Just Dial “888”… ;)

As I work and toil away in the “Secret Fortress of Steel”… on my new book, entitled:

“Container Home Building”

(I mean, what else would I call it? ;))

Here’s what we  are we working on today:

I’m talking to a couple of artists, that want to build a “Corten Cabin” in a rural area, to live in full-time.

The idea of an expansive (100%) green roof is really important to them, so they want the living space to be on one floor.

The home is to be set on concrete pilings (over 20 of them) that they’ll cast themselves out of 6′ sections of Sonotube and some scrap rebar. (This will give them a 30″ crawlspace.)

They want to insulate on the outside (using SPF – Spray On Closed Cell Foam – naturally!), and then side over it, using siding that they’ll manufacture themselves using an old sawmill and some “downed trees” already on the property.

Timbers will also be cut from that “downed wood,” to use as “beams” inside – not only to support the green roof above, but to add a certain “rustic charm.”

I’m thinking that the cabin will lay out something like this:

Note that the posts for the beams overhead are not shown. We’ll determine their actual location later.

We’re talking about just under 900 square feet.

The budget is $50,000.00.

That’s a number that I’m seeing a lot lately. It appears that the average ISBU builder wants the hit that number pretty firmly. That means we can spend about $55 a square foot. Not bad at all!

This means that the home-owners will be doing a LOT of sweat equity. But, they’ll be building their dream home, and they won’t have a mortgage when they’re done.

One of the coolest things is that from the air, you won’t be able to see the house at all…

Stay tuned.

30 comments for “Just Dial “888”… ;)

  1. Janyce Mencer
    March 26, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    This post is beyond awesome. I am always wondering what to do and what not to do so I will follow some of these tips.

  2. BossLady
    March 31, 2010 at 3:39 am

    I’m inclined toward the tankless water heaters, personally. I’m currently living in 900′ already, and this offers fewer walls, nice and open.

  3. supergirl
    April 1, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    Help! I need direction I am a single female with a property in Weldon California, my desire is to build my fortress in a desert hacienda style home. I receive hot weather, freezing weather and wind 70% of the year and full time sun… who can I talk with to get this ball rolling or are all my answers here? somewhere on this site? I am overwhelmed with excitement seeing here all the possibilities that I may be able to bring my dream to life on my own. I have looked for a contact page to get started with the consultants but not finding such a place here. Thank you for this wealth of information and truth to being self sustained and truly the captain of my own ship.

  4. Dave in Lawrence
    April 1, 2010 at 11:38 pm

    Looks sweet Alex. 900 SF is a decent space… specially if followed with a “Corten Steel Shop” space.



  5. April 2, 2010 at 4:36 am

    Hi Supergirl,

    I grew up in California. Where’s Weldon? What County? 🙂

    I’ve sent you some additional information in your personal email.

    Our goal IS “to help you navigate the waters as the Captain of your own ship!”

    We look forward to hearing more about your project!


  6. April 2, 2010 at 4:39 am

    Hi Dave!

    You’d be really surprised just how comfortable 900 square feet can be, if laid out effectively.

    And, I’m looking forward to the second phase of this project… that “MAN CAVE!”

    Um… er… “HIS AND HER CAVE!”

    ISBU’s make absolutely marvelous (and amazingly cost effective) workspaces!


  7. Kathy in NC
    April 4, 2010 at 8:10 am

    We have 2.5ac in NW mountains of North Carolina. We need to build a place where my disabled husband, his 90 year old mother and myself can live and, when it becomes need, be taken care of and never have to live any where else.

    None of us are physically able to do much when it comes to building and we have not much in available funds. I also am very interested in the reuse-side of container building.

    But I have no idea where to begin but I’ve been cruzin’ the Internet with various searches to begin learning. I was very pleased to find your site, to find someone that actually has real experience doing this. Having read through your site I am looking forward to more entries from you.

  8. April 4, 2010 at 11:40 am

    Hi Kathy,

    Know that we’re here to help you.

    This consulting group is more about “family,” than “personal financial gains.”

    Sure, we want to pay our bills too, but our goal is to DESIGN, and then BUILD affordable, energy efficient, and sustainable housing, that will last for decades and beyond.


  9. Amy
    April 23, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    I’m inclined toward the tankless water heaters, personally. I’m currently living in 900′ already, and this offers fewer walls, nice and open.

  10. mbt shoes
    May 6, 2010 at 11:59 pm

    great experience, dude! thanks for this great

    Articles wow… it’s very wonderful report.

  11. Ray
    June 7, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    Hey this looks nice, what size container is this?

  12. June 8, 2010 at 1:29 am


    It’s actually (3) 40′ High Cube ISBUs, all connected side to side.

  13. Clay
    June 10, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    If you remove the inner walls of a long ISBU, don’t you substantially reduce it’s carrying capacity? I’m in Iowa and winter snow loads can be pretty high some years. How much extra support (support beams) do you need if you were to stack a second story on such an arrangement?

  14. Jack
    June 10, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    Hi Alex,Thanks for the website I know it represents a lot of time and effort. Are you able to tell me where I might purchase pre hung doors and windows suitable for use in a container home?
    One more of many questions,how do you keep from weakening the structure when removing one wall of the container to join two of them together? Eight feet of width is doable but sixteen would be comfortable.
    Best Regards,

  15. admin
    June 10, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    Hi Clay… thanks for your comment.

    Keep in mind, that an ISBU is essentially a re-purposed Intermodal shipping container. These puppies are commonly stacked on each other and fastened to the deck of a cargo ships. They use a standard “footprint” and an ISBU frame is where most of the strength of the “box” comes from.

    If you think about what a loaded cargo ship looks like, consider container stacking as the implementation of a mass cargo loading “system”. The walls of the ISBU keep saltwater and “passengers” (bugs, vermin, etc…) out.

    They are DESIGNED to be stacked…so long as they are not stacked in cantilevered profile. As you will hear Alex say repeatedly, they can ONLY be cantilevered safely with additional weight bearing steel framing, or during an adverse (weather?) event they WILL fail.

    All of the above said, obviously the skin of the container adds some additional rigidity to the ISBU as a unit, but it is minimal relative to the primary strength of the structure, engineered into the load bearing frame.

    Course, Alex’s explanations about this are far more elegant and less wordy than my own. I’m mostly the webmeister around these parts.


  16. admin
    June 10, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    Hey Jack… thanks for your comment. Alex should be by sometime soon to respond. Some of your inquiry may be addressed in my response to Clay below.


  17. Clay
    June 10, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    Thanks Dave,

    I had read somewhere that the skins created an “elongated I beam” and that cutting door/windows/removing large sections would seriously weaken the structure.

    Is the ~$50 a square foot finished. My wife and I are SERIOUSLY considering a large 2 story home (8-10 40′ containers). We are both pretty handy and can easily paint, wire, sheet rock, floor and plumb most everything. About all we’ll need to have contracted out is a basement and roof. I was thinking (maybe dreaming) $20-25 a square foot might be resonable.


  18. admin
    June 11, 2010 at 12:55 am

    Most of what I do know, I’ve learned from Alex, so I’ll defer to him on this one. “Cutting doors and windows”, I consider to be a pretty different fabrication mod from “removing large sections”, and when you cut out skin for doors and windows, you are also inserting and welding a box framework for said windows and doors.

    The container is a “unit”. It’s engineered to do what it does as a whole unit. How you put those containers together matters architecturally and structurally.

    The skin definitely creates rigidity against racking and shearing, say, in extremely high wind scenarios. Plasma cutting an opening for a window and a door, presuming you are not doing anything “dis-respectful” of the overall engineering of the ISBU, shouldn’t compromise the structural integrity of the box by itself.

    Alex can shed light on “how much you can cut away” before you need to reinforce for load bearing. He’s built well north of 200+ structures at this point… so he’s got one helluva nice bag of tricks in the design/build arena. He’s done some exotic stuff with containers…but he never EVER cuts corners (figuratively speaking 🙂

    He’s been super busy getting situated to help deal with the oil slick heading for shore… just a few blocks from his house…

    What part of the country, generally, are you planning to build in Clay?

    (Note from Alex: Quantity of homes built in the US is a TYPO. Should read 100, not 200. While we’ve participated in ISBU projects all over the rock, the number of unit built here was misstated. We’ve averaged about 3-4 a year since 1977, if you average them all out. A couple of “fall-back communities” bumped that up.)

    The well-meaning “commenter” (our web-geek – gawd love him) has been flogged, racked, and tormented.

  19. Clay
    June 11, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    If all goes well Eastern Iowa, High winds, annual average is 15 MPH with at least one, more like 4 or 5, 75 MPH+ events a year. Last year we had a 100 MPH sustained wind that lasted 5-12 minutes… that was fun. And then there’s winter, some years almost nothing, others 2 feet + of wet heavy snow on the ground at any given time. So racking and rigidity are concerns.

  20. June 13, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    Gotcha Clay… yeah, I live in east central Kansas, a stones throw from the Flint Hills… a high plains type topography… we get pretty much exactly what you’ve described.

    That’s the cool thing about shipping container homes… the versatility and application for their use as the core building units of a home structure is limited only by your own imagination, provided you respect what they are, and their engineering constraints.


  21. Clay
    June 14, 2010 at 11:49 am


    You mentioned Alex has built 200+ container structures. Are pictures of them. It seems that no matter what search terms I use I end up with photos of the same 8 or 10 homes.

    They seem to be “all the rage”.. of people who can’t snap a photo… ;P


  22. June 15, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    Hi Jack,

    Between the impending arrival of the oil spill, and the arrival of Obama, I can’t begin to wonder which is worse. That said, please excuse my recent absence.

    Now then, as I noted in the article, in RED LETTERS, the location for the posts that will HOLD UP the BEAMS isn’t indicated as we are still working on something very “creative.”

    ANYTIME that you remove a large amount of side wall area from an ISBU, you have to replace it with something else. In this case, creating the Great Room type config requires the addition of beams run across the space (the narrow distance), to allow proper roof displacement.

    This happens EACH time you do this, including in scenarios where you STACK ISBUs on top of each other to form multi-storied buildings or homes.

    An opening 16 feet wide would require a post/beam support system.

    It IS possible to turn the existing rails into a “BEAM” using steel plate and a welder, it’s a little bit more expensive, and you better know exactly what you are doing.

    (I do it a LOT, but it is labor intensive.)

    And you can use the same doors and windows. You simple rough them in using a subframe made of steel tubing.

    Hope this helps.


  23. June 15, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    In my defense…

    After two back to back hurricanes (Ivan and then Katrina), where the home and offices were basically eliminated to the foundations, archival photographs of past builds are hard to find for us.

    In the last few years, several structures have been designed, initiated, (and in some cases even completed :)).

    Due to the lack of acceptance by traditional “Planning and Zoning” entities, you’ll find that these homes are still being constructed outside normal “building code impaired” zones, by families who see difficult times ahead, and are in preparation mode. We spoken long and often about the bull-headedness of the local authorities who fail to see good steel when it’s right in front of their eyes.

    These unconventional homes actually tend to attract “unconventional people” many of whom actually wish to just be left alone.

    In most of those cases, the focus has been “affordable, reclusive and safe”… remote and “more modest” structures (in fact emulating my own deeply held philosophies of “affordable/sustainable” mode)… that the home-owners requested remain “private” (with the exception of actual “edited” construction images).

    As I type this, we ARE working on ISBU homes that will allow more “public oriented freedom”.

    It’s a sad thing when you have to guard your home from prying eyes, simply because it isn’t like the one next door, using “conventional” methods.

    So… while we will talk about design, and building methodology, we WILL respect the privacy of our home-builders.

    And this means that when you see photos of what we’re doing, it’s usually because WE were behind it, ourselves, or we are working on a project where the home-owner isn’t afraid of the storm…

    If you been reading my blogs, or my articles, you already know that these homes are very controversial…

    Three ISBU Home projects will be executed personally this summer by principals of this group, so stay tuned. I’ll make it a point to choke you with photographs. 🙂


  24. June 15, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    Hi Clay,

    While I suppose that you could consider the skin attached to the siderails of an ISBU “I-Beam” like, it isn’t structural in a “more traditional” sense.

    While that skin holds cargo in and keeps weather out, it doesn’t add “Structural Support” to an ISBU container, except to lend to racking and shear force displacement in a minimal amount. ALL the real strength in the box is at the ends in those massive steel end-frames. It’s for this reason that I try as often as possible to persuade potential ISBU home builders to minimalize or even eliminate the fancy cantilevering that you see on the Internet. The side rails aren’t built or designed to be used in that configuration, without extensive rework and support.

    And, the corrugated steel of an ISBU can indeed be removed in sections or even completely, IF you provide another way of dealing with racking and shearing forces, ie… posts or columns.

    In the “888”, the budget is in the $50 a square foot range. However, that doesn’t include decorator additions or “the artistic contribution” by the owners that will ultimately “finish” this home.

    For $20-25 a square foot, you’re not going to get much more than a very minimalistic bare box, waiting for the “finish”. In a project such as the one you describe… (8-10 40′ ISBUs) unless you are incredibly creative, possessing a great design, and sitting on a gold mine of recycled materials to use in the construction, a monastery cell comes to mind… 🙂

    I suspect that in your scenario, the basement budget alone (at 24′ x 40′ figure $40 a foot “finished” for example) will kill your budget. Excavation and then enclosure is expensive, no matter where you live. That’s over half your suggested budget, before you drop ONE container on top of it.

    Note that I am NOT trying to discourage you. Far from it, I suggest you REALLY think about what you actually need, and then start thinking out of the box, to get it achieved. A good design will go miles to helping you attain the success that you seek.

    Let us know if we can help.


  25. Bhavin66
    August 26, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    Just started reading about ISBU’s and personally i am excited to dive into it. Problem is financing and as Alex mentioned in his book and blog (yes i bought the book) metropolitan area may not allow unconventional housing permits.
    As for Clay he mentioned about a basement and Alex’c comment about the budget breaker. I have had a similar thought like Clay and was thinking why not create a basement out of ISBU’s.
    Personally i would like to have partially buried the ISBU on a pile foundation such that it is 4 or 5 feet above ground level so that it can have windows and ample lighting and still rest on a cement pile foundation which can be finished like any other ISBU build and stack another 3 40′ ISBU’s for another 900+ sq.ft. I would assume 3×40′ ISBU’s will be a cheaper alternative rather than excavating and filling it back which Alex mentioned $40 sqft and ISBU basement would be much more reliable. Then the only thing left is the roof.

    Hope this stimulates some comments/ideas.


  26. containernoob
    September 1, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    what an awesome website…sooooooo glad to have found it.

    I live in Vancouver,BC and am currently looking for land outside the city to build. Have been researching container homes for the past 2 years and am set to build one. During my research, the main thing ive had problems with is understanding the process of joining containers together.

    Obviously its a welding thing but every home ive seen that does it does not go into detail about it lol!! Im planning to build in the next 1.5 years, and do it all with cash baby!! Love this website and am going to buy Alex’s book today for more reading. I plan to do alot of the interior myself such as framing, radiant heating, some electrical and drywalling. Looking forward to being an active member on this site…now to just finalize on an open floor type plan…..Debt free Living baby!!!

  27. Clayton D Lane
    December 15, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    Sir Merry Christmas You mention the many different kinds of containers in your last letter, I have since thought about what you said and agree , and have cut down on my project, but I still wish to know which containers and how you know which ones to purchase, what is the sign for hightest corton steel thank you again with respect Dale Lane

  28. Clayton D Lane
    January 25, 2011 at 11:09 am

    Alex got your blue book and it was very helpful, I understand how to install windows and doors on the end of the units , but installing them in the side wall still has me puzzled, I wish to use standard Pella windows and doors with nailing fins , therefore to what do I attached them to and how thank you with respect Dale Lane

  29. Jarrod
    November 20, 2011 at 1:24 am

    Just wondering on the “888”, does the $50 sq ft include the land, or is that just the build out?

  30. December 7, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    Price is “structure” only.

    Land Prices are extra.

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