Anyone watching the news can’t help but notice the large number of devastating natural disasters that have been going on. One of the greatest needs in the world is disaster-resistant housing – houses that can hold up against hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, flooding and other natural disasters. Alex Klein, author of Introduction to Container Homes and Buildings and the Renaissance Ronin website, has been at the forefront of ISBU container housing for years. We’ve been exchanging ideas lately on combining ISBUs and earthbags (he covers this in his new book called The Nuts and Bolts of ISBU Buildings), and it’s been a great pleasure working with him. Here’s his most recent email.
Hi Owen. I released The Nuts and Bolts of ISBU Buildings for presale to raise money to help hard hit families NOW. All (100%) of the funds raised from the “Reservation/Presale” of the book are going to support American families in crisis, due to the recent tornadoes and flooding. We’ve actually already purchased over a thousand gallons of fuel to haul ISBUs with, due to the book push. It just proves to me that people are good. MANY have reached out to help people they didn’t even know. We consider ourselves blessed to be a part of that process. :)
We delivered the first of many support ISBUs to crisis centers in the Midwest last weekend. These Support Centers, – consisting of 20′ galleys, 20′ secured pantries and 40′ bath/shower/laundry units will support volunteers and workers giving their all to help those in need. As we dropped and set the first boxes I realized just how much need there is for secure housing NOW. MANY areas that we visited look like a nuclear disaster. In some cases, it’s just pipe sticking up out of the ground. Even the debris field is absent, whisked away by Mother Nature’s fury.
We’ve spoken about my idea to use both ISBUs and Earthbags in conjunction, creating a “hybrid dwelling” that becomes PERMANENT. It’s a high speed union that will protect and provide for families in need. The core 20′ ISBU is dropped into place (in this first case onto a prepared foundation slab), containing a bathroom and small kitchen, with a “reclaimed dining booth area. Earthbags are used to build a wing off of either (or both) long sides, creating up to 600 square feet of living space, in a matter of days, using not much more than shovels, misprinted bags, cast-off quarry materials and water.
Top that assembly off with a SIP roof covered in SSMR (Standing Seam Metal Roofing) and you have an extremely well insulated, extremely durable housing system. The SIP roof can even support itself without trusses in these runs. The area under that roof (and over the ISBU section) can be reclaimed to form a sleeping loft or even additional storage, easily. An alternating step staircase would allow access by most children and adults, sans those with impairments or physical disabilities. I’m enclosing a quick sketch of what we have in mind. Approx 30′ x 20′ with a simple clerestory roof. As you read this, I’m [fabricating] a 20′ Core unit for earthbag prep.
I suspect that it’s going to look like this (see sketch), to maximize space inside and make it capable of sustaining long durations of habitation. 30’x20’ with a clerestory roof. Approx. 600 square feet. You WILL be able to shelter a small family in it comfortable. And it will be extremely cost effective to build.
But wait, there’s more. Because all the wiring and plumbing is essentially done in the CORE unit, the connections are minimal – saving lots of time, manpower and money. The first sketch I sent was the “bare bones”, this provides add’l kitchen expansion in the form of overhead cabinets over the sinks and a built in pantry and storage area. Essentially we’re welding the doors of the ISBU open, and then framing it out to form a dinette booth. It just seemed to lend itself to the design. I haven’t included a back door, a big no-no if I seek gov’t funding for sure, but I could always add a bank of French doors off the bedroom to allow emergency egress. Again, it lends itself to the design. I thought that we’d determine the exact window placement later. I’m figuring that we’ll use the “CORNERS” to provide the “big views” and the clerestory to allow toplighting.
In light of all the work you’ve done recently with “Geopolymer explorations”, I’m considering using GEO-Bags to build the prototype. The idea of a strong, nearly anti-ballistic wall system that you can “cast” with your own hands is extremely intriguing. Do you have any insight in the connection between GE-BAGS and the Corten Steel ISBU? If this works, we’ll start building in MO, OK, CO. MS, AL and even MT before summers end.
Owen: Outstanding design. The concept of combining earthbags and containers is a great idea. Hybrid designs like this that incorporate various ideas are often the most appropriate. And like I mentioned to you before, there’s no wasted space in this design, everything works perfectly. [Just to be clear, this is Alex’s design. He’s just been bouncing ideas off me.]
You could roll out the project quicker and easier by using standard earthbag techniques. Geopolymer technology is well proven, but no one has built a geopolymer earthbag house yet. There’s limited information available, especially on this new McNulty process. I did a quick search on his method and have found very little additional information. I’m guessing very few people have put it to use because his method is so new. You’d need to do experiments using a range of local materials, pay for lab tests and so on. That could take months…
Maybe start out with standard earthbag (probably stabilized with lime to increase moisture resistance) to get things moving and start the geopolymer experiments on the side.
– use metal anchors to join earthbags to other building materials (use larger versions of thicker metal for greater protection in disaster prone areas)
– add reinforced concrete bond beam to top of earthbag walls with large, high quality hurricane ties embedded in the bond beam to secure the roof (as you know, the roof is the first thing to go and then the wind can blow over the rest of the house)
– roof overhang should be around 12″ to reduce risk of wind damage
– add storm shutters and raise the building site