Tag Archives: Cabin

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…

RR Avatar

It ain’t heavy… It’s “the other…”

13 Jul

Projects currently in the works;

Over the last few months, I’ve dropped hints about projects that I’m involved in, while we iron out all the bumps in our own ISBU build.

Hell, we talked about one, just the other day. Aren’t you paying attention? Huh? I don’t write these posts for my health. I write them to toot my own horn! 🙂

So, anyway… now that those projects have progressed past “the design phase” and are currently undergoing “permitting,” or have gone past “permitting” and are actually in construction, I thought I’d give you an idea what we’re doing.

I’m not much for demonstrating or revealing stuff that “can’t get built.” I’ve seen too many “pie in the sky” plans that will never come to fruition, to frustrate you with them. I’ll show you stuff that we’re actually BUILDING. I promise.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll “expose” you to what’s we’re doing. Here’s the first one;

Look, Ma!  It’s a 16’x40′ cabin on the beach…

It’s not “Grandma’s House in the woods…” It’s a “De-Luxe Shed!”

A while back, when I started the blog, I was contacted by a pair of “miscreants” from Georgia, who wanted a place by the beach, within driving distance of the Gulf Coast Gambling Casinos. It seems this pair had recently sold a rather high-brow Mercedes (after it had been vandalized for the third time) and decided to spend the money on a weekend retreat. I figured that it must have been a pretty good car, because they told me that their budget was between $66,000 – $75,000 dollars.

So… MY newest ISBU based structure is…

(okay, so it’s actually “the owner’s…” but that won’t stop me from taking all the credit!) 🙂

… A modest new structure in Mississippi the blends a down-home agricultural feel (hey, the cabin is surrounded by Rednecks! What did you think it was gonna look like? Manhattan?) with calm and relaxing craftsmanship.

I had a “loft” plan for a pair of containers beating around in the inside of my (hollow) head for a while now. I’d thought it was a pretty good scenario for a “bug-out cabin.” A “Bug-Out Cabin” is a place you run to when things “get stupid” and you need to get away from the neighbors for a while. Any survivalists (or neighborhood troublemakers, for that matter) out there will know exactly what I’m talking about.

Then, mid-design, I saw this really cool “barn cabin” in an overseas architectural publication a while back. Bingo-bango-bongo! Smash the two best ideas from both designs together, throw in a few decades experience building shelter with these steel boxes… and you get… Instant “Redneck Rendezvouz.”

SDSS-MS0001 copy

Designed to look like an old barn… and I did quite nicely, I’ll have you know! Take a 16′ x 40″ box, add a knee wall to the top (we went up 5′ approx.) to get some attic space, a steeply pitched metal over SIPs roof, and there you have it! A “Bubba Box!” The rough wooden-board sided container house creates a familiar silhouette. It looks just like an outhouse, from the front! Nah… not really… 🙂

Inside, however, it’s a far cry from the “rough and ready” cabins that you see on Cable TV.

Like I said… This ISBU-based weekend retreat has a “down-home feeling…” Why else would we use board-and-batten siding and a (recycled) antique wood-burning stove? And just like the cabins you see in the movies, it is quite cozy (1,088 square feet), really casual (a lot of wood) and secluded (almost no neighbors). But that’s where the similarity ends…


Designed to resemble a farm outbuilding (and not “an outhouse,” so just stop it!) , the “anything but low-slung” structure is nestled into the shoals of Coastal Mississippi as if it had been planted there a hundred years ago. In fact, if you don’t mow the lawn for a really, really long time… 🙂

A color scheme of maize, sage and red clay inside complements the grasses, trees and earth outside. The metal roof (overlaid on state-of-the-art SIPs) soars to over 18 feet, supported by thick pine beams and trusses studded with steel bolts. An almost continuous wall of windows and glass doors runs the cabin’s entire south facing 40-foot length, allowing light to flood the whole space, on both levels.

The cabin sits 8′ feet up off the meadow, held securely in place by (2) 10′ diameter sections of culvert pipe that we salvaged from a D.O.T. highway job. I’ve talked about those pipe sections earlier, so I won’t repeat myself, as much as I like to hear myself preach… 🙂

We built a nifty little “frame system” that fit over the top of each section of pipe, that was in turned welded to the container frames. Voila! Instant foundation!

(Okay, it was a LITTLE bit more complicated than that. But it was CHEAP! The most expensive part was trucking the sections to the site!)

This “altitude boost” was mandated by the elevation of the property, and the 100 year flood-plain mark. It actually worked to our advantage, it sits up in the air just high enough to tuck watercraft under, a cord or two of seasoned wood for the wood stove, as well as providing us with great access when we apply the closed cell foam insulation to the “undercarriage.”

The pipe does double-duty. (Or “triple-duty” if you count how damned cool it looks…) One of them is going to be used as a water tank. That’s right… A water tank for the well. that means that at any given time, there will be almost 5,000 gallons of water available, in case anybody wants to take a long shower. The other one is going to be used as a shed to store stuff in. I mean, would you really try to hack your way through a foot of concrete pipe, to steal some tools or some beach stuff? Me neither…

Framing a “wood deck” into the pipe about 7′ up allows a place to stack firewood, so that you can access it thru a trapdoor in the floor of the cabin. Sounds complicated, but it ain’t. We just built a “partial shelf” that covers about 1/3rd of the top of the pipe interior, to hold about a quarter cord of dry wood. Sure, you have to climb a ladder to “prime” the shelf. You’ll get over it!  It just means that the owner doesn’t have to go outside in bad weather to fetch more firewood, should the mood hit him.

But just because it’s a weekend retreat doesn’t mean that anybody has to “rough it.” One of the owners is a chef, and she has a 36″ Viking Restaurant grade range to prove it. In fact, it was out in her garage, looking for a good home, when we started drawing this baby up!  That monster of a gas stove will be set in front of  large sliding glass doors, opening out onto a wooden deck for al fresco dining. The kitchen comes fully equipped, the amenities include a dishwasher and plenty of counterspace to make a mess of!.  All appliances are required to be (you guessed it) “energy-efficient.”

There’s a washing machine (front loading ) tucked under the stairs, behind the refrigerator. (It’s a steep staircase, more like the evil spawn of a ladder and a staircase. But, the customer is always right… ) 🙂

And, drying the laundry is done in a “green mode,” too! It’s solar! Can you say clothesline? However, a dryer could have been installed between the two closets in the hall, instead of that desk. The owners opted not to, to lower power requirements. They don’t like gas dryers, either.

And the owners wanted something that they could show off to the “neighbors…” so we used recycled slate in the bathroom to surround that big tub/shower combo that looks off into the meadow through a huge “garden window.” Oh yeah, did I mention that the bathroom has a solar-heated floor?

Don’t go looking for a stuffed Marlin, “singing trout” hanging on the walls, or any deer heads, either. This cabin is all about “sustainable and stylish.”

There isn’t anything within that will remind you of those musty, dusty, creaky places that you’d imagine you’d find “out in the woods.”  This place is all about style, an escape designed to allow the owners to commune with the natural world, in comfort.

Described as a ‘deluxe shed’ by the designer (ME! Aren’t you paying attention? Jeeezo!), this modest lil project is a veritable masterpiece of detailing, if I do say so myself. In fact, I shall…

The marine plywood-clad interior is warm and inviting (I know what you’re thinking… Nope, we didn’t recycle THAT. We like to barter around here, so we traded some of our “new lumber” for it), while each window wall is painted a nice charcoal color to create a stark contrast with the luxurious exterior views.

Hey, the damned thing hangs 8′ up in the air, You’d hope that there were some decent views! Right?

To use the owners words;

“We lead busy, almost frantic, technology-laden lives. We eat, breathe, and sleep stress, and we need a place to slip away to that will allow us to rejuvenate and recharge our batteries. We want a simple, beautiful, indoor-outdoor cabin space that’s designed to be low maintenance, and requiring little upkeep. Oh yeah, and put a damper on intricate details, huh? Remember that “less is more,” okay?”

To look at this “new” glass-and-wood cabin in Mississippi, you’d never guess that it had started out it’s life as a pair of boxes used to haul products to America, from China. In fact, unless somebody told you that this little cabin started out it’s life as Corten Steel shipping containers, you’d never be able to tell.

And about that maintenance… Maintenance? There’s very little of that. The concrete floors are virtually indestructible and stand up to whatever trials the owners and their guests can carry in through those huge sliding glass doors.

And this little cabin will support a LOT of overnight guests. A sleeping loft, accessed by an “alternating stairstep staircase,”  was created that would remind anyone who’s ever hung out around yachts of “mini-staterooms.”  (2) separate “queen” staterooms are provided for the parents, and (4) “twin” bunks are built-in, for “the crew.” An intricate teak lattice gridwork (supplied by th owners) separates the loft from the main space, and keeps kids from using the loft as a diving board onto the sectional. It also allows airflow. That’s vitally inportant in a sleeping loft, after a night of chili and hot dogs… 🙂

The sleeping “attic” has rubber mats, similar to those found in gyms or martial arts dojo’s, to help keep the “sleeping loft” noise down. (I wonder how it’ll fair, against snoring?) 🙂

For you “tree-huggers,” “carbon trader’s,” and “dreaded disciples of Gore…”:

The deliberately unkempt exterior landscape and high insulation values of the cabin’s exterior will keep the cabin’s environmental footprint to a bare minimum. We did design in a system that allows for remotely operated fan heaters to be set via cellular telephone to warm the space up as the owners approach.

Hot water is provided via solar panels and an attic storage tank, which also supplies the heated water for the radiant “in-floor” heating system. Electricity for the cabin is provided by an array of photovoltaic panels and an auxiliary generator, if necessary.

That staircase also provides the privacy for the full bath (complete with garden tub), and the home for the kitchen’s stainless steel refrigerator. And I might add that despite its simplicity, that decadent tub-with-a-view ensures the owners always know they’re far from Atlanta crowds.

And this house is no slouch, when it comes to being “green.” The designer (ME! Hello? Are you still there?) is a big believer in using local materials.

Why? Because, folks, the less you ship, the more you save. We built almost the entire contents of this cabin out of recycled materials (including the biggest, roundest cypress table you ever saw!), and salvaged lumber we either found, or produced (more on that later), found after Hurricane Katrina chewed it’s way through Mississippi. That table because the anchor for the kitchen/dining room/living room. “Pickle barrel chairs” surround that table, and will seat about… um… okay, I’m not sure. I haven’t seen the chairs yet!  So far, all the chairs are different!  Figure that it will seat seven or eight. 🙂

One of the biggest trends we’re seeing in “environmental friendliness” is the use of local materials. It’s not “friendly” to ship things over long distances, despite those ads on TV that spout rhetoric about how many millions of miles a train will move a zillion containers, on one gallon of fuel. It’s “crap,” folks. There’s a lot they didn’t factor into that ad math…

Wood for the interior and the decks that surround the owners “cabin” was recycled from downed trees, and a nearby train trestle that had been blown down and scattered for miles. The required elements were found, right on the property. Instant salvage. The property had sported several very old oak and magnolia trees, as well as many, many pines, and more than a few cedars. Katrina evldently didn’t like them, so she knocked them down.

A local with a “truck-pulled” sawmill offered to remove most of the fallen trees, if we’d let him process the lumber on the property. We held out for some of the lumber. Voila, instant siding and cabinetry lumber. We also held out for some cash. We got that, too. (It was a lot of trees.)

We put an ad in the local paper for corrugated steel for the roof, and a guy called and said he was tearing up several metal roofs, and we could come and take what we needed. “It’s less for me to haul off!” he told us.

We spent $1,700 for a “slightly damaged” photovoltaic (PV) system on Craigslist. Photovoltaics, for those of you new to this game, are panels that convert solar energy to electricity. As it turns out, the “slight damage” was to the packaging. The warehouse that the PV’s were stored in was knocked flat by Katrina, and the inventory was sold off for pennies on the dollar. That little gem of an array will supply all the electricity required to run the appliances and the media center. But NO hairdryers! Capish? 🙂

Okay, we DID have to pony up for some really good Deep-Cycle batteries, to store the produced power in. When we bought the PV’s, the guy threw in a pretty decent inverter.

An additional PV panel will power the well, and it’s electric pump.

We’ll install a septic tank (above ground), and a “newfangled” leach field. We’ll also utilize reclaimed water through a water retention system (to a cistern), and greywater recycling (to the yard). The owners are big on “biodegradable.” and thus, the greywater can be used to irrigate the garden, and help the lawn out…

So, the water bill will be… almost zero. (Hey, they DID have to dig the well…)  The power bill will be… zero. (Again, they had to provide the PV system, but with the price they paid, and the tax credits, it’s pretty close to nothing.) And the Direct TV bill will be… um… who cares!

The biggest payment will be… the property tax. And, that’s worked out to what we expect will be a bite in the butt, because the county that this cabin resides in is surprisingly… um… er… high. We estimate that “the cabin” will “tax” appraise out at about $230,000.00, including the 2 acres of ground that it sits on.

Not bad for an investment of about $100,000.00

As cabins go, this one is anything but “plain.” In fact, despite all the transformations cabins have undergone in the last several years, they remain, deeply personal places shaped by their owners as “hallowed and almost sacred retreats.”  With luck, some things will never change. At least, we hope not.

Project completion is scheduled for September 11th, 2009. Why? The owners wanna throw a birthday bash there. Or else…

I’ll show you photographs of the project as work progresses, so that you can see how it all goes together.

YOU could do this, too!

In fact, I’d be willing to live in this little gem, full time. Now, if only the owners would give me a key, and the security code…

The Renaissance Ronin