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Building a Home From Papercrete

Updated on August 11, 2017

Building From Paper is a Good Investment

Newspapers, magazines, junk mail, cardboard boxes, etc. This is a resource so abundant that almost everyone has some of it laying around in their homes.

But, what if I told you that this resource can build you a sturdy and energy efficient home for a fraction of the cost of a conventional home?

And what if I told you your hard earned money doesn't have to go toward high utility bills any more?

Sound Too Good to be True?

Imagine this. It has been an especially cold winter (considering we are in the midst of global warming), but fortunately you have been able to visit warmer country for a few days. Even though it may only be 20 degrees or less outside, you walk into a very cozy home, your cat sprawling lazily on a windowsill soaking in the early morning sun. The money you saved on utilities can now be spent on short getaways, new furniture or interior fixtures.

Almost everyone dreams of owning their own home. And even though homes are still a sound investment, it is getting harder and harder to afford one.

What if I told you this type of home is also fireproof, insect and rodent resistant? And that these types of homes have proven to be earthquake proof as well as hurricane proof?

A home built from paper is the least labor intensive of all the alternatives so far.

Living In Paper

A Basic Structure Could Cost You As Little As $1,200!

This abundant alternative resource costs between $5.00 to $25.00 a square foot in papercrete material.

Newspapers are a universal alternative next to dirt. In every country, city and state there are piles of newspapers. Just look around your home, your community, your landfill. This is an abundant resource. One way to recycle paper is to build with it. You could even ask your neighbors to save their newspapers for you or contact your local newspaper office.

Originally patented in 1928, but wasn't considered to be commercially viable, and fell by the wayside until recently. Today it is being rediscovered as a "new" alternative building material. Papercrete has been termed by some as a "modern day adobe." It has been independently rediscovered by several experimenters, beginning in 1983. It's so new that people haven't even settled on a name for it yet. Mike McCain, inventor from Columbus, NM, calls it fibercrete or papercrete. Eric Patterson, who independently discovered it in 1990, calls it padobe.

Since papercrete is not formally approved as a load bearing material, it cannot be legally be used in most localities to support a roof. But, as "in-fill", the papercrete wall are built between roof supporting posts and filled in between, hence, "in-fill". The posts are connected to the foundation at the bottom and tied in the beams on top. The roofing system is built on top of the beams. This approach is commonly called "post and beam". Papercrete is great for this application. Of course, with some limitations, it can also be used to build garages, sheds, and other structures, which do not house people. Another marker is garden and perimeter walls, or other landscaping purposes like ponds.

That said, we are not building a post and beam because we are pouring our forms in place using slip forms. Our blocks are 16 in wide x 12 in. high x 30 in. long. Picture below of a slip form.

Load capacity is 260 pounds per cubic inch. The idea is to have thick enough walls, so you are spreading out the load.

This Is A Slip Form

This Is A Slip Form
This Is A Slip Form

What You Need to Build Your Very Own Papercrete Home

The formula requires four ingredients

1) Paper- newspaper, junkmail, cardboard, or magazines. All of this material does need to be soaked.

2) Portland Cement

3) Sand

4) Lots of water

This mixture can then be poured in molds to make monolithic walls or into slip forms to form blocks. Blocks may be manageable after 24 hours. Total drying time is 1 1/2 weeks to 2 weeks depending on weather and humidity. Formulas may vary according to applications.

Once papercrete is dry, the blocks are very light weight, which makes building easy. If you know how to build a puzzle or lay bricks on top of each other, then you'll have no problem. The only tools you need for the main structure is a mixer, shovel and trowel.

Other benefits to building this type of home is how easy it is to install electrical wires and windows. To install wires, you only need a router to cut into the papercrete. To install windows, you only need a chain saw to cut an opening for the glass to fit into.

This material is so forgiving, that if you make a mistake, you just put the chunks of papercrete back into the mixer, add a little water and viola! Patching up your mistake is a breeze. Just let it dry and start over again. No waste at all. Nothing being put into a pile to be taken to the landfill at a later date.

We Are Building A Papercrete Home!

I will keep you updated on our progress through this lens. Stayed tuned!

Aaron is pouring the fibercrete mixture into the first footer. The mixer next to him is working marvelously! However, the weather is not. It has been raining off and on for the past week.

This quote from Confucius is appropriate for this week:

"When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don't adjust the goals, adjust the action steps."

The Footers Were Placed On A Bed Of 3/4 Inch Gravel

Much like an upside down railroad bed

Six inches of gravel was placed in a trench about 18 inches wide, papercrete slurry was poured directly onto the rock within the form and allowed to dry. This is used for drainage to keep water away from the footers.

The Footers Are Poured And We Are Ready To Pour The Walls!

The Footers Are Poured And We Are Ready To Pour The Walls!
The Footers Are Poured And We Are Ready To Pour The Walls!

Our Papercrete Mixer: Aaron is such a whiz at building and fixing anything!

Our Papercrete Mixer: Aaron is such a whiz at building and fixing anything!
Our Papercrete Mixer: Aaron is such a whiz at building and fixing anything!

Taking a Break

This is as far as we got. The process has taken us a little longer than anticipated because we are learning along the way. And actually, these walls are going to be the garage. We are regrouping and looking around for a larger mixer. To be continued......

Environmental Bonus

* Saves landfill space

* Keeps paper processing and printing chemicals out of the water table

* Saves trees and other construction resources, which would have been used in place of papercrete for walls and roof

* Saves additional trees and other construction resources, which would have been used to "build out" or finish the interior and exterior of the structure

* Saves more than 50% of the energy to heat and cool the structure for the lifetime of the structure

* Provides new construction jobs

* Provides low-cost, sustainable housing

* There are no harmful by-products or excessive energy used in the production of papercrete. While it can be argued that Portland Cement is not environmentally friendly, it is not used in all types of papercrete, and when it is, it represents a fairly small percentage of the cured material by volume.

Finding a Green Contractor If You Don't Want To Do It Yourself

Considering an eco-friendly home renovation, new kitchen, or roof but don't know where to look for contractors or architects? Shop around at the sites below and remember to always ask for several references:

Have you had an opportunity to build green? Love to hear from you about any trials or tribulations

Green Building May be the Only Way Many of us Will Be Able to Afford a Home

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    • profile image

      Eric 8 days ago

      Just stumbled across your page, how is the project coming along, any new pictures. I'm very intrigued by your mixer, most seem to use a tow mixer, I have an old riding mower that I want to use belt drive to mix. Do you have any plans of your mixer?

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      I am very interested in alternative building materials. I had heard of papercrete, but didn't know much about it.

      I really enjoyed learning about it in this article. Great hub!

    • slcalvin profile image

      Sharron Calvin 2 years ago from San Luis Valley, Colorado

      Since these blocks are so dense, it takes a lot to get them to burn. Lots of tests have been done and they seem to only smolder.

    • someonewhoknows profile image

      someonewhoknows 2 years ago from south and west of canada,north of ohio

      I've seen video online of someone making paper logs by soaking all sorts of paper materials in water and putting that into molds under pressure to remove the water and letting it dry over time which resulted in a log shape that resembled a wood log that you could burn. I take it the blocks you create are fireproof tested.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      My partner and I - both women over the age of 50, built our house out of recycled materials. Starting with a free single-wide mobile home, we dug a rubble trench 8' beyone each side, laid a packed tire foundation, poured a concrete plate and then constructed a frame from used and seconds 2x4's onto which we secured forms and poured a 12" thick wall of fiber adobe made of 1 part paper mulch, 1 part sifted clay and a little bit of Portland cement. We now have a lovely home that you can see here:

    • Justinleon LM profile image

      Justinleon LM 5 years ago

      This is a great idea. Must be followed.

    • athomemomblog profile image

      Genesis Davies 5 years ago from Guatemala

      Love this idea! Looking forward to seeing how your project advances.

    • Vallygems1 profile image

      Vallygems1 5 years ago

      Great Idea and a complete solution to paper waste problems

    • Countryluthier profile image

      E L Seaton 5 years ago from Virginia

      This is an eye opening whack to the side of the head lens. Good job builder squid. Nicely constructed lens which built up to a great finish.

    • profile image

      craigtew 6 years ago

      That is the most amazing thing I've ever seen or heard of. Why aren't more people doing this? I wish there were a way we could shingle a roof with this stuff.

    • profile image

      kimmanleyort 6 years ago

      This is fascinating. I have not heard of a home made of papercrete. Blessed by a squid angel.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      What are the construction laws in terms of building a green home? are they different?

    • slcalvin profile image

      Sharron Calvin 6 years ago from San Luis Valley, Colorado

      @anonymous: Construction laws vary from county to county. The county we are building in is pretty easy going. Just have to pay for the permits. :)

    • Susan300 profile image

      Susan300 6 years ago

      This looks really neat, and easier than I would have thought. Thanks for the great info and pics! :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      This lens truly offers a very valuable information. I appreciate it a lot. I also have some information about tumbleweeds houses. I'm sure you could relate to it. Thanks!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      The idea was great.People are getting more and more creative and useful.Let's make an papercrete home.This also an insurance in our part to have a stronger type of house.

      car insurance estimate

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Sound very new to me.It's a new information I've heard.A building from a papercrete is very interesting.There a many benefits from this house such as fire;hurricane and earthquake proof.IT really good.I wish i had this kind of house in

      aptm phoenix

    • profile image

      adamlanger 6 years ago

      i like it really very informative keep it up..

    • profile image

      bujanan 6 years ago

      I can see where traditional building contractors might freak initially but with post and beam design anything is possible. This is much better to me than a straw bale home.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 6 years ago from Colorado

      Yes... I am building green... living off the grid. Life is good! Enjoyed learning about papercrete options and processes. Very interesting. Hope everything has come together beautifully for you. I really enjoy seeing the progress photos. All the very best to you.

    • profile image

      DanielTodman 6 years ago

      I do hope I can see more of those green structures, not just homes, but for establishments as well, like clinics, banks, etc. It would be nice if Chicago dental contractors could build green structures when they construct clinics. It's not just going to help the residents, but it's also going to help the environment. If the Chicago healthcare developers and contractors would do this green building, it's going to help in the wellness of the people and their surroundings.

    • profile image

      rooferkane 6 years ago

      I like the recycling effort. It helps the environment plus its cost effective method as well. All Tex Exteriors

    • slcalvin profile image

      Sharron Calvin 6 years ago from San Luis Valley, Colorado

      @myraggededge: Thank you for your encouragement,

    • profile image

      homeroofing 7 years ago

      We do a lot of metal roofing down here in Sydney, and coupled with heat-reflective paint, this type of roof saves power and insulates well. Papercrete looks like it could also be a good insulator in our climate.

    • myraggededge profile image

      myraggededge 7 years ago

      This looks fantastic! Please keep us updated. The photos are really helpful in showing what you are doing here. Good luck with everything.

      Blessed by a Squid angel :-)

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      @anonymous: Thanks for sharing this information with others. We all need to work together in the recycling effort.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      i just emailed this one to my boss who owns a shredding company fort lauderdale and maybe he could develop a 2nd major business after reading this. I know that i would do if i had to throw away such a huge amount of paper as he has to do.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Wonderful lens. I still haven't seen any papercrete buildings put up in colder climates though. Would love to see how it holds up in sub-arctic conditions! Will be coming back, please keep it up!

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 7 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      Oh, how cool! I've heard of "papercrete" but never really knew much about it. I'll be looking forward to seeing how your house progresses. Favoriting this so I'll be sure to return.

    • sweet-slurry profile image

      sweet-slurry 7 years ago

      HI Sharron, I just checked out your lens again. Wish I could remember to visit more often. I guess you guys are like me - out of commission with the papercrete until the temp goes up. Well it gives time to read and study. Sorry I didn't get by to see you in the fall. Maybe this year. You are welcome here any time. Good job on you project! It looks great.

    • giacombs-ramirez profile image

      gia combs-ramirez 7 years ago from Montana

      Great lens! Blessed by an angel.

    • slcalvin profile image

      Sharron Calvin 7 years ago from San Luis Valley, Colorado

      @Pengwen LM: Hi there,

      I am working on a video, just haven't finished it yet. The mixer did work for awhile and is a great way to start. But, we are coming up with other ideas that are more efficient. And yes, you can leave these blocks out in all kinds of weather. It has been getting down to 0 at night and they appeared unfazed.

      Thanks for visiting

    • Pengwen LM profile image

      Pengwen LM 7 years ago

      I LOVE your squid!! I like your mixer can we get the spec's on it or maybe video. Can you leave these bricks uncovered for long periods of time while you build the structure?

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Hi, I enjoyed looking over your site. 2 ?s. I only have dial up and can't watch videos. What's the recipe for papercrete and how did u build your mixer? Thanks.

    • profile image

      greby 8 years ago

      Great subject, really enjoyed this lens :)

    • AppalachianCoun profile image

      AppalachianCoun 8 years ago

      Wonderful idea and wonderful lens. Thank-you for the info, we didn't realize this could be done. 5 stars*****

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Hi Sharron,

      Great lens. You are inspiring me to get back into web work again. I have been working on using papercrete to insulate my solar oven. I need to document it and make a lens. Stay tuned.

    • slcalvin profile image

      Sharron Calvin 8 years ago from San Luis Valley, Colorado

      [in reply to Judith Williams]

      Hi Judith, We realize not all counties have the same codes for building. Which is too bad because it is mostly a fear thing and there is nothing to be afraid of. As you know, papercrete homes are a lot more sturdier than stick homes.

      However, that was why we chose this area. We wanted to be able to experiment with this material and so far there hasn't been a problem with anything we have done.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Sharron, I just looked at your lens again and think it is fabulous. I am so envious of your handy little mixer. I am still hoping to get up to see you and get some ideas. I am planning a new project and want to follow your example of nice neat looking blocks and a very practical mixer. I al also impressed by your footer design. I don't think it will fly with the code people but it is a good idea. Keep up the good work. Do you think you'll be in by winter?

    • slcalvin profile image

      Sharron Calvin 8 years ago from San Luis Valley, Colorado

      [in reply to your mixer]

      Great Question! Here is Aaron's respnse:

      I am very happy with the design of this mixer, it has worked out well. However, the 5HP Briggs and Stratton motor wasn’t designed for this type of continuous use. I had to remove the governor in order to extract full power from the small engine. Along with a 3 to 1 belt reduction, no clutch. The result was the engine finally gave out after hours and hours of daily use. When it was only designed for weekend use of mowing the lawn at a governed speed. This resulted in having to purchase a larger 10 HP engine and gearing the belt drive to 2 to 1. I am very pleased with this last setup. The engine only has to work half as hard. If you have any more questions, feel free to ask.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Hey Sharron......y'all have the first mixer I've seen utilizing a lawnmower engine. That's what I'd like to build too. Can you give me details on how it works? and if your happy with it? What you'd do different if needed? I guess it's powered from the bottom. With a chain or belt drive? Is there a clutch? so you can start the engine and then engage the engine. I have a 5 HP Briggs and Stratton engine that I want to use. Thanks for any help with this....packymck

    • slcalvin profile image

      Sharron Calvin 8 years ago from San Luis Valley, Colorado

      [in reply to nzinteriordesign]

      Hi Ron,

      Good Question!

      I am working on a short video to demonstrate the stability of this material. Stay tuned!

    • sweet-slurry profile image

      sweet-slurry 8 years ago

      [in reply to slcalvin] Well it looks like I had already found your site and LOVE it. Your pictures are great and your blocks look so uniform and precise. I would love to come up and see what you're doing and especially examine Aaron's mixer. It is so much more practical than a tow mixer. I have felt guilty about burning gas to drive around pulling the mixer. At first I had planned to use biodeisel but found my truck was not compatible with it. Well anyway, your place looks great. Good job!

    • slcalvin profile image

      Sharron Calvin 8 years ago from San Luis Valley, Colorado

      [in reply to sweet-slurry] In the first picture, Aaron is pouring the fibercrete mixture in a trench filled with 3/4 rock. It worked remarkably well for wicking away from the ground. After the footers are completely dry, we will paint the backside with a black footer tar

    • sweet-slurry profile image

      sweet-slurry 8 years ago

      I didn't think you could put papercrete in the ground. Won't the moisture wick into it?

    • profile image

      nzinteriordesign 8 years ago

      Hi, great innovative way to go green !

      In terms of meeting legal building requirments is this universally approved with local councils ? Could you make a lens showing evidence of stress testing and fire risks too as well ?


      Ron Crummer

    • MerryChicky profile image

      MerryChicky 8 years ago

      What a great lens on papercrete! I've never seen it in action, but I hope to some day. :)