Enter the newest ecological, affordable, and accessable building material... MilkCrete! Milkcrete is a compound material made from plastic milk crates and either paper adobe or papercrete -- which are in and of themselves compound materials, mixtures of paper and clay, and in the case of papercrete, a small amount of cement.|
I still believe that cob -- a combination of clay, sand, and straw -- is the best eco-building material out there. But it's a slow and labour-intensive construction method, so it's ill-suited to this profit-driven industrial economy. For now, I'll build my own house with it, and once peak oil hits and electricity becomes scarce and capitalism collapses, we'll all go back to cob building full-time.
But in the meantime, papercrete is a good alternative that that has a small ecological footprint -- it recycles tonnes of paper that would ordinarily become landfill -- and like concrete, it can be mixed into a slurry and poured into forms, raising whole walls rapidly. And though it dries super-strong, it's also incredibly light, so it can be built by anyone, anywhere!
It was friend and fellow PANDA (Political Activists Named DAvid) member David Fingrut who first proposed the idea of tying plastic milk crates together in twos, then stacking them up, as a quick and dirty building method, making mega-lego blocks that can be assembled, diassembled, and reassembled, faciliting a truly organic design-build process.
By strategically sawing and sewing the milk crates together with plastic ties, I've created large forms that can be filled in one pour, creating a monolithic milk-crete mass, instead of individual papercrete bricks, that must then be mortared together like masonry. Sure, the milk crates end up being embedded inside the structure, but better that they get buried there, than in a hole in a ground, serving no practical purpose.
First I made a few test-pours of single and double bricks, with different ratios of paper and clay, to understand the propertis of the material, and figure out the perfect recipe. The plan is to then build something small, like a sofa that can be left outdoors like lawn furniture. This model uses up 70 milk crates, and seats three or four people comfortably.|
Next, the plan is to apply this technique to a structure fit for human habitation. Returning to the 100-square-foot limitation on backyard sheds that can be built without a permit, my first stab at a milkcrete shed produced a dome structure with a simple program, and lots of windows and portholes for natural light and air-flow. The jagged perimeter of the shed can be smoothed out with a papercrete plaster after the fact.
In this model, the plan is to pour two courses at a time, embedding small but thick wooden poles at various locations around the perimeter of the shed, so that a small group of people could actually move the entire structure, chunk by chunk, from the back of a trailer bed, into your backyard, or any other conceivable location.|
My second attempt at a one hundred square foot milkcrete shed produced a design that was more rectilinear, inside and out. It also segregates the compost toilet from the rest of the shed, and allows for a rainwater collection tank that would provide complete independence from utility service, the biggest system of control.|
The long sections of wall in this design allow for larger pre-poured bricks to be manufactured at a remote location, then easily assembled on site. But unlike the first model, the structure would not be just as easily diassembled, it would be permanent. But the assymettrical program includes windows that are in keeping with feng shui principles, and a porch with an awning at the entrance to the house.
Milkcrete may not be the answer to all of our problems -- after all, there are a finite number of milk crates that can be taken out of circulation with the tacit permission of the bovine dairy industry. But a handful of wooden forms can be used, over and over again, to the same effect, once the principles have been proven to work.|
But more importantly, using this method, you could build a house that could survive even a harsh Canadian winter with nothing but recycled materials and found objects, and not even a dime in your pocket. And there are upwards of 50,000 people in the City of Toronto without a place to live, while the lot that was once Tent City continues to lie vacant. Eco-squat, anyone?