As Fall turns into Winter (it’s already snowing here in Montana) we’re working feverishly to get builds completed globally and to get projects phased for next Spring.
Here’s an example of how things work when you build with ISBUs;
Many families build their “structure” during the Summer and Fall, knowing that the containers themselves provide an opportunity to have a “weathered in” building by their inherent design. Of course this depends on how extensive the modifications have been, but some families actually set the boxes and connect them without removing the larger exterior openings (like doors and windows) so that they can work on the interiors during Winter.
This allows them to work inside without getting rained or snowed on and it protects the unattended building from theft or vandalism. If you’re building your ISBU home using “sweat equity”, this can be a real advantage.
Some of the families we work with really push the envelope in ingenuity and craftsmanship. And some of them exceed our expectations by taking on large tasks that other families fear to face.
Here’s an email we recently received from a family building an ISBU home in the woods of North Carolina;
“Here in North Carolina we’re finally setting our (4) shipping containers on CMUs and the wrap-around decking is being supported by steel reinforced Sonotube pilings attached to footing forms just like you taught us to create. We didn’t end up setting the ISBUs on pilings as we’re building on top of a newly constructed concrete block basement.
For our decking support we used Sonotube Builders Tubes in 12″ diameter with Bell footing forms and in the ISBU structure we’re using 40′ High Cubes, just like you taught us.
It seemed so daunting at first, building 12″ pilings by hand. That is… until we actually started doing the work. After we figured out the first one, the rest of them were as simple as pie! An auger and a couple of strong backs made the work child’s play. We braced the piers (like you suggested) as they extend above grade 3 feet.
As you suggested, we insured that the concrete was the consistency of “the dry side of oatmeal” and then we used the agitator you urged us to rent to get all the air out of the pours. Prebuilding the rebar reinforcement frames and dropping them in before pouring concrete worked well. Heeding your advice to work “gently” with the agitator… well it worked tremendously.
As you recommended, we did install j-bolts in the pilings so that we can bolt steel plates into the piling caps to weld the container rails to. We left the casings on after the pilings set, as you suggested.
(FYI: Alex literally walked us step by step through the piling manufacture process. We sent him a photo of what we wanted to achieve and he did the rest. His advice made it so easy that we’re wondering why other families don’t embrace this. We saved thousands of dollars.)
You’ve talked extensively about using portable sawmills and even kilns crafted from Shipping Containers to “make lumber”. It’s always intrigued us and we’re ready to take on the challenge. We’ve arranged to lease a portable sawmill and we’re going to build a kiln on-site using an ISBU and a Wood Gasifier. The wood gasifier will later be used to heat the residence.
We have several (over 30) large trees in a variety of species that needed to be removed on the site to allow our home to find it’s resting place. We’re thinking about having the trees sawn into wide planking next Spring and then incorporating that into our build.
This is in part to re-floor the container after the removal of the existing flooring, which we understand is toxic. Additionally, we’re thinking that flooring our ISBU home with planking crafted from local trees will (a) “bond us to the site” and (b) further our “repurpose and reuse” program which is making this entire build possible. We know how strongly you feel about recycling, repurposing and reusing and we want to follow in your footsteps.
Do you have any tips about the wood selection, preparation or even the flooring installation? We know the mechanics of actually installing the boards into the box, but is there anything that we might be overlooking? Selecting trees from the site and then making lumber is a mystery to us.
BTW: When do we remove the sonotube casings? Do we even have to? Will they just eventually rot away?
Making flooring from reclaimed trees isn’t difficult. (We regularly drop, sawmill, kiln dry and fabricate flooring as part of our rural and off-grid projects.) Saying that it isn’t “difficult” does not mean that it’s “easy” however.
I can’t possibly explain the entire “lumber” process in an article, but I can touch on points that I think will be crucial to your success.
First, you have to identify the trees you have available. A good place to start would be this publication;
I’ve seen the site you’re building on and I’m betting that most of the trees you’re looking at are loblolly pine, a wood that is used quite frequently in commercial lumber applications.
Species identification is crucial as each species of trees has a different drying characteristic. It’s not best (or even smart) to simply cut whatever is laying around and kiln in the same passes. It rarely works that way.
Sawmill selection is really, really important. Sawmills are like Fords and Chevy’s. You have to select the sawmill for the task. You can see many different operations in work on Youtube and that’s a good place to begin your orientation of the “lumber making” process.
(BTW: I prefer Dodges or Chevys to Fords, hands down. Let the hate mail begin!)
Wide boards are quite attractive but not without peril for the DIY homebuilder. While they seems a no-brainer because it appears that less boards equals less labor, it doesn’t really work that way. The reason is simple; The wider the board/plank, the more potential for movement. Wide boards will “cup” and drift more frequently. When you’re making lumber yourself, think of this as “warp on steroids”. You really have to pay attention to what you’re doing and you’re going to need a local woodworking mentor to achieve your goals.
For example, after sawing, wide planks must be carefully “stickered” and sorted/stacked in the kiln to insure the best drying environment.
A kiln sticker is basically a long wood or plastic spacer that is inserted between boards to aid in the drying process. The purpose of “kiln stickers” is to separate each board surface to maximize air can flow over each board surface and increase the potential for the evaporation of water. There’s an art to stickering lumber in a kiln. Stickers must be selected and placed so that they give adequate support to the boards so that there is minimized warping of the lumber and decreased breakage.
And you’re not simply trying to create “2x4s and 2x6s”. Since your intent is to make flooring, you really need to pay attention to details. Stickers should also be chosen to minimize the stains that sometimes develop in the lumber where is makes contact with the stickers. Important consideration of stickering isn’t easy. It includes thoughts about the species and grade of wood used for your stickers, the moisture content of your stickers, the sticker size and the placement in stack, especially in areas of your load supports.
You can find a lot of information of stickering (and sticker selection) using a resource like Google.
Once you’ve sawn and kiln-dried your boards, you want to acclimate them in your home for as long as possible to get the adjusted to their new home. Place them in a spot that will get good air flow and stack tall and narrow. The idea is to use as little space as possible and maximize airflow to the center of your lumber stacks.
Once I’m ready to go, I set up a router and then start running my tongues and grooves in the flooring boards to begin my install process.
A pneumatic nailer and barbed nails work best for wood flooring in my experience.
And thanks for taking it easy with the agitator! While the use of an agitator isn’t recommended, I find that it does aid in creating strong pilings. The idea is to coax the air out of the piling without doing damage to it.
There are several manufacturers that make a snap on form footing that attaches to the bottom of a Sonotube casing to create a “bell” or footed piling. Where applicable, I highly recommend them. They look like this;
FYI: Here’s the original photo they sent me of the pilings that they had in mind to give me an idea of what they were tackling;
Builder’s tubes are designed to be used without stripping the casing away. There are tubes that require removal, but builder’s tubes are most commonly used by the DIY families for decking and fence posts, etc…
Until next time…