As green structures become more widespread so has the variety of wall systems that can be part of the finished products. The materials in these wall systems includes everything from trash plastic to paper, stones and straw.
One designer and builder of alternative wall systems is architect and sculptor Doug Eichelberger, from Larkspur, Colorado. He has constructed buildings on his ranch using four different kinds of wall systems. Only one building was erected using standard stud walls: his house. All other buildings on his property – barns and storage units – were erected using walls built from recycled materials. The three wall systems use baled plastic bottles, baled scrap paper, and loose rocks picked from a field and held fast using gabions.
As Eichelberger sees it, the materials are plentiful and cost little other than the labor required to put them together. There is plenty of information out there about all the trash we create and our wasteful ways, but we are now seeing an expanding archive of viable building solutions.
Eichelberger and other builders believe alternative wall solutions like these offer numerous possibilities for economically depressed areas in the world. The materials are virtually free, excluding transportation.
There are many other alternative wall systems being used, including hay bales, traditional sun-baked adobe bricks – even wall systems that have been constructed from tires. There is even paper. Julee Herdt, an architect at the University of Colorado’s Boulder campus, has worked with the Forest Products Lab in the development of structurally insulated panels, called bioSIPS, that are made from paper.
Catherine Wanek, co-director of Builders Without Borders, recently featured her organization’s straw bale house at the National Botanic Gardens. She is active in Builder Without Borders, an international network of ecological builders who advocate the use of straw, earth and other local, affordable materials in construction. We believe that the solution to homelessness is not merely housing, but individuals and communities trained to house themselves. BWB created a straw bale construction curriculum.
Some lab testing on Eichelberger’s plastic bales was completed in 2005 at the University of Colorado. Engineering students completed a number of tests on numerous bales. Their results can be viewed at. http://www.edc-cu.org/ppt/PlasticBales.pdf. Since the wall system required a panelization/ post tension approach, lab tests should be completed on bales configured in those conditions. From those results design loads per span etc. can be established. Further tests could evaluate a bale’s insulative qualities. Stuccoing each side of a bale will capture air between; this dead air becomes that insulative quality.