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Second Lives for Shipping Containers – Student Housing

12 Nov

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 –

ISBU (Shipping Container) Barn Raising, Anyone?

25 Sep

You cannot believe how busy we are right now as families race to complete ISBU Homes before winter tries to wreak havoc with home completion.

As our families build out their Corten Compounds”, one of the things we’re getting asked about more and more is “ISBU Outbuildings”.

We talk on a regular basis about using ISBUs to create Poultry Houses, Rabbit Houses and even processing shops for everything from poultry production to wild game processing and meat smoking.  The nice thing about using ISBUs (Shipping Containers) for out-buildings is that you’re creating easily placed, easily secured buildings  that can actually be moved if required as your site plan evolves.

But what about building BARNS out of ISBUs?

We’ve seen those Youtube clips of the Amish doing high-speed “barn-raisings” that would give most contractors an aneurysm. I mean, they build these massive monuments to livestock in a weekend. It’s  just incredible.

But, what if you used ISBUs (Shipping Containers) to do something similar. If you took a pair of  40′ High Cube ISBUs and then placed them apart from each other to form “walls”, you could top them with trusses and create an enclosed barn in no time flat. ISBU Barn2

These barns get built in less than a WEEK. I’m not kidding. A WEEK.  And remember, the shops inside the ISBUs are already weathered in from Day One.

Consider this:

ISBU BarnWe’ve even used concrete highway dividers to set the boxes as  foundation. That means that you get a 12’+ roof in the garage and you get room above for an office, a shop, or even a guest apartment by using attic trusses.

When you need more space, you simply sister more boxes up to the sides.

We even have a small rural “Sustainable Community” that built one of these ISBU barns to build their “Tiny Houses” for their residents within. When they’ve finished their home construction, they’ll convert the “build barn” into a community space.

If you need help figuring this out, just ask…

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I say “Steel for Storms”…

9 Jul

As Typhoon Neoguri smashes into Okinawa and Japan, we’re reminded yet again that strong, durable, weather resistant housing is a requirement if families are to remain safe.

As we participate in ISBU (Shipping container) residential, industrial and commercial builds all over the planet, I am STILL amazed that the solution to some of the problems caused by heavy weather is overlooked.

In places like North Dakota, Montana, the Bering Sea and even (gasp!) Canada… 🙂

Workers are being housed in multi-unit developments built from ISBUs. These are just “modular buildings”. You build your housing units and then you stack them together. Add a little bit of welding and voila… many workers or families can all be tucked safely under one big steel roof, wrapped in a sturdy steel cocoon.

It’s done in place like CHINA all the time. In fact, every time that we’re there, we see another series of housing units going up;

This is a Solid Corten Steel "Man Camp" (Oil/Gas Housing) or a Student Dormitory waiting  to happen.

This is a Solid Corten Steel “Man Camp” (Oil/Gas Housing) or a Student Dormitory waiting to happen.

Over  the next few days… we’re going to look at HOW these buildings are constructed. I think that you’re going to be amazed at just how “easy” this is.

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I want a Corten Cutter!

21 May

We all know that ISBUs (Shipping Container) spend most of their lives on the High Seas.

When I lived in Costa Rica, we used to convert them into floating guest cabins so that visiting families could spend some quality time with their loved ones.

Over 20 years later… some of those little “houseboats” are still operating, to this day.

Apparently, Steve White took a page out of our playbook and built his own little Corten Cutter…

Corten Cutter
“It’s much more house than boat,” White said.

Corten Cutter KitchenWhite decided to build a houseboat after selling a second home. He was looking for a way to be on the waterfront, but land was too expensive.  Early last year, he read an article about container homes. The idea of reusing shipping containers for a houseboat appealed to him because it was a frugal and green option.

Corten Cutter Pilot House

Read more about it, HERE.

Odd boxes make warm bedfellows!

14 Feb

We’re working on a project using 30′ High Cube ISBUs.

Yes. I said 30′ ISBUs. It wasn’t a “typo”.

We just found a pair of re-manufactured 30′ High Cube ISBUs “locally”.

(Okay, they’re located close enough to us in Montana that we can send a flatbed for them.)

Now, you can’t just go out and purchase a 30′ box. As we all know, shipping containers coming out of China are generally 20′ and 40′ boxes. Typically, they come in two flavors; Standard and High Cube. The only difference between them is that the Standard boxes are 8’6″ tall, while the High Cube boxes are a foot taller, measuring 9’6″. They come in other lengths like 10′, 45′, 48′ and 53′, and these last two boxes are also a little bit wider.

That said, there ARE vendors who will “shorten” a box to suit the specialized requirements of a buyer. It does happen. Those boxes won’t get a new ID plate, but they’ll still be ISBUs in the traditional sense.

Apparently, a local mine had a vendor rework a pair of 40′ High Cube Containers to be used for some industrial/mining purpose. We can tell by the drilled holes and stains in the flooring that they’d attached some kind of heavy machinery in the boxes. There are also “duct holes” that imply that some kind of manifold was fed by whatever was housed in the containers.

No matter, we can easily patch the holes and the flooring is coming out anyway. ISBU flooring is toxic. It’s built with lamination after lamination of pesticide saturated wood, to insure that pests and vermin don’t harm the contents during shipping. You cannot leave that flooring in your boxes. It can harm your health. So, we’ll replace it with lightweight concrete (with PEX embedded in it) before we install hardwood flooring.

Can you say “Radiant In-Floor Heat?”

Under normal circumstances, I’d NEVER “Radiant” a footprint this small. But after experiencing back to back prolonged blizzards, I have to insure that IF the family chooses to visit their cabin during Winter, they’ll be toasty warm. For example, it’s sub-zero here, as I type this. And it’s been like this for weeks.

We know that in lieu of a woodstove, we’re going to use a wood gasifier located close to the cabin in another 20′ ISBU. This wood gasifier will operate on cordwood (in lieu of wood chips, pellets or even “traditional” firewood) and supply efficient and economical heat and domestic hot water, but some wood gasifiers can also produce power via steam production. Our “arrangement”, which will also contain the inverters for the photovoltaic panels,  is called a “power shed”.

Note also that the “old wood” gets hauled off after removal to the landfill (they have a special place for it) to prevent someone from taking it and then using it for some project. Poison is poison.

Okay, that said;

We have a “localish” family that only uses their vacation property during 3 seasons. A single mom and her two young sons (ages 9 and 11) fish, hunt and hang out for a week or two at a time until the first snowfalls… and then they hightail it back to sunny Southern California to ride out the winter. They’ve been doing this since the kids were babies (hence the “localish” part). They usually pull up a travel trailer or rent a big RV (bus), but after making the trip several times, they’ve decided that they want “something more permanent that looks like it belongs there.”

After seeing a few of our existing ISBU cabins, she signed on. The only problem was that the spot where they want to park the house is tiny. I’m talking “zero navigation room” for a larger format footprint using 40′ High Cubes. We’d started talking about using 20′ boxes because they’d be easier to transport, position and drop, but then…

This guy calls us out of the blue and says that he bought a gold mine and he wants all the old crap hauled out. You see, he’s not really interested in running a mining operation, he wants to turn the whole property into a “scenic RV park” with a “gold mining theme”. Kind of a “Wild West Ghost Mine.” He knew that we loved to recycle and repurpose stuff, so he sent us a list of stuff he wanted to part with and a bunch of photos. The “crap” included a mechanical shed that had been constructed by shortening a pair of shipping containers.

Needless to say, after a quick inspection, we jumped on the boxes. There wasn’t anything wrong with them that some sand-blasting and material removal wouldn’t cure.

We got the ISBUs for the cost of hauling them away. If that’s not “recycling, reusing and repurposing”… well then I don’t know what is.

After a quick “re-pre-design skirmish”…

… we’re thinking about doing something like THIS:

30ft ISBU Cabin-webGranted, this is “quick and dirty” and subject to change. We will probably use pocket doors (because they take “less space” to operate) in the bath and bedroom. We’ll also probably do a tracked “barn door” over tempered insulated sliding glass doors in the main space to shutter the cabin against weather in the winter. Again, by eliminating door swing, you gain more space. The front deck will host a container garden and some lounging furniture. That deck could later be enclosed to form a sun-room if desired. It’s easy to picture an additional  shed roof coming off that clerestory roof to close that deck in.

The ladder accessed loft will contain a pair of twin storage pedestal beds and cabinetry will be built to take advantage of the cavities created by the roof pitches. We’re big believers in leaving no storage space untapped.

Another “space saver” would be to eliminate the “pull out” dining room table built into the media wall cabinetry and simply build a “riser” based living room table that would “pop up” and then fold out to form a dining room table. Pull it up to use it, push it back down to use the living room as a relaxation area. This would also eliminate the need for folding chairs that had to be stored away when they weren’t being used.

“Mom” told us over and over again; “If I want to entertain, I’ll do it in California. This is about family time. It’s okay to eat while you’re watching a movie on the DVD player.”

And let’s not overlook that the really nice thing about using smaller ISBUs is that you can build them out “someplace else”. Because of their size, these boxes can be converted in a factory setting and then hauled to site, already partially pre-assembled. This means that aside from preparing your site and setting your foundation (in this case it will be pilings cast on site using sonotubes and concrete/rebar), and then putting your roof (in this case clerestory) and photovoltaic panels in place after the boxes are set,  your ISBU cabin is ready to occupy in almost no time.

We’ve had families living in small ISBU homes and cabins in a few weeks after the first trucks arrived carrying the boxes to the homesite. In more than one case, we’ve had families “move in” as soon as the roof was on – less that 4 days later – with full services available to them.


We’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about shipping ISBUs AFTER they have been modified. You should know that using “modified” ISBUs (like these “shortened ones”) to ship products or materials via Container Ship might be difficult, due to the change in footprint. This usually happens when families by “pre-modified” boxes and then stuff them with the materials required to turn them into a home, someplace distant, like the Virgin Islands. Families do this in order to take advantage of the lower prices found here in the US for building materials. It makes sense, until you calculate in the cost of actually loading those modified boxes onto a Container Ship. Most shippers will require the containers to be inspected to certify that it could be insured.

Additionally, any modification that alters or changes the design or structural strength of a container (for example by adding doors and windows) makes moving it by ship difficult. And, that “enhanced” insurance premium is going to hurt.

Your best bet in these circumstances is to move the boxes by flatbed trailer or via semi truck/trailer, or use “conventionally sized boxes” for your  build.

Trust me. We’ve shipped hundreds of boxes to places you can’t even imagine. Work with the system, or prepare yourself for headaches.

See you next time,

RR Avatar

Got Industrial Park? Check. Got ISBUs? Check. Hey! Make-over time! :)

10 Feb

We get a lot of email from people who try to pigeonhole ISBU housing as something that only “really rich or really poor people” find appeal in.


ISBUs are just metal modules, people.  They are Corten Steel boxes. In their raw form, they’re about as “vanilla” as you can get. I can’t think of a better high-speed format to build homes and buildings out of. If you can imagine it, you can do it. It’s the “big boys” version of building with Legos.

One area where ISBUs really shine is in the “high–speed remodel department” for manufacturers and industrial applications.

Due to the economy and market conditions, many businesses are moving away from building or purchasing “landmark” or “signature” buildings and taking advantage of all the commercial space that is available for lease (at bargain prices, no less), nation-wide. The economy and other “conditions”  are creating a train-wreck for small businesses and it’s a condition that is nationwide…

… it’s devastated businesses all across America.

gymkhana_02This is the state of “Mom and Pop” business in America. It’s carnage…

We’ve talked about this concept before, as businesses adapt their products and practices to industrial parks and warehouses all across America.

We admit that this isn’t without some “additional tasking”, as they seek to then define those new spaces in a manner that is economic and non-permanent.

We feel that ISBUs are perfect for this  purpose. They fit through truck doors. The slabs that these buildings usually sit on are reinforced and more than capable of carrying the weight of a High Cube  Container.  The boxes are easily configured. The boxes are easily positioned, allowing literally any configuration that you can imagine, from offices, to records storage, warehousing of small parts, employee lounges, you name it.

As we begin our own expansion into larger spaces, you can bet that we’re going to do exactly this. We’ll get affordable build space without a mortgage (and it’s commensurate down payment).  And we’ll gain the ability to “grow” space as we need it. As the business expands, we can remodel, simply by redeploying the existing ISBU modules and adding new ones in new configurations.

This new “style” of building repurposing is becoming very popular, especially in the “hip cool factor” business audience…

gymkhana_05If you’re stunt driver Ken Block and you’re located in a large warehouse style building in Park City Utah…

Ken lives “large”. Ken wasn’t going to settle for “vanilla” digs. He and his team used 17 ISBUs to create a 12,000 square foot facility that is divided into two distinct zones. One is an office/administration complex capable of housing 25 employees and the other is a manufacturing center for the company’s “bread and butter”… his team’s race vehicles.

 Note that because of high ceilings, he was able to stack the boxes to gain even more space. Note also that because the ISBUs are located inside an insulated envelope, there isn’t any demand for expensive insulation practices to be employed. These are “Rock Star” digs, folks. Can you imagine how his investors and business partners react when they see this? Kaching!

And what happens  when Ken gets “Super Mega-Famous” and his team requires bigger digs?

They just pick up the boxes and move on to a bigger building. It reminds me of a documentary I recently saw on Nat Geo… about Hermit Crabs.

It’s hard to think about Spring surrounded by feet of this white stuff, but Spring is about “rebirth”. It’s about nurturing  and letting new shoots pop up! Something similar is happening this Spring (2014) as we begin to “grow” into our new facility. Stay tuned because you’re not going to want to miss it.

  • Are you interested in growing your business by planting some boxes?
  • Do you operate your business out of a warehouse, an industrial park complex or even an Aircraft Hangar?
  • Have you run out of space for your administration, employees or parts inventories?
  • Can you imagine a sales operation working from this motivational configuration?

If you answered YES to any of these questions, contact us. You’ll be surprised at just how easy and how affordable this “remodel” is to accomplish.

Until next time,

RR Avatar Image Credits:

Youtube Credits; DC SHOES


They just keep on coming…

5 Feb

Anyone with a pulse knows that we here at RR, we love ISBUs.

These big metal boxes come to America carrying goods that support our nation (one way or the other…) and then…

… they stack them up in piles that reach the sky.

Ever see them arriving? It’s just staggering how large the ships that bring them in, actually are.

Take a look;

RR Avatar Now consider how many vessels at any given time are transporting ISBUs all over the planet. The list is just mind boggling. And because of the trade deficits, so are those stacks, in the ports they arrive in, as they are off-loaded.

Cold has a name – LEON. America, are you ready?

28 Jan

Winter Storm Leon:

Here we go again.

Despite the extreme blizzard conditions that battered the Northern US in the last few week, experts are saying that this new storm, LEON,  is unlike any that we’ve seen in a long time in the US.

The National Weather Service has issued winter storm watches, warnings and advisories from central and southeast Texas eastward along the Gulf Coast, into Georgia, most of South Carolina, central and eastern North Carolina and far southeast Virginia.

In some area of the Deep South, the entire atmosphere will be below freezing and vulnerable to snow.

In areas closer to the Gulf Coast, layers of above-freezing air above the ground, setting the stage for sleet and/or freezing rain is likely

Temperatures will remain in the 20s. Wind chills will be in the single digits.

It’s time to get ready. It’s time to stay HOME.

Here are a few considerations when prepping for extreme cold weather:

You need water – At least a 7 day supply at one gallon per person per day.

You’ll need food, too – At least a 7 day supply of non-perishable, easily prepared food (and a can opener!)

Flashlight and Batteries
Extra Batteries
First Aid Kit

Are you taking medications? – You’ll need at least a 7 day supply along with any necessary medical implements or items (hearing aids with extra batteries, glasses, contacts, syringes, etc.)

Tools. You’ll need tools. Secure a small toolset. Basic handtools.

Basic Sanitation and Hygiene products – Toilet paper, moist towelettes, and disposal methods are imperative.

If you have babies in your household –  Baby Supplies – Bottles, formula, extra water, baby food, diapers, etc. It cannot be stressed enough to keep extra formula and baby food on hand.

Warm clothes and extra protection – Blankets/Gloves/Hats/Scarves

You have to stay warm. You need alternative heat – Kerosene, wood-burning stove, and an ample supply of fuel. This heating method should be capable of running if all utilities are unavailable.

Prepare for hardship. Stay Home, Stay Warm. Help those you can.

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Some Great ISBU Memories

20 Jan

As we begin the New Year, I thought it might be fun to look back at some of the ISBU highlights of the last few years.

I’d thought to kick this series off in the last week of January (as I’ll be traveling extensively and it’d be a great time to do it)  but one of my pals sent me an email reminding me of this home. So, in honor of Ryan, we’ll run this one first.

Without further adieu, I give you the first ISBU – shipping container – home built in New York City.

Now, there have been some “demonstrator units” hauled in and dropped in parking lots and parks for exhibition (I know this to be true as I have personally participated in this process), but to my knowledge, this was the very first permanent, permitted ISBU home in NYC proper.

Built in Brooklyn by Cornell graduate Michele Bertomen (an architect) and David Boyle (a building  contractor),  I do remember  all the hardships the builders faced as they tried to navigate the perils of stupidity in NYC as Code Enforcement tried to make their lives miserable.  The home was finally completed in 2012. I personally interacted with Michele at NYIT  (New York Institute of Technology) where she was a Professor of Architecture and I was saddened to learn that Michele has since passed away, but I remind readers and students that she leaves a Corten legacy behind to inspire others.

You can read more about Michele and David and the incredible home they built together, HERE.

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It’s in the bag… er… um… BOX, man!

4 Jan

It just looked like a box in an empty room!

But, looks can be deceiving… so make sure to never underestimate somebody else’s creativity.

Take this box for example. It seems like it’s just a normal chest, albeit a cool one, right?

What it really is will leave your jaw on the floor. You won’t see this one coming. I didn’t.

It’s an entire room in a box! Yep, that’s apparently possible.

If I could find a way to stuff an entire apartment in a box, I’d be set. Any interior designer magicians out there?

Got a kid headed to college?

BUY this BOX! 🙂