Understanding Papercrete

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The Space Tower in Madrid is an enormous concrete skyscraper that stands out in the city skyline. This video from Discovery Channel’s “Extreme Engineering” explains the construction of the skyscraper.
Discovery

Builders commonly use a type of concrete called “Portland” concrete, which is made with Portland cement (a combination of silica, lime, and other ingredients) and an aggregate like sand or gravel. Portland concrete is a popular building material, and there are regulations and codes regarding its production and use. However, alternative concretes, including papercrete, have become popular in recent years.

Papercrete involves adding re-pulped paper fiber material to concrete. First patented in 1928, papercrete uses waste paper that would otherwise fill landfills or create more environmental problems. Although papercrete is still a form of concrete with its own carbon footprint, it contributes to sustainability by stretching the amount of concrete produced and using trash for construction.

The Fundamentals of Papercrete

Compared to regular concrete, papercrete is hundreds of times more compressible, meaning it sinks into itself instead of cracking. The stronger bonds between papercrete blocks give walls extra resiliency against sideways pressures like wind. While it’s not ideal for load-bearing, papercrete is a flexible way to create roofs and other non-load bearing architecture. It also insulates better than wood or regular concrete.

However, papercrete’s comparative lower durability and strength limit its uses. There are no regulations for its manufacture or use, which means it can’t be used in many projects. DIY builders often experiment with new applications and tests, and the art community is particularly fond of papercrete.

The Pioneers of Alternative ‘Crete

Eric Patterson’s “padobe” (a combination of “paper” and “adobe”) and Mike McCain’s “fibrous cement” are among the first viable formats of papercrete. Other innovations like “hybrid adobe” and “fidobe” use clay and soil to stretch the mix. These inventors continue to work on ways to make and use these alternatives to concrete.

The Versatility of Papercrete


Papercrete is a building material that is praised for its flexibility, which helps prevent cracking that is often seen in regular concrete. While it cannot be compared to papier-mache, its flexibility makes it an ideal sculpting medium. Its lightweight nature also makes it easier to work with, which has led many to use it for creating large-scale statues and functional art that would be difficult to make with traditional concrete. Papercrete can be customized in appearance by layering stucco or commercial concrete on top of it.

For architects and landscapers alike, the possibilities with papercrete are endless. From outdoor walls and garden structures to dome houses and outdoor staircases, papercrete is a dream material for landscape artists. It is considered a cutting-edge material due to its limited environmental impact and the fact that its use and composition has not been codified for construction use. Its eco-friendly and cost-effective nature makes it a popular choice for green homesteaders who want to build their homes from scratch in an environmentally mindful way.

Author’s Thoughts

As an amateur architecture enthusiast, I am always intrigued by sustainable materials that not only look good but also make us feel good about our building projects. Papercrete and other adobe-type materials remind me of my childhood in the American Southwest. However, it is the artistic flexibility and cost-effectiveness of eco-friendly materials that excites me the most about learning more about papercrete.

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Sources

  • Eve’s Garden: Architecture. (April 9, 2012) http://www.evesgarden.org/architecture
  • Hybrid Adobe. (April 9, 2012) http://www.hybridadobe.com
  • Make Papercrete. (April 9, 2012) http://makepapercrete.com
  • Mirkin, Philip and Hazlitt Krog. “The Hybrid Adobe Handbook.” Soaring Hill, 2004.
  • Papercrete. Green Home Building. (April 9, 2012) http://www.greenhomebuilding.com/papercrete.htm
  • Papercrete Recipes. Living in Paper. (April 9, 2012) http://www.livinginpaper.com/mixes.htm
  • Papercrete.com. (April 9, 2012) http://www.papercrete.com

FAQ

1. What is Papercrete?

Papercrete is a building material made from recycled paper and cement. It is a lightweight and eco-friendly alternative to traditional concrete that can be used for a variety of construction projects.

2. How is Papercrete made?

Papercrete is made by blending shredded paper with water and a small amount of Portland cement. The mixture is then poured into molds and left to dry.

3. What are the benefits of using Papercrete?

One of the main benefits of using Papercrete is its eco-friendliness. It is made from recycled materials and requires less energy to produce than traditional concrete. It is also lighter in weight, making it easier to work with, and has good insulation properties.

4. What are some common uses for Papercrete?

Some common uses for Papercrete include building walls, floors, and even entire homes. It can also be used as a sculpting medium for artistic projects.

5. Is Papercrete waterproof?

No, Papercrete is not waterproof. It can be used for indoor and outdoor projects, but it needs to be protected from moisture to prevent it from deteriorating.

6. How strong is Papercrete?

Papercrete is not as strong as traditional concrete, but it still has good structural properties. Its compressive strength is around 300-500 psi, compared to 1500-2500 psi for traditional concrete.

7. Can Papercrete be used in cold climates?

Yes, Papercrete can be used in cold climates. Its insulation properties make it a good option for building in areas with harsh winters.

8. How does Papercrete compare to other eco-friendly building materials?

Papercrete is one of many eco-friendly building materials available. Compared to others like adobe or straw bale, Papercrete is a more modern and versatile option that can be used for a wider variety of projects.

9. Is Papercrete fire-resistant?

Papercrete is not fire-resistant, but it does have good fire-retardant properties. It can be treated with fire-resistant chemicals to improve its performance in a fire.

10. Can Papercrete be recycled?

Yes, Papercrete is a recyclable material. It can be crushed and reused in new Papercrete projects, or it can be composted.

11. How does Papercrete affect indoor air quality?

Because Papercrete is made from natural materials, it does not emit harmful chemicals into the air like some synthetic building materials do. It can even help regulate indoor humidity levels.

12. What are some drawbacks to using Papercrete?

Some drawbacks to using Papercrete include its low strength compared to traditional concrete, and the fact that it is not as widely available as other building materials. It also requires careful management of moisture to prevent it from deteriorating over time.

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