Why Are ISBUs All The Rage?

May 4, 2009

Why Use an ISBU?

I mean… when you tell people that you’re going to build a building with a shipping container, they look at you like you’ve lost your mind!


What Are The Reasons People Are Using ISBU Shipping Containers For Building Construction?

Are ISBUs Cheap and Plentiful?

In the beginning, the greatest interest in ISBU Shipping Container homes and construction seemed to be the need to utilize the  hundreds of thousands of surplus Shipping Containers sitting in U.S. and other ports abroad. By 2005 there were an estimated 700,000 of them sitting in U.S. ports alone, most of this due to the exploding growth of imports from China.


Another  reason for all the international interest was the seemingly low cost of construction, in comparison to other (more traditional) types of construction. “Little houses” were all the rage!  “Downsizing” wasn’t just for corporations anymore! Owning that “small” home or apartment seemed to gather a lot of interest.

By the end of 2007 the “surplus” stocks at U.S. ports were reportedly down about 25% and according to readers and Members of groups like the ISBU Association, the biggest interest now was the incredible strength and versatility of an ISBU, not the surplus or low cost. There are suggestions that this was actually just a statistical attempt to drive pricing. It makes you think, doesn’t it?

HONGKONG/However, it’s 2009… and current reports show over 1,000,000 surplus shipping containers sitting on the ground, collecting dust, and blocking out the sunlight. So much for “a slowly depleted commodity.”

ISBU Shipping Container Homes Are Here To Stay?

After nearly 3 years of  publicity, hype and interest, it seems ISBU construction isn’t a Fad but an incredible growing trend. …not because of the U.S. and global economy, but because ISBU modules are strong, easy to use, and versatile–almost like stacking Legos blocks. You remember Legos, right? Every child had them! They were those magical interconnecting plastic blocks that allowed you to build everything from pretend houses, to a space station!

Although some corporations like  Travelodge build frames and then insert the ISBU’s 8 or more levels high…


Other builders have been very successful just stacking them up, just as the ocean shipping companies do, one on top of the other, to form unitized buildings…


Unibody Construction

I suppose it was Detroit that popularized the term “unibody.” Although unibody construction is the strongest and most common body architecture in automobiles, SUV’s, yachts, and airplanes today, you may not realize that connecting multiple ISBU shipping containers together is also a form of unibody construction. In fact, by connecting multiple ISBU modules together, whether multiple one-level, or multiple ten-level, you have created the ultimate unibody construction unit with far more strength than the already, super stronger container alone. The strength comes from all the connection points combining to form a “solid” assembly.


An ISBU, all by itself, is one tough customer, but imagine the incredible strength you can get when 2, 4, 6, or 100 of them are connected top, bottom, and sides. Even with fairly extreme modification and wall cut outs, the strength of multiple ISBU’s is far greater than any conventional home or building. The total ISBU shipping container structure becomes a single “honeycomb” unit, like a giant colony of corten steel!

The Uses for ISBU Construction are Absolutely Endless…

Over the next few days, we’ll look at how these boxes are being used, to benefit mankind, in ways beyond just hauling freight!

Stay tuned!



  1. What keeps them from being giant radiators/heat sinks?

    Insulate on the inside takes up space.

    “NASA” coating pushed by ISBU Assoc. is questionable – good for radiant but maybe not for conductive. Otherwise need external paneling.

    • Gene,

      You’re preaching to the choir. 🙂

      Insulation goes on the OUTSIDE of the boxes. Whether you use closed cell foam, foam panels, standard insulation, or even cellulose…

      You fir the outside to create a cavity, and then you have at it. It’s easy to attach wood to the outside of a container, if you think it through. Once you’ve done that, you just build a wall to the thickness required to hold your insulation. It isn’t built or designed to be “structural.”It’s just a box to hold the fluffy stuff… 🙂

      Then, stucco, siding, veneer… you name it.

      We spent considerable time investigating “Ceramic Coatings,” but in the end, we couldn’t get the cooperation we required from the manufacturers to be able to bet our families safety on the material.

      A good SIP roof finishes the package, and keeps you cool and cozy.

  2. Hello

    have you considered transportable joint sealing/finishes yet? we are currently working on finding solutions for this….

  3. My friend is thinking of using one as a bomb shelter. All you have to do is dig a hole, put it in, and cover everything with cement. Voila. Saves on heating costs, too.

  4. If you’re friend follows that path, he’ll be lucky if all he gets is a crushed ISBU. He needs to re-inforce the sides to hold back the lateral force of the concrete, and those sides should be his first step. You’re not just throwing in concrete, you’re going to have to use rebar to re-inforce it, and forms to give it time to sit and dry properly. Make sure your rebar extends above your side walls. The top is a whole new ballgame, you really need to talk to someone who can help you set this up. You need to calculate how thick the concrete must be to hold up the soil depth you’ll need (up to 3′ depending on your fallout zone) and if you really want to go through all this trouble to use an ISBU. You can create a concrete only structure that will be stronger, more secure, and more versatile. Tell your friend to increase his life insurance if he’s just going to bury that container as is.

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