Re: Alternatives to Foam core structural bldg panels + long ramble
From: Eddie Matejowsky (
Date: Tue, 7 Nov 1995 23:05:11 -0600
>There are also makers of exterior wheat straw panels out there as an 
>alternative to foam core. 
>Michael, Jewell Hill Cohousing, Sebastopol CA
        Wheat straw panels sounds great but they're hardly equivalent to
foam core.
Alternative yes - as candle is an alternative to a light bulb but not an
equivalent. An equivalent to a foam core sandwich would have at least the
following properties. It would be light, stiff and strong enough to be a
complete wall in itself, it would have an R-rating of around 20 (for a 4
inch thick foam core). It would be rot proof and long lasting. I don't think
straw panel fits the bill.
I'm not saying you shouldn't use straw panels what I'm saying is they are
different products.
        Making predictions is a risky business but my guess is that a green
equivalent to styro-foam will turn up one day. But it will still be a rigid
foam of some sort. My hunch is that it'll be made from a vegetable product
like agar or castor oil. But until then use stryo-foam if your need warrants
it, ie for a mobile or prefab home in a climate that needs an r-20 wall. 
        I personally would like to see a community of straw bales houses but
straw bale wall is not same as foam core. A bale house has thicker walls,
has to be built on site and is usually impossible to move, it's very cheap
if you do the work yourself and while usually long lasting they could rot if
do the wrong things. I find other alternatives like cob and rammed earth
(such as earthships) appealing also but can see advantages in prefab and
mobiles for non DIYers.

RAMBLE MODE ON -- Why not I've lurked long enough.
Rave number one.
One topic I've never seen raised is what life span do you actually want in a
house? When talking about the environmental costs of building a house the
life expectancy of the house must be considered. Once again this means
making predictions. Not only do we need to predict how long the building
will last before the cost of maintenance make demolition desirable (if ever)
but also :-
1-Chances of some disaster destroying the house
2-Something making the area unlivable
3-Land resumption for one reason or another 
4-population collapse for one reason or another leaving houses abandoned
and so forth and so on.

Perhaps a $40,000 house designed lasts 40 years is a better bet than a
$200,000 house that lasts 200 years, I don't know. These are totally made up
figures I've no idea of costs really. What will another century bring?
Genetically engineered oak trees that grow into 3 bedroom homes complete
with porches - I'm joking - I think.

Rave number two.
Speaking of mobile homes. My fantasy is a rural intention community. Anyhow
I was thinking about choosing the building sites and who lives next to
who(m?) and I thought what about just pitching tents on the proposed sites
and living in them for a while. Living like that would give people a much
better idea of how things fit together than trying to imagine it from a
plan, if you decide you don't like your spot after all, move your tent till
you do. When everyone has stopped moving you start building, more or less. I
saw the posts about mobile homes the other day and wondered if you could
shuffle them around a bit to fine tune the arrangement.
That's enough typing for now.
Cheers Eddie.M.

Edward Matejowsky.
Queensland University of Technology
Centre for Eye Research
Wk +61 73 864 5731 Hm +61 73 2825382

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