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The Bright ISBU – a Design Project Slightly Less Wacky

July 13, 2010

I put a number of projects on the back burner to rework an old container home idea.  The inspiration for this project came from the architect and shipping container (ISBU) visionary Alex Klein. I purchased (made a donation to) his new book “Introduction to Container Homes and Buildings” Contemplating Corten Castles from his website  Al has been working at designing and building affordable green homes using ISBU containers since the late 70s. For those of us who see the potential of building affordable, energy efficient, appealing homes from recycled shipping containers – Alex’s new book ( and the larger one pending) is exactly what we have been waiting for. I’ve seen resource materials on ISBU building  that is short on the “nuts and bolts” of construction knowhow and other material that offer grand architectural visions that will offer very little to those who want to build a home and not be a slave to large mortgage debt.  Today it is very rare and welcome to see an architect that has dedicated a good chuck of his life to designing and redefining “homes” and making it easier for the rest of us to own one. I hope this is the first step towards a more standardized approach to building with Containers.

So here is my new project – I call it the “Bright ISBU”. It uses 3 ISBU containers either 2 40ft. containers and one 20ft. for a 800sq. ft. home or 3 20ft. containers for a smaller home with 480sq. ft. of living space. I incorporated a number of cooling strategies in the design.  The containers are insulated on the outside with either straw bales or earth bags filled with perlite or scoria ( a lava rock with an R value of 3 per inch – Kelly Hart pioneer this method in the construction of his earth bag home  There is a frame work of square steel tubing welded on to the roof that has a 5 ft overhang for the roof – 2 ft for the straw bale or earth bags and 3 ft. to provide protection to the walls and to protect the home from the direct sunlight of summer sun that sits high in the sky. In winter the sun hangs lower in the sky and the direct sunlight enters the home threw the large south facing windows to warn the home. A tiled radiant heating floor would also help retain the heat of the sun in winter – it would become a solar mass, thermal battery. I have a larger overhang area on the southwest corner of the home – this is the place where it looks like I forgot to add the forth container.  This outdoor area offers a shaded area to add further protection from the heat of the summer afternoon sun.  Shade blinds will also help protect this area from the sun. on the northwest wall I have two tall narrow windows.  In the summer the sun will beat down on this wall and cause it to warm up so I placed heavy planks over these windows – hinged at the top – prop these planks open at the bottom  a couple of inches so the hot air will pass up and out through these openings – drawing cooler air into the home from small vent windows on the cooler northeast wall.

I’ve had the idea for the roof for a couple of years now. Rows of 3 corrugated galvanized bin sheets that are rolled  for a 42 ft diameter grain bin. The top sheet straddles the apex of the roof making the joint seams lower down from the apex- rain will run over these joints here better. The 2 sheets on the bottom on either side will be bolted to the top sheet from underneath so the rain will roll down and over the joints.  I have 2 rope caulking seams in-between these joints. The ends of these sheets will be fastened to bracket angle flashing pieces – corrugated on one side to be bolted to the grain bin sheets ( with 2 runs of rope caulking seams in-between). The angle bracket flashing pieces are then screw bolted to the overhang frame through pre-drilled pilot holes. The bolt hole pattern on the seams of the grain bin sheets and the angle bracket flashing would be 2 rows of holes on the “hills” of the corrugation ( as apposed to the “valleys”) .  This provides tiny, unobstructed gutters for the rain to flow.  The ends of the roof would be “Structural Insulated Panels” and the steel cavity of the roof would be sprayed with with closed cell insulation foam – This would give the roof a high R value – add more waterproofing to the roof and give in more structural integrity. This would be a very strong roof – easy to build and inexpensive.

The roof in this project expresses the  similar ideas that I was working with on the Foam Dome Home as a roof project – a quick and easy to build structure that is strong , lightweight and inexpensive and these Bright ISBU models worked out rather well for me.  I would love to live the 480 square foot model and I will be working on this idea for awhile yet but I hope to post with some smaller interesting projects  in the weeks to come.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Gary permalink
    July 14, 2010 3:04 am

    I love the curved roof…it reminds me of this project: animation:

  2. July 14, 2010 8:01 am

    I am always happy to get the changes to promote Gregory La Vardera of Lami Designs work. It is very rare today to find architects who design affordable homes. Most of the architectural community concern themselves with building grand public spaces and commercial buildings. Gregory has a few interesting videos on you tube on his design philosophies that are certainly worth checking out.

  3. July 14, 2010 9:40 am

    I like the idea of containers as homes only because the rates of housing nowadays is too high.. You could buy a bit of land and put the container on it…. The roof is a good idea ,but it would made a lot of noise during a downpour of rain…Apart form that the idea looks fine…The container need to be covered from direct sunlight as well…I would suggest anyone making the building to have one side of the container into the sun as it sets in the west to give some more heating into the building as the evening sets in…. Also you need to have somewhere for solar panels on the roof and a wind turbine nearby…Somewhere for mains battery bank as well…. yip!! this house would work….

  4. July 14, 2010 1:15 pm

    Interesting follow up post here, but soundproofing this structure could be impossible, especially against rain. Again, for me it’s all about acoustics. The foam dome concept still provokes debate in my circles, but this concept probably warrants a larger study of the whole “going off the grid” movement. Any way you slice it, all of these designs are sustainable. I dig.

  5. July 14, 2010 2:11 pm

    Thank you for the comments Vic and Lance.
    I don’t think you have to worry about noise in a rain storm in this design. I have a traditional roof on my house with flat steel covering the frame – there is fiberglass insulation ( it was put in before I came to live here) between the roof and me and there is no noise in rain or hail storms in the house. The Bright ISBU has an envelope of closed cell insulation spray on all interior surfaces of the attic space – 6 inches would do the trick ( Thats 6″ on the corrugated steel and 6″ on the ISBU top – that will give you; in theory, a full foot of insulation).

    The corrugated steel offers places to bolt brackets to support solar panels – trust me, I’ve built a large number of grain bins in my life time.
    As for having a passive solar window space on the west wall – well its all about trade offs when it comes to passive solar heating – The 3 ft overhangs will block off the direct sunlight of the high summer sun but when it falls in the west in late afternoon you will get a good chunk of direct summer sun shining on the west wall. I have the two narrow windows here – in the summer these windows have the hinged planks over them – propped open a couple of inches at the bottom to let the hot air escape and pull in cooler air in from the north east. In winter the planks will come off and the glass put back in – this will offer a bit of west wall passive solar heating. The thing you have to think of is – you might gain some heat in winter from having a large window space here but you will use your winter gains up by needing more energy for cooling in the summer and having suffered through a heat wave in the last couple of weeks – cooling is winning the battle for my attention at the moment.

  6. July 15, 2010 12:50 am

    certainly an interesting roof design. – I will bookmark the page and look forward to seeing your followups

  7. Fred permalink
    August 3, 2010 6:22 pm

    I like your design. I think that any design that can get people into a home at a truly affordable price, then be able to run the house at a low cost is worth looking at. Alex Klein, in my mind, is the guru of ISBU homes. Anyone looking into this type of construction needs to read his blog and buy his book.

    • August 3, 2010 7:18 pm

      I couldn’t agree with you more on this Fred. Read the blog, read the book. More ISBU homes need to be built and standards need to be set so ISBU homes can become more accessible to the average would be home owner. Alex is certainly the guy to listen to.

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