When we first saw Rich Messer and Ann Dowden’s home built using bales made from laundry detergent boxes (which can’t be recycled because they’re coated in wax), set on a foundation made from bales of postconsumer PVC trash (toys, laundry baskets, shampoo bottles) we thought it was brilliant. Through the years, that snug little house—which looks just like a straw bale—has remained one of my favorites. I love to see people’s reactions when they realize the house is made from garbage. It seems so logical—such a natural use of an abundant unnatural resource. Yet the idea is just now starting to catch on.
A team of Auburn University students has built a student housing apartment using a similar method, which they call Curocon (corrugated construction). Bales made from strips of wax-covered corrugated cardboard were wrapped in plastic, buried in the ground and covered with concrete to create a level surface, and more bales were stacked to build walls. Large timbers placed on top of the walls tie the structure together, anchor the roof and provide clean edges for windows and doors.
Students at Auburn University used bales of compressed corrugated board to create a student housing apartment. Photo Courtesy Rural Studio, Auburn University.
Walls made from corrugated board bales provide insulation and thermal mass. Photo Courtesy Rural Studio, Auburn University.
Just like in straw bale homes, the corrugated bales’ thickness serves as insulation, and their density provides both thermal mass and load-bearing capabilities. Through a fire test, the students discovered that fire does spread quickly over the bales but is short-lived, burns down to a smolder, emits no toxic gases and leaves the bales structurally intact. The bales’ modular shape allows them to be constructed quickly, and the building material is relatively inexpensive.
We could learn a few things from these kids.