With recycled building products becoming ever more prevalent in the building industry Professional Builder’s Lee Jones visits a project where the concept of rubbish is being reinvented
“There’s no such thing as waste – just stuff in the wrong place”. That’s the view of the team behind the Waste House, but with ever-increasing skip prices, landfill taxes and transport costs, builders would argue that having that ‘stuff’ where it shouldn’t be can be a very costly predicament indeed. The solution in the future will be to make sure that we are reusing or reclaiming as much of what is presently discarded as we can – and hopefully make some money out of it into the bargain.
It is estimated that for every five properties being built in Britain enough waste is generated to create one extra house, whilst at least 10% of ordered building materials that arrive on site are never actually used. For those of us accustomed to the conventional bricks and mortars of a building project using recycled rubbish as an alternative might seem an outlandish proposition, but a University of Brighton research project is an experiment in just how far the idea can be developed.
The Waste House, brainchild of university lecturer and House architect, Duncan Baker Brown, and Grand Designs presenter, Kevin McCloud, is Europe’s first permanent public building made almost entirely of reclaimed material. More than 20,000 old toothbrushes, two tonnes of denim jeans, and 4,000 VHS tapes, were used as insulation for the wall cassettes. 2,000 used carpet tiles have been utilised as cladding, compacted and hardened chalk makes up the internal supporting walls, whilst thrown away paper has been compressed to make floor tiles.
“Much of what you can see in this house has been scavenged along the way,” explains Nicholas Gant, who worked on the project from its inception, “but as it gathered momentum we actually had material of an often unknown provenance just turning up on site. That presented a challenge for us in determining where we could use it, and in getting Building Control approval, but that’s been a key to the concept throughout – to ask the wider question what can you actually use to build a house?”
Nicholas argues that our attitudes to recycled products needs to be challenged from the outset: “There is an assumption that just because a product is recycled that it’s inferior, but if you took the example of plastic it would be very difficult for even a chemist to determine the differences between a recycled product and original, virgin material. As well as that we ourselves were amazed by some of the stuff that’s been thrown away. We’ve made desks in the Waste House office out of off-cuts from a laboratory workshop installation – it’s incredibly high quality ply and if we hadn’t salvaged it the material would have been destined for landfill.”
The building was initially designed as a timber frame construction, but rather than having drawings to follow for each stage it has evolved into its finished form as the materials were acquired. The finished construction still achieves Energy Performance Certificate A-rated low energy building status, however, complete with a solar panel array providing some of the power. In addition, the performance of the various insulation materials is being constantly monitored and the house has been designed in such a way that elements can be removed or added.
“Whenever we received anything our first thought was how can we make use of this” continues Nicholas. “We managed to acquire a lot of PVC street banners that were advertising festivals and other events, for instance. These tend to be date sensitive and are therefore only used once but we were able to use them as a waterproof membrane. Insulation around the window frames has been achieved with the inner tubes of old bicycles, whilst the LED lights in the upstairs were from an old container ship.”
Organisations who have come together to realise the project include Mears Group which, with undergraduate students, students from City College Brighton & Hove, the reuse organisation FREEGLE UK, private companies and volunteers, built the house in the grounds of the university’s Grand Parade campus. Brighton & Hove City Council is already looking into how it can incorporate ideas from the house in its future building projects.
For further information on the Brighton Waste House visit www.arts.brighton.ac.uk/business-and-community/the-house-that-kevin-built