Standing in the Firelight of Builders Hell!

We’ve all seen the photographs.

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You can drive past any shipping port in the United States and you’re going to bear witness to evidence that somethings wrong in America. You see, as you motor past ports like Long Beach, you are bound to see mountains made of steel. I’m not talking about skyscrapers. I’m talking about row after row of empty shipping containers stacked up to the sky like a child’s Legos,  colorful building blocks piled on top of each other until they almost kiss the clouds.

We know why this  is happening. It’s a testament to the failure of American Manufacturing… the lack of export commerce. Yes, I said that out loud. It’s a reminder that today’s economy is suffering and it’s not getting any better, despite what you read on the internet.  In the global arena of manufacturing of goods, we don’t compete. We simply import more goods than we produce.  American households are filled with possessions and a lot of them come from “someplace else”. Think about that for a minute.

This also means that we don’t export products to other countries to support a growing America competitively. Due to America’s trade imbalance with foreign countries, countries like China, over half of the shipping containers that enter our ports never make it back to their points of origin. It’s just not cost effective to return empty containers to China to refill them. It’s cheaper and more efficient to build new ones to ship that Chinese TV over so you can buy it at Walmart.

And, these monuments to our manufacturing failure have to get piled up someplace, right?

It’s because of these metal mountains that more than a few creative minds have started to think outside the box. I mean, we’re stuck in traffic, staring up at them.

You know where this post is going…

Over the last few years, many outspoken architects and engineers have addressed the use of shipping containers as structure. Readers of this blog know that we are heavily involved in taking these cast-off steel boxes and turning them into incredible, sustainable, affordable homes for families across America and beyond it’s shores.

Recently, I’ve witnessed yet another resurgence of naysayers from the trades who claim that building with containers is a boondoggle. They claim it’s a “budget busting peril” to be avoided at all costs… especially when cost is a determining factor. They say that building with containers is anything but affordable.

Yeah? Bull.

Let me tell you WHY these “tradesmen” are so outspoken. We live in difficult times for housing. Money for building is getting harder to get. Many building firms are going out of business due to the lack of projects. Fewer families are entering the housing market. They’ve simply been forced out of them as the economy squeezes their paychecks harder and harder each year.The opposition of ISBU Housing comes from the fact that more and more Americans are learning that there are other paths to take… paths that lead away from tradesmen stuck in “doing traditional things in traditional ways.”

Your decisions to look beyond the “run of the mill” housing aren’t “normal”. The naysayers don’t want you to save money. It’s because they get paid a percentage of what you spend. They don’t want to be forced to learn new skills. That costs them even MORE money. Your decisions about housing are affecting their bottom line.  They’re scared…

They should be. What scares them the most is that people are listening to people like us…

(And we have the hate mail to prove it.)

Many of our building families offset budget expenses by using “sweat equity”. That’s right. They do it themselves. By enlisting friends and relatives in the trades, they reduce their construction costs by reducing their labor costs. Of course they have to factor in expenses like beer and burgers… but it’s a trade-off they’re willing to make to insure that they build the house of their dreams affordably.

Some of these building families break the $100 a square foot threshold on a regular basis. Even in 2016, It’s possible to build a 1,200 square foot 3 bedroom/2 bath home for $70 a square foot. I know that this is true because we’re witnessing it in locations that stretch from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic, inclusive of the Gulf Coast of America.

Case in point:

I want to take a moment to remind you that some of the most famous homes in Shipping Container (ISBU  – Intermodal Steel Building Unit) history were built for under the $150 a square foot threshold that most of these naysayers claim is the “starting point”. They’ll claim that “anything less than $200 a square foot for a custom home is crap construction.”

Yes, they actually say this. We have it in writing, from several “experts”.

It’s nonsense.

Indisputably, the most visible Shipping Container home in America is the work of Peter DeMaria in Southern California. Now, we admit (even openly) that we think that Peter is a genius. He’s a visionary who decided that he didn’t care where his hairline moved as he played “David” to LA’s “Goliath”. While we admit that we don’t agree with every step he takes when designing and building an ISBU home,  he designed and built a Container Home amidst the hostilities of some of the toughest building codes in America.  Peter and the Pirkls (the building family) captured what many think is “lighting in a bottle”.  The results are… well…  indisputable.

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Image Credit: Google.com

In Peter DeMaria’s hybrid 2 story design for the Redondo Beach House, conventional stick-frame construction was combined with eight repurposed steel shipping containers to form this wonderful “Corten Castle”. This isn’t your “run of the mill” typical tract house, either. The contemporary house sports four bedrooms, three-and-a-half baths nestled beneath soaring 20-foot-high living room ceilings and it was outfitted with glass-panel airplane hangar doors that actually disappear by folding out to create a seamless indoor-outdoor living space. To accentuate the industrial looks of the containers, the Pirkls left the corrugated steel walls exposed or enhanced with siding to replace the sturdy maritime wood floors that come standard in cargo boxes.

demaria-redondo-beach-container-house-rear-view

Image Credit: Google.com

If you’re  a regular reader, you can see where we differ with Peter, but still… the results were amazing. There are many paths to Corten Heaven… Peter journeyed along his passionately and it shows.

Contrary to naysayer claims, this home wasn’t a “slapped together shell made of recycled/junk steel”. Peter included all the bells and whistles. The home was designed and constructed to provide long-term energy savings. They employed carefully selected low-flow plumbing fixtures. They embraced LED lights and Energy Star appliances. Stick-frame walls were insulated with a material called “UltraTouch” manufactured using recycled denim material. Using simple passive solar techniques they oriented the home to catch the prevailing Pacific Coast breezes so that the residence remains cool and comfortable year-round.

Did this incredible feat of Shipping Container engineering cost a proverbial arm and a leg?

No.

Did it cost the typical $250 a square foot (or more) that most of our naysayers project this home’s constructions cost demanded?

No.

Is the construction of a home like this cost prohibitive for middle class families across America?

No.

According to the guy paying the bills, home-owner Sven Pirkl:

“Once all the bills were tallied, using steel containers for more than half of the Redondo Beach House’s 3,500 square feet equaled big savings.”

Let’s read that again, shall we?

“Once all the bills were tallied, using steel containers for more than half of the Redondo Beach House’s 3,500 square feet equaled big savings.”

Remember that they built their home on Los Angeles County, Ca. Remember that when they built this home in 2006, the average cost of construction for a typical (middle class) semi-custom single family dwelling ran an average of $250 a square foot or more. The median price of single family homes in Los Angeles CA in 2016 is $477,000.00. The average SIZE of these homes runs in the $412 per square foot range.

Take into consideration that this cost represents a home that is much smaller than the Shipping Container Home built by the Pirkls.

In order to afford to purchase the median-priced home in Los Angeles, you’d need to earn $96,513 a year, according to HSH.com, a mortgage information website.

But consider that the median income in Los Angeles is about half that: $49,497, according to census numbers from 2009-2013.

So it’s no surprise that Los Angeles has been rated as the most hostile, most unaffordable city to rent in America by Harvard and UCLA.

So think about this for a minute… in the worst possible place at almost the worst possible time…

A time when the average price of building a custom home in their area was upwards of $250 a square foot, the shipping container housing project cost roughly $135 a square foot to build. Best of all, says Sven Pirkl:

“We’ve been living in the house for five years, and we’re still very happy.”

Years after that, the energy savings and the performance of the home have more than met the families expectations.

Even with the adjustments to cost projections that would be factored in over the last 10 years, the Pirkl house doesn’t begin to touch the median selling price of new construction in LA.

And remember, this is Los Angeles CA, a land where “you must make $33 an hour (over $68,400 a year) to be able to afford an (average) apartment at all.”  – Matt Schwartz, president and chief executive of the California Housing Partnership, which advocates for affordable housing.

The average RENT of a typical apartment in Los Angeles exceeds $1,700 a month. The average Los Angeles resident spends over 47% of his/her income on rent… or they drive into work from another county.

So the next time you talk about Shipping Container dreams with your friends and relatives, remember that you can show them a photo of the most photographed Shipping Container Home in American History and proudly exclaim;

“Totally cool! Totally Huge! Totally famous! 3,500 square feet as good as it gets! They built it for $130.00 a square foot in the middle of “Building Hell”! Shut up!”

It’s okay to dream. It’s even better to be able to do it when you have the facts to back it up! LOL!

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1 comment for “Standing in the Firelight of Builders Hell!

  1. Angel herrera
    March 3, 2017 at 3:32 am

    I am very interested in purchasing the plans c3-C cubed -Collins corten Castle

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