ISBU “fold out” Cabins – Outstanding or Origami? Or BOTH?

We’ve talked about this before, but  it’s  time to talk about it again;

As summer brings thoughts with it of “getting out there and playing”, many families are actually building small “seasonal retreats” that are used several weeks a year  (in all 4 seasons) to provide “release and relaxation” away from urban life.

We help a lot of families build “tiny houses” and “fallback cabins” that provide shelter for their families while they enjoy the outdoors. Most of these “Corten Cabins” are based on using a single (or even a pair) of 2O’ High Cube ISBUs as the starting point.

20ft ISBU
And some of these families seek “a larger, more secureable  footprint” as they envision these “play palaces”.

The idea of building an ISBU cabin or retreat is usually fostered in the dream of driving to your destination where your cabin or retreat is already well established. These families don’t want to have to pull a travel trailer or drive a cumbersome RV hundreds of miles to their vacation property and then be forced with having to set up and break down that site over and over again. They don’t want to be forced to factor in the additional time (towing is slower) or expenses required to migrate back and forth hauling all that gear. Fuel costs money and it’s  getting more and more expensive all the time.

They want to drive out to their vacation property, unload their toys, unlock the doors and then play.

The cool thing about using and ISBU to build one of these “remote” playgrounds is that because they are built from solid steel, they’re easily secured when you leave. They’re already weather resistant and can be burglar resistant by design without a lot of complications.

While a 20′ (or even a 40′) High Cube ISBU can be configured to provide the comforts of a typical “travel trailer” in a hardened, more weather resistant shelter, some families are finding that as they embrace that ISBU retreat, they want to share it with others.

We actually tell our building families to keep it quiet. As soon as the relatives find out you’ve built something cool by that lake or mountain meadow, you can bet they’ll be strong-arming you for “visiting rights”! LOL!

And that means your secluded little hunk of heaven in the woods will be required to to accommodate more people.

What if you started your ISBU build by using a box designed to “fold out”? What if your ISBU cabin could  “enlarge itself” to house more people or provide a more luxurious space?

That’s exactly what we thought when we started putting pop-outs on our boxes.

That led to boxes that actually folded out to create larger footprints.

I mean, the boxes already existed. The militaries of several nations use these boxes as the basis of “Operations” or “Housing” all the time. They look like this:


21011Pretty slick, right? But how do they WORK?


Fold out the support arms.


Fold UP the roof panel.


Fold DOWN the floor panel using the built in winch.


Flip UP the exterior wall panel.

7 8

Secure the wall to the roof panel.


Fold OUT the “in-fill walls” completing your “new” room space.8bNow do the same thing on the other side of your box.

Voila! 400 square foot (plus) cabin in less than 10 minutes.

Now, you can’t just run out and buy one of these “fold-out” boxes. Although we’ve actually seen a few of them for sale (oil and gas geo-tech operations use them), they were terribly expensive.

But watch the video and look close. What they’re  doing isn’t particularly difficult. In fact, most of what they are doing happens outside the existing 20′ box.

For example, if you were to build secondary frames that contained fold out floors, walls and roofing, you could  begin your “addition” process by attaching them to the existing boxes using the twistlocks that are already there.

Think about this for a minute. You could build out a contemporary ISBU cabin or “tiny house” and then literally “bolt on” two large room additions over time, as money and  resources allow. The initial box would get trailered to your site on a small flatbed trailer  pulled behind a pick-up truck (a diesel powered Ford F350 or Dodge Ram 3500 series truck would easily do it) and get set on your pilings or foundation using readily available equipment like a septic tank crane or even a farm tractor. Don’t scoff. We do this all the time.

Your “addition frames” would get transported to site using a small flatbed trailer and get offloaded and positioned in a similar manner to setting that first box.

No “oversized permits”, no chase vehicles, no massive transport costs, nada.

Once your “addition frames” are attached to the twistlocks, you just weatherize your connections. It’s pretty simple to use conventional materials to provide waterproof flashing that covers the joints between your box and the new secondary frames.

You can raise and lower the floor and wall segments of your “addition frames” using something as simple and inexpensive as a Harbor Freight truck winch and couple of deep cycle batteries.

(We use a pair of these winches to accomplish this, one winch on each side of the ISBU.)

Usually, a single battery bank powers the winches (and provides power for the rest of your structure) and it’s fueled using the Photovoltaic panels on the roof of the primary structure (the original ISBU container) and a small back-up generator.

When you’re away, (to casual observers) your “vacation cabin” looks like a single ISBU box dropped on your property, surrounded by “piling stubs”. because it’s folded shut and then locked tight, anyone seeking entry will be forced to cut or grind their way in. This just helps to fight mischief, random acts of mayhem, vandalism or outright burglary.

When you arrive at your cabin, you simply unlock your frames, extend your supports, lower your pop-out walls and enlarge that 20′ box from 160 square feet to over 400 square feet. Then, you just  reposition your furniture (stored safely inside the main ISBU) and start setting up house.

Note: It’s a little harder to do this using a 40′ box due to the size and weight of those walls being repositioned, but it’s definitely doable. We’ve accomplished this twice  so far and after several “visitations” to each property… neither family wants to murder us… LOL!

Once you’ve  set up your ISBU cabin, you start reaping the benefits;

No fighting traffic in a behemoth RV or truck and travel trailer.

No leveling of the RV when you arrive.

No claustrophobic stress created by too many people in too small a proximity.

Just turn on the power (battery bank) turn on the water, turn on the mini-split A/C unit and go!

This method actually gives you MORE vacation time each trip. Set up and  break-down times are diminished dramatically. Using this “addition frame” set-up, you can set up AND break down your base camp in less than 30 minutes, by YOURSELF.

Now take this a step further.

What if you needed temporary housing, say for farm workers or disaster relief workers?

What if you needed to establish a temporary base of operations in a remote area?

What if you needed to build easily relocated “resort cabins” that maximized land use based on season?

See where we’re going with this? Hmmm?

We’ve actually thought about building these frames for resale to the general public. If there’s enough interest, we may do exactly that.

Until next time…


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