Build Your House From Recycled Materials

Alternative architect Martin Pawley teaches students to recycle disposable containers and packages into important building materials.
By Martin E. Pawley
January/February 1979
Add to My MSN

Disposable containers and packages make surprisingly useful building materials! By recycling these cylindrical, metal cans into your construction project, you could be using a material that can withstand more vertical pressure than a concrete block. 
PHOTO: FOTOLIA
Slideshow


Content Tools

Related Content

Learn More About Columbia University's Sustainability Management Program

Columbia University's Earth Institute will hold an informational session on its Sustainability Manag...

Big Green

When my friend Scott Rodwin, who’s been practicing and promoting green architecture here in Boulder ...

New Photos of Lloyd House's Leaf House

New photos of Lloyd House's Leaf House

This Chick Has Gone Green

Hand crafted from recycled materials, each item one of a kind.

While most of us agree products in disposable containers are wasteful, there are measures we should consider while we wait for lawmakers to ban them.

Disposable containers and packages make surprisingly useful building materials! This "trash" is often remarkably strong (after all, it has to be shipped around the country without damage), and — best of all — disposable containers are free to collect. You can even pick them up at recycling centers.

It seems to me, after some work in the field, that the American people can retrieve and make good use of the six million tons of steel, one hundred million tons of glass, and one million tons of aluminum that finds its way into landfills every year.

You see, all these containers and packages have some usable strength and — after their contents are gone — don't cost anything. Some, in fact, are high-grade construction material by many standards. Cans, for instance, are usually made of either steel or aluminum; metals that can provide either structural strength or great durability. Glass bottles are enormously strong, too, and have been used in construction ever since they were first machine produced. In Rhyolite, Nevada, for example, there is a bottle house that was built 66 years ago. In New Zealand, there is a complete bottle motel!

One well-known disposable bottle, the 48-ounce Coca-Cola "Crowd Pleaser", is so strong that 20 of these bottles successfully resisted vertical pressures of 10,000 pounds during tests that I carried out at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute a couple of years ago (compare that to the approximate 1,000-pound resistance capability of concrete blocks used in construction).

In 1976, my students and I built a small house at Rensselaer, New York out of recycled materials. The frame was made from cardboard tubes found at the center of rolls of the same kind of paper MOTHER EARTH NEWS is printed on. The roof was covered with tiles made from waste neoprene rubber and the walls were constructed of recycled, institutional-sized steel cans.

Recycled materials can be the cornerstone of a whole new style of construction . . . and pioneer waste builders are just beginning to explore the potential of these recyclable resources.

So, until sensible laws are passed that ban disposable containers (and for a good time after these regulations go into effect . . . after all, there's no shortage of discarded containers around) "garbage builders" can continue to explore the possibilities of alternative architecture made from recycled materials. We will keep the countryside cleaner while we’re at it!








Post a comment below.

 








Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 66% Off the Cover Price

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
Country:
Email:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Lighten the Strain on the Earth and Your Budget

MOTHER EARTH NEWS is the guide to living — as one reader stated — “with little money and abundant happiness.” Every issue is an invaluable guide to leading a more sustainable life, covering ideas from fighting rising energy costs and protecting the environment to avoiding unnecessary spending on processed food. You’ll find tips for slashing heating bills; growing fresh, natural produce at home; and more. MOTHER EARTH NEWS helps you cut costs without sacrificing modern luxuries.

At MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet’s natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. That’s why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.00 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.00 for 6 issues.