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Styrofoam House

Even if it does fall on you, it's pretty soft
  [vote for,

Why do we bother with heavy construction materials in earthquake zones? No matter how strong you make them, there's always an earthquake big enough to break your structure if you wait long enough.

Instead, build single-story buildings out of Styrofoam in a single cast shape. Cast in the wiring and plumbing as well. You could build them in a factory and simply place them by helicopter. They'd be waterproof, and last more or less forever.

Wind might be an issue. I'm thinking a rounded shape (like an igloo), with a thick bottom that's bolted to a foundation.

Worldgineer, Feb 19 2014

EPU http://www.freemans...shapemodelingan.htm
One source of middling to higher density polyurethane foams. [MechE, Feb 20 2014]

reinforcing bars, who needs them? http://www.architec...tect/580492.article
Japan architect caught out.. [not_morrison_rm, Feb 22 2014]

Styrofoam House http://www.homebuil...d-concrete-formwork
The use of Styrofoam as a construction material is well known to already exist. [xenzag, Feb 23 2014]


       You know, this is not such a stupid idea.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 19 2014

       // I'm thinking a rounded shape (like an igloo), with a thick bottom that's bolted to a foundation. //   

       Baked. Melinda Gates.   

       What [MB] said. [+]   

       Manufacture on-site using polyurethane foam ?
8th of 7, Feb 19 2014

       Hi Worldie, long time no see. Anyway, I was thinking, after you finish your ice cold beverage in your styrofoam cup, you could just smush it in to your living room wall and think "wow...reinforcement".
blissmiss, Feb 20 2014

       Sounds good, but I would not want to be inside one of these things if there were a fire.   

       should be useful in a flood too... just make sure the weight distribution means that it floats upright
bs0u0155, Feb 20 2014

       //Burglars would only need a hot-wire cutter// they only need scissors with those uPVC doors. A brick for a regular window, an electric toothbrush, a screwdriver and half an hour for a regular Yale lock.
bs0u0155, Feb 20 2014

       Love the dome homes link. Exactly that, but built all as one piece and pre-wired and plumbed.   

       I don't think a burglar would even need a hot-wire cutter, just a car. But I suppose that's true with regular homes as well.   

       [bliss] Now I'm thinking of a built-in refrigerator.
Worldgineer, Feb 20 2014

       // A brick for a regular window, an electric toothbrush, a screwdriver and half an hour for a regular Yale lock. //   

       Breaking glass makes noise. I think a hot wire cutter is very quite and could be quite fast. On the other hand, it should be possible to embed a wire mesh grid in the foam to detect cutting.   

       It really comes down to what you're defending against. If you're worried about home invasion, but have peace of mind living in a brick house with bars on the windows and a lock on the door that can't be opened from the outside, then styrofoam would be a very poor alternative. If you have a house with a full height decorative window panel next to the door protected by a glass breakage detector (common where Ilive), then I'm sure we could come up with a way to make the styrofoam house just as "secure".
scad mientist, Feb 20 2014

       Choose one of (a) risking having your possessions stolen, or (b) dying under the collapsed rubble of your house and smashed-up possessions ...
8th of 7, Feb 20 2014

       //Well its *quite* stupid. Burglars would only need a hot-wire cutter and for anywhere with snow you'd get flattened.//   

       True, and yet at the same time completely wrong.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 20 2014

       No reason you couldn't clad the foam in a thin layer of stainless steel. It would only increase the average density a little bit, so falling wouldn't be much worse, it would make the structure much more impact resistant, much less vulnerable to UV decay, and much harder to cut through. (I'm figuring just thick enough that you couldn't punch through it easily with a screwdriver, probably as little as 0.5mm, maybe less).   

       It would also make cleaning up the exterior a job for a ladder and a scouring pad once a year or so.   

       And depending on the design and the foam density, I wouldn't worry to much about crushing under snow load. Worst case you go to expanded polyurethane (see link), which is available in densities ranging from similar to styrofoam cups all the way well up to many common hardwoods. The trick would be to find the right balance between collapse safety and density.
MechE, Feb 20 2014

       it wouldn't be difficult to mould in/cut some galleries and pump a little network of concrete through. A nice geodesic structure would work.
bs0u0155, Feb 21 2014

       I have to admit, this seems like a pretty good idea on its face, and I'll award a bun for creative thinking. But there are some pretty major drawbacks to styrofoam construction.   

       For one thing, it's actually not all that useful for earthquake safety. You'd only be able to build a single story house out of styrofoam, and the vast majority of structures that collapse in earthquakes are multistory apartment buildings. At least, that's the accepted wisdom here in L.A.—immortalized by C.W. McCall as “Shakeytown”. Many of the single story houses around here have been around for the better part of a century by now and are still as strong as the day they were built, if not stronger thanks to earthquake-proofing retrofits. But every big earthquake it seems that at least a couple of shoddily constructed apartment buildings with ground-level garages pancake, and that's where the real danger is. Styrofoam, unfortunately, would not be suitable for such construction.   

       The other problem is that Styrofoam isn't really that lightweight when you have a lot of it. A moderately dense Styrofoam weighs on the order of 32 kg / m^3. The room I'm currently in is roughly 4x7 meters, and the roof is about 30cm thick (in case you're wondering how I figured that, the roof has a recess for a skylight about a foot deep). That roof would weigh about 270kg. Not something I would want falling on me, and that's not even counting the weight of the walls, should they collapse as well.   

       Basically, you don't want to count on the structure not injuring someone when it collapses. And then there's the problem of rebuilding the whole house when it does collapse, which is expensive, time consuming, and really just a royal pain in the arse.   

       I could almost see this as suitable for industrial facilities and the like in areas subject to hurricanes or tornadoes, where the structure is pretty much doomed no matter what. But earthquake-proof construction is very, very effective, as evidenced by the fact that Los Angeles and San Francisco are still standing (at least, for the present).
ytk, Feb 21 2014

       Just because people are doing it doesn't make it a good idea. While it may be possible to build single story structures out of Styrofoam, it's not necessary to do so because those aren't the type of buildings that are at risk in an earthquake. So my argument isn't pointless—you just missed the point.   

       To make it painfully obvious what my point is (for those of you who apparently missed it), the answer to the question of “why [] we bother with heavy construction materials in earthquake zones” is because heavy construction designs and materials hold up very, very well in earthquakes for the type of construction this idea is suggesting, which is a pretty strong argument for using them. Why is it better to do things cheaply and put people at risk, only to have to rebuild when things ultimately go pear shaped and potentially kill the occupants?
ytk, Feb 21 2014

       //Japan Dome House Co.   

       Yes, but no bugger is actually buying them...and recent(ish) scandal of construction company leaving out some the reinforcing bars in a hi-rises to save a few pennies....see linky
not_morrison_rm, Feb 22 2014

       Have you seen styrofoam burn? And it puts out highly toxic gasses when it does so...
Voice, Feb 23 2014

       I take it candles are not recommended as source of light?
xenzag, Feb 23 2014

       Yes of course. I am aware of that and have seen them at trade shows. However, the idea is there, to NOT fill them up with concrete, but simply glue the polystyrene blocks to each other, then pump more polyisocyanate (or whatever) into the cavities, thus forming an entire structure out of expanded foam. I still say it's a death trap re fire. It may even leach out deadly fumes, but not sure about that.
xenzag, Feb 23 2014

       It's easy to make polystyrene fire retardant.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 23 2014

       You might find your house being dissolved around you. The acetone that is the main ingredient of nail-polish remover will destroy a LOT of styrofoam. Gasoline is nice, too.
baconbrain, Feb 23 2014

       [ytk] The idea stemmed from considering very-long-term construction. Our buildings are generally designed for a 100 year earthquake. But suppose you wanted to build for a 1,000 year earthquake? Just 300 years ago a 9.0 megathrust quake dropped the Washington State coast by several feet. Wiki tells me this size quake causes "severe damage or collapse to all buildings", and an 8 causes "moderate to heavy damage to sturdy or earthquake-resistant buildings". There are no current structures I know of that are designed to survive this, yet there's an 8.0+ about every year somewhere in the world and a 9.0 once every 10 to 50 years.   

       I chose 1-story because that would be the most likely to survive. But unless it's thick steel, enough shaking would topple most any structure. So I went with Styrofoam.
Worldgineer, Feb 25 2014

       Building for a 1,000 year earthquake is a losing proposition. Materials science and construction standards are improving so rapidly that your best bet of having a structure survive an earthquake that rare is to regularly update your structure, or to simply rebuild once it's no longer cost effective to do so. Keep in mind that it's not just that your structure has to be able to withstand a 1,000 year earthquake when it's built, but it has to last long enough to be just as strong when that earthquake finally does occur, which could be centuries from now. Long term deterioration will surely degrade the structure's ability to withstand earthquakes.
ytk, Feb 25 2014

       I wonder if building a rigid single-story structure out of things like steel and laminated glass and then setting it on a crushable, replacable polystyrene foundation would be worth looking at. If you weld a pad eye to the peak of the structure a crain could lift it up and set it onto a new foundation.
Alterother, Feb 25 2014


       Unless they fall into cracks in the ground, and as long as nothing falls on them, vehicles do pretty well in earthquakes. The tyres and suspension buffer and damp the oscillations.   

       A camper/RV parked on a reinforced concrete plinth, away from big trees and utility poles, has a lot going for it.   

       For a start, it can operate independant of external services for several days. It also provides transport (if the roads survive).   

       It is proof against quite severe environmental conditions; extremes of temperature and precipitation.   

       So a survival strategy in earthquake areas might look like:   

       1. All services run just above ground level in fenced, protected corridors.   

       2. All dwellings consist of a semi-fixed (mobile home) portion coupled to an autonomous RV (Think Apollo 13, Command/ service module and LEM)   

       3. All non-dwelling buildings are lightweight trailer-moveable modules conforming to ISO container form factors, on small but functional solid-tyred wheels with a basic "suspension".   

       Your species needs to grasp the fact that constructing population centres within the activity footprint of tectonic and volcanic active regions is a Bad Thing.   


       1. Survey all the "at risk" areas and mark them on maps.   

       2. In these areas, demolish or remove all large structures and replace them with vast trailer parks as per design.   

       3. Deal with objectors by summary execution. This is entirely ethical, since if they are left undisturbed they are inevitably going to be killed or suffer severe and expensive injury. It is therefore an act of kindness to eliminate them, and benefits your species gene pool by removing those organisms which exhibit self-destructive stupidity.
8th of 7, Feb 25 2014

       Styrofoam is bulky to move around. Could one build such a structure by laying down expanding polyurethane foam over a plastic or metal mesh? I think UV resistance is a problem for polyurethane but a coat of paint or panels would fix that.
bungston, Feb 25 2014

       //1. Survey all the "at risk" areas and mark them on maps.//   

       I challenge you to find a place on the globe that's not subject to some sort of potentially devastating natural disaster. There may be a few here and there, but the overwhelming majority of spots—and nearly all of the spots one might wish to live—face some kind of mortal peril.
ytk, Feb 25 2014

       // some sort of potentially devastating natural disaster //   

       The specific threat to be mitigated is stated as earthquake.   

       It is correct that the "RV" solution would perform poorly against fire, flooding, high winds or tornados, molten lava or the Big Bad Wolf. But none of those threats were in the design brief.
8th of 7, Feb 25 2014

       // someone in Alabama is going to read this / /   

       We saw what you did there. Someone "in" Alabama, not someone "from" Alabama …
8th of 7, Feb 26 2014


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