Plastic bricks (think Lego for grown-ups)
I run a small house building company in the UK and make a point of building houses with as many eco-features as I can whilst still generating a profit. The foundations are always piled as this uses less concrete, the structure is always timber frame as this is a renewable resource and has the advantage of allowing more insulation to be fitted, I also install an air source heat pump and wet underfloor heating throughout, solar panels to offset the electricity used, SUDS for the rainwater and low energy lighting and appliances. this is about as much as I can reasonably do on a standard build but I would like to be able to do better. So…
A couple of years ago I did a small amount of research into using recycled plastic to make bricks for building. My thought process was that there is a massive surplus of discarded plastic on our planet and a shortage of homes so why not go some way to solving both issues with a simple solution. However, it turns out that it is not as simple as it sounds but the problems are not insurmountable.
The biggest issue is structural stability as recyclable plastic by it’s nature tends to be soft and malleable when compared to timber, steel or concrete. I did some hunting around on the internet and there were surprisingly few companies doing this kind of thing…3 to be exact (at that time)! One of these collected plastic out of the sea (brilliant) and simply compressed it into bales which were then stacked and pinned, the rough sides of the bales were then rendered or plastered to give a smooth finish. Whilst this method is very simple you still need a structure to support your roof or any upper floors as the bales can’t support much weight. This is a good solution for houses similar to those built from straw bales which tend to be bespoke eco-builds, single storey with timber or steel frames.
The other two companies, one in South America and one somewhere in the UK moulded or extruded the plastic into interlocking bricks a bit like giant Lego. These were more structural and more importantly, the structural capabilities could be tested and certified…which brings me to the second biggest issue. Most countries have building standards enforced by law and building materials have to undergo rigorous testing and comply to structural standards (think Kite Mark). In the Uk this is called BREEAM and the problem is the cost and time to test a plastic brick to their standards when they aren’t even set up for this kind of thing.
This cost and time is what stopped me taking the idea any further but if anyone out there has any useful information, good ideas or advice in this matter I would love to hear from you and may then take this idea further.
Thanks – Andrew
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