In St. Petersburg, Florida a cooperative program between the St. Petersburg Neighborhood Housing Services, the Home Depot Foundation, and the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes has found a new use for abandoned ISBUs (Intermodal Steel Building Units.) ISBUs are the large steel shipping containers used on ships for shipping cargo. Thanks to the Tampa Armature Works adapting the steel containers (for this project), they are able to be used in building sturdy, hurricane-rated safe houses.
I first became aware of the project as I was channel surfing and came across the Bob Vila show. He ran a series of four episodes featuring the building of a four bedroom, two bath, single-family home in the Bartlett Park area. They showed the finished house and one next door with three bedrooms that was about half-way through the process of being built. In the piece they ran through the process of building the finished home, which had windows rated for hurricane force winds and high-wind construction roofing. The home was insulated to a R19 rating with spray-on insulation that was developed by NASA for use on the space shuttles. They stated that it was about the thickness of a credit card! The finished product looked like any other traditionally built house and until they rapped on the side of the house and it made a metallic ‘thunk’ sound one couldn’t tell it was made from steel containers. Surely, when transforming a steel container into a livable house or shelter, the quality of materials should always be considered. More than just the design and style of the house, the durability and its capacity to overcome disasters should be given high importance. That’s according to this Dawson dude.
The actual construction was two rows of the containers end to end with traditional building materials between the two rows of containers. The kitchen had plastic laminate countertops on oak pre-made cabinets acquired from the local building center. The modern, energy saver appliances were purchased from Brand Source who could give them a discount on the appliances. These houses are slated for the affordable housing market for low income families in an effort to revitalize the Bartlett Park area.
Housing is not the only use for the steel containers, although I did find it intriguing. For instance, they can also be used for storage units. Several companies refurbish the units which come in 10′ (cut down from 20′), 20′ and 40′ units that are eight feet wide by eight and half feet tall. They come in a variety of colors and if you prefer, they will remodel them to suit your needs. Just for a reference on price, I checked with a supplier I found closest to my location: Midwest Storage Containers (out of Minneapolis) has a starting cost of $1750.00 for a 20′ container and $3400.00 for a 10′ container (because they have to cut it down to size). Prices are based on what they have to do to the container per your order, of course, plus delivery.
Since the four episodes of Bob Vila which featured the Container-Built Homes, the company creating the homes, SG Blocks, has received many calls for interest in building multi-family units in California, and island countries near the US as well as interest in building for military installations.
Links to business which sell the ISBUs can be found at www.BobVila.com. Search for the episodes on Container-Built Homes (Episode 0226.)
The St. Petersburg Neighborhood Housing Services is a charter member of Neighborhood Works┬« America, a non-profit network of community development organizations dedicated to revitalizing communities and changing lives for the better. The network accepts donations at www.nw.org.