Papercrete?? What’s that??
That’s the response I always get when I’m describing my favorite building material. Not surprising since it occupies a spot in that backwater known as ‘alternative building materials’. Papercrete is just what it sounds like actually. It’s concrete made with paper. I tell people to think of it as industrial paper mache. It’s inexpensive to make, amazingly sturdy, lightweight and insulating.
I didn't invent it but I have played with it quite a bit over the past several years. In this Instructable I'm going to go over a little of the history behind it, exactly what it is and how to make and use it. By the time we're done you'll love it too!
Step 1: A Brief History of Papercrete
Papercrete was originally patented in the 20's. The patent lapsed because it was too easy to make on your own and the patent holder wasn't able to make any money off it. It really came into it's own as a building material in the 80's. Eric Patterson and Mike McCain are widely credited with independently inventing (rediscovering) it and actively developing techniques and machinery for working with it.
I discovered papercrete in the late nineties. I used to own a magazine distribution company that specialized in small press and unusual magazines. One of the titles we carried had an article about people who were recycling newspapers and building with papercrete down in southern New Mexico. It was a total off the grid hippie dome sort of scene. The domes weren't my thing but I was captivated by the material and the process of making it. I saved a copy of that magazine and told everyone I knew about it.
It was especially appealing to me because of all the waste involved in magazine distribution. All the unsold magazines would be returned to me and I would have to pay to have them hauled away for recycling. Turning them into building blocks would have been a perfect solution. Unfortunately at the time I didn't have a place to experiment with building projects so eventually the papercrete article went into storage and the idea went on the back burner.
My biggest obstacle was the mixer. To make papercrete you have to be able to grind up paper… lots of paper. In order to do so you need a mixer capable of shredding paper. A regular cement mixer won’t shred the paper it will just stir it around. Luckily for me, Mike McCain had already invented an ingenious papercrete mixer that you tow behind a truck. You just throw everything in and drive slowly for about a mile. When you’re done you have papercrete slurry ready to be cast into something.