re concentrating on energy efficiency, sustainable products and low maintenance appliances and finishes that relieve them of future labor intensive upkeep.

Which brings me to the heart of this post;

Along with many single family homes and buildings, we’re building an awful lot of ISBU based rental properties this Spring.

Guess why?

Because when you talk to architects and builders about “coming building trends for 2016” and they use terms like “energy efficient designs”, “healthy building materials” (low chemical, for example), “sustainability”, “home automation and monitoring” and “designs that grow with families” – to embrace changes in lifestyle, age and ability… we know exactly what they’re talking about.

You see… we’ve been using these concepts to produce GREAT ISBU Architecture all along – for over 30 years.

Now, either we’re visionaries or somebody needs to get out of their cubicles and watch cable tv for a season or two.

Stay tuned. We have a LOT of stuff to show you.

Happy New Year! May you and yours find health and happiness in the year ahead!

AK

Are you Paul Bunyan or Norm Abrams?

7 Nov Pinus_taeda_loblolly_pine_large_crown

As Fall turns into Winter (it’s already snowing here in Montana) we’re working feverishly to get builds completed globally and to get projects phased for next Spring.

Here’s an example of how things work when you build with ISBUs;

Many families build their “structure” during the Summer and Fall, knowing that the containers themselves provide an opportunity to have a “weathered in” building by their inherent design. Of course this depends on how extensive the modifications have been, but some families actually set the boxes and connect them without removing the larger exterior openings (like doors and windows) so that they can work on the interiors during Winter.

This allows them to work inside without getting rained or snowed on and it protects the unattended building from theft or vandalism. If  you’re  building  your ISBU home using “sweat equity”, this can be a real advantage.

Some of the families we work with really push the envelope in ingenuity and craftsmanship. And some of them exceed our expectations by taking on large tasks that other families fear to face.

Like these guys;

Dear RRONIN,

Here in North Carolina we’re finally setting our (4) shipping containers on CMUs and the wrap-around decking is being supported by steel reinforced Sonotube pilings attached to footing forms just like you taught us to create. We didn’t end up setting the ISBUs on pilings as we’re building on top of a newly constructed concrete block basement.

For our decking support we used Sonotube Builders Tubes in 12″ diameter with Bell footing forms and in the ISBU structure we’re using 40′ High Cubes, just like you taught us.

It seemed so daunting at first, building 12″ pilings by hand. That is… until we actually started doing the work. After we figured out the first one, the rest of them were as simple as pie! An auger and a couple of strong backs made the work child’s play. We braced the piers (like you suggested) as they extend above grade 3 feet.

As you suggested, we insured that the concrete was the consistency of “the dry side of oatmeal” and then we used the agitator you urged us to rent to get all the air out of the pours. Prebuilding the rebar reinforcement frames and dropping them in before pouring concrete worked well. Heeding your advice to work “gently” with the agitator… well it worked tremendously.

As you recommended, we did install j-bolts in the pilings so that we can bolt steel plates into the piling caps to weld the container rails to. We left the casings on after the pilings set, as you suggested.

(FYI: Alex literally walked us step by step through the piling manufacture process. We sent him a photo of what we wanted to achieve and he did the rest. His advice made it so easy that we’re wondering why other families don’t embrace this. We saved thousands of dollars.)

You’ve talked extensively about using portable sawmills and even kilns crafted from Shipping Containers to “make lumber”. It’s always intrigued us and we’re ready to take on the challenge. We’ve arranged to lease a portable sawmill and we’re going to build a kiln on-site using an ISBU and a Wood Gasifier. The wood gasifier will later be used to heat the residence.

We have several (over 30) large trees in a variety of species that needed to be removed on the site to allow our home to find it’s resting place. We’re thinking about having the trees sawn into wide planking next Spring and then incorporating that into our build.

This is in part to re-floor the container after the removal of the existing flooring, which we understand  is toxic.  Additionally, we’re thinking  that flooring our ISBU home with planking crafted from local trees will (a) “bond us to the site” and (b) further our “repurpose and reuse” program which is making this entire build possible. We know how strongly you feel about recycling, repurposing and reusing and we want to follow in your footsteps.

Do you have any tips about the wood selection, preparation or even the flooring installation? We know the mechanics of actually installing the boards into the  box, but is there anything  that we might be overlooking? Selecting trees from the site and then making lumber is a mystery to us.

BTW: When do we remove the sonotube casings? Do we even have to? Will they just eventually rot away?

Signed,

Corten Carolinas

Dear CCs,

Making flooring from reclaimed trees isn’t difficult. (We regularly drop, sawmill, kiln dry and fabricate flooring as part of our rural and off-grid projects.) Saying that it isn’t “difficult” does not mean that it’s “easy” however.

I can’t possibly explain the entire “lumber” process in an article, but I can touch on points that I think will be crucial to your success.

First, you have to identify the trees you have available. A good place to start would be this publication;

http://ncforestservice.gov/publications/IE0115.pdf

I’ve seen the site you’re building on and I’m betting that most of the trees you’re looking at are loblolly pine, a wood that is used quite frequently in commercial lumber applications.

Pinus_taeda_loblolly_pine_large_crown

Species identification is crucial as each species of trees has a different drying characteristic. It’s not best (or even smart) to simply cut whatever is laying around and kiln in the same passes. It rarely works that way.

Sawmill selection is really, really important. Sawmills are like Fords and Chevy’s. You have to select the sawmill for the task. You can see many different operations in work on Youtube and that’s a good place to begin your orientation of the “lumber making” process.

(BTW: I prefer Dodges or Chevys to Fords, hands down. Let the hate mail begin!)

Wide boards are quite attractive but not without peril for the DIY homebuilder. While they seems a no-brainer because it appears that less boards equals less labor, it doesn’t really work that way. The reason is simple; The wider the board/plank, the more potential for movement. Wide boards will “cup” and drift more frequently. When you’re making lumber yourself, think of this as “warp on steroids”. You really have to pay attention to what you’re doing and you’re going to need a local woodworking mentor to achieve your goals.

For example, after sawing, wide planks must be carefully “stickered” and sorted/stacked in the kiln to insure the best drying environment.

kiln stickering for charging

A kiln sticker is basically a long wood or plastic spacer that is inserted between boards to aid in the drying process. The purpose of “kiln stickers” is to separate each board surface to maximize air can flow over each board surface and increase the potential for the evaporation of water. There’s an art to stickering lumber in a kiln. Stickers must be selected and placed so that they give adequate support to the boards so that there is minimized warping of the lumber and decreased breakage.

And you’re not simply trying to create “2x4s and 2x6s”. Since your intent is to make flooring, you really need to pay attention to details. Stickers should also be chosen to minimize the stains that sometimes develop in the lumber where is makes contact with the stickers. Important consideration of stickering isn’t easy. It includes thoughts about the species and grade of wood used for your stickers, the moisture content of your stickers, the sticker size and the placement in stack, especially in areas of your load supports.

You can find a lot of information of stickering (and sticker selection) using a resource like Google.

Once you’ve sawn and kiln-dried your boards, you want to acclimate them in your home for as long as possible to get the adjusted to their new home. Place them in a spot that will get good air flow and stack tall and narrow. The idea is to use as little space as possible and maximize airflow to the center of your lumber stacks.

Once I’m ready to go, I set up a router and then start running my tongues and grooves in the flooring boards to begin my install process.

A pneumatic nailer and barbed nails work best for wood flooring in my experience.

And thanks for taking it easy with the agitator! While the use of an agitator isn’t recommended, I find that it does aid in creating strong pilings. The idea is to coax the air out of the piling without doing damage to it.

There are several manufacturers that make a snap on form footing that attaches to the bottom of a Sonotube casing to create a “bell” or  footed piling. Where applicable, I highly recommend them.  They look like this;

Footing FOrms attached to Sonotube piling tube

FYI: Here’s the original photo they sent me of the pilings that they had in mind to give me an idea of what they were tackling;

Sonotube Piling Example

Builder’s tubes are designed to be used without stripping the casing away. There are tubes that require removal, but builder’s tubes are most commonly used  by the DIY families for decking and fence posts, etc…

http://www.sonotube.com/UserFiles/sonotube/Documents/Sonotube%C2%AE%20Builders%20Tube%C2%AE%20concrete%20forms.pdf

Until next time…

AK

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!

AK

The Times – They are a definitely a’changin…

19 Oct

Okay, okay…

We’ve been SUPER busy lately and we haven’t posted an article for some time. I hope that this will serve as an update to our faithful readers and building families.

And yes… I know, I know. we’ve “been slacking”… but we have a pretty darn good excuse.

There simply aren’t enough hours in the day lately to get all of our projects and missions accomplished.

I’ve personally been swamped with planning new projects, the development of a brand new “CORTEN TECH” TV SERIES, and even rewriting a construction book that will help pave the road to “CORTEN Country”. It’s incredible and it’s a pretty big undertaking.

During this process and the reorganization of our teams, there have been some massive changes. Most of these changes make us better, stronger, more productive. Sometimes it’s better to take the long, hard look at your processes and then stop what you’re doing and change them. These changes for us have bordered on “radical”. We’re doing things a different way, a more productive way.

Here’s a hint at what we’re up to; We thing that Henry Ford would be very proud of us.

Alas, this change has also included a streamlining process that has removed obstacles to growth. We’ve been forced to take a hard line along the way and there are some projects that we are no longer involved or affiliated with. As in any endeavor, you sometimes find yourself  faced with projects that don’t participate in progress and growth. Those obstacles have been removed. Change is often difficult and there are those who hesitate to embrace it.

While many are thrilled at the new roads and opportunities ahead (if for no other reason than for the sake of disclosure) not everyone is happy about what we’ve accomplished. Our only solace in this is in the recognition that we must serve the greater good here. If you aren’t a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem. Enough said.

On our “teaching side”; To say that many are awaiting the arrival of our new book on ISBU Construction is an understatement. What happened in a nutshell is that the delay we were forced to endure at the hands of the publisher ran so long that essential tech and practices changed while we were eagerly/frustratingly waiting the distribution date.

As a result, after consulting with many building professionals and building families who were waiting for “Nuts and Bolts”… we’re actually reworking and rewriting the book to include information so vital to the construction of these incredible homes that it could not be ignored or excluded.

Sure, we could have saved this new information for the production of a third book, but it just didn’t seem fair to our readers and building families. We voted and the majority rules. From all the input and commentary we know that you wanted  answers and not just a buy-in to an expensive construction book “trilogy”.

If you’re on the distribution list, you already know all this. If you’re not, you need to know that you must exercise your option (located in the sidebar) to reserve a copy of “Nuts and Bolts” ASAP as the pricing is about to reflect all the current changes and costs incurred.

On November 1st, 2015, the price of “Nuts and Bolts” (as well as ALL the other data and tools directly associated with it) will rise. In fact, the price will almost double. There will be NO MORE discounted reservations for the book project.

It’s been a long time coming and we’ve spent considerable amounts of money (and legal time) prying the book (and related materials) back out of the hands of a distributor who dropped the ball. Those who are eagerly awaiting the arrival of this book will not be disappointed.

While all of that is happening we’re planning, plotting and beginning the building processes for a Sustainable Architecture Ranch project (located in rural Montana) that will essentially become a demonstrator for all the technologies we employ when building rural family projects and homesteads. Additionally, this ranch will actually become a teaching facility to help train new architects and crafts/tradesmen in the construction of ISBU related projects.

Corten Creek

Imagine a blissful life wrapped in a “CORTEN Cocoon” with a deck that looks out onto this little creek every single morning… Incredible! We can’t wait!

Ironically, we’re literally so busy that we’re negotiating fractional use of aircraft to stay on top of everything that is happening internationally.

If you’re interested in ISBU Construction, you’re going to want to stay tuned. There’s never been a series of Shipping Container projects like these ones in the history of ISBU construction. Several well-known development firms and major universities are going to participate in this process as part of their architectural extension programs to allow their students and tradesmen to actually experience “hands on” Corten Coolness while they actually use their experiences to develop Sustainable Architecture curriculum.

It’s going to become (quite literally) “Corten Construction Camp“.

We’ll keep you posted.

AK

We seek “ISBU Independence”

4 Jul ISBU Independence

It should be noted that I cannot say anything today that will overshadow the majesty of the fireworks we will observe as our eyes and hearts lift to the sky tonight, as we remember all those brave men and women who stood… and those who fell… to carve out this great nation.

You have all heard the Declaration of Independence, complete with it’s majestic ending… a Declaration worthy of a long life measured in “forevers”.

It was a Declaration carved into stone by iron men wielding wooden sticks, men who used their sweat and blood to build this Republic by selflessly sentencing themselves to death as they drew lines in the sand… in the face of their oppressors.

This Declaration is still hurled towards the bones of long past monarchs, men like King George the III, a monarch long dead, a man like many before him who uttered such words as “better 50 year of English rule than all the cycles of Cathay.”

To those who sought to oppress, to subdue, to control, I say…

This is America. It is OUR land, our beloved nation, a land where once citizens built and Congress followed.

You have all heard the history of this nation from the first to present day… from our beginning… from the Revolutionary War through the days of great struggles and great triumphs.

There are many challenges ahead, both from within and without… but we will faithfully face them  with the determination of our ancestors, our forefathers… as we maintain and re-armor this cradle of Democracy.

ISBU Independence

CampCo’s Steel Farmhouse. A Home built BY Americans… for Americans.

May G_d bless this beloved Republic and… every one of you.

Alex Klein

July 4th, 2015

Second Lives for Shipping Containers – Student Housing

12 Nov Israeli Student ISBU Dorms

When I was in Israel, I met with several people about using ISBUs (Shipping Containers) to provide student housing. There was a LOT of interest.

Here’s one project that is ready to go on-line in the Southern Israeli desert. It’s a good example of exactly what I was talking about.

Israeli Student ISBU Dorms

According to Israeli News sources;

“The containers have been cleaned of rust, given a lick of paint and recycled into chic but cheap living space, replete with two bedrooms, a living room, kitchenette and bathroom. Stacked atop one another, the worn boxes now constitute Israel’s first student village made solely of retired shipping containers.”

While this is the first village built entirely of shipping containers, it’s not the first ISBU structure in Israel. There are several. I know this for a fact, as I personally built several of them.

Globally, the “student dorm/housing” market is ripe for this solution right now. In fact, we’re involved in “The Agridorm Project” to do exactly this in the US for a University in the Midwest as I type this, with several more interested schools currently in “negotiations”.

“In Israel, where hundreds of thousands of people led by a group of university students took to the streets in 2011 to protest the high cost of living, converted containers are being used as a solution to the dire shortage of affordable student housing.

“There are millions of these containers that can be used. They are usually discarded after only two or three years and the companies don’t know what to do with them,” said Effy Rubin, director of partnership at the nonprofit student organization Ayalim, which encourages young people to move to the Galilee and Negev desert regions.

Rubin said the containers were bought from Israeli companies for about $2,000 each and were transported this year to two locations in Israel — Sderot in the south and Lod in the center — to form the basis of the country’s first two container villages.

Renovations to turn the containers into a livable space — two containers were fitted together for each apartment — cost a little more than $40,000 per apartment and took less than six months to complete. In Sderot, a city that sits in close range of rockets fired by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, the container village includes interlocking stairwells with reinforced concrete to provide bomb shelters.

Both villages — Sderot, which initially will house up to 86 students, and Lod, built for 36 — are set to open Dec. 1. Rent for the two-person apartments will be no more than $160 a month per person.”

This solution could be used to house seniors, create shelters or provide housing for seasonal/factory workers easily.

IMHO – With so many in need of shelter, it’s time this solution was mainstreamed.

RR Avatar Image and article excerpts credits – http://www.jewsnews.co.il