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Monday, December 11, 2006

One man's trash, another man's treasure

You’d never guess that Ann Douden and Rich Messer’s cozy Colorado home is built out of trash.

Their home’s smooth, thick walls may appear a tad unorthodox, but they offer no glimpse of the treasures they contain. If by treasure, you mean trash, that is; this house, like thousands of other trashbale homes around the country, is built by materials that would otherwise be landfill waste.

Ann Douden and Rich Messer astonished their neighbors by constructing their beautiful home from bales of post-consumer paperboard and PVC trash. These materials - glossy, coated cardboard (such as a laundry soap box), and waste plastic (broken toys, laundry baskets, shampoo bottles) – are hard to recycle and usually end up at the dump. But for Rich and Ann, they provide inexpensive yet sturdy walls. With an insulation value of R-30, this recycled home many times exceeds the energy efficiency standards of conventional housing.

Trash bale homes are part of a growing tide of green development. Other adventurous home builders have turned from brick and vinyl siding to adobe, concrete, and even recycled tires. Tire-built homes are often dubbed “Earthships,” thanks to their earthen walls and low environmental impact. Tires packed with soil form superbricks: tightly packed mud encased in steel belted rubber. According to Earthship Biotecture, a firm based out of Taos, NM, the walls built from these bricks are “virtually indestructible.”

Earthships are a unique design of passive solar, rammed earth homes. Constructed from natural and recycled materials, they are often completely independent from the grid. Earthship electricity is harvested through PV panels, with the assistance of generators or the power grid, if necessary. As with other passive solar homes, very little energy is required for heating and cooling the home. As a result, it’s easy to capture enough energy for other household needs.

The home’s water needs are met by rainwater, which is collected on the roof and funneled through a system of cisterns, pumps, and filters. Water is recycled many times through the home before being treated on-site in a “jungle,” a non-polluting sewage treatment process. Hot water is heated by the sun and an on-demand natural gas heater, which is activated only in the event of insufficient sunlight.

Building an Earthship or trash bale house is certainly a large undertaking. But satisfied do-it-yourselfers like Ann and Rich swear it’s worth it. To find out more about these building styles, check out http://www.earthshipbiotecture.com/ for practical information about Earthship design and construction. You can even rent an Earthship for a night to try it out for yourself!

by Sara Kate Kneidel
Greener Magazine

keyword: earthship, trash bale house, green building, conservation development

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