I admit I just thought this up one day while trying to find an alternative to conventional fiberglass or strawbales as insulation for enclosed garden walls or even house walls. It seemed like a good idea for using something that would otherwise take up landfill space but offer a solution for homestead building projects. I would never expect this to be a major supporting wall or anything that would have to carry a load -- like a retaining wall for a berm for example, but for an ordinary free-standing north wall to protect non-hardy plants from winter winds or as a shed wall or small scale housing for animals -- with a lightweight roof of sheet metal -- it seems like it should work. I could see this as a low decorative wall around a garden or yard, maybe faced with stone or brick so that it resembles a super-thick wall of that material. You could use it for outdoor seating or for wide frameworks around raised beds, etc.
Any thoughts on this? Has anyone done something similar?
ascribed to Gabions , or The larger plastic Totes that are in the 250 gal to 300 gal size and surrounded by a metal cage, you are within a size range that will require special
handling equipment in-spite of their light-ish individual weights, and the weight-bearing capabilities of the materials you have chosen are marginal at best !
Totally discounting the energy cost of collection and storage- prior to assembly into individual cubes, you then have to transform them into a future something that will be
seen as a positive thing , and not as a bundle of trash ! Smell/Perception in this case is literally everything ! If your goal here is to reuse ONLY your-own plastic trash, I
would suggest truly trying harder to reduce your waste plastic stream further- only if your own local conditions are not supportive of your best recycling attempts would I
consider further addition of more energy input to " make a silk purse out of a sow's ear ''
I have seen examples of flooding events where pre-existing page-wire or chicken wire fencing that had survived inundation and located in the flood waters drainage became
totally filled up with entrapped and deposited flotsam and jetsam , sticks, grass, plastic bags, and other light-weight material and self assembled into wattled walls and catch
-dams ! These volunteer structures must have served in pre-historic times as the precursors of Wattle and Dab Shelters !
For the goo9d of the Crafts ! Big AL
Is your purpose to avoid hauling trash, concern about landfills, or just looking to find a use for something normally seen as waste product, or a mix of all the above? Do you really need/want a wall, how big? How much trash do you generate or are willing to haul?
There's nothing wrong with using waste for filler, but you want to pay attention to water retention/ freeze damage possibilities. You also need to avoid using too much filler in the wrong spot and weakening a layer of concrete you need to be strong. Large pieces of glass within the concrete will probably be a weak point of bonding.
My initial thought is that it might be more work for not enough return unless you have a need for a wall.
An alternate suggestion for getting rid of trash creatively, if your area has available stone, would be to build a couple of fairly narrow slipformed stone walls with a gap between them, fill the gap with trash, rubble, air, whatever and then putting a slipformed cap over it. The sealed top, open nature of the fill and the relatively free draining dirt at the bottom should prevent water build up/damage. It would hide/use large quantities of your trash effectively at whatever height of low wall you need. You could also leave void spots in it with a hidden access point for a hidy hole for stuff(small kids would love it, not normally a major requirement, but if your putting up the wall anyway, why not?) If done well the wall would be aesthetically pleasing and a plus to the property. I would make sure that the spread is narrow enough and the concrete cap thick enough that you won't have to worry about someone jumping on top and crashing through. If the inside is a bunch of broken glass that could be bad. (In my house, the someone would be a roughhousing young man or woman. They would almost certainly be barefoot, because that would allow infliction of the maximum damage. You would never guess I've raised a bunch of teenagers would you?) You might want to include some poly fiber and maybe chicken wire/rebar/something to help strengthen the concrete on the cap.
Depending on wall size, funding, time and energy, you might want to figure out how to build it in stages. Normally foundations are best done all at once, but a low wall is probably less fussy.
I was thinking of narrow (like 1' to 2' wide) and or short walls made -- not made from expensive gabion cubes, but from ordinary livestock fencing covered with chicken wire. I only mentioned gabions as a kind of visual aid. I thought I would dig about a foot down, lay down some fence wire in the trench; then put in pairs of T-posts at say, 10' intervals or so and stretch the fence on both sides with the bottom of the fence sitting down in the trench on top of that bottom wire. Then pour a thin slab of concrete over the wire in the bottom of the trench -- to make a floor for everything to sit on-- and plaster the sides with more cement up to soil level (creating a kind of u-shaped channel). After that I would fill the trench with clean plastic, clean jars, etc. to about a foot or so above ground level and tie the fencing together over the top of the layer before adding more filler. Repeat -- alternating wire tires between fences and more fill until I reach whatever height I need. I might add side buttresses made the same way at intervals along a long wall if it is over 4' tall or if it seems too flimsy. Then, when the wall is as high as I need it to go, I would cap it with more fencing tied into the two sides. The final step would be to plaster the entire thing with a 1 inch layer of ferro-cement. That would not only increase the strength, but if done correctly, prevent rain infiltration as well. (Many a water tank and boat have been made from ferro-cement so it can be made waterproof.)
The reason for this is that for the last 24 years, my husband and I have saved alost every steel can, aluminum can, glass jar, etc. that we have ever used. We've cleaned them and stored them with the idea of eventually doing something with them. We're artists, so we sometimes melt the metal or glass for sculpture, and we have also always wanted to incorporate some of the stuff into buildings (think glass bottles to let light into strawbale buildings or aluminum cans as fill between tire walls in earthship designs). Anyway, it is getting to the point that we really need to stop saving them and start using more of them!
Since I have wanted for a long time to build a walled garden to protect less hardy fruit trees and shrubs from our powerful winds (we are up on a very windy hill), I thought this might be a good time to try the trash wall idea.
So, with that in mind ...
You can see now that I am not going to need heavy equipment to move huge gabion baskets around. There will be no "energy cost of collection and storage- prior to assembly into individual cubes". The problem with smell/perception is not an issue with clean containers stored for almost 25 years even IF it was exposed to the air/sight after being encapsulated in ferro-cement. Besides, we have no visible neighbors.
As for this objection ... "If your goal here is to reuse ONLY your-own plastic trash, I would suggest truly trying harder to reduce your waste plastic stream further- only if your own local conditions are not supportive of your best recycling attempts would I consider further addition of more energy input to " make a silk purse out of a sow's ear '' I have to say, in all honesty and humbleness, there are probably no two people living in the so-called civilized western world using LESS stuff than we two. We recycle or re-use EVERYTHING that we buy and we never buy anything new unless we have no choice. We try never to use plastic if it can be had in glass, wood or metal. As for other consumables, I have not owned a single item of clothing that was not second hand since I can remember (and my memory is fine). When we buy a second-hand t-shirt or pair of jeans, it lasts 10 to 15 years before being recycled into rags for cleaning, made into twine for tying up vegetables in the garden or turned into rag rugs, etc. We waste NOTHING! The few plastic containers we do buy generally get recycled as containers for plants or to store things like old nails and screws (recycled from things we have dismantled). Those we can't immediately recycle are washed and saved -- hence this project. (Also, we have access to tons of recycled plastic pop bottles, etc. from our local recycling center if we want it. We recently found out that they just haul it all to the landfill anyway because no one wants to recycle it!!!)
Finally, flooding is not, and never will be, a problem since we live high on a hill and nowhere near a flood plain.
Some of your concerns will have been answered above, but there were a couple of points I still need to address.
No problem with crushing the walls because they will be sealed in ferro-cement (as I explained earlier) not open gabion baskets. That was my fault for using the idea of a gabion, I guess. Everyone sort of keyed in on that and failed to notice that I said I planned to plaster over them. So they will not be open -- not to be seen, smelled or crushed.
There will be no concrete cap, just the thin (about 1") layer of ferro-cement all around -- top, sides and bottom. The fill will be just that, fill. It will not be bonded with anything so no concrete will be weakened by it.
Cost will only be for fencing, wire and cement. That was the main reason I liked this idea since it basically is the same as using ferro-cement covered strawbales, but actually costs less because there are no bales to buy.
Oh, one last thing. I did want to mention that my husband and I (as well as my father, brothers, brothers-in-law and cousins -- it's a family thing) are very familiar with ferro-cement having worked at making huge (building-sized) artificial rock work in exhibits for the Kansas City Zoo and elsewhere. The only real difference we are contemplating here is that we want to fill the voids with trash instead of air.
Okay, that seems to cover all the major points raised, I think. Let me know if I left anything out. So ... after explaining better, what do you think about the idea?
My apologies for not perceiving correctly. I have been contemplating some things and your post was just close enough to some of my contemplations for me to mix the two in my head.
If you are experienced with ferrocement work and are comfortable with the stability of your proposed project, I see no problem. People build things like this with styrofoam inside them, why not metal cans or plastic bottles? In the event of a problem, you can repair it. If you ever need to knock it down, it would be much easier to take down than a massive wall. The weight won't be excessive. Any concerns about stability that surface in the future could be dealt with at that time by putting a short wall at 90 degrees just to stiffen things.
Best of luck!
Metal will eventually rust if there is moisture and air exposed to it, although it it's galvanized, it may take a long time. Empty metal cans or plastic bottles would crush if the weight were too much. So I would think that if you are going to use plastic or metal, you'd want to fill them up with dirt or sand before incorporating them into your wall/gabion. Is there a source of fill dirt available? Every night, you could fill 10 bottles with a funnel and a spoon --- in a year, you'd have a LOT of dirt/sand filled bottles.
If you were to fill them with dirt, it would add a great deal of thermal mass.
Plastic seems harmless enough -- but I don't know the chemical properties -- would it leach anything nasty over time? Glass is just sand, melted and molded. Stuff as many old wine bottles as you can. In fact, if you are an artist, I would think that a wine bottle gabion would look sophisticated, if you could see the bottles through the wire box. If I were to use colorful bottles for such a project, I wouldn't plaster over the sides, but might try to find a way to build a form and pour a concrete top over it, so you could sit on it or put stuff on top of it.
that generally gets a negative label like ''Hoarder''-
I was led to an erroneous train of thought by the words Refuse and Trash, both words with strong negative connotations-
With your range of mostly lite-weight materials, Wattle and Dab, (or Wattle and Daub) wall panels seemed to me a do-able way to use the materials in a
non-loadbearing series of panels creating walls that required the minimum of additional materials, Obviously we have been talking past each other !
As I was the 1st person to respond to your query I am also somewhat guilty of setting the 'tone' of the other responses Please consider this a sincere
apology for my misdirection - For the good of the crafts ! Big AL
Marco, Yes, I know about the glass (or other junk) houses -- I've always been fascinated by those, and really, I think some of them are quite ingenious. You have to admire the out-of-the-box thinking and persistence that makes someone spend a lifetime building something out of such unusual materials, while no doubt being stigmatized daily for their "crazy" activities. Kind of reminds me of bower birds that collect glass, rocks, fruits, twigs -- you name it, all arranged carefully by color -- to decorate their nests. The caddisfly larvae is another of nature's whimsical architects, taking its decorated home around with it on its back. Personally, I'm all for the oddballs. They make life so much more interesting. By the way, have you seen the monastery made by monks from whiskey and wine bottles? Absolutely stunning! Here is a link to that one http://inhabitat.com/temple-of-a-million-bottles/
I like the idea of a wine bottle portion in the wall, but for structural integrity and to keep water out of the wall, I think it will need to be completely encased, not open gabion. I do think poking a few bottles all the way through the fencing (mortared around) like people do with strawbale homes would be pretty though. I have saved some really nice wine and other decorative bottles in pretty blues and greens over the years, and those will definitely find their way into the design somewhere.
William, The bucket wall idea is exactly what I am talking about. Only real difference is that I would use a greater variety of infill. It's nice to see someone actually doing something similar and seeing how well it worked out. So far, my idea has only been theory. One thing though ... I think he could have made the same structure with less than half the buckets if he had stacked them on top of one another instead of nesting them. By putting lids on them (and possibly drilling a center hole through lid and bottom of each bucket to string them -- like beads -- on rebar pounded into the soil) he could have made a wall of similar height using only 4 buckets per linear foot. The air space inside the buckets would actually add to the insulative effect. If he was worried about strength, the rebar would help with that, OR he could have filled each bucket with other "trash" like plastic bottles, aluminum cans, etc. before stacking.
On that other link, did you catch that the guy said he got his local recycling center to give him the plastic pop and bleach bottles? I think more people should take advantage of a central collection site like that to get material they would otherwise have to wait years to accumulate. Knowing that most of that waste goes directly to landfills in any case, makes it more imperative than ever for people like us to go get and use it!!!
Mike and Allen, No need to apologize! I think you raised valid issues for using trash in an exposed gabion wall and it was my fault for not explaining better what I had in mind.
As far as the issues of dealing with this material are concerned; a test is always best. People can have their ideas, but between that and a full scale project, a sample is usually the best approach and in today's world the step one often feels is least necessary what with all the great advice on youtube and such. I often get asked finishing questions and I always say to do a sample first. So last night my kid brings me her Uke, she had chipped the green paint. Wife has perfect match Sharpie, so I color the flaw and start rebuilding the chipped area with super glue. Super glue turns Sharpie ink black. What do I always say?
Your height:width is easy.
You know, but for others: old tarps, tar paper, old shade screen, plastic etc behind the fencing keeps mesh tighter and keeps plaster from falling in and keeps fill from falling/poking out.
I tried this rapidobe on a little courtyard wall wing curving out from a tidy vertical rapidobe berm retainer. No cracks to speak of. I even threw some junk in there when no one was looking. Nothing crazy, mainly 55 gallon drums
Personally, if I was loading aluminum cans onto a trailer, I'd drive it to a scrap yard before I drove them to a wall infill spot.
I like the idea of the plastic bottle bales at landfills for a courtyard wall. I'd like the no roof no rot plastic bale in a courtyard wall. Insulative straw bales under roof for insulative house wall.
I like your idea except the cardboard. I don't like building future rot. Single skin is obviously quicker and no bulging lumps, probably quicker even with including hauling out recycle loads.but it's thin
Check it out here: Bucket House
He is getting close to completion, but is running out of buckets! Stacking him the way he did will create more and smaller air pockets but...
My idea would be to sink a line of bottomless buckets flush into the ground. Next, I would halfway fill them with onsite soil. The second course, same thing, but we fill the space between the first and second level buckets. Add some kind of reinforcement, rebar, bamboo whatever. Wrap in a stucco friendly mesh.
The issue of fire in a wall containing plastic infill would be a problem if made of open gabions, but a wall completely encased in ferro-cement should be safe. I wouldn't want to claim that it would be 100% fireproof at that point -- because a small flaw in the cement outer layer could conceivably lead to a fire inside the wall, but I do think, if properly done, the wall would be essentially fireproof. I forgot to mention that I would finish the walls with a coating of sodium silicate to seal it completely against water infiltration. Since sodium silicate creates a mechanical bond with cement and actually grows crystals within the microscopic interstices between sand/cement to fill them, it effectively creates a solid "stone" surface to guard against both water and fire. In any case, there probably will not be much plastic in the walls. (See my response to Christopher below.)
My sample will be part of the wall itself. Since I am always doing more than I really have time for and can only work on it periodically, I want to seal off whole sections -- say 10' long -- at a time to keep the elements out of anything already built while finding the time to do more. That will help prevent a massive fire as well -- should fire manage to penetrate into any one section, it will not spread to another. (Think about the doors in submarines that seal the various sections from one another in case of fire or leaks.)
That is sort of what I was thinking too, only I would put rocks in the bottom buckets since we grow rocks here and have practically NO soil.
I also forgot to mention that I plan to recycle some of the plastic dog food and grain bags we have saved over the years by using those to line the walls to prevent wasted cement. We have 9 dogs, chickens and goats, so we get a lot of those tarp-weight 50 lb. bags. May as well use them!
As for what ultimately gets used as infill -- I originally mentioned a lot of stuff just kind of throwing out possibilities, but when it comes right down to it, we are likely going to have more glass jars and bottles than anything else. We use our cardboard waste for mulch or to smother growth before plantings. Unless we get pop bottles from the recycling center, we just don't generate enough plastic trash to amount to much of a wall. The aluminum cans we have saved amount to a considerable pile, but we melt those for art works or recycle them locally when the price for aluminum goes up. (It was way down when we considered them for infill, but it has risen enough to make trucking them to the metal salvage place worth it right now.) Since steel cans will rust, we tend to reuse those as seedling containers in the garden (with holes punched in bottoms for drainage) or in decorative applications (like luminaries, pencil holders, etc.) or turned over tall stakes to make places for predatory wasps to build nests in the garden. They love them! So... that leaves glass. Fortunately we have tons of it, having washed and saved every glass jar we have ever come across for the last quarter century.
In some of our buildings we used clean garbage as roof insulation, stuffed above plywood ceiling, but there we use only paper and wood shavings, not plastic, for fear of toxic smoke in the event of fire.
One issue with these is that mice love the habitat made from crumpled plastic and paper. Your garbage being all cans and bottles might not have that problem.
I think if you've got cans and bottles to use up, it might make more sense to make a cob wall and plaster them in, rather than ferro-cement on the outside of gabions filled with cans and bottles. What is going to hold these walls up in the vertical? The strength of the gabion mesh? The ferro-cement shell? When the wall has to come down, the ferro-cement will be additional garbage, whereas a cob wall can be re-mixed into cob or garden soil, and the original cans and bottles removed.
We have used glass bottles laid flat as insulation under a flat-bed solar water heater. I don't think it was great insulation but it was free and used them up.
We have used plastic bottles packed with sand as sort of bricks to build raised beds in a greenhouse, but I wasn't crazy about this idea for a couple of reasons. One is, the plastic will break down in the sun. Another is, the length of the bottles made the wall wider than I consider ideal, which would be boards for this purpose. And a third is that they are slippery and round, so the wall hasn't stayed in exactly the same shape, though actually it stayed better than I expected for the past 5 years, and perhaps the greenhouse blocked UV light because they didn't disintegrate. I thought of it as just a fun project for students to get creative on re-using garbage, but now that I write it here, I realize it lasted better than I expected.
Don't be so sure floods or other disasters can never happen! I was thinking of our office in town, where we used the double wall with garbage gap described above. We had to remove the outer wall and the garbage insulation after a very unexpected flood. There was a major flash flood in a big dry wash a couple of miles away, and the extent of construction in the generations since there was last any water in that valley made the floodwater divert to unexpected areas. The back of our office was left 4 feet deep in mud, and so once we dug it out, we had to remove the outer wall and garbage insulation because they were soaking wet.
I think it is great that you guys are using cob and making use of trash to build with! I wish more people would be willing to work to create greener buildings without the use of expensive high-tech materials. Just a couple of responses to your thoughtful post ...
Rebecca Norman wrote:One issue with these is that mice love the habitat made from crumpled plastic and paper. Your garbage being all cans and bottles might not have that problem.
Since the entire wall structure will be encased in wire and cement there should not be a problem with rodents -- especially since we will be using clean containers and no regular garbage. Nothing for the mice to eat or nest with even if they could get in there.
Rebecca Norman wrote:I think if you've got cans and bottles to use up, it might make more sense to make a cob wall and plaster them in, rather than ferro-cement on the outside of gabions filled with cans and bottles. What is going to hold these walls up in the vertical? The strength of the gabion mesh? The ferro-cement shell? When the wall has to come down, the ferro-cement will be additional garbage, whereas a cob wall can be re-mixed into cob or garden soil, and the original cans and bottles removed.
The walls would be infill. I imagine we will either do some sort of buttressing for free-standing walls or use a post and beam construction (as with strawbales where the bales are infill only -- not support walls) if we make sheds or other small buildings this way. As for cob, it would be nice if we had soil, and no other issues with cob (see below) but we really don't. We hit bedrock at between 4" and 2' over nearly our entire property. Besides, we have other reasons for wanting to use ferro-cement. (Again, see below) As for "When the wall has to come down ..." I don't expect it will ever have to come down. I tend to build things to last, so I don't see any need to tear it down. We will never sell this place and we plan to put a conservation easement on it for a wildlife preserve when we die, so nothing should get changed even after we're gone.
Rebecca Norman wrote:Don't be so sure floods or other disasters can never happen! I was thinking of our office in town, where we used the double wall with garbage gap described above. We had to remove the outer wall and the garbage insulation after a very unexpected flood. There was a major flash flood in a big dry wash a couple of miles away, and the extent of construction in the generations since there was last any water in that valley made the floodwater divert to unexpected areas. The back of our office was left 4 feet deep in mud, and so once we dug it out, we had to remove the outer wall and garbage insulation because they were soaking wet.
I never said that we don't think other disasters could occur -- only that we would never get a flood where we are situated. I hold to that because our homestead is located over 300' above the nearest lake or river. It would take a 300' plus rise in water level to effect us. I'm pretty sure that won't happen. As for other disasters ... THAT is exactly why we want to use ferro-cement (apart from not having any soil). Where we live we get very high winds and tornadoes all the time. Ditto extreme thunderstorms. Ferro-cement will hold up much better to that sort of thing than mud walls would -- especially against the kind of sideways winds we get with our heavy thunderstorms. Even a 4' overhang would not protect walls from that. We are also in a zone near the New Madrid earthquake fault. Not smack in the middle, thank goodness, but close enough for some shaking. Ferro-cement holds up well to those events as well.
One final thing ...
I found this neat website while researching trash walls. People are making use of trash to build schools in South America -- what a great community effort. We need to do more of this sort of thing here! http://hugitforward.org/ This is a video from that website.
For walls under an overhang, I stuccoed with two or three coats of mud/sand, and then put on a thin wash of cement at then end with a paintbrush. Mix paint into the cement to color it however you like!
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