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Plastic pop bottles, the next building material?

Don Procter
Plastic pop bottles, the next building material?

A small Nova Scotia company has come up with what its owners think is the perfect use of plastic pop bottles: make houses out of them.

JD Composites Inc. recently completed a 2,000 square foot house comprised of six-inch-thick structurally insulated panels (SIPs) made from 600,000 recycled plastic bottles. And it only took two days to erect the 184 lightweight SIP walls and roof panels using a boom truck and small crew.

More importantly, the house is green — costing little to heat and cool and it can be built for about the same costs as a conventional stick-built residence.

“I’m not knocking wood construction…but I would like governments to take notice of the low carbon footprint, the durability of the material and the ecological responsibility of using it,” says David Saulnier, president, JD Composites, based in Meteghan, N.S., a community of about 5,000 residents between Digby and Yarmouth.

Saulnier and business partner Joel German came up with the idea of panelized building construction with plastic bottles after research into various applications. They only use PET (polyethylene terephthalate), the lightweight plastic typically specified for food packaging such as soft drinks.

 

How many more sea mammals need to wash up on beaches with their bellies full of plastic

— David Saulnier

JD Composites Inc.

 

The company got Armacell, a Luxembourg-based manufacturer of insulated foam products, to produce the six-inch-thick foam panels made of recycled PET plastic for the house structure from its plant in Brampton. “They were pretty excited when they saw what we are doing and they told us no one in the world was using their products for housing.”

A draftsman by trade, Saulnier designed the waterfront house. “Each panel had its own drawing, its own QAC, its own place in the house.” The panels were completed in about three weeks at JD Composites facility in Meteghan.

Saulnier says to get approval from the municipality for the house, the drawings had to be stamped by a civil engineer well-versed in composite materials. The house has been approved by Atlantic Canada’s home warranty program.

He says once the house was erected last fall, the panels were bonded together with adhesives and interior finishing commenced. The electrical consists of BX wiring under three-quarter-inch” strapping and much of the plumbing was installed in the concrete slab. Exterior cladding is a combination of vinyl and recycled aluminum with laser printed cedar.

Recent air blower tests concluded that “the only air escaping the house was from the sewer line to the washing machine, pulling air out of the septic tank.”

Saulnier estimates that over 25 years the house will save $60,000-$80,000 in energy costs over a conventional house.

Exova Canada Inc. tested Saulnier’s panels at its lab in Mississauga for R-value and hurricane durability that comply with ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) standards. In a wind chamber, the lightweight plastic panels stood up to Category 5 hurricane winds.

“They were estimating our walls would have failed at 450 to 500 miles per hour. It is the first time they loaded a panel (lightweight) by hand in the test chamber that they couldn’t destroy,” said Saulnier.

JD Composites received a $109,000 repayable loan from the federal government’s Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency to complete the house in Meteghan.

As demand for the product increases, JD Composites will be looking for partners to expand the business, Saulnier says, adding he would like to see panels designed for commercial structures.

While the two company owners are pleased with the house’s success, Saulnier and German have another reason to celebrate: they recently landed their first recycled bottle commission: an 11-foot-by-11-foot outdoor washroom made of 26,000 bottles for a park in the Municipality of the District of Clare in Nova Scotia.

On Saulnier’s wishlist is the acceptance of recyclable plastic materials for construction under building codes.

Along with being practical and economical, it is an environmentally friendly construction material, he says. “How many more sea mammals need to wash up on beaches with their bellies full of plastic before the plastic problem is addressed? We have to do our part and try to change this around. I have a nine-year-old daughter, Caroline, and I wonder what the world’s going to be like when she is 25 years old if we don’t start doing something about this.”

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