The house that tetra-paks built

You know the old saying, “Give someone a fish and they’ll eat for a day, but build them a house and…”, uh, well, that is pretty awesome!!

With that in mind I decided to give a helping hand to ‘Techamos una Mano‘ in order to build a brand new house for someone!  Yesterday I set out with some trepidation not sure how I, someone who has dabbled in academia and is generally more likely to be found working in front of a computer than out hammering nails and being subjected to back-breaking labour, could assist in this endeavour.  But it was all oh-so-easy…  

A team of roughly 12 people were shuttled out to the neighbourhood where the action would take place.  The existing house where the family lived was only a meter away from the site of the new home and was a very simple design – corrugated iron sheets stuck together atop a dirt floor, no insulation at all and only one enclosed room for however many people lived there at the time.  The front porch included facilities for cooking, eating and washing too.  Not very adequate living standards by most estimations.  However we arrived to find a neatly constructed wooden frame for the new house already in place, a corrugated iron roof with insulation padding underneath and a cement floor serving as a sturdy base.  Armed with staple guns we were let loose on the property!

The main objective was for us to insulate the walls.  The genius of this particular project is the materials that we were working with – all recycled and all going to a better home (*ahem*, excuse the pun).  We used discarded tetra-paks (you know, the boxes that juice and milk come in) and empty plastic bottles of all shapes and sizes.

How on earth did these components turn into a house you might ask?

Half-way through the build

Quite easily actually!  The tetra-paks were cleaned and flattened out and we then stapled them across the gaps in the wooden frame (conveniently about a tetra-paks width across!).  You may not have noticed but on the inside of tetra-paks the surface is shiny and quite sturdy.  They tend to be made of mostly wood derivatives (‘paperboard’), a thin layer of polyethylene (a type of plastic) and some packaging contains aluminium.  The end result is a product resistant to water and protective from the elements.  In many places it is not possible to recycle this type of packaging, so using the tertra-paks in construction is a great method of disposal.

We secured tetra-paks to both sides of the wooden frame, creating a space of about 5 inches in between.  This gap was crammed full of empty plastic bottles, a great way to insulate the house from the elements.  After that a thin layer of chicken wire was stapled across the walls and finally a layer of cement added to keep it all in place.

It took a dozen people 3 hours work to get the insulation in place for a 3 room house, and then it was the job of the official builders to do the cementing.  Easy as that!  (to look at some pictures of a house in progress, check out the ‘casa’ section of Techamos una Mano’s website here…)

The thing I enjoyed most about supporting this project was the knowledge that within a few days a whole family would be making use of this new abode… built by unseasoned, humble hands.  I wish the family happiness and security in the future and I hope that it will be a place they are proud to call home!

Insulation almost complete – now for the cement!
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