Le paradis n'est pas artificiel …

August 16, 2005

Papercrete, so to speak...

Hello, whatever remaining faithful spezzatists remain out there!

You may wonder what has happened to me. Not too much, to tell you the truth, other that the manic myopia of my typical day-to-day. I have been writing steadily when there aren't guests around; a lot of non-fiction and poetry. Nothing is ready to be read yet, I'm afraid! I think I will wait until after I have changed the shape of Spezzato to present any new creative work. Not much to detail on that subject yet, either, but it's a certain goal of mine to enforce some order on my creative writing, seperate from hi-how-are-you entries (if these are to exist at all).

But I also promised an explanation of papercrete. While I have yet to edit my handwritten-by-candlelight journal on the subject (less nostalgic than sloppy, to be clear), when it comes to something as tactile as bricks, a flickr set is worth a thousand words, isn't it?

To lend a few real paragraphs to papercrete, however: at a camp organized by a progressive friend's mother (came for the weekend, stayed for two weeks) the other students and I spent our mornings with a papercrete guy (there is no formal title for such an individual) mixing up and dishing out 300 gallon vats of the magic mix: equal parts by weight of post-consumer paper and a blend of cement, fly ash, sand and lime, pus water to mix. We turned on the giant blender (fixed to the modified rear-wear drive of a pickup truck), poured the resulting porridge into frame molds, and in the end created hundreds of 1' x 2' x 6" bricks, ready to be stacked and mortared into the load-bearing house frame.

My conclusions about papercrete: I like it.

It is versatile, has a low-invested-energy value, is comprised of recycled material, and has just enough sin in its soul -- the chemicals in the mix -- to keep it strong through time. It is heat and sound insulative, water resistant, light weight, and strong. The trickiest part for coastal Canadian applications will be getting the bricks to dry completely, as this takes at least two weeks even in the Central Californian sun. I experimented with adding cedar fibers and bark to small mixes, as BC tends to have a shortage of recycled paper but no shortage of fallen trees, and my cedarcrete dried quickly and seemed to have improved tensile strength -- as well, one might expect, as improved anti-fungal properites.

I spent my afternoons with an architect discussing and planning my alternative home.This was an area in which I had done a little university research, but I had no real brain-on experience. Designing a building to fit into the natural world around it is an interesting challenge, the highlight being that I have a real site in mind for my thought-project. I was humbled by my poor spatial conceptualization abilities, which slowly improved until I could almost think like a house (though it might just have been the sun). Once I have some clean floor plans and elevations for my building design (which I based on everything Blaine and I know or have planned for our hermitage) I will scan those and show them to you all.

I lastly made a few fast friends, fellow frontliners in alternative building who I hope will continue share their experiences with me (and vice versa) for a while to come. To anyone who has an interest in alternative building, and who has casually considered attending such a workshop -- as I did before this one fell into my lap -- the nitty-gritty of hands-on experience was more valuable than I could have imagined, and I recommend you seize whatever niche green-building opportunities are around you while the going is still young and cheap!

Posted by Delire at August 16, 2005 01:31 PM