I've been a keen observer of what one might call 'alternative home technologies' for some years, given my background in the Third World and my awareness of the very great need for relatively low-cost, durable, environmentally friendly alternatives to current home construction methods. I've written before about the use of recycled shipping containers for housing, and I've looked into other techniques such as straw-bale houses, cob housing, adobe housing, earthbag construction, etc.
I've been puzzled at the lack of use in housing construction of planks made from recycled plastic. These are already common, with a number of companies making park benches, decking, etc. out of this material. (The four companies linked in the previous sentence are only a few of many in the industry.) The Coney Island Boardwalk is apparently going to be resurfaced with it, and I've seen several boat docks on the Great Lakes made out of these planks - but I've never seen it widely used for beams or siding in conventional houses, and wondered why. I'm told it's not strong enough for structural use, but surely that's just a matter of making it thicker, or modifying the plastic 'mixture' used to produce it?
It seems a British company has taken the next step, and is actively pursuing houses built entirely of recycled plastic waste. The Daily Mail reports:
It puts the fab into prefabricated. And goes some way to solving the huge problem of managing the mountains of rubbish we throw away.
For the latest use of recycled plastic is building family homes.
And the price? All yours, complete with bathroom, kitchen and plumbing, for £42,000 [about US $65,000] - although you will have to provide your own land.
A pioneering company is building three-bedroom houses with frameworks made entirely of recycled waste plastic - including thousands of water bottles.
Each house is made up of 18 tonnes [just under 20 US short tons] of recycled plastic trash that would have been destined for waste tips across the country.
... the special plastic is almost four times as strong as concrete and insulates the house twice as well, enabling house-holders to cut their heating bills in half.
It is fire, storm and wind proof and, being made of plastic, is naturally waterproof.
The firm, Swansea-based Affresol, uses material that cannot be recycled any other way, to make panels that bolt together to create low carbon homes.
Any plastic, from old patio chairs and tables to building fixtures and fittings, are ground down into small granules that are then fused together in a chemical reaction to make Thermo Poly Rock (TPR).
Forty TPR panels are then bolted together to form the load bearing frame of houses.
They can then be externally clad with brick, block or stone, with the interior insulated and plastered as any other house.
Managing director of Affresol, Ian McPherson, believes the company is solving the country's housing and recycling problems at the same time.
He came up with [the] brainwave three years ago, after selling his IT company, and teamed up with manufacturing expert Scott Phillips and the universities of Cardiff and Glamorgan.
Father-of-two Mr McPherson, 60, said: ‘The materials are stronger and lighter than concrete.
‘They are waterproof, fire retardant, do not rot and have great insulation.
‘We estimate the life of the houses at more than 60 years and after that they are recyclable.
‘We believe there is tremendous potential for this new product particularly with the growing focus on carbon reduction, low energy affordable homes and sustainability.
‘At the moment about 50 to 60 per cent of all plastic is recycled – we take the other 40 to 50 per cent and use it to make something really useful.
‘Individuals can buy houses from us or developers can buy in bulk.
‘This is a new kind of prefabricated house which helps the environment as well.
‘As a country we put far too much waste into landfill and this goes some way to helping solve the problem of all our rubbish.
‘It’s exciting to build something new out of things we throw away.’
There's more at the link.
This is really interesting news. If they get it right, there's no reason why the same technology can't be applied in the USA and other countries. The price is fairly reasonable, and would probably become cheaper with mass production; and think of the maintenance savings! By impregnating the plastic panels with the desired color, one would never need to repaint; never have to replace worn-out siding . . . there are all sorts of advantages. The houses might even be portable! If they're made by assembling plastic panels, I can't see any reason why those panels can't be disassembled, transported to a new site and re-erected there, if necessary.
I'll be watching this very carefully. It's a development that's long overdue.