“Off-Grid” doesn’t get a lot better than this.

I really need to start looking at my “Caller ID” before I answer my phone. šŸ™‚

Recently, during difficult travels to take care of some “family business” I had an Architect friend contact me asking about ISBU Cabins. He’s working on a large (over 1,000 acre) Colorado Ranch build-out that will take at least three years to complete.

One of the development requirements is an on-site “Project Manager” who will be available basically 24/7 for most of the build-out. Rather than put the poor guy in a yurt, my pal contacted me about building a small (under 1,000 square foot) ISBU based cabin that could be quickly constructed and easily converted into a “novelty” guest Studio for some of the client’s friends.

The location is “out and away” with little in the form of “local” diversions. The nearest hotel is over 50 miles away.Ā  About 25 miles of that is “up and down” and “back and forth” as you zigzag through the mountains.

This means that transporting the boxes to the construction site get’s really important. You don’t want to haveĀ  to run semi’s into logging roads for miles and miles of “don’t screw up or break down because it’s impossibleĀ  to turn around”.

This particular cabin site is even harder because it’s location is a perch on the side of a mountain overlooking the ranch. It’s a very special location that should be perfect for “picture postcard” views.

It’s sometimes difficult to discuss “delivery and transportation” with a rancher. They’re usedĀ  to pulling big trailers filled with livestock and they don’t have any qualms about giving truckers nightmares. The client isn’t your typical “rancher” type. He’s a retiring banker who helicopters in and likes to contribute as much input as possible. He’s not afraid to push people’s buttons. He’s intent on getting what he wants.

The client wants to helicopter the boxes in. He knows a guy with a big enough helicopter to accomplish the mission. This means we don’t even need a crane because the boxes will arrive on site, already up in the air. We’ll set the boxes in under a day, easy.

I’m all for this. If we can build effectively and efficiently, it makes like easier for everyone concerned. The plus is that it makes the life of the Project Manager easier almost immediately. The poor guy is already out there andĀ  he’s living in a camper.

It’s funny, but there is a ironic parallel. I’d already given thought to a “low cost”, energy efficient, sustainable ISBU cabin that could be built quickly for my own farm because I find myself in a similar situation. I’m building out a decent sized farm tract deep in the valley (over time) and the agricultural build-out takes priority over the residential builds. That means that we’ll continue to live in town while we get things sorted out, crop by crop. A small “Studio Cabin” located on the property would allow me to work in “several directions” safely and this will literally give us an “extra” year to get all of our ducks in a row. I couldn’t be more pleased at this turn of events and this way my son doesn’t get his schooling interrupted by a move out of the town he’s in now.

So, there you have it. I’m building a small “Off-Grid Architectural Studio” out there so that I can spend a few days a week on the farm consecutively as we literally work around the clock. During calving, foaling and harvesting, there justĀ  isn’t enough time in the day to drive in and out and get all the chores accomplished.

Later, we’ll turn the ISBU cabin into a place where architects and ISBU educators and initiates can come spend some time on the farm learning about “sustainable architecture” and learning to speak “Cortenese”… šŸ™‚

By the way, I’d like to take a moment to say that my hat is off to “family” farmers and ranchers. I can assure you that they’re some of the hardest working families in America.

Here’s a really basic line drawing of what we’re talking about;

Klein Fallback Studio - click to enlarge

Klein Fallback Studio – click to enlarge

The idea is to take a handful of small 20′ High Cube shipping containers and some salvaged steel and build “sustainable, affordable, energy efficient” housing that will take care of it’s residents during “hard winters” where high performance and energyĀ  efficiency are essential to “Mountain Life”.

This same cabin would function flawlessly just about anywhere a loft style home is applicable. It’s small, comfortable, affordable and easy to build.

Remember that ISBUs are just “modular boxes”. They’reĀ  steel frames waiting to get welded together to form skeletons. Once you get the boxes in place, it’s pretty much a “conventional” build supplemented with enough “tech” to take the home “off-grid”.

Building a home (or even a commercial project) using ISBUs isn’t “rocket science”.

You embrace your project in the same manner as you would any other type ofĀ  construction:

  • Start with good design principles.
  • Do your homework. Learn everything you can about what’s happening. Information is the purest form of power.
  • Define your needs and wants clearly.
  • Define your budget early on and stick to it.
  • Choose quality materials, reusing, recycling and repurposing materials where you can to keep your budget manageable.
  • “Multi-task” every area you can.
  • “Friends in the trades” make light work. Call in favors. Buy Pizza and coffee. Apply beer liberally. šŸ™‚
  • “Light makes Right”. You’reĀ  not buildingĀ  a cave, you’re buildingĀ  your home.

Remember that building small spaces means building spaces capable of being “multi-tasked”. Use space for as many purposes as possible. The more you do this, the smaller your homeĀ  requirements become.

“Capture” as much light as you can. There are those that believe that “Container life” means living is a small metal tube. NOTHING could be further from the truth. Great windows make great homes. Sunlight means airy, enjoyableĀ  spaces. Sunlight means heat. Sunlight makes you happy.

If you design well, define with diligence and stay focused on the details, you’ll build a successful project.

And, in places like Montana and Colorado, as long as you have a sustainable, energy efficient ISBU home that basks in the sunlight, a well and some firewood combine to insure that winter isn’t going to give you any trouble at all.

Until next time…

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