Tag Archives: Senior Housing

Were you born in a barn? ISBU Student Housing gets a new face in the USA…

2 Nov

The use of ISBUs (Shipping Containers) as University Dormitories has been well documented overseas. In places like Denmark and Germany, ISBUs are used regularly to provide housing for students and faculty.

Here in the United States the use of ISBUs as Student Housing is just beginning to take off. Over the last few years, we’ve seen ISBU Student Housing Projects in several American cities as Commercial Real Estate Investors begin exploring the marketplace.

Recently, I spoke with University Administrators to discuss the potential for the creation of “Modular” Dormitories for married couples attending school.

What normally occurs in these situations is that the projects are “Design by Committee” type projects and as a result, nothing is ever accomplished. Politics, in-fighting and squabbling generally derail these projects.

In this case we were pleasantly surprised when the Regents basically gave us “carte blanche” to construct a prototype (to be used in an Agricultural Research Facility located off campus), provided we met their basic criteria and matched the existing structures on the campus site.

Okay, the proposed site is covered in barns and Agricultural outbuildings. So, we’ll do “barn”.

AgriDorm Project - 10x40HQThe units are to be “all-inclusive” 1 BDRM and 1 Bath apartments that will be provided to students with all utilities and services included.

Photovoltaic Power
Solar Hot Water
Radiant In-Floor Heat (Potential)
12.5K BTU Mini-Split AC/Heat units
Basic (Dish based) Cable and Internet

While the Regents want Radiant slabs to provide heat, we’re pushing for the use of Mini-Split AC/Heat units. They’re energy efficient, easy to install and cost effective.

In a project of this size, labor will need to be tightly controlled to insure success. Mini-Splits are far less labor intensive.

Further, to meet budget requirements the prototype units must be constructed using skilled students currently enrolled in the University’s Sustainable Architecture and Construction Technologies programs and they must be built in existing Campus facilities.

Let’s talk about heat and AC for a moment;

We’re huge fans of Mini-Split AC/Heat units. They’re ductless, they’re quiet and they’re energy efficient. An easily sourced 12k system would easily condition and heat an approximately 320 square foot apartment with power to spare.

Combine this heating/cooling unit with high-performance energy efficient windows, SPF (Closed Cell Spray Foam) Insulation (or PolyIso rigid insulation) in a structure topped with a SIP (Structural Insulated Panel) roof and you have a tight, energy efficient envelope that will last for decades without heavy maintenance requirements.

A smart team would clad this high-performance building using durable Hardiplank, virtually insuring the same levels of high performance and low maintenance requirements for many years to come.

(Hmmm… I spec and use so much Hardiplank that James Hardie should be sending me checks!)

A few years back (we were still in the South helping families recover from Hurricane Katrina) CHC (Container Home Consultants)  designed a series of “small footprint” 4-plexes using ISBUs. A few of these were actually constructed and then implemented as “Senior Housing” in Louisiana and Alabama. Another was built by a team in Georgia who needed to create a Woman’s Shelter for women undergoing occupational training. The design works flawlessly.

That design, with a few subtle twists is perfect for this project.

This gives us the ability to not only utilize “Sustainable Architecture” curriculum that we participated in creating, we get the opportunity to mentor students by providing “hands on” training during the build-out processes.

It doesn’t get a lot better than this. It gives us the opportunity to help these young students to “lead by example” as they create the housing that fellow students require.

We’ll actually build these modules in the University facility this winter (in weather-controlled environments) and then truck them to site in the Spring for erection and project completion.

This exact same design could be used in urban areas to create worker housing or even in rural tracts for use as “seasonal labor housing”.

Additionally, since these units are “stackable” (by design), you could go up three or four levels high without difficulty. In today’s marketplace you can imagine the potential for capitalizing on rental profits with projects like this one.

And mark my words that in the future, some kid will look at his/her mom and dad and answer that age old question;

“Hey! Were you born in a barn?”

“Nope, but I was conceived in one!” 🙂

Stay tuned because this is going to be exciting.

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Drumroll please! Welcome the $8,000 Shipping Container Home!!!

1 Nov

While out scouring the web for porn… um… er… news, I came across this little gem…

It seems that the idea of using Shipping Containers as housing is picking up steam!

Rather than recap an already good journalistic piece, I’ll just butt in from time to time, okay? Hot off the AP Wire:

CORRALES, New Mexico (AP) — It was a side trip through a destitute, ramshackle neighborhood in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, that detoured Brian McCarthy from building houses in Albuquerque to an idea to offer the very poor a chance to own a home.

His answer lies in a humble steel shipping container 40 feet long, 8 feet wide and 8½ feet tall.

See, it ain’t just moi!

McCarthy, 30, and three partners, Pablo Nava, 22; Kyle Annen, 23; and Mackenzie Bishop, 22, have made a prototype out of a standard shipping container that hauls goods worldwide — a 320-square-foot home with a kitchen, bath with toilet, sleeping areas, windows and a bright blue door. The exterior is painted with a white epoxy coating that has light-reflecting properties to prevent the sun’s heat from penetrating.

Jeez… They’re just kids! How come you have to be a kid to follow thru on such a great idea? Huh?

Each small house includes hookups for air conditioning, ventilation, electrical and water systems, and the units ideally could be set up in small communities to make accessing utilities more efficient.

The idea began to take shape several years ago, when McCarthy went to the Mexican border city on a field trip as part of an executive MBA program. He found himself impressed by the sophistication and rapid growth of industry in Juarez but shocked when the bus cut through a poor neighborhood on the way out of the city.

“We saw hundreds of homes that are made out of wood pallets and cardboard and scrap metal and scrap building material,” McCarthy said. When he questioned the bus driver, he said, ‘Well, all the people who live here work in the places you just visited.’

“It was amazing to me that in an area where there was such growth and economic prosperity, that these employees of Fortune 1000 companies were living in such poor conditions.”

With Juarez growing by 50,000 to 60,000 people a year and wages low, it was evident traditional homebuilding couldn’t respond, said McCarthy, who’d worked in various facets of building homes in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

An idea began taking shape about a year and a half later, when he saw an article about a shipping container converted into guest quarters.

“They talked about the merits of the construction, how strong they are, how affordable they are and how plentiful they are,” McCarthy said.

He called Nava, his cousin, with the low-cost home idea. A year later, Nava, then a junior at Notre Dame University, suggested entering the university’s business plan competition.

Their initial three-quarter page concept expanded as they advanced in the contest. Along the way, Nava invited his roommate, Annen, to join. As the group’s acknowledged computer graphics wiz, Annen added drawings to give the presentation more life.

Eventually, they won the contest with a 55-page document, illustrated by renderings and floor plans.

In July 2007, the partners formed PFNC Global Communities; PFNC stands for “Por Fin, Nuestra Casa,” which roughly translates as “Finally, our own home.”

They operate out of a back room in a Corrales realty firm but expect offices in Juarez or adjacent El Paso, Texas, and a Juarez plant to manufacture shipping container homes.

The house faces two constraints: designing in only 320 square feet and keeping the price to about $8,000 to be affordable for the average worker at maquiladoras, manufacturing plants in Mexico along the U.S. border, McCarthy said.

The partners looked at clever designs for small condos and lofts, travel trailers and even private jet planes, adapting ideas they felt would work.

“We started with a kitchen and bathroom because they’re the most necessary and most basic ingredients of a home,” McCarthy said.

They designed a galley-style kitchen with a stove, sink, refrigerator and dinette, and a 48-square-foot bathroom with a pedestal sink, shower and commode. Adjacent to the kitchen is a bunk area for children; separate sleeping quarters for the owners lie behind the bathroom wall.

The house may be sparse by U.S. standards, but Nava said it’s a huge improvement in safety, security and health over where many now live.

When drawings and color pictures of the prototype were shown around a poor Juarez neighborhood, people said, “You know, it’d be like a dream to live in one of these,” Nava said. “You know, just the thought of having nice fresh air ventilating through the house, a large bed … a normal kitchen and a safe home that locks and closes each night was more than appealing.”

Annen cites modern architectural design, with bare metal and piping. “This would fit right in any major city,” he said.

The company has received a commitment for equity investment and is in the process of finishing details and closing its first round of funding. The partners anticipate starting production early next year, with the capacity to produce 3,000 homes in the first year and later ramping up.

They figure a half million people could benefit from such homes in Juarez alone.

PFNC doesn’t intend just to build shelter. It wants to build communities, and McCarthy said the group expects to have the first pilot community on the ground late next year.

“That was our goal, more than just four walls and a roof but to kind of raise the standard of living in Juarez and other places,” Nava said.

The shipping containers, which can be hauled by truck, rail or ship, are designed to stack. PFNC envisions a cluster arrangement, eight side by side and four high, with apartment-type balconies and staircases in the corners.

Clusters could be arranged into squares, creating “a safe little plaza in the middle where we hope to build a soccer field or a playground, some safe area for families to be,” Nava said.

PFNC wants to set up programs with maquiladoras to offer housing as an employee benefit, helping cut the high rate of worker turnover, now between 7 percent and 10 percent a month, McCarthy said. The company is working with a Mexican law firm that has handled work-to-own housing programs.

This is not a rental-type situation or free housing while you work here,” McCarthy said. “Rather, the employer takes on some of the burden in setting up the financing program to transfer ownership to the employee.”

That’s important because PFNC needs large orders to keep costs down so low-wage workers can afford the home. The incentive for employers: Studies show housing for employees dramatically increases retention, and having more workers in a given area will reduce the number of buses maquiladoras run to take people to and from their jobs.

PFNC doesn’t view its homes as the last stop.

“With our design and with our price point, we think we’ll at least be able to take the first step of getting more families into more homes and formal property ownership,” McCarthy said.

“We fully anticipate that people will move into our homes, build up some equity, sell this home,” he said. “We see this is a stepping stone to get into a bigger or more comfortable home.”


Okay, so what have we learned? You have to go to Mexico, to see a container that has actually been converted affordably, in a manner that allows a family to begin a new life!

I remember heading down to Tijuana Mexico, as a kid, to buy fireworks and other garbage, and driving trough areas that made American Slums look like upscale subdivisions. People lived in houses built of cardboard, shipping pallets, scrap metal, and whatever else they could find! Using a container as the shell would have been a HUGE improvement! And, I’m still haunted by nightmares of the aftermath of the hurricanes, as they wreaked havoc on our neighborhoods here in Mississippi, and Louisiana. Can you imagine how much better these units would have been, than those horrid FEMA trailers they tried to pass off as “safe housing?”

And remember, if you live by a coast, you live by shipping containers. With a little bit of ingenuity, and a little planning, these guys and gals have made it clear that you can build an affordable home, for just pennies on the dollar.

Folks, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the economy is crashing down around our ears right now. The next four years (regardless of who “wins”) is gonna be pretty bumpy. In most major housing markets, foreclosures and being “upside down” in a mortgage (the act of owing more for a home than it is actually worth) are getting more and more commonplace. Can you imagine taking this concept as a starting point, nad then just expanding it a little bit, to make the home less “spartan?”

You could find yourself living well, and rivaling homes in your neighborhood that cost $100,000 or more (even “manufactured homes” cost that much), for less than a third of that cost!

If you think about it, you could build a home for the price of a good compact car! Imagine that!

Now, before you start yelling and screaming, I admit that this probably isn’t the “home of the future.” But, it does have some appeal for those looking toward the “tiny home” market, to replace their high-maintenance McMansions, huh?

Obviously, I do think this idea has potential.  The applications are virtually endless, and a look around will reveal to you that there are countries all over the planet that have “slum problems.”  We could start with “Planet Mississippi!”

So, what do you think?  These could really fill a niche in the fabric of our cities! Could you live in one? Would you buy one?

In the next few days, I’m going to hit the drawing board, and see just what you could actually build for under $50,000.00, using these containers as the shell. Let’s figure on a small starter home, for a new family. So, let’s figure on 2 bedrooms, at least 2 bathrooms, and a 1 car garage… for starters…

I’ll post my results…

Stay tuned…

PS. I was only kidding about the “porn…” LOL!