The Wonder that is Papercrete

Recently, one of the bloggers I read decided it would be her last post on her website.  All of her readers were told not to worry, as she had created a new site that would encompass more things and more information.  Her new site (Mike and Mollys house) has a lot of great stuff, but one thing that really caught my eye was this article on papercrete.  I had never heard of this before, immediately decided to do more research on the stuff.  What I’ve found has been really interesting, and I’d like to let you all know more as well.

Papercrete is basically ground up old pieces of paper, water, portland cement and some dirt.  It seems like mixes can vary based on your ingredients, but they all typically include those four things.  It can be made then formed into anything, from bricks for a paved walkway outside to bricks for the walls of your next shed (or home!)

Not only is the material strong, it has an “R” value  (insulation rating in the building industry) of 2-3 per inch, much better than concrete which is .9!  Along with superior insulation qualities, papercrete is much lighter than a traditional concrete block.  Even though the portland cement makes it a bit less green, it provides a large amount of stability to the slurry – without the portland cement, tests have shown that the blocks would shrink more than 10% in size when drying.  With the cement, they shrank between 3-5%.  Enough with the construction facts.  On to the fun part – How to make papercrete yourself.

How to make papercrete at home

Papercrete is perfect for a weekend project.  First though, you’ve got to figure out where you’re going to be using it.  When I first saw the things about papercrete, I had plenty of ideas for the use, from garden boxes to outbuildings/sheds, but for my first crack at it, I think I’ll turn them into walls for my yet to be build garden.   This of course means that I’ll need a form to make the bricks out of, and you can make the bricks as large or as small as you like.  This portion can simply be done with some spare lumber.   Once you’ve got a form for your blocks built, you can freely begin to build a mixer.  There are plenty of different ways to do this, from a drill with a stucco “x” mixing blade and a five gallon pail to a 1000 gallon stock tank welded onto the back of an old truck axle and towed behind a pickup for extra large batches.

Once you’ve gotten your ingredients mixed up and poured into forms, you can play the waiting game.  How long it takes your blocks to dry will depend on the size of the blocks and the outside temperature, but from what I’ve read it looks like you can remove the form after about an hour or two and begin to make more.

You can also use this stuff for houses and simply cover the outside with stucco so you can fit in with your neighbors.  However, you’ll have a house made out of a lot of recycled materials and can sleep easier knowing you kept all of that paper out of the landfill.

Most of the information was gleaned from Living in Paper.

Readers: Have you heard of papercrete?  Would you be willing to try to make a structure out of it, or would you be more interested in using it in the garden like I’m considering?  Or are you not interested in making or using papercrete at all?

This is an article written by Jeff at Sustainable Life Blog.  Jeff blogs about sustaining your finances, DIY, helping the environment and staying healthy.

22 comments to The Wonder that is Papercrete

  • I could see using this material to build a semi-permanent structure like a storage shed but I would be a little nervous the termites might move in if I used it to build a home. Interesting idea though!

  • Sounds really interesting. I am definitely going to look into this. We want to make some raised beds in the yard and I might try to make bricks out of this. Thanks for such a cool tip.

  • Sounds interesting. We have to experiment with all these as soon as we get our own place.

    PS: Mike and Molly’s house link goes to Jeff’s blog.

  • Hunter - Financially Consumed

    I think it’s great that we can make our own building materials. The manufactured materials are not always the best quality. I really Mike & Molly’s blog too.

  • YFS

    I have never heard of papercrete but it seems like it would be an excellent choice for a patio or walkway.

  • I have never heard of it before, but it sounds like a great thing for garden walls. I will have to look it up to see if I can find some pictures!

  • Andrea

    never heard of it before, very interesting!

  • @ Paul – I felt the same way, but there was a woman who built her home out of the stuff – she seemed pretty confident about it. I’d be curious, to be sure.

    @Miss T – You read my mind miss t. Im thinking of using this for raised bed garden at my place next year if I cant find any free lumber. I’ve even got an old oil drum to mix stuff in!

    @ Suba – Thanks for catching the link error! I’m glad you’re looking into these too. It seems like once you’ve got the form built, you can basically make how ever large of a batch you have capacity for.

    @ hunter I totally agree. The more I get into DIY, the more things I learn you can make.

    @ YFS – Agreed – Once I get my own place, I’d love to give it more diy projects going.

    @20sfinance – def look it up – there’s actually quite a following on it!

    @ andrea – give it triy

  • I like how Mike used papercrete for the sides of the raised beds in the garden. I suspect the thermal mass of the concrete helps to keep the soil warm in spring and fall.

  • Papercrete really seems like a great building material. Love Mike and Molly’s projects, especially the yurt.

  • I have never heard of this stuff! Sounds like it can be used for a cool backyard project. I’d be a bit weary to use it for construction that would house my family.

  • This is my first time hearing of papercrete, but I think it’s awesome. If used to build a house, I wonder if I’d ever be able to shake the idea that my house was made of paper.

  • Lisa @ Cents To Save

    This sounds like a fun project to try. Will you be making any papercrete soon?

  • jsp

    I am building a garage in the north-east using papercete and to circumvent any concerns reated to strength have been reinforcing the walls every 3 feet with grouted cores containing reinforcing bars.

    So far, no distress. Challenge is making it in sufficient quantities and dimensionally uniform

    Temple University students’ display at this spring’s Philadelphia flower show will incorporate it as a stucco finish over light gage wire. j

  • Steve MoneyPlanSOS Stewart

    It sounds almost too good to be true. Could it be that the typical consumer’s perception of a paper-based wall is what keeps construction builders from trying it out in their projects?

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