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building cabin using #10 cans  RSS feed

 
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I am currently designing a small cabin to be built with size#10 food cans. They will be used as the medium for the walls and siding, they are very durable, and stacked horizontally they form a tight matrix that can be secured together, insulated, and are very easy to obtain from just about any restaurant. I plan on using them as the infill for the building, however they could be filled with cob to create a more load-bearing building material, like a brick. Anyway I wanted to put this design idea out there as I have not been able to find any similar building applications for the large food cans besides dismantling them for use as shingles, which is still a great idea, I am just trying to keep them in their cylindrical shape. Anyone have any input? I am looking for any exploration, ideas, criticisms, anything beneficial to further implementing this design idea!
 
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That's an interesting idea.  I don't have anything to add or subtract from it other than that you might harvest some ideas from cordwood masonry techniques.  They use 12-18" lengths of firewood and mortar them together to form buildings.  Maybe some elements of their systems could help you on your build.  Good luck!
 
pollinator
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Does cob stick to the outside?  I'm curious how you will eventually plaster over the outside of the cans, or is that your intention?
 
Aaron Tusmith
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The cans I collect at local restaurants are opened at the top, so, when stacked horizontally with all of the open ends facing the interior, I intended to use a tool cut in the exact shape as the void left between the stacked cans. Something like a concave equilateral triangle. I would use the specifically shaped tool to pack cob into the voids between the cans but leaving 2 inches or so to be packed in with some time of weather resistant mortar out to the exterior of the outside wall. Thanks for the response!
 
pollinator
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Would not rust be an issue ?  How big are these cans?

David  
 
Aaron Tusmith
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Rust will occur, but with an additional coat of exterior paint meant for concrete applied to the gaps I am hoping that will prevent any moisture from seeping into the walls. I've worked as an archaeologist and have pulled cans out of the ground that were a hundred years old with the bottoms still intact. Cans last a long time! oh and #10 cans are 7 1/8 in tall and 6 1/8 in wide
 
David Livingston
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my thought was the moisture in the cob itself will be an issue. I have seen tins rust quite fast where was plenty of oxygen and ion filled water .

David
 
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Concrete is porous, has a capillary action and water can still work its way in. An ongoing problem with construction is over time, rebar inside concrete eventually starts to rust, and after enough decades, structures start to be compromised. It's a problem surfacing in America with old concrete bridges built in the 50's during the building of the interstate highways.
 
pollinator
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Old pre-1800 cans were made from thicker iron and tended to be painted. Today's thin steel can isn't going to last you nearly as long and any extra effort to extend their life is likely not worth the time.

To build on what David said, the cob as it is being packed into the cans is going to scratch the tin-coating a lot which will cause the cans to degrade faster.

Aaron Smithsmith wrote: when stacked horizontally with all of the open ends facing the interior



That's putting the cans on their side, correct? Consider how someone can stand on an empty soda can when it's vertical, but when horizontal it can be dented effortlessly. The rust + weight are going to cause these cans to not hold their shape and at the very least the wall will probably start to shift a little. I personally don't see what structural advantage they will offer compared to just building from cob alone either.

Tinplate cans are designed to be "temporarily" used and then recycled, so they don't match up with characteristics that good building materials have. I have many soup and coffee cans, and figuring out ideas to use them for, besides arts&crafts that the internet constantly suggests, has been a tough problem to solve . I'm getting to a point where I'll likely just recycle most of them and switch to a more commonly available material like brick, wool, etc. And I've tried the shingle idea - personally it felt like way too much work for what you get out of it.

Using them for storage, out of the elements, is where they will last the longest. Either for dried food or maybe for holding a dry material that absorbs heat(gravel?) and being stacked next to a heat source to act as a heat-sink.
 
pollinator
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Those cans are designed to stack. Why would you try to stack them on their sides like cordwood when they're structurally strongest, especially empty, when standing on end?

I could easily see the cans, packed with a rammed earth mixture, built into a double wall (where two rows nest in each other's void spaces) and then cobbed over.

The issue of the cans rusting, though, is still an issue. I would probably investigate putting a natural watertight seal on the cob. I think it's done with olive oil, but someone better versed in waterproofing natural building materials could say better.

-CK
 
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I've seen a solarium/attached greenhouse built of water-filled gallon milk jugs in our neighborhod when we lived in Colorado Springs about 12 years ago.  I believe the gaps were filled with silicon, but I wasn't looking at Ag at the time so don't recall for certain.  

As for #10 cans, they are relatively durable so long as they don't sit in wet for too long.  I've seen backyard gardeners who are using #10 coffee cans that are likely at best 30 years old, if not older than I am.  In areas where we have issues with wireworms and other pests which crawl to their target, they make an excellent barrier when buried 6-8" and the tomatoes, eggplant, etc., planted inside (preferably with a good rich soil mixture.) I've seen people who garden with painted coffee cans that would likely bring a nice price at an antique shop if they weren't weathered from 30-40 years in the garden.

From what I've seen (I brought home about 3x the number of cans I ended up using last year) when moisture sits in the bottom of a can, you can see pitting, heavy rust, and holes within a season.  I don't believe they will hold up for building with a moist fill material like cob, adobe, or mud (although if you can manage to purge air from your fill material it might prevent oxidation and thus the rusting.)

A couple of theoreticals that might work...

1) Kiln-drying wet-fill cans should eliminate oxidation and rust.  
2) Filled cans could be welded together with a stick or MIG/TIG system.  I'd suggest leaving small gaps in the continuity of the weld, and inverting the stacks to allow for the drainage of any residual moisture.  
3) I'd definitely suggest welding a loose lid onto the open end of the stack, whether you invert them or not.  This'll prevent moisture from settling into an open topped can.  
 
Aaron Tusmith
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I am still going to pursue the horizontal stacking given the potentials for rust. A good roof and a good foundation will help keep the cans intact, and with the 20 inches of rain a year we get in west central Idaho moisture is going to happen and rust will accumulate but I am willing to take the risk and hope the moisture we do get will not actually eat a hole through the metal, again, with a functional and generous roof, and a hot and dry climate during building, I think these cans could be kept structurally intact. They do not however stack vertically quite so well. The rim of the bottom and the top are exactly the same circumference so they don't rest on top of each other like a soda can would. This is unfortunate because yes, an empty can stacked on its side is compensating is strength, but they will for the most part just be bearing their own weight, I was thinking of filling them with slipstraw? I love the welding idea! I was planning on screwing them together from the inside, but a weld could be great! These can are meant to hold food and then immediately recycled so they will have inherent flaws as a building material, but they are also free, which is a hard thing for me to get over, an unlimited supply of anything is silly to overlook. I think there might be some aesthetic reasons for using them too.
 
Mike Jay
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What about if you stack them vertically and stagger the rows?  So each can is straddling two cans below.  Might that resolve the stability issue?  Or have a row of cans on end, a layer of pallet boards, then another layer of cans, etc?

I personally think welding those cans would be a torture I'd only reserve for politicians and their lobbyists.  

I do love and appreciate the idea of reusing a material that modern society discards.  I've done wonderful things using pallets as a building material (both structural and aesthetic applications).  I've seen videos of people cobbing or otherwise filling in pallets with natural materials to turn them into solid walls.  Are there other disposables from your area you could consider for your build that could have less risk of failure?  

 
David Livingston
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Glass bottles , pallets plastic bottles none of these rust all need reusing :-)

David
 
pollinator
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Neat idea. They would have more compressive strength stacked vertically.
Laid horizontally I expect the open ends will deform.
It might be worth the effort cut off the bottoms as well.
At that point they become forms that can be filled with
cob. Bamboo canes could be run from top to bottom as reinforcement, kind of like rebar.
Staggered,each can would have two canes or peices of rebar through each if them.
Or willow could be used, and the willow might knit together the entire structure as it rooted.

Regarding rust, if you use best practices for building a cob house,your overhangs and foundation will help protect against water.
If you wanted a protective finish, maybe spray it down with oil and apply heat until you get a polymerized finish.
It works on stainless steel and cast iron, but sterl cans, Im not sure.

Ive thought about doing things like this with 5 gallon buckets. The cans have a simpler shape.
I would like to try this with styrofoam-crete or soilcrete plus bamboo canes,to build a wall,shed or playhouse.
 
Aaron Tusmith
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I do appreciate the insight into the different ways the cans could be stacked but it will be a conventional stick frame so the cans can serve the purpose of the exterior sheathing of the building. My intentions were to implement this material to achieve a high degree of coverage (square footage) with the payoff being a very low amount of calories burned, and a speedy installation. It seems that I'm approaching this project to minimize the amount of shovel work I will have to do because I have a bad back. I would love to be able to cut out the lumber frame entirely and use the staggered vertical stack idea with cob fill and finish but the labor would be multiplied many times beyond what I see myself being able to complete. Unfortunately I sometimes give up quality for speed.  Another idea I had was to use the cans in the floor to create an air barrier below an earthen floor. These would be installed open side down and the gaps filled with red cinders. I wonder if this would work and be at all worth doing?
 
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Near where I grew up in Minnesota, there was the foundation if an old factory building.  I assume it was from the 30s or 40s. The walls were shoved full of cans and bottles- and the cans, despite being inside concrete, had rusted and caused the concrete to swell and crumble. Concrete and cob both wick moisture throughout their lifetimes.
I'd stick with using them as shingles. Why take chances?  If you don't fill them, they are empty spaces with one end open to the interior, so no insulation value. If you do fill them, then you haven't saved any material by using them, only given it a sense if structure that could be questionable in the future.
 
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Filling them with cob won't save labor, nor much material.  Stacking them on their round sides, with one side open, will not be stable; you'd need to build a frame house anyway to keep them in the walls.  This might still be useful as a form of insulation, but only if you have a plan for sealing the open ends anyway.  Sandwiched in between two vapor barriers & caged inside a framed wall, they might be worth the effort to collect & clean them, but you would have a particularly thick wall with only mediocre R value.  Could be great for a barn, though.  You could use them as a permanent form for either lightweight & insulative concrete (expensive) or an old fashioned brick (cheap if you have access to red clay & a kiln).  If you have to buy the clay, you'd likely be better off just buying typical bricks.
 
Aaron Tusmith
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Well it is looking like I am getting a pretty solid don't do it on this idea because you have all made some very good, and helpful points. I should try and figure out how to post some visuals from sketchup to clarify the extent of my design. All I have to do is figure out how to do that:) Call me crazy, but I'm not giving up yet!
 
Mike Jay
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We're pretty good about being nice here on Permies and just trying to help without telling people what they "should" do.  Giving feedback and experience is what we're all here to do.  But we certainly could be misunderstanding the awesomeness of your idea and we all love to be shown a new way to do things.

You have tons of passion for it so give it a shot.  We'd love to see it work out.  Pics or it didn't happen
 
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Aaron:

Read this post thread today.  I am also in Idaho, a licensed architect, PDC holder and Professor of Construction Management at BSU.  If you Purple Moose me, we can take this off-line and chat about your concept to see if there is a way to visualize your idea.  Nothing is out of the real of possibility, although comments here are true based on observation of past installation.

Good idea.  Good comments. A model and some test mock-ups before you commit to building a whole structure this way would be a great interim step towards feasibility of concept.
 
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Water H2O isn't what causes rust, it's oxygen O2 that is the culprit.
 
Creighton Samuiels
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ronie dee wrote:Water H2O isn't what causes rust, it's oxygen O2 that is the culprit.



While this is true as far as that goes, corrosion of metal is an electro-chemical reaction, and requires the water to create an electrical circuit.  Without an electrolyte somewhere in the mix, cold steel is unlikely to rust even when exposed to oxygen.  This is actually how rust-preventive paints work, because it's easier to keep moisture out than keep oxygen out.
 
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This seems like a pretty time intensive way to build, but maybe not, and I'm going to throw out some ideas that might make it work.

This is actually how rust-preventive paints work, because it's easier to keep moisture out than keep oxygen out.

  If the cans are clean, and free of rust, then, as Creighton S suggests, a simple coat of latex paint should solve the rusting problem.  Ensure that the bottom of the can, and the open rim have a thick coat of paint as these are going to be your main trouble spots for rust.  

What I would do is build your frame and roof with a generous overhang.  Then take your painted cans and pack light clay straw in them; this is more insulated than cob.  It is a lot less labor than cob.  It is much lighter than cob.  Set each one upright inside your structure, on your sunny side and allow to dry, like a brick.  I would say that you would be much better off for strength laying the cans vertically instead of on their side, and then shifting the next row so that each can in the next row of cans sits equally on the top of the two cans below it.  Try to stack up some empty cans like this and other ways; it's much stronger than stacking them and compressing them the way you are intending (if I am getting the right visual).  

I wouldn't screw or wire them at all, this just exposes your metal to rust potential.  

If you are really paranoid about moisture collecting, then you could place each can upside down.  

You could make the wall two or more cans thick.  

The issue with vertical stacking like this is the corrugated/wavy/uneven surface that would have to be cobbed over and somehow smoothed if a more conventional look was desired.  

One thing to keep in mind is that metal tends to condense moisture on it, so any metal has to be completely covered with cob or plasters thick enough that moisture can not condense on the metal surface.      

Depending on the clay you have, the more alkaline it is the more rust potential you have.  
 
Aaron Tusmith
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There are a lot of rust prevention products, plenty in automotive which could be easily sprayed on. All made of petrochemicals though. I would love to employ a natural alternative such as a coating of an oil or wax  Rust would at least look cool, the problem would only be if the rust was so bad it ate a hole in the can. I hope to do everything I can to prevent that from happening. I think it starts with the roof of the building. And there is always paint if I continue to run into trouble. Thanks for the info folks!
 
ronie dee
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Creighton Samuiels wrote:

ronie dee wrote:Water H2O isn't what causes rust, it's oxygen O2 that is the culprit.



While this is true as far as that goes, corrosion of metal is an electro-chemical reaction, and requires the water to create an electrical circuit.  Without an electrolyte somewhere in the mix, cold steel is unlikely to rust even when exposed to oxygen.  This is actually how rust-preventive paints work, because it's easier to keep moisture out than keep oxygen out.



I hope that OP is still not planning to lay the cans sideways as Creighton Samules' post that the cans should be upright is correct. Possibly they should be inverted with the tops down. That said, I think that using cans. filled with cob/clay/dirt, isn't a great way to build a house. It seems that earthships and earth bags - even rammed earth would be far better and tried and proven. There is nothing that will keep these cans from rusting. It will be major labor intensive and probably expensive to even try to keep the cans from rusting. The structural support from the cans is very temporary - so don't count on the cans being structural support for your roof in the long run.

Almost every action that we experience in the universe is a electro - chemical reaction. Rust is an oxidation reduction reaction. Oxygen is reduced and iron is oxidized. Water is not an electrolyte. Electrolyte=mineral=salt. Minerals in the water are electrolytes.

Earthships, earth bags, rammed earth, cob, cord wood, all seem easier and cheaper than steel cans. You can build with cans but do you really want to?
 
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There is actually a long Wikipedia article on tin can walls (looking as though it belongs on appropedia instead), although on reading, i think they are actually referring to aluminium cans in many places.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tin_can_wall

I've just been considering the idea of small PET soft drink bottles (we have a type about 6" tall) sat vertically with lids on in several rows, possibly with a sheet of plywood for each layer to sit on. What would be a good substance to put between them? (possibly poured with formwork)
 
Roberto pokachinni
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There is actually a long Wikipedia article on tin can walls (looking as though it belongs on appropedia instead), although on reading, i think they are actually referring to aluminium cans in many places.

Yeah, Richard, the Tin Can link you gave is all about aluminum beverage cans; I don't think there is any mention of other metal food cans.  These beverage cans have all sides mostly intact (except for the removed pouring tabs) and, although they are much like the tin cans we were mentioning, they behave quite differently, and aluminum is not prone to the oxidation/corrosion problems.  These cans tend to stack ideally on their ends and can fit together in this configuration, but in the case of this use, are primarily on the sides as the OP in this thread is intending with the number 10 cans.  Reynolds, who developed the technique in New Mexico is heavily reliant on concrete for his bonding.  If you search plastic bottle home, you will get a lot of hits on Google.
 
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If you're going to fill cans with rammed earth or cob or slipstraw or something, then what is the advantage of having the cans inside the wall, rather than just using rammed earth, or cob, or slipstraw or whatever? The cans will slow the drying of the fill materials. Cob, rammed earth, and slipstraw are all very fine wall materials, and since you mention that  this is infill, I assume you've got some other structure holding the load, so this wall can be pretty simple and low tech, a good place to experiment with all-natural materials.
 
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It probably wouldn't hurt to just spray the inside and outside of each can with a good quality metal primer then possibly a coat of epoxy if you have the loot for the epoxy..it's quite expensive, but would last forever..
Be forwarned that if you plan to shoot epoxy be sure to clean out the spray gun every time and only mix small amounts at a time as it sets up quickly.
Nothing is more frustrating than attempting to clean epoxy out of a spray gun after it sets up. It's really not worth the effort once you reach that point..
Anyway, the cans wouldn't rust..
 
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Why cob on the inside?

Cob as well as concrete doesn't gave a high R value for insulation and would need to throughly cure before trying to put much load on them. Then as others have mentioned there is the moisture issue causing them to rust from the inside out.

I can't think of any other good insulation that you could stuff in the cans but I'm sure some research could find something that has both a decent r value as well as structural integrity.

 
Aaron Tusmith
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https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Ii7saqq9AD8dC0uFg3SonxACm6l0_Xlx/view?usp=sharing

Here is a visual aid I hope it helps. At this point I am working on what to fill the cans with, for best insulating properties as well as managing moisture accumulation. I plan on incorporating some earthen plaster/lath application on the interior (open side). Prior to filling the gaps between the cans I plan on using a general application of clear rust-oleum from a spray can. The cans will be independent of the load bearing structure.
 
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I saw this topic and thought the cans were probably to be used flattened, as shingles. There is a shed about 40 miles from here that is sided with old license plates so I was picturing something like that. As for the actual idea being tossed about here, I would recommend reading the book "Rust - the Longest War" by Johnathan Waldman. It's a fascinating read for anyone, not just builders or makers.
 
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You certainly can build an infill wall the way you show, but I think it would be significantly weaker, more time-intensive, and less insulating than monolithic cob or light straw-clay. No natural material is going to make a structural bond with the outside of the cans, so the best you will get is a bunch of well-fitted loose blocks. If plastered or cobbed over inside and outside, the surfaces will be what give the wall any strength it has in bending, and those layers would really want some sort of reinforcing fibers or mesh to keep from cracking at can joints.

Even plastered in and out, there would be lots of metal webs conducting heat from one side of the wall to the other.
 
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Major concern with the rust! Would look to prime with a metal primer and then use a coating of exproxy
 
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