Papercrete Construction

Papercrete is recycle-reusing old paper in a slurry of sand and cement mixed and poured into molds to make any size and shape brick you please. It’s cement ‘light’, all the insulated properties you want without the weight.

The recipe goes as follows:

60% paper (newspaper/cardboard/magazines), 30% sand and 10% cement.

Once that puppy cures it’s a done deal holding its shape even when wet.

A really useful option is being able to treat it like ‘Rammed Earth‘ to pour the mix into forms and allow the entire wall to cure before removing the forms.

If you choose to make bricks – treat them like bricks and mortar them together using more soupy papercrete and finish it off with a papercrete plaster (and a silicone sealer) to prevent water from seeping in. On dome roofs some people have even used tar to create a waterproof layer.

Since ‘waterproofing’ is the biggest challenge papercrete faces, a proper waterproof foundation that prevents water from wicking up into the walls needs to be observed. However, since papercrete is much lighter than other natural building materials there is no need for massive foundations, thus cutting your construction costs considerably. A one foot thick wall has an R-value of 33, plus it acts like adobe with substantial thermal mass taking heat into itself during the day, releasing that warmth at night when temperatures fall.

A huge boon for papercrete is the low amount of sand and concrete in the mix allowing windows and doors to be literally cut out of the wall. Talk about forgiving. I especially love the idea of pouring papercrete on top of a 2 inch slab for a softer yet well insulated floor.
Again, moisture, rain and run off are the biggest challenge so adequate attention must be given to drainage, overhangs, high and dry foundations and a silicone sealer (homestar sealer)with Elastomeric paint on top to expand and contract with the temperatures while keeping the water out).  While this is a tasty morsel to be sure let’s review the pros and cons.

Thumbs up image for Middle Earth Home, photo by Monica Holy

Middle Earth Home graphic for website

Advantages of Papercrete:

•    Recycles paper waste
•    Reduces amount of concrete in build
•    Lighter building material is safer and easier on body to work with
•    A cool project for the DIYer
•    Minimal equipment is needed to make your own bricks
•    Easy technique to learn
•    Forgiving medium to work in
•    Lends itself to curvy, artistic expression
•    Papercrete brick manufacturers have emerged
•    Lite weight only requires a 2inch concrete pad for a foundation
•    Tech. reports now exist
•    Suitable for hot/arid climate

Thumbs down image for Middle Earth Home review, image by Monica Holy

Middle Earth Home graphic for website

Disadvantages of Papercrete:

•    You want to build a what? Getting permits
•    Non-resistance to water
•    Experimental – you are the guinea pig
•    Not too many construction crews around doing this yet
•    Codes not yet written for this method
•    Not suitable for the rain forest or wet climates

Books:

Building with Papercrete and Paper Adobe by Gordon Solberg (1999)

Building with Bags: How We Made Our Experimental Earthbag / Papercrete House
by Kelly Hart

DVDs and PDF Technical Reports:

Papercrete workshops and instructional DVD for sale:  judith-l-williams.com

Building ‘How To’ with Papercrete and Paper Adobe:  http://www.livinginpaper.com/getyours.htm

YouTube Video Series:

Judith Williams offers 6 step by step ‘How To’ videos, lots of great tips:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3HmCV777cw&lr=1

 

Image credits: appropedia, jonny goldstein, rabble

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5 comments on “Papercrete Construction

  1. Gals.. I love what you have done so far!! That house is a splendid example of what can be done, too much of the early work was domes and humped pits and turned off the more conventional person. But the potential is unlimited on design as you have proven.

    I have been collecting and making available all possible info on papercrete in my CD Resource Guide. Information, photos, experiences, scattered both online, in magazines, workshops, etc., and for the last 13 years I have gathered and organized all I can find on what people are doing onto the CD, and companion book.

    Adding lime to the mix, and using OTHER non-paper materials.. like sawdust, clay, chopped shrubbery, EPS beads and dust, and others adds a whole new dimension and possibility to use native/scrap materials. Check out more on my site at http://www.papercrete.com

    A guy in MI created “Para-crete”- using EPS factory waste- for a non-burn, non-absorptive, insulated block that floats! He’s built whole cabins roof to floor on it. Papercrete is really an IDEA whose time has come!

  2. Monica & Nikki on said:

    Yes, alternative architecture is starting to gain momentum. It certainly provides a wonderful sculptural palette for all the artists and creative minds out there. Thank you Charmaine for the added info from your papercrete building experiences. Love the photos on your website, your beautiful home clearly stems from an incredible imagination!

  3. Pingback: Building With Papercrete – Project TZ

  4. Thomas on said:

    Greetings! Great idea, but since paper is a wood product, this product will be naturally hygroscopic in nature. If you aren’t familiar with the term, that means it will naturally draw moisture from the air.
    Have the bonding properties of the blocks been tested of time? Has the hygroscopic aspects been considered?
    Many thanks!
    Thomas

  5. Monica & Nikki on said:

    Papercrete is still a relatively new building technology so like you I am curious to see how they will ‘stand up over time.’ Without a doubt ‘moisture’ is the greatest challenge this format has to contend with so one would have to think twice about their location, location, location on the planet. Desert ok..rain forest no way. Like any porous material there are clear coats and sealers that prevent moisture from being sucked back in or ordinary construction would suffer from rot and mold too. Hygroscopic is a really great word btw and one I’m happy to add to my vocabulary so thanks for sharing :)

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