Turning refuse into refuge

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Newspaper. Most people read it. Some even use it to line pet cages, but two creative students from Auburn University’s Auburn Rural Studio architectural program are using it to build a home for a local family.

As their final thesis project, Steve Long and Amy Bullington are transforming old newsprint, along with other resources, to make bricks to build a Sawyerville home.

“We found it on the Internet,” Long said about the strange mixture. “There’s no other program like this in the country and we are known for using alternative materials and we wanted to find a cheap and inexpensive building material.”

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Using the abundance of Alabama red clay to their advantage, Long, 25, and Bullington, 23, found a “recipe” for hybrid adobe, a mixture he says is about 70 percent newspaper mixed with water, dirt and cement.

The project initially began in August of 2004, and the groundbreaking for the home in Mason’s Bend was held in February of 2005.

The blueprint is the result of Long and Bullington putting their ideas together with the guidance of their professor, Andrew Frear. Bullington was out of town during the interview.

Long said the future homeowner was skeptical about the material when he first explained it to her, but said she trusted them with their original design.

“It’s going to be for a woman and her four children. When we were through talking about what she wanted, it was only a kitchen, living room, and two bedrooms, so the most unique part is definitely the bricks,” Long said. “It’ll have a ventilation tower, but that is solely for function and light. The idea is to get as much natural light as possible, so she doesn’t have to use a lot of electricity and the bricks are actually good insulation, so she won’t have to rely on heat.”

After constructing a “test wall” with the homemade bricks, the students found the material to be “a little porous.”

“It’ll collect some water, and it’ll dry out,” Long said. “But we are going to build a substantial overhang to keep it as dry as possible.”

To make the bricks, Long, Bullington and a team of their peers first soaked the newspapers in water. After the papers are incredibly soggy, they rip them up and load the shreds into a large garbage can.

“Then we have a drill mixer that we use after we add the dirt, water and cement,” Long said. “We blend it, then we pour it into the cardboard boxes. It’s really simple.”

Long said the assorted-sized blocks take about two weeks to dry in warm weather and actually make for a more pleasing site.

“We considered making all the blocks standard sizes, but we liked the idea of random sizes,” Long said. “After building the test wall, we though it was more aesthetically pleasing.”

Since Monday the team has made more than 1,500 bricks, Long said, and they will begin the actual construction process on the approximately 800-square-foot home soon.

“With only two people, it’s hard, but our friends have been a big help,” Long said pointing to his friends working hard on the bricks, “But the closer we get to the end, the better and better we feel.”