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1. What do you have against George Runkle?

Nothing at all! I have a tremendous amount of respect for how far he’s taken cargotecture and have read everything he’s written about the subject. He is a true pioneer and scholar.

2. Why didn’t you ask George Runkle for permission to use him in your video?

It does count as fair use, as a comment on his position. And it doesn’t twist his words, he said it would be hard but not impossible. And Lordie! It was. But more importantly, his video does a phenomenal job of quickly explaining the traditional challenges of this medium. The scale models and his Columbia shirt lend him instant credibility, and he’s very likable. If I asked him for permission and he said no, I would have been screwed. He was the only way to get the intro video under three minutes. He was definitely the Resource the video was designed to.

3. What are three things you’ve learned from George Runkle?

  1. He wrote somewhere that the container floors without panels could span “10 feet or so”. I would have had no way of knowing that, or really being able to figure that out on my own. My engineer would ask me how I was sure it was 10 feet. I’d say “Runkle says it’s 10 feet.” “Who’s Runkle?
  2. The boxes “spring out of shape” when you cut the sides out. Knowing to plan for that was very helpful. 
  3. To quote his website: “If you are building a container house by yourself, I don’t care what the many other websites tell you, it will cost you about $150.00 a square foot. Now, somebody will reply to this pointing out they “know a guy” that built a house for couple hundred dollars. I’m not talking about a hermit living in a box in the woods. I’m talking about a permitted legal house. I’ve challenged people to come up with a specific house that has been permitted and follows all applicable codes that costs less – I need specifics. If I get one of these, I will happily post about it here on the website.” This was definitely a great benchmark and cautionary tale.

However...the model house is permitted, legal and follows all applicable codes (so far). It’s passed preliminary load tests for roof, floor and foundation, and the walls haven’t even been built yet!

We are *hopefully* on track to finish this for under $150.00/sq. ft, but more importantly, we should be able to do the next one for far less than that. And George, since I know you don’t like airports, I would be happy to come get you or offer you a bus ticket to Durham, NC. It’s a straight 5-hour shot on I-85. We were voted best food in the South, after all. And I can give you “all the specifics.” I’ve been looking forward to it for three years. And hopefully you can share some pointers or resources or cost control measures for us. And maybe one day engineer one of our projects.

4. Are you suggesting you figured out something that George Runkle couldn’t?

What we’ve done took three years of research and over $100,000K of trial and error and I don’t think this was exactly “right under people’s noses”. Engineers’ hands are tied to what is known theoretically about the performance of certain materials or strategies. Welding is a sure shot. Two pieces of metal literally become one. If they don’t, it’s on the welder. Why should an engineer take a chance on anything but that? “This piece of metal is screwed to this piece of wood, with knots in it, and a few of the screws might have stripped out, but it should still hold”. The only way to prove what we were doing was with load tests. Once we realized that, then it was a matter of maximizing the value of cheap things whose strength would come through in load tests, and of course designing the load tests to be as inexpensive as possible, IE, re-using the test material as frost-protecting backfill around the house.

5. How are they insulated?

A single layer of cellulose. See [Insulation Innovation]

6. What about condensation?

Condensation occurs on metal surfaces with different surface temperatures on either side.Think of a duct, when it runs hot air to a cold space or cold air to a hot space, or a car on a cold morning, whose inside air was sealed from the outside.

Because Cold-Form Cargo (CFC) ceilings are insulated with cellulose under the roof, there are no drastic surface temperature changes. They are actually two surfaces with insulation between them. The easiest way to understand this is single vs. double-pane windows. The air between the panes serves as a thermal break, which is why single pane windows condensate and double pane windows don’t.

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7. What’s so great about the foundation?

Although everyone is excited about the containers (understandably), the foundation is the first and only thing I’ve ever done which I consider a masterpiece (with some tweaks). It’s somewhat reminiscent of a rubble trench foundation, except that it’s suitable for even 500 lb/sq ft soils, since it’s load-tested and self- compacting. It’s flat, free-draining, frost-protected, pretty much at grade, and recycled. It can be done in a day, yet will hardly ever budge.

8. Can the foundation be used on a regular house?

The bunker blocks could kinda sorta be used on a regular house, except a regular house blows apart and blows away without being anchored down every few feet, unlike the containers, which fare pretty well even before being anchored down. Also it’s nowhere near as elegant or efficient for a regular house, which would need far more than 10 footings to work, because regular stick-frame is not as stiff as a container floor frame. Nor could regular stick frame cantilever by 10 feet like a boss: 

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Also, we’re trying to develop a growing number of models and segments for these things...larger, smaller, etc, and camouflage the objectionable container details on the inside to where you wouldn’t even know it was a container.

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So we’re trying to close the gap between this and a “regular” house, rather than adapt it to a “regular” house. Example, we did a paper-bag (brown kraft paper) floor in a tattoo shop right over vinyl and it worked so well that we thought, why not use that to cover the metal transitions?

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All that takes time to develop and try different ways, and that’s just one example of many. Of course, all the walls, floors, and ceilings can be covered with conventional finishes for more money, but we’re researching the most cost-effective workarounds for the baseline house. 

Till we use up the millions of surplus containers, that’s the direction we’re headed, rather than reverse- engineering things for “regular” houses. 

The licensing fees give us the freedom to research, experiment and innovate, which is the whole point of patents. And in case there are any skeptics, we hope to be able to conduct larger tests one day. 

While the bunker block test method and the container manipulation system are patent pending, any theoretical modeling of the rubblestone/recycled crushed concrete composite is public domain. 

I have notes modeling the segregated interstice sectors, harnessing consolidation as a volumetric credit to finite density against coefficient of internal friction, probabilistic refinement of concrete crushing event as limiting precursor to morphological fracture plane data set, inherent flaws of Proctor for cohesionless, frictional fill in semi-infinite condition, etc, but as I am not an engineer I would rather send them to trusted engineers or peers privately for review or development.

9. Are these green? Sustainable?

So long as we keep importing 4 times as much as China, containers will keep piling up at the ports. But CFC’s truly take advantage of containers’ intrinsic strengths to save in other areas, like the foundation, lumber and insulation. See how much material is saved in the “For Homeowners”


10. Is it true that you will work with Elon Musk to put solar panels on the roofs?

That’s just speculation fueled by me with this question. But:

  • the roof panels are pretty much the largest practical size to transport down the road, so quite efficient for a solar surface, especially since they could all be rigged on the ground and/or off-site....and we have some nice toys on-site to help get them up. It would be an honor to offer that as an upgrade one day.

11. I just don’t see how you will get it to look like the render...

It’s amazing what some paint, gable trim and a front porch can do. 

Also, here’s a before and after of another house we “flipped”.

Before and after of a kitchen...

And some baths we did...

Dare I say, not exactly redneck-grade....

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12. Do you have any more eye candy of the finished product?

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13. Where can I get one?!

The only one available is in Durham, North Carolina, and it looks like question 7. But we would pre-sell it to a cash buyer. We can reserve the next one or two for cash buyers in Durham, North Carolina, but you would need your lot ready to go and to put down a deposit. For serious inquiries and deposit amounts, see contact page.

14. Cash only?

For now. Appraisers are currently using modular homes as comps for stick-built homes, and vice-versa, but get this. This house is not modular. It’s site-built, and has exactly the same permitting as a regular house.

But in order to get the market started for comps, cash sales will be easiest.

BONUS: The house is zoned as a duplex and the plans started as a duplex, (since we knew the financing piece would be tricky), so you are still in time to turn this into a rental...just comes down to the better offer vs. single family.

15. How can I help?

We have an Indiegogo running currently to help us finish the model house! If we hit our goal, everything above that will be used to fund more research, testing, design, development, and also to scale faster so we can offer this to the public. We believe the house is strong enough, insulated enough and frost-protected enough that it will be buildable nationwide without modifying the plans! But verifying that, familiarizing code officials and training competent General Contractors won’t happen overnight. And of course we want to do a couple more to work out the kinks. We will start local and scale from there. Thanks for your interest!