Tag Archives: Off-grid Homes

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

Need a Corten Country House?

23 Aug

Many of our building families long for “life lived rurally”.

More and more families building ISBU homes are building “off the beaten path”, off-grid “Corten Castles”.

ISBUs lend themselves to “Farmhouse” configurations. Take (4) 40′ High Cube ISBUs and pair them off with an offset 8′-16′ apart and then top them with a big modified gable and you have a fabulous two story farmhouse that can’t be beat!

Here’s one that we’re working with a Arkansas family of 6 on that is proving to be quite spectacular. It’s approximately 1,900 square feet of Corten Coolness! 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, heated by wood and powered by photovoltaic panels. It’s going to be built in the Ozark Mountains.

Here’s some of the features;

  • Downstairs Master with ensuite bath
  • Island Kitchen with full pantry and laundry room
  • Great Room Living/Dining/Half Bath
  • (2) Upstairs bedrooms with “Hollywood bath”
  • Spiral Staircase
  • Wood Stove heat
  • Photovoltaic Power/Battery Bank

If you sat this home on top of a CMU (Concrete Masonry Units also called “concrete blocks” or “cinderblocks”) basement, you’d  have a really nice two story Corten Country  House for a family of 6-8 with a big root cellar and extended pantry.

ISBU Farmhouse 440 Concept - webWE call it “The Farmhouse 440 Project”.

The prototype is being built (by the family – using their own sweat equity and volunteers) in the Ozarks with a budget of $175k. Admittedly it’s “higher end” than most of our ISBU Homes (upgraded materials are used throughout) and the budget does NOT include the property, photovoltaic systems or the well. (Additionally, the family already owned the containers.) The prototype has a lot of upgrades and the family isn’t your “typical” Prepper family. I WILL point out that a home of this quality for just under $100 a square foot is a bargain in most markets, whether you’re a “Prepper” or not. It could be built less expensively by a repurposing, recycling family with careful material selections.

WE think that you’ll call it “HOME SWEET HOME”.

Would you live here? I would. In fact… I just might. :)