How to Build a Livable Paper House

Believe it or not, a house built of paper can be comfortable, weather proof and durable.

| September/October 1976

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    The finished paper house. Durable, comfortable and energy-efficient, the house cost little to build.
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    Details of the paper house's construction.
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    Small doorways help insulate the house.
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    Twenty-four ribs help support the structure.
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    Construction of the pasteboard house.

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I'll admit, when you first hear about it, that the idea of building a full-sized house of paper —and then living in it—sounds absurd. But it really can be done. And such a structure can be cozy, strong, weatherproof, and permanent.

The Japanese have been making vertical wall panels and room divider screens from paper for centuries ... but I wanted to go that one better. What I wanted to try to do was construct a complete house of paper. A house that anyone could build ... at extremely low cost ... using very few tools (and no special tools at all) ... without any forms or scaffolding. A house that would last at least 10 years.

Choosing Pasteboard to Build the House

Corrugated paper board stock—or "pasteboard", as it's commonly known—was my first choice for the structure I wanted to build. It's easy to handle, very light in weight, available in a variety of colors and textures, and cuts, bends, and folds nicely. It can also be glued, taped, stapled, and fastened together in many other ways. And besides that, its price is quite reasonable ... even when you have to buy it.

Of course, a dedicated scrounger probably would never allow himself or herself to lay out cold, hard cash for pasteboard. The material usually overflows industrial and manufacturing sites, and city dumps always seem well stocked with it.

Indeed, I originally intended to scrounge the corrugated board stock for the house you see here. But it was already September and winter was coming on fast when I finally freed myself enough to start on the structure. So, in the interest of expediency, I purchased everything that went into the building. Still, the total materials package—including foundation and insulated floor but not including plumbing and interior cabinetry—came to only $1.25 a square foot. Imagine how little you might spend on a house like this if you have a talent for recycling other people's castoffs!

There is a bewildering variety of pasteboard stocks available. The ultimate strength (bursting strength) of each depends on the number of layers of corrugations or "flutes" in the board, the type of glue used to hold it together, and the thickness of the layers of paper from which it is made. Try to get pasteboard made with waterproof or water resistant glue and stay away from cardboard that has been coated with wax (since the wax will repel any glue or waterproofing you might try to add later).

Connie Losee
10/19/2008 10:13:43 PM

I would really like the plans promised in the above 1976 article. But apparently the little dome home and Mr. Self aren't at that address any more. Does anyone know what happened to this young man and how to contact him? Is he still involved in paper house building? Thank you. Connie Losee


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