Monday, January 19, 2009

People Who Live In Paper Houses...

...will beat rock houses, but lose to scissors?

This is some genius ingenuity. The picture you see is a house made of recycled "paper", designed to accommodate up to 8 residents, including interior plumbing. The house is stable, well insulated and has a few neat features, the most important of which is that it costs about $5000.

It is intended to be one solution to the shanty towns which have blossomed all over the third world in this century. Houses which don't collapse on their inhabitants. Houses which include plumbing. Houses made of cheap, reclaimed materials that are easy to transport and assemble... I could really see this improving a lot of people's lives. Think about charities like Habitat for Humanity. Currently it costs about $2000 just to do flooring in a house built by Habitat. Imagine, for the cost of one house that Habitat currently builds, how many people could be housed.

I'm not saying everyone should live in paper houses, or that we should stop other types of charity, but we DO need some creative solutions for some of the deepest levels of poverty. Here is one.


Doug Hagler said...

No, this house wins against everything. That's really amazing.

Maybe with our regime change, we'll have a president who will be interested in rewarding this kind of world-changing, life-saving ingenuity.

This came up on NPR as a possible positive result of the financial collapse - all the genius over-achievers coming out of the Ivy League will start actually building and inventing things again, instead of just throwing our retirement funds away chasing a greasy million (and then getting rewarded for it with out tax dollars...because we have *such* a free market)

Craig said...


It is an interesting concept that may be applicable in certain parts of the world. However, the application would probably be severely limited by climate (The article seems to feel that the primary place for this kind of house would be parts of Africa. Obviously Central America and the Caribbean are out, Gonaieves would have been wiped from the map had it been built of these. This would not meet code in any part of the US that is prone to hurricanes and tornadoes. I would also see problems in cold weather (especially roof dead load) applications. The article doesn't indicate what kind of plumbing these have, but since most third world houses don't have running water or flush toilets that, as well as the slaughtering cleaning elements, would probably not be as attractive as it would seem. As to the cost of flooring in Habitat houses $.70 psf is pretty darn inexpensive especially since a significant portion of flooring is donated. This also isn't an issue in the parts of the world where this would work. I also would imagine that there would be some durability issues since it seems from the article that this is envisioned as more of a temporary solution.

While, I applaud the ingenuity and agree that there is a niche for these houses. I am anxious to see what else comes down the pike. It will be interesting to see if/how they fare in the real world and if there is a market sufficient to support this kind of housing.

It does lead to a bigger conversation about housing both in the US and worldwide, which could be interesting to pursue.

Jodie said...

Sure beats tent cities and cardboard boxes.

Amor Ministries should look into this. They build allot in Tijuana and adjoining areas.

Aric Clark said...


You're right of course that it isn't a panacea. It doesn't need to be. If it is a better solution than we presently have for some people then it is worth it. We need more creative solutions that fix SOME problems, rather than waiting for the solution which will fix all problems.

And Habitat does do their work remarkably inexpensively and well. No question. But this might even be better in many situations.

Doug Hagler said...

Considering that construction is one of the things that fills our landfills and is incredibly wasteful and resource-consuming, I like that you can build these houses out of things that can be recycled. I see to options for the future:

1. Make almost everything out of recycled materials

2. Inexorably drown ourselves in garbage and suffocate all life (case in point, the state-sized flotilla of garbage swirling around the Pacific Ocean this very moment)

Looking to the future, I don't think there is a third option. We will run out of raw materials, and we will run out of space we want to fill with garbage. Those are facts. So its recycled houses, or no houses, if you look ahead far enough.

Craig said...


You are correct, and I applaud the work these folks are doing. I think the original article was pretty clear about that. It's a pretty good solution for a people in some limited parts of the world.


Not sure where to go with your doom and gloom scenario except to point out that you may not be aware of what is going on within the construction industry to address your concerns. I will point out a couple of things though.

Your #1. Will almost inevitably conflict with government regulations and building codes. So you will have to be willing to decide how much safety you are willing to sacrifice for recyclability. Also, from a affordable housing standpoint, there is a cost issue. Right now, for example, recycled insulation is significantly more expensive than new. So we are faced with a question, is this a cost that is worth adding to the house?

2. Since this applies to much more than housing I'll not touch it except to say, the housing industry is much more committed to addressing these problems that you are apparently aware of. The use of recycled insulation and engineered wood products to name a couple. It's a matter of balance though. Not to mention, most of the third world is building houses out of materials that can be recycled or reused right now.