Tag Archives: construction

Every Tree Needs Roots!

23 May

As we venture into Spring (we still haven’t gotten our 15 seconds of Spring in Montana yet…) LOL!

We’re getting questions from readers about “process”. Everyone is eager to start their building adventures, paving their roads toward their ISBU (Shipping Container Home) dreams and we couldn’t be more pleased and inspired.

Many families are beginning their paths by talking to local experts, trying to gauge the places they’ll put their trust, their dreams and their futures.

We received this email recently and thought it was relevant enough to share it with the rest of you. Building projects begin as hopes, dreams and aspirations. The holder of that dream then gifts it to someone else who will become responsible for turning that dream into a reality.

But along the way, that custodian of your creation will call on others to assist him/her in order to insure that your dream becomes a reality.

Let’s just jump in, shall we?

“Dear Alex,

Q. I just left an interview/consult session with a local Architect. When we were discussing fees, he included fees for several other engineers, including a structural engineer. WTH? If an Architect goes to school to learn to design a building or residence, why then does he/she even need a structural engineer?

Isn’t that the point of Architecture School in the first place?”
The short answer is this:

Successful Architectural projects are collaborations. The architect designs the building. The engineering team ensures the building meets local building codes and that it is physically possible to build. Most engineers have no idea whatsoever or little experience on how to maximize light exposure for certain facilities, including both natural and artificial light, but an architect does. Most engineers have little to no idea how play with materials and textures to maximize comfort, but an architect does. Most architects have little to no idea how to even measure a complex structure response to most accidental load scenarios like earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding etc. But an engineer does. Most architects have little to no idea how to design infrastructure projects such as dams, bridges, highways, railroads, etc. But an engineer does.

Think of it like this:

An architect is like a big, beautiful tree…  and that engineering team is a vital part of it’s trunk and root system.

This engineering support system gives life to the tree. The input of the engineers provides the strength to the tree and makes it possible for that tree to live (and even bear fruit) for a long, long time.

Architects don’t know “everything” about construction.

Some like to think they do but the reality is actually much different.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Architects know a LOT, but an architect is still just a “generalist”. An architect actually needs all sorts of engineers to create and complete a project successfully.

In a nutshell, the architect is the conductor and the engineers (and other specialists) are the musicians. They have to work together to complete a project. It’s a orchestra of skills.

It is up to the conductor (architect) to take overall responsibility and coordinate the overall intention of the project. The conductor has to have some basic knowledge of the musicians’ (engineers) instruments. However, the overall success depends on the skill and experience of the individual musicians (engineers). You can’t do one without the other.

The architect creates, orchestrates and oversees the building project design and usually provides oversight during construction. However, the engineers are specialists and they play their parts in the orchestra by being tasked with the design and oversight of their specific trades and project aspects only:

  • The architect plans, organizes (orchestrates) and gives form and space to the building project.
  • The architect develops a design that finds solutions and fulfills the client’s requirements.
  • The architect presents this information to the planning boards, review committees and building authorities.
  • The architect obtains planning approvals, obtains permits and other required documents required for the construction of the project.
  • The architect is also responsible for special (particularly safety) aspects such as building code classifications, fire separations, exits, emergency exits, emergency systems, and egress stairs as well as insuring that all accessibility requirements are met.

In addition to this, the architect usually provides the “Architectural Artistry” the project brings to the community – this because the determination of whether it is a work of art or not depends on how it will later be judged by the clients and the public at large. You can bet that this judgement will be based in a large part on the actual design of the project.

As the design leader, the architect usually conceptualizes the structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems – and coordinates all of it. Again, he/she is the conductor.

However, the architect relies on the various specialist engineers to assess and assist, to finalize and take responsibility with calculations, detailing and oversight. The “musicians”.

For most buildings constructed in most places, only qualified engineers can provide these specialized engineering services. The architect is – by law in most places – required by virtue of their generalist training and certification and is licensed to “practice architecture” and NOT engineering.

Structural engineers don’t go to traditional architectural schools or classes. They are required to study Civil Engineering courses designed to build the required skills allowing them to resolve structural and other engineering aspects of a project. Because of this education, they are licensed to ‘practice structural engineering’, and not architecture.

You don’t need an architect to design “everything”. Certain buildings that are not intended primarily for human occupancy may not be required to be designed by an architect.

In those cases, a civil engineer usually takes the lead role – as in the case of the construction of bridges and roads.

Also, building projects such as small square footage houses often don’t need any professionals at the design level to be involved. These projects are often designed by technical / design drafting services or even design/build contractors.

While your architect will bring your dream to life, those engineers involved are vital to it’s creation. Put simply, engineers have to come up with solutions to complex problems and implement them; they literally shape the world that we live in.

For those of you out there considering a trade path, there are many different specialties within civil engineering. These include environmental, structural, electrical, municipal, transportation and geotechnical engineering services. Civil engineers design, build, supervise, operate, and maintain construction projects and systems in both the public and private sector. These projects include roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, and systems for water supply and sewage treatment.

If you really want to push the envelope, look for a University that has an Architectural Engineering program.  If you do this, send us your shipping address and we’ll start sending you as many Tylenol tablets as you can eat. You’re going to need them! This challenging path insures many, many long nights of bookwork and studying!  LOL!

A Home without clothes…

22 Nov

Okay,

It’s time for some ISBU Inspiration!

Greeting, you “Minions of Metal!” I’ve gathered you all together today…

Wait… that’s not it…

Most of you know that I’m plotting and scheming… and even conspiring to build a house out of recycled and repurposed ISBU (Shipping Containers).

A lot of you know that we’re helping several other families do the same thing, in fact, as you’re reading this!

Most of you know that I’ve further complicated that build, by including components recycled from steel aircraft hangars that were torn down…

And, most of you know that it’s been a battle from day one…

So… as my family plots and schemes, quietly and cunningly crafting “our house that locals might loathe…”

I thought I’d show you some of the things that inspire me, as I craft our Corten Castle…

Ain’t it cool?

In the dead of Winter, you’re all ‘snuggly’ warm…

And in the Spring, Summer, and even the Fall (depending on your climate – your mileage may vary) … it’s like living in the outdoors! Talk about an inspiration! This would make me WANT to get up and greet the day!

Now, if that don’t make you wanna break out that treadmill, I don’t know what will…

I mean, you don’t want to scare the neighbors… or DO you? Hmmm?

If you built this out of SIPs, and then installed it on tracks, you could open and close it using an electric motor (powered by photovoltaic panels, naturally). It would be easy… using, say… something like a garage door opener motor, or even an old 4wd truck winch. Just apply a little bit of  “Grey matter” (but not as “track lubricant! OUCH!) and you’d have a push-button house to rival some of that stuff you see on MTV Cribs! 😉

Now where’d I put that “man-thong?” It’s time to play, “Mess with the neighbor’s minds…” Muuuwahahahah!

Hey! If they didn’t want nightmares… then they shouldn’t have looked!  😉

Stay tuned!

The Renaissance Ronin

All About “B.O.B.”

18 Nov

Welcome back!

To another exciting episode of:

“What’s that Shipping Container Idiot up to now?”

The other day a friend of mine (yeah… Ronin has a friend… didn’t think it was possible, did you? Huh?) and I were talking about the number of people who subscribed to our blogs using RSS and the like.

Now SHE has about eleventy-gillion subscribers, because her blog is;

  • (a) well written and readable,
  • (b) very informative and…
  • (c) even “catchy” and entertaining!

Plus, people actually “like” her. She teaches them really cool (and very affordable) “green stuff” to enhance their lives and brighten their day!

My blog, as we all know… is;

  • rambling to the point of documented psychosis,
  • incoherent to the point of wondering if I missed my med’s that day, and…
  • “Excedrin Headache #205”  waiting to happen to anyone foolish enough to try to digest it.

I suspect that people tune in here to watch “the train wreck” that occurs on each page… 😉

And I realized that (not unlike just about everything else on the planet) I had no clue as to how to figure out the answer. I mean, if I had all the answers, would I be living in a horrible hovel in Mississippi?

I think not. 🙂

So, I went to a forum filled with people whose brain cells actually touch each other… and asked about how one figures out these “complicated and mysterious things…”

I was recently contacted by a “programmer type” who was answering said inquiry about how I could determine the number of people whose minds I had bent… in my attempt at recruiting more “Corten Cronies…” 🙂

We traded some information, and he did a little bit of checking, and it turns out that I have over 20,000 subscribers to my RSS feed.

How he determined that, I have no idea. There’s gotta be some kind of mistake. That number CAN’T be right… It’s IMPOSSIBLE.

I PRAY that it’s wrong. Why? Because if it’s right (and it can’t be…), all I know is that I’m gonna be looking at  defending myself in a “class action lawsuit” when those 20,000+ people get together and decide to prosecute me for filling their head with “Corten Craziness.”

Now… as I’m a Jew (hey, you all know that… right?) I’m used to persecution… so… bring it on! 😉

As a “Container Cult Leader…” I can only say that I’m just trying to “spread the word among the pilgrims…”

And, after all, somebody has to lead us to the “promised land…” huh? Might as well be me.

I’m gonna have to do some more homework on this one, because if I have a bunch of RSS “follower’s…” the rubes…  🙂 …
… then my “view” count (not my “bodycount”) should jump quite a bit, with each published post. And by gauging that,  I can  start compiling data that I might be able to find useful. You know, stuff like which posts do well and point to stuff I can fill your minds with, to further cloud the issues with facts. Wait… you’ll get the posts whether you want them or not, in an RSS situation, right? Oy Vey…
I wonder… Is “RSS post retrieval” considered some “other” kind of server action, thus  it doesn’t actually get processed through a counter system I can see? Hell, I don’t know.  All this is giving ME a headache.

So… back to the show;

As you probably already know my family has decided to irritate just about everyone on the planet, for daring to stray outside the box… by wanting to live in one. At least, that’s the neighbor’s consensus…

While the idiots… um… er…  “authorities” in Mississippi continue to “debate” the merit of our home project, we’re helping other people (who fortunately live in areas where people are using theirs brains for something besides fertilizing their hair) build THEIR ISBU homes.

This is frustrating, but I’ll tell you, it definitely has moved us to looking beyond the borders of this backwater State, to find a suitable home, for our home. And that search continues, with vigor.

Why… just the other day I was talking about going out to the garage and loading up the car…

Corten_Car1Yep, ‘leftover’ Corten Steel makes great panels for auto body work too! 🙂

And heading for greener pastures. But then I remembered… we ain’t even GOT a car, much less a garage.

But, we’re working on it… 🙂

When I’m not researching… I’m packing stuff up, just so we have a little bit more room around here. You’d be surprised just how much space this little tiny kid takes up…

Ever step on a Hot Wheels car in bare feet at 3am in the dark… trying to get to the bathroom? I’ve actually learned to suppress a scream of pain!

Now that’s a handy survival skill!  Ole’ Freddie Kruger and his hatchet won’t know I’m hiding in the closet! 🙂

Where was I? Oh yeah…

Right now, I’m boxing up old DVD movies that we haven’t watched in a while… And…

I have a DVD of a cartoon movie called Titan AE…

… in that movie, “no-good rotten S.O.B.’s” blow up the earth, and the heroes (who barely escape the disaster as children) grow up to fight like dogs against the high-tech bad guys… until they finally overcome insurmountable odds, danger, death threats, and airline food…  and create a new planet.

titan_ae

And, they named that planet… “Bob.”

A while back, I told you about an affordable “alternative housing”  solution I’d come up with… instead of those plastic domes you see bandied around everywhere…

And, I called it… you guessed it… “BOB.”

That’s short for “Bug Out Box” to those of you who aren’t savvy in “b@stardized survivalist lingo…”

Actually, a BOB is really a designation for a “bug out bag”, but we thought BOL (Bug Out Location) sounded stupid… 🙂

If we’d have titled this post “All About BOL” you wouldn’t have gotten it and we couldn’t have included both a reference to TITAN AE and a chance to further immortalize “the BOB” – Bob Vila…

And, I got a lot of heat for it. Surprisingly, I got even more heat than I anticipated. But, most of it wasn’t from people claiming I’d ambushed Intershelter’s polycarbonate dome project…

And, it wasn’t from people who were mad because I took the “name of Bob in vain…” 🙂

All Hail “THE Bob.”

It was from people who thought that an Emergency Shelter that only enclosed 300 square feet was a dead end!

Now, I’m betting these same people pack up the SUV and go camping in the summertime, in a tent or even an RV that is MUCH smaller than the octagonal shelter that I suggested could be built… for pennies on the dollar, compared to “off-the-shelf” housing solutions.

Lemme see… the average 9’x10′ is only 90 square feet, with no room to go UP. Even if it’s something cool like this:

custom_camping_tentIt’s not gonna be more than about 120 square feet…

But wait! There’s MORE!

f “your tent has wheels…” the national average for RV’s is right at about 20′ (according to national auto insurance surveys I read) and we all know that the maximum width for an RV is right at about 8′.

Ya like that curly-cue “I” thingy? I just wanted to demonstrate how much style and sophistication I possess…  I just usually don’t waste it on “the likes of you!”  😉

So, there’s 160 square feet, plus a loft or two, maybe. 200 square feet, tops.  And, I guarantee you that RV or trailer is gonna cost you way more than $6200, if you bought anything with any quality built into it.

So, from where I’m standing, 310 square feet sounds pretty luxurious. But just for the sake of argument, let’s see where this “dead-end” octagon get’s you.

If you build it the way I described it, you have this:

Octagon BOBIt’s  310 “clear-spanned”  square feet, to cut up any way you please. I could easily sleep 12 men in there, if I had to. And, I’d have room for all of their gear.

But, if you delete just one wall, and “you did the math….” (remember the “pop quiz?”) you’ll install a 20′ shipping container into that pre-engineered 8′ x9.6″ opening, and you have this:

Octagon BOB-r2Now, if you were to put your kitchen, a storage pantry, and a bathroom into that 20′ “add-on,” all your plumbing would essentially be in the same place.  There IS space for all three, you just have to get creative.

Build a galley kitchen and you’ll get about 16′ of countertop out of that kitchen (8′ on each side), and a huge pantry right behind it. Your kitchen at home may not even be that large. Build that pantry “galley style” too (gaining yourself several deep shelves on each side), and you’ll have a passageway back to a big over-sized bathroom in the rear. Yes, a washing machine will fit in there, too. It’s not gonna be a cave, either. We’ll plug in some strip windows over the top of the kitchen and pantry to add some daylight.

The bathroom will get windows of it’s own, so it will be “bright and airy.” I guar-unnnn-tee!

NOTE: NO Dryer. It takes too much energy to dry clothes that way… especially when you’re making your own power or trying to make ends meet during hard times. Hang your clothes outside and let the sun work on ’em. They’ll smell better, too!

If you have to have a dryer, then just reduce the size of the pantry and put the washer and dryer across from each other, ya big wuss! 🙂

addendum: If you’re MADRIGORNE… I guess that you can have a dryer. Nobody likes doing “frozen clothing” aerobics. But no one, else… the rest of you are all “wussies…” 😉

Okay, back to the basics;

Now, you have a big open “gathering/sleeping room,” and a “kitchen wing.” And that ISBU connection was pretty easy, even for you! 😉

But wait! There’s MORE…

I bet you could do it a few more times. After all, an octagon has (8) sides, right?

So, instead of buying (1) 20′ container, and just hacking the doors off of it…

Buy (3) more 20′ High Cube containers. Don’t buy 40′ boxes and cut them up like we did the first time. You CAN do it, but it’s hard work. And, the building inspector will drive you crazy with requests for engineering formulas and “proof.” So let’s just spend a few more dollars, and get rid of a bunch of headaches. Okay? Okay? Hey! I’m talking to YOU. 😉

Now, you WILL have to modify your roof  slightly, to allow for that new section of roof (over the new ISBU) to kiss it,  but it will be well worth it. (I suggest putting a Hip Roof over the 20′ box sections. A Hip Roof is strong, durable,  really weather resistant. I’d top it all off with Standing Seam Metal Roofing.)

And, hey… while you’re at it… weld the angled corner braces from the old wall sections to each side of the container openings, and you’ll get an incredibly (and I mean INCREDIBLY) strong box.  After you do that, it’ll look like this:


Now, I went ahead and drew in some interior walls for you, but it’s just to demonstrate just how much room you end up with. Plugging those (4) sections of ISBU into the Octagon grants you the ability to house a pretty good sized family, and guarantee that everyone has their own space.

In the Master bedroom, note that there is a built-in shelving system (right across from the closet) that will hold pull-out baskets for clothes. It’ll hold 24 (1 cubic foot+) baskets – 2 for you, and 22 for her… After all, a man’s gotta have a place to put his socks and skivvies, right?

You’ll also get a coat closet (so that all your “survivalist friends” will think you’re “royalty”…) and an “office” right behind that, so you can jump on the computer and play games, to wile away the hours out of sight of your better half.  After all, if she can see you, you’re not out doing chores, huh? 🙂

The configuration I’ve shown you would allow a family of 6 to live “out and away” for quite a while, in relative comfort. And, they could do it pretty affordably.

container-bedroomA nice place for Mom and Dad to bed down…

Just add a well, a septic tank, a solar panel or two for hot water production, and an array of photovoltaic panels, or even a wind turbine for power (electricity) and you’d be “totally off-grid and definitely in style.”

If you want to go a step further, add a greenhouse and a water tank/cistern.

As you can see, it’s very “doable” by anyone that can use basic hand tools.

IBH-BEDROOMYou could do this in your kid’s room REALLY easy.

And it’d happen fast, fast, fast…

It just might have to, ‘cuz my wife gets pretty P.O.’d with me sometimes… 😉

I gotta go now. I’m working on a project in a “borrowed” garage… And man, these plywood 4×8’s are heavy!  🙂

Stay tuned.

The Renaissance Ronin

“Ronin’s Reconstruction” Tips

16 Nov

Welcome to the fray!

I get email. Hoo boy, do I get email…

And although a lot of it is just character assassination and accusations about the alleged depth (of lack thereof) of my gene pool…

Mother(Thanks… MOM.)  This coming from a woman who turned “40” about 12 freakin’ times… OY!

Anyway… I get email from “readers”… “demanding” answers!

Like I “owe” them answers for some strange reason… It’s not like I’m doing this for a living… As if… 😉

So, I’m gonna take one  email question a week, and answer that question here.

We’re gonna call it; “Ronin’s Reconstruction And Recycling Rodeo…”

Or… “RRRR” for short. It’ll be easy to remember. It’s that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach, every time you tune in here…  🙂

So, let’s just jump right in there, shall we?

After all, the water can’t be that deep…

Q. “Ronin, you’re a moron! The walls of a Shipping Container are M-E-T-A-L. If I put the insulation on the OUTSIDE, like you suggest… How in the hell am I supposed to run power lines in the rooms? I mean… where do you put electrical outlets on that kinda stuff? This is just Corten Craziness!”

A. Ronin’s Electricity 101;

Here’s how to do Corten Castle Electrical… Guerrilla style.

You’re building a container home and you can’t figure out how to install electrical outlets for all your crap… after all, that lava lamp has to plug into something, huh? So, what better way to vent your frustration, than to whine at ME… Oy, you have  a lot of nerve…  🙂

Well, you trouble-making, demanding, cry-baby… I’d like to take about three paragraphs, and just … um… er… never mind.  I got blood pressure problems enough already, thaaaaaank you very much…  😉

But… in keeping with my “kinder, gentler philosophy on life in general…” the solution to your power problem is really quite simple.

Run your flooring to within 5″- 6″ of the walls.

Now… run your electrical and your outlets down in that created “gap.” Why? Because now you have a trough between your flooring, and the wall, right? Just make sure that it’s deep enough for your box, and the plug sticking into it.

Drop some recycled rain gutter material into it if you want. You can find it salvage for almost nothing.

Now… Cover the area over the top of it with some metal grating.

iron-age-design-cast-metal-grates

You can find it on-line, or in a catalog. If you do this, you have an affordable (and attractive) application that;

  • (a) saves you money…  (from all the flooring you “didn’t” install…)
  • (b) versatility in your use of outlets and location, and…
  • (c) gives your room a really cool contemporary look…

All “without violating the sanctity of the wall surfaces.”

You’ll easily save a few hundred bucks on flooring this way, and you gain the ability to change things whenever you want. There are literally hundreds of styles to choose from.

Just make sure that your plugs will fit through the grating cut-outs.

The idea is to run your cord straight down, and into the outlet, through the grating. That trough is even gonna be large enough to allow you to tuck a power strip or surge protector into it.

And, when you decide to completely rearrange your room, it’s pretty easy to move the outlets around, if you need to.

And, the by-product is that NOW you can push stuff up against the walls without having to allow those extra inches for the freakin’ power cords and those plugs… Man, that drives me crazy! 🙂

FYI: You can frequently find this “grate stuff” in recycling bins, or even salvage yards. If you’re up to doing a little bit of “clean up and restore” elbow grease, you can achieve something really spectacular,  for a little bit of change.

It’s a great way to add some character to a project.

See, that wasn’t so hard.

Okay… next chump… er… um… question?

Stay tuned.

The Renaissance RoninNo innocent drywall was harmed in the production of this blog post. However, that last house “I” did? Hoo Boy, that drywall was screamin! Your mileage may vary. Why? Because some of us drive V10s, and some of us ride bicycles… Your Momma tells you not to run with scissors.  Know why? She wants to be the one to make you suffer… Wait… that’s just Jewish moms… Never mind… Milk does a body good… unless somebody is drowning you in it, or they hit you on the head with the bottle… Ain’t you got anything better to do? Go on! Git!

Sailing the Prairie and planking the palace…

15 Nov

Come and listen to a story ’bout a man named Jed…

Lately, I’ve been writing about a village that’s being created out of separate ISBU segments, transformed into modules specific to fulfilling a defined task.

Apparently, it boggles the minds of some of my readers, that anyone would address the concept of actually having to walk from one space to another, to accomplish a task.

Where in the world would we get such a crazy idea?

Are we nuts?

Did we grow up raised by wolves?

Are we (gasp!) Democrats?

(Sorry, just threw that last one in for “sport…”) 🙂

You’d think we were hankering for a return to the Stone Age, but we’re not. Okay, maybe just a little bit… “Bubba’s hunting Brontosauruses…” Can you imagine what a funny reality TV show THAT would be?  Makes me laugh just thinkin’ about it! 🙂

Where was I? Oh yeah…

Remember…  not all that far back in our Nations great history, brave families braved the planet, by doing exactly what we’re suggesting.

They sailed the plains and prairies in Conestoga Wagons, and then got out their handy dandy “Ronco Chop-a-matics“…

By the way… they even had “bio-fuel” back then… ‘cept… they actually ATE the corn… 🙂

And they built log homes out of sweat, blood, and a lot of profanity, let me tell you!

Bales1

How do I know this? Well, I’ve actually participated in the building of a log home or two, and lemme tell you… the language around those sites can make a sailor blush!

“Puritans” my butt! I bet that they swore like “Bikers at a buttkicking contest!” They did too! YOU try living like they did… 🙂

Where I live… If you get on Highway 49 headed North, from Gulfport, Mississippi and head toward Hattiesburg and Jackson (the State Capital), you can still see some of these “homespun” structures housing families, to this very day. Keep driving up into the heart of Tennessee, and you’ll find them used as “monuments.”

And… a large majority of those cabins turned out to be “two-roomers.”

Take this plan, for instance;

2roomerSome of them still have old highway billboards being used as roofing material. I kid you not!

And hey! If you look closely… you can even see the origins of “housing terminology” that we still use today…

Words like “breezeway” for instance… It came from the term “dog trot.” It was the place where the DOG trotted between the houses two structures. In the Deep South,  the term “dog trot” is still used, to this very day.

When those “Son and Daughters of the South…  and all parts in between” needed more space, they just built another “pen.”

Hey, don’t blame me… that’s what they called them!

Separate buildings were necessary… It’s because you can’t really expand an “interlocking log” cabin, because you need the corners to hold it up.

So, we’re changing the name of our project, from “the Ewok Village on Acid” to “The Demented Dog Trots of Dixie.”

Just thought that you should know…

Stay tuned.

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

If this blog has helped you, educated you, amused you, or even just made you shake your head and wonder why I’m not locked up in some room clad with rubber tiles…

Please know that this site has required a great deal of money, time and effort to develop & maintain. If it’s been useful to you at all, and you can afford to… You can help my family and support this site by making a small donation by hitting that Paypal button up there on the right.

Paypal is the VERY BEST “secure” way to donate to any cause… like ours.

This will help keep us alive while we try to remedy our own situation, and empower me to carry on writing, maintaining, providing countless hours of hard work, and including any updates or topics that you might suggest.

And… No anatomical impossibilities, huh? I’m not as young as I used to be…

Building on the Frontier – ISBU style!

13 Nov

Greetings, Campers!

Today, we’re going to answer that age old question…

How do you “guerrilla” around a 9,000 pound ISBU, when you don’t have a crane??

I’m about to show you how they do it in Nicaragua. It may be ugly… it may be risky… but it works.

Now, this isn’t the first ISBU (shipping container) house to be built in Nicaragua (like the builder claims)… far from it.  That part is an outright lie. They could be found there in the 80’s, when a lot of us were down there “playing peek-a-boo in very ballistic Banana Republics.”

Back in the heyday… United Foods used to bring them down, to load them up with produce headed for America. And, they used to just get up and walk away, in the middle of the night.

Now, the Russians used to bring them in too, in order to stuff them to the walls until they were bulging, and then send them back to Moscow laden with produce, after Chernobyl sterilized most of the Ukraine in the late 80’s.

I know that’s true, too, because we turned a lot of those containers (and the ships they were “attached” to) into “artificial reefs.”

So, they were plentiful.

I’ve actually been to places in Nicaragua that were constructed of ISBUs, whole villages wrapped in Corten Steel. In fact, we used to joke that we’d accidentally eaten something toxic and (upon awakening, after the fever finally broke) found ourselves in the middle of a bad Hollywood Sci Fi Movie set. We’re talk “Mad Max” here…”

You could find these places from San Juan Del Norte, north to Punta Gorda, and even further north to the Rio Escondido, for sure. We were never quite sure how they GOT there, as the nearest shipping port was quite a distance away.

You can also find them on the “good side” where all the surf camps are.

In remote locations such as these, we used tractor buckets, backhoes, and even Lulls, with straps thru shackles at the corner “points” to haul them around. It just takes a steady crew, and some guts.

And Nicaragua is trying to become the “Riviera of Central America.” These “fast-built” ISBU homes may just make some of that “aspiration” possible.

American dollars, fleeing a rapidly failing economy will do the rest… Hey, it ain’t Rio, but it’ll do… and it’s ten times better than Panama!

See more about this project, here: Tech-Nica

Stay tuned!

The Renaissance Ronin

To Dome, or not to Dome…

11 Nov

It’s me again…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, where was I? Oh yeah…

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

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

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

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

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

artic_domes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They look really cool!

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

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

Okay, I’ll give you that one…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instant shelter…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the one big problem with a dome…

Ever tried to live in a round room?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how I’D do it;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But for now;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cost for shell:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grand total:

$6,199.00    OR   $19.99 per square foot.

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

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

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

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

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

Back to “spendy-spendy…”:

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

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

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

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

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

Now, you’re down to $7,200.00.

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

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

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

… and a decent bathroom runs right at $2000.00;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A WEEK. TWO weeks… TOPS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Ronin… I have 8 kids…

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

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

POP QUIZ: Do the math.

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

Stay tuned.

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

If this blog has helped you, educated you, amused you, or even just made you shake your head and wonder why I’m not locked up in some room clad with rubber tiles…

Please know that this site has required a great deal of money, time and effort to develop & maintain. If it’s been useful to you at all, and you can afford to… You can help my family and support this site by making a small donation by hitting that Paypal button up there on the right.

Paypal is the VERY BEST “secure” way to donate to any cause… like ours.

This will help keep us alive while we try to remedy our own situation, and empower me to carry on writing, maintaining, providing countless hours of hard work, and including any updates or topics that you might suggest.

And… No anatomical impossibilities, huh? I’m not as young as I used to be…

Just when you thought it was safe to go into the water…

9 Nov

Greetings…

Grab your swim fins and masks, because we’re gonna get wet today.

No! We’re not “free-diving” looking for lost shipping containers to salvage in our quest to build a home! There are enough of them parked on our shores already! Mountains of them!

pirate-snorkeling

You see, we should at least get as wet as the knuckleheads in Congress, who see nothing wrong with piling so much debt onto our already aching backs, that we can’t labor under the load.

Wait… that’s not it…

But, the water IS getting deeper.

There’s talk of postponing the actual release of hundreds of thousands of tax credit claims, due to fraud.

The guys hiding behind those steel desks at the Internal Revenue Service are examining more than 200,000 suspicious claims for the first-time home-buyer tax break.

I just wrote a post about this credit. You did read it, right?

Well, it’s just another sign of trouble for the soon-to-expire “give-away” program.

Now, I recently told you about this bill, so that you wouldn’t get scared when you heard all that howling outside, as builders try to pry more money out of Congress, in the form of an extension to the “first-time home buyer” tax credit.

In February, those wizards in Congress adopted a measure as part of the economic-stimulus bill, that gives first-time buyers an $8,000 tax credit. This was done in an effort to boost sales and stimulate the hemorrhaging housing market.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, so the program is set to end Nov. 30, 2009.

But… builders, housing-industry leaders, and lobbyists by the busload are lobbying those poltroons in Congress to extend it.

In fact, lobby money is flying around Washington DC right now, like hornets after that naughty rock-wielding kid who challenged their nest! 🙂

According to records, over one million claims for the credit have been received so far, and experts have estimated that the credit has helped generate over a quarter of a million home sales (conservatively) that wouldn’t (and probably couldn’t have) otherwise occurred.

But there’s trouble brewing… Some lawmakers and tax experts now say there is evidence that a significant number of the claims might prove to be unjustified, or even fraudulent.

Why? Because Congress knows the smell of crime when they smell it. They’re used to it. You can’t go to Capitol Hill without having to hold your nose…

“I am concerned about recent reports that there have been fraudulent schemes involving the credit,” Rep. John Lewis (D., Ga.), chairman of a House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee, said in a statement. The subcommittee is planning a hearing on the problems on Thursday.

Why? Because there will be cameras there! It’s better than a CSPAN BBQ!

The IRS says that it is currently investigating several hundred “criminal schemes” involving the credit, but because of  “legal requirements,” IRS officials declined to describe the suspected schemes or provide any additional details.

The National Director of AARP Tax-Aide, Bonnie Speedy, which is a volunteer service for low-income people, suggested that criminal abuse of the home-purchase credit appeared to be running rampant, in part because of relatively loose standards for claiming the credit in the first place.

The credit “has some fraud issues because it’s not being done at the time of the sale,” said Ms. Speedy. “People are filing for the home credit who don’t have a right to file for it.”

You see… the taxpayers don’t have to file their claims as part of any on-going real-estate transaction. All you have to do is file or amend their income-tax returns to claim the $8,000 bucks in the form of a credit.

I “googled” her, so I could include a photo, but all I found was a girl on MySpace, and a porn star… Oh well…

An IRS spokesman said the agency “will vigorously pursue those who filed fraudulent claims” for the credit.

And we know what that means… Bite marks in your butt, for sure. The IRS pursues money, like bears pursue campers in the possession of honey.

You in a heap O’ trouble now, boy… 😉

“The IRS recognizes that there is a potential for fraud whenever a new refundable tax credit … is put in place,” agency spokesman Frank Keith said. “As we began implementing this credit in the days after the Recovery Act legislation was passed, we also identified the different  types of potential fraud, and matched our compliance program to those abuses.”

A spokesman for the National Association of Realtors, Lucien Salvant, said, “Any time there is a lot of money around, there is going to be people attracted to it with evil intent.”

Like, for instance… Realtors trying to close a deal… 🙂

Okay, that was uncalled for… I apologize…

I left out Real Estate Lawyers… 🙂

(Ain’t I a stinker?” 🙂

Housing-industry officials recently have stepped up their lobbying for an extension of the credit.

But, I already told you that. You WERE paying attention, right? 🙂

The builders want an extension… say… like about 12 months. And let’s just forget about this “first – time buyer” nonsense, huh? How about you guys make it apply to EVERYBODY? Hmmm?

“Our fragile economy is just beginning to show signs of recovery,” the letter says. “We should not jeopardize that recovery by letting this tax credit expire.”

That Realtor guy I quoted earlier? Well… Mr. Salvant said the industry groups weren’t suggesting any changes to the credit policy aimed at diminishing possible fraud.

Why not? Well, according to a Realtor I spoke with this morning…  that would make people leery of using that credit, and those deals wouldn’t get past the shadow of the front porches of all those empty houses.

Get this:

One proposal by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R., Ga.) and others to extend the credit and make it available to all home buyers through June 2010 carries a price tag of about $16.7 billion.

That proposal would raise the income ceiling for eligible home buyers to $150,000 per year for an individual and $300,000 for a couple. Currently the credit phases out for individuals earning more than $75,000 and married couples earning more than $150,000.

What do my favorite “think tank guru’s” say about all of this?

Ted Gayer, an economist at the Brookings Institution, a liberal think tank based in Washington, estimated that the current credit costs the government about $43,000 for each additional home sale it generates, because most of the two million or so home buyers expected to claim the credit would have bought a house anyway. Expanding the credit to all home buyers would raise the government’s cost per additional home sale to more than $250,000, he said.

Yikes… That mountain of debt is getting higher. I hope our children and grandchildren can find enough oxygen masks…

Oy.

Stay tuned.

The Renaissance RoninLook, I’m a “housing advocate.” Of course I want you to have a house! It’s my GOAL.
But, I don’t want to force everybody else to pay for it, for decades.
I want my kids to at least have a chance for success, without having to operate under a monumental mountain of debt created by idiots… that will enslave them and destroy their chance for a bright future, before they even reach puberty! Capish?

Is Caffeine a gateway drug to Heroin? :)

6 Nov

It might be – if you’re a Realtor… right about now.

It’s me again… That “Corten Crusader on a Metal Mitzvah…” clad in several mils of oxidizing steel, seemingly “courting disaster… while courting your conscience.”

Try saying THAT three times fast… It’s harder than trying to choke down your Bubbeleh’s awful latke’s… without hurting her feelings!
(That’s “Grannie’s terrible pancakes” to you Gentiles out there!!) 😉

For the last 18 months, my family has been traveling down that rock-strewn road that will ultimately lead to finally having a safe, affordable, and sustainable home for our family.

Now, in our case, most of the rocks and pitfalls have come in the form of “authority,” as in… “NO! You can’t do that here, you idiot!”

It seems that ISBUs – Shipping Containers (and the use of alternative materials in general) is a topic vastly misunderstood in Mississippi.  This in a State pioneered by folks who built shelter with anything they could find.

I mean… there are houses within a few minutes driving distance of my home that have old billboards used for roofing material…

Admit it, you’ve seen all those “historic record” type movies… How ironic!

So, since I have no problem beating people to death with facts, I’ve taken up the banner and I’ve marched boldly into the fray (like Joan of Arc, but with far hairier legs), to get bloodied, so that you’ll have somebody to laugh at! 🙂

This blog is evidence of that on-going battle.

And while I’m demonstrating that these steel boxes can indeed become a part of your own affordable housing solution, I get bombarded with questions.

OY VEY! Do I get questions!

Now, admittedly… most of them are “mental health” questions and questions about the safety of my family – “whose ship is quite obviously being piloted by an idiot…” if I’m to believe what I read.

… but I have thick skin, and a delete button (which is just about worn out!), so…

Where was I? Oh yeah…

I keep getting asked;

“Ronin, why should I even consider building when houses are available, and money is cheap, now?”

Argh! Here we go again…

Okay… Look… It ain’t as good as you think… Housing slumped again, in September, and it’s looking grim for October, too…

You only have to examine all that data lurking behind the figures to see that “things are not good at all in Bedrock.”

The $8,000 “first-time homeowners” tax credit boosted sales numbers temporarily, but the “money cops” (the IRS)  are now saying that there were approximately 100,000 investigated cases of fraud:

Check out this article in the Wall Street Journal.

Later circulated reports have put that fraud number at closer to 200,000.

How long do you think it will be before those homes end up in foreclosure, the way things are going?? House prices haven’t stabilized. These are young folks with first homes. Who loses jobs first? Young folks not all that high up on the feed chain.

I’m afraid that once again… the idiots in Congress have demonstrated that they’ve learned nothing from the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

So what if the home buyer tax credit succeeded in (artificially) boosting demand. This led to an uptick in home prices which (with high unemployment and frozen lending markets) leads to that much less affordability going forward. That’s just brilliant!

And frankly, I find it ironic that politicians assail businesses for having a ‘short term, gotta get that quarterly profit’ view while those same politicians are just as guilty of such nearsighted vision! After all, they’re the ones passing bone-headed legislation for short term political gain… at the expense of long term recovery and prosperity. Duh!

Who’s the idiot NOW? Hmmmm? See? I’m not so dumb… I’m just “slow.” 🙂

Look, the “Cash for Houses” program (in other words, the “first timer” tax credit) is just another way of bailing out the banks. It really has nothing to do with soothing the ills of families across America. I’m not sure how many readers realize this.

“Cash for Housing” is nothing more that yet another attempt to artificially support housing prices so the banks don’t have to mark down the values of these “assets.” Hello?

But wait, there’s more…

Some of you email to tell me that in your neighborhoods… home prices are going up. Okay? But WHY are they going up?

Here’s why “some” of it happens:

The crooked bankers are at it again by “artificially inflating” demand and prices.

Here’s how they do it;

There are literally thousands of bank owned homes available for sale, that have been “held in inventory.”

Here’s the game (the way it was described to me);

* Bankers take the homes out onto the market one at a time.
* They lower the price until at least two buyers come in.
* After they get the offers… they go back and force the buyers to start bidding against each other.
* And if one buyer decides not to play, the second buyer basically bids against himself…

Those Jerks! But where did they learn it?

Well… some unscrupulous Real Estate agents have been doing it for decades!

It’s unethical, but it’s hardly “new.” It’s been going on since the beginnings of the Real Estate market.  Now, not all Realtors do this… Nuh – uh!  Mind you, it’s just the greedy ones!

(Now if know a Realtor like this, just email me his/her address. I’ll have one of my “minion” put a flaming paper bag full of  poop on their doorstep! It doesn’t matter what “market” they are in… cuz’ “I’m Everywhere!” Muwahahahah!)

That’s how “some” home prices are going up. There is the potential for an incredibly large home inventory on the market right now. But, how do you protect it, and keep it profitable? Well… bankers can inflate the home and their stock prices, so people are forced to pay more than the current market value.

But intelligent home buyers with at least enough brain cells to rub together (thus starting a fire) won’t fall for it, because they acted diligently, did a good market assessment, and then developed a buying plan from there. Anyone dumb enough to overpay for something because they think that somebody might be bidding against them is an idiot, and they deserve what they get. Says Me.

Will this activity help “inflate” a local market?

Yes. But, it’s not anyone’s fault but the buyers. The rubes…  Remember that old tune?

“LET THE BUYER BEWARE!”

(Let him/her be SMART… too.)

Here’s something else to think about, though;

Banks don’t have control over all of the houses out there that can be put up for sale, so there can’t possibly be a monopoly, right?

While the economy is in the crapper, there are still people with enough money to buy housing. Let’s face it, if you have the money and enough brain cells to start a fire… NOW is a really good time to spend it on real estate.

Evictions are still happening, and they’re just as likely to happen to people who still have jobs and money, whose homes are “under water” (a condition that occurs when a home is no longer worth the existing balance on the mortgage) – so they  just pack up and walk away.

There are plenty of facts to justify price increases during a recession even without any monopoly players – that’s simply Economics 101 (or maybe Economics 102… I forget which)… and it does add up.

But there’s another pair of icebergs looming in the water. They’re called “Alt-A & Commercial real estate.” These two pools are much bigger than the sub-prime market that is hemorrhaging now.

And… that wave of foreclosures is just beginning. Analysts are saying that those foreclosures won’t end until late 2012 or early 2013.

“But Ronin? What the heck is ‘Alt-A’ financing?”

Alternative-A (Alt-A) financing is basically loans for people who have better credit than subprime borrowers…  but their credit may not qualify them for the best loans and the lowest rates. Or, to put it simpler… Alt-A borrowers may have solid credit, but they may want financing which is more risky than conventional mortgages.

Why would anyone want “risks” at all, associated with their mortgage? The Nimrods… 🙂

But, soon… that tsunami will break on the shores of “broke and desperate beach” and…

… then I guarantee that all hell will break loose. If you think the market is bad now, just wait… Realtors and developers will be throwing themselves off the top of those skyscrapers, right and left…

realtors_leapMan, if they could just grab hold of a lawyer, or better yet… a politician…  before they jump off… then… um…er… never mind! Just kidding…. sorta… there aren’t enough hands to grasp enough politicians… mumble, mumble… 😉

Look, like anything else, you just have to use common sense, and think for yourself. That’s what marks the difference between a guy like Warren Buffet and that chump brother-in-law of yours, who consistently loses all his rent money.

Look, if you HAVE the money… I’m not saying that you shouldn’t buy real estate. Just use a reputable Realtor, understand that prices will continue falling, and negotiate  your purchase accordingly.

However… if you don’t have money, or you’re trying to get a loan to buy a house, you may have a tough road to hoe.

And then… what we are doing with these ISBUs may look like a really good idea.

It’s all up to you… Your Mileage May Vary.

Stay tuned.

The Renaissance RoninOkay Clark… Lemme have it… 🙂

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

5 Nov

Greetings, Campers!

Okay, so I took a break from that plasma cutter.

A guy has to eat, you know! 🙂

My family needs a house. My family has no cash. My family has a plan… and it involves Shipping Containers, recycled steel, and a lot of hard work. Hey, that’s why they call it “sweat equity”!

Most readers of this blog know that after a hurricane and an insurance company wiped out our dreams of  “a life lived like regular people”, we started rebuilding.

Katrina Bites

And, our faithful readers know that our build is harder than most, because we have “complications.” My wife is seriously ill with cancer, and my son (who is 2 years old) isn’t big enough to swing a hammer yet.

I’m not going to bore you with all those details, because I’ve talked about them before. Suffice to say, we have our hands really full.

As we speak, I’m cutting “containers into boxes.” I’m helping a guy build a small “demented village”, out of damaged container segments. And, that’s work that will make a fella mighty hungry…

So, as I sit here watching the sweat rain down, for the 37th day in a row (or so it seems) …

I’m gathering my thoughts, while I gather up this sandwich, and stuff it into my face.

sandwichNote: Not the REAL sandwich. You think I’m crazy? This one’ll kill you!  😉

So… you read, while I eat, ‘kay? Try to ignore the chomping and slurping… my wife does… barely… 🙂

I was out reading on the ‘net a few days ago, and something I read made me think about a guy I’ve been corresponding with for a while.

A reader recently contacted me (we’ll call him “J”), and told me about a “Corten Cabin” he has… stashed up in the woods. It’s what some of us would call a “Bug – Out Box”.

Now, “J” contacted me, because his box looks just like my old blog header, except for his box is twice as long.

cropped-rr-banner-0509cYou remember… this one.

“J” has a 40′ High Cube Shipping Container sitting on cinder blocks, out in the middle of nowhere, that he uses for weekend fishing trips.

There’s a logging road for access, unmaintained for years… that’s passable when it’s not under mud, or frozen under snow drifts.

The story he told me of them towing that container into the woods was hilarious.

His father-in-law wasn’t laughing, however… It was HIS truck they blew up moving that box.

Know how much it costs to get a tow-truck back into 4wd country, to haul out a dodge pick-up? Go on, guess!

More than the truck is worth. Oy.

It reminded me of a box we moved years ago, that kept trying to drag us back down the hill, before we got to the top of it…

You know how people say that when they’re facing their death, their life flashes before their eyes? Well, on THAT day, it kept happening to us over and over again…

After a while, all we could do was hang on, and scream “Deja VU!” at the top of our lungs…

Sure, we sounded like frightened little girls! We were scared “you-know-what!”  🙂

Wait… this post is supposed to be about “J”.

While he goes up there on weekends in the summer, he’s thinking that “with the economy trying to kill itself”, his family may be forced to head there someday, to ride out whatever “chaos and storm” the “hard times to come” might bring…

Now, we’re all nervous. You can’t watch cable TV without some “expert” saying that it’s time America either “checked up, or packed it in.”

We’ve all heard “it.” You know, the “experts” touting their “fearmongering” crap… “All nations eventually fail. Yada, yada, yada…”

I suspect that this is in part due to Cable TV shows like “The Colony” that advocate forward thinking rolled into a nice tight ball, to form a dysfunctional view of what survival in our times may end up being like, if you’re a complete idiot…

colony

I’ve watched a few of these “disaster simulators”. You know, “here’s a look at what happens, when the “you-know-what” finally hits the fan”.

Everybody has a scenario. Everybody is sensationalizing our plummet to a grim capitalistic  death. Everybody is speculating… Everybody is plotting…

But  you know… we may not all get stranded with a rocket scientist, an electrical engineer, a mechanic, a nurse, a martial arts expert, and a doctor, yada… yada… yada…

We might get stranded by our “onesies.” So, we should understand what we’re doing, in case the cavalry doesn’t show up in time to make any repairs.

Or worse, we’ll inherit that drunk jerk up the street. You know the one…

… he’s always passed out on the lawn, none of his cars run (and he’s got eight of ’em), and he’s always getting his lights turned off. The cops are always at his house… and his wife is always at YOUR house, “borrowing” groceries. Yeah, they’re gonna be a lot of help… Oy.

It’s why I also advocate knowing how to safely use and maintain personal firearms. And tasers… lets not forget tasers…

Like  I was saying…  before I so rudely interrupted myself… “J” thinks that if the world goes to hell in a handbasket, he and his family (he’s married with 4 children aged from 3-9) might have to be up there in his “bass box” the winter time, and he reminds me that it’s REMOTE.

There are no neighbors. There is no store. Walmart ain’t got there yet…

There’s just your wife yelling at you because you forgot the big Sam’s Club carton of toilet paper!  “Ya Dumb Moron!!” 🙂

He’ll have whatever he hauls in with his small SUV, and that’s it. He doesn’t want to rely on propane, or any other type of “store-bought” fuel, simply because it might not be available.

There’s a neat little bass lake about 200 feet from his front porch.

basslake

He says you can spit into the pond, and catch a big, fat bass. (So, they won’t lack for protein.) Hence the name “Bass Box.” Paying attention? Huh?

The box isn’t anything to write home about, it’s just a big shipping container. Except for insulation and siding on the outside, it’s a regular box.

The box sits with the front face (40′) facing a few degrees of due south. It wasn’t “a solar plan”, it’s just the way the site worked out.

Actually, the “real” story goes like this:

They argued for three hours about where “the perfect spot” for the box was. Finally, his big brother said:

“@%$^#&#*!!! IT GOES RIGHT DAMN HERE!”

And then he punched “J” right in the eye. Voila! Problem solved. 🙂

He (and his brother – who is no longer available for “cabin help,” by the way…) applied a waterproof membrane on the exterior of the box. They used a rubberized roofing membrane that you spray on. ‘Cept, they used paint rollers, so it’s REALLY thick…

Why?  Well, because they found 2 barrels of it… “just laying around, that nobody wanted”.

I know, I know… Don’t ask, don’t tell…

After they’d added more “water seal” to the box, they firred it out with 2×6’s.  This created cavities, and those cavities received about 4″ of PolyIso foam into the cavities.

When I asked him where he got the PolyIso foam boards, he told me that they’d;

“… found/commandeered/discovered the material from a vacant industrial real estate listing they had. It was just laying there collecting dust”.

“Real Estate Plunder”. Okay, works for me…

Don’t worry “J”… we won’t hold “logistical left-turns” against you. We might, however, hold it against you that you’re a (gasp!) realtor!

Say… do you know a guy named “Clark?” Hmmm? 🙂

He put some siding scraps over the insulation that they found on “a dead building project”…

Hmmmm… I’m not sure if “J” is a recycler, or a felon. Note to self: “If getting stuff from “J”… always get a signed receipt.” 🙂

Anyway, as near as I can figure, he’s got about an r20-r30 wall system (depending on which PolyIso rigid foam product it is, it ranges from about r5 to r8 per inch). So, he can “almost” hold heat in, once he gets it there.

I say “almost” because he ran out of insulation at the top of the box, so the roof is uninsulated.

But, he’d been thinking about some kind of clerestory roof anyway to bring in more summer sun. Right now, “J” has a flat roof with a pair of vents on top, that are identical to the one depicted in my old blog header image.

Steel ShedObviously, we’re going to pay some attention to this.

First, I’ll sue him for patent infringement… 🙂

You know what? I miss that old blog header. I think I’ll do my “Lazarus act” and resurrect it.

Seriously, a cool SHED roof would add headroom, a cool space for a few sleeping lofts, some additional storage, and a good opportunity for vents and windows to help with air movement and heat gain.

Plus we can use that roof pitch to catch water, and get rid of snow.

“J’s” back is gonna hurt for a week or two, by the time we’re done. Boy, I bet “J” wished he’d never heard of me, NOW…

Picture “J” sad. Poor “J.”

That just leaves the floor.

Shipping container floors are treated with serious insecticides and fungicides to keep alien bugs out of foreign ports.

Wood preservatives containing a number of organochlorine insecticides, including aldrin (no, not BUZZ Aldrin!), dieldrin, chlordane and lindane, are just the beginnings of the treatment that floors receive.

Although I know people who’d like to stuff Buzz Aldrin into a container… Oy!

I ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, rip these floors out.

You can’t EVER trust the shipper you got the container from. The labels denoting the presence of that toxin are often worn off, or even just missing. Because the containers are moved so often and with so many variables…  you can’t tell which ones got the toxic sprays just by looking.

Some containers escape without being sprayed or treated, but the only way to know for sure, is to take a sample of the floor out, and get it tested at a lab.

There’s are products that you can put on the floor to encapsulate them. That’ll seal the toxins in there, but they’ll still BE there. And, those products are expensive. We’ll go a different route.

Okay, all that accomplished, you’d have a “shelter”.

Inside, it’s spartan. It’s so bad that his wife won’t even go up there! Once you get through those big steel doors, you’re greeted by a few wooden shelves, a tiny wood stove, hammocks, and a blow-up mattress for a bed.

Did I forget to mention that they have a “shanty with a hole in the butt seat” kind of outhouse.

Oh yeah, they have an outhouse.

I bet he found THAT at a construction site, too… 🙂

He has a composting toilet, but it’s still in the box, in the garage. That’s kinda dumb… Lotta good it’s doing him, there! 🙂

Okay, he needs a bathroom, too.

And, he reminded me about 11 times that the box gets cold. So, we turn up the heat a bit.

He doesn’t want to try any “geothermal nonsense” (his words) because the container is already in place, and he couldn’t move it if he wanted to.

Actually, his exact words were;

“Ronin, don’t be giving me none of your Geothermal nonsense, I don’t like shovels, my friend…” 🙂

He doesn’t want to rely on solar panels, because he’s not a guy with a lot of money to set up a complete “off-grid” situation. The closest he’s come to that is a Harbor Freight photovoltaic set-up with a pair of small panels.

So, he has enough power for a laptop computer, a TV, and maybe a radio.

(I’m going to try and talk him into replacing that crap inverter, and adding a panel or two so that he can establish some kind of “real” electricity, for refrigeration and other necessities.)

With the world going digital, I wonder what TV signal he’d get? I’m thinking he uses a VCR or a DVD player… Remind me to check, okay?

He has a good water supply.

It’s a hand-pumped well that draws water from about 175 feet. If he wants a shower, he pumps water up into a black painted 55 gallon barrel on the roof of his container, and then gravity-feeds it to a showerhead.

This is great for one guy on a weekend, but it’s not gonna work for a “family in residence”. Nuh uh!

We need a solar powered pump, too.

BTW: The gray water from the shower, and doing the dishes goes out into the garden, that for now, only feeds the wild animals that live around his box.

That’s good, but we’ll do better.

They have a small swedish fireplace/stove combination installed, but they only use it for heat at night. It’s sitting on patio tiles as a hearth. So, it’s not exactly ideal. We’re gonna move the stove, and build it “into a better box”.

Again, it’s about managing resources. “J” says that he doesn’t want to use it during the day, if he doesn’t have to. Why? He hates chopping wood. HATES it! 🙂

The stove vents out the side of the box. Sort of… It’s a rather shaky connection.

So, we do some chimney repair, and then we use what I call “idiot solar” to help bump up the heat. But, we’ll use solar in a different way than “normal people” are used to.

Okay, I can see that there is a lot to do, but he needs to do it one weekend at a time.

And, he needs to do it in a way that maintains the security of the structure, so that he doesn’t end up with visitors he doesn’t want, or need, while he’s away…

So, over the next few posts in this series, we’re going to take that empty 40′ High Cube Shipping Container, and we’re going to turn it into a full blown cabin, complete with sleeping lofts, and enough interior to let it be used comfortably, for a long vacation in the woods.

It’s all about his family’s survival, if times get hard. And, it’s all about HIS survival, if his wife gets mad.

After all, out in the woods… nobody can hear you scream… Muuuuwahhahah!

We’re not just going to insulate that container top. We’re going to “weatherize” the box.

Weatherizing isn’t “turning off the heat and freezing in the dark”.

Try that with your wife sleeping next to you. I guarantee you that you’ll wake up, dead!

It’s all about using ‘stored’ energy (and less of it than you might think) combined with small resources to achieve the same level of comfort that you used to get from that McMansion of yours.

How do you accomplish this?

Well, first, you find all the “energy nasties” and you give them the boot. In this case, we’ll start with that leaky stove chimney, and work outward from there. Careful planning and attention to detail will have this family in a sustainable vacation home, in no time.

We’re also going to deal with indoor air quality.

Remember that the air quality is 2-5 times worse in your house, than the air outside it.   This is a small space, that may be inhabited by a family of six (or maybe even more, if that damned brother promises not to punch him in the eye again) , under rather severe conditions, and maybe for extended periods of time.

Beyond air quality, we need to pay close attention to energy use, moisture (and it’s movement… unless you LIKE mold and mildew), combustion zones, and ventilation.

Remember, condensation is a killer.

Areas in walls and roof cavities that stay moist, start to grow funky things that attack your lungs. YUCK!

Ice dams on roofs can contribute to this problem, too. So we’re going to pay close attention to that roof, it’s construction, and it’s pitch.

We’ll talk about fixing that stove vent/chimney, before you huff and puff… and burn your house down…

We’ll talk about designing, building, and attaching a roof to catch the sun and even a couple of kids.

We’ll talk about photovoltaic panels on the cheap, and an “in-wall solar heating” solution.

We’ll talk about building loft spaces into it, to get the kids up and out of your hair.

We’ll talk about a “hidden” Master bedroom.

We’ll talk about the floor of that shipping container, and what to do about it.

We’ll talk about a kitchen (with a refrigerator, and running water, and everything!) and even a real bathroom.

We’ll talk about catching water and setting up a graywater system.

And, we’ll talk about building storage.

We need to add some serious storage  into that shipping box, so that it can house all their crap, so that “J” doesn’t step on everything they own, in the middle of the night, when that damned bear is trying to beat down the door!

And we’re going to accomplish this, a goal at a time, a weekend at a time…

Why?

Because you “Show me a man who failed… and I’ll show you a man who didn’t have a good plan”.

We’re not just  going to meet his needs, we’re going to exceed his expectations.

Why? Well, because… I know his wife… and she’ll kill him! (gulp!)

Stay tuned.

The Renaissance Ronin