By Tina Hilding, Voiland College of Architecture and Engineering
PULLMAN, Wash. – A Washington State University team has developed a unique building system made from low-value construction waste that they hope can reduce waste while creating affordable housing.
A prototype structure featuring the drywall-based bricks will be displayed as part of the “Make/Do: A History of Creative Reuse” exhibit starting July 14 at the Washington State History Museum, 1911 Pacific Ave, Tacoma. The exhibit is focused on the history of creative recycling and re-use.
Recycling drywall waste
Building construction and demolition waste is a growing problem in the United States. In 2014, contractors disposed of 534 million tons of waste, a tripling since 2003. Drywall, also known as gypsum board or sheetrock, is a ubiquitous interior wall covering that is cost effective but wasteful to install. Building a 2,000 square-foot home generates more than a ton of drywall scrap.
While there have been increasing efforts to recycle many construction materials, low-value drywall makes up nearly half of unrecycled construction waste. Furthermore, when it’s put into landfills, soil bacteria decompose the gypsum and produce a noxious gas.
There currently is a shortage of affordable housing in the United States. While high land prices are a significant factor, the cost of labor and building materials for housing are also a contributor.
Grants fund recycled-drywall-to-bricks research
The researchers, including Taiji Miyasaka, professor in the School of Design and Construction, David Drake, adjunct faculty in the School of Design and Construction, and Robert Richards, a professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, began developing the drywall blocks in 2017 with a grant from the American Institute of Architects. They also recently received an Amazon Catalyst grant to move the project from laboratory scale to a demonstration structure.
The blocks are made from 80 percent drywall waste and a binder made from industrial byproducts. They are waterproof and lighter than earth blocks, bricks or concrete blocks, said Miyasaka. The researchers are partnering with local contractors to get the waste, and architecture students are using a press to build the blocks, which look like masonry bricks.
Insulation, seismic and fire resistance
“The bricks are similar to adobe or compress earth blocks,” Drake said, “but our blocks are superior, especially for insulation.”
In the next year, the researchers will be testing the blocks to meet building, seismic and fire codes. They also aim to build a 160 square-foot demonstration structure.
For the upcoming exhibit, the team will also exhibit several structures that they have built out of other common waste materials, including magazines, paper and garbage bags.
For more information on the exhibit, see the Washington State History Museum website.