Students use recycled materials to build walls

Focusing on energy conservation in housing for low-income people, WSU architecture and mechanical engineering students took a different approach to what one’s trash is worth – with national implications.

The TrashWall project focuses on reducing the cost and amount of energy used in low-income households by creating walls out of recycled trash. The team of ten received a $15,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency based on the TrashWall project proposal to the Planet, People and Prosperities program.

The program is a student competition to design environmentally sustainable projects.

The TrashWall team was assembled a year ago by professor Robert F. Richards of mechanical engineering and Taiji Miyasaka, professor of architecture.

“We always had some sort of desire to collaborate,” Miyasaka said.

Low-income people usually live in older housing, such as apartments and mobile homes that cannot be retrofitted, leading to expensive energy bills and high energy usage, Richards said.

He talked to many students and said one was so shocked at how high her heating bill was in the winter that she turned it off entirely, resulting in her shower freezing.

“Many people are in this situation where they’re balancing between freezing and being able to pay their bills,” Richards said.

The walls have to be dirt cheap to make, Richards said, costing less than ten cents per square foot, equivalent to twenty staples.

“Students are out scavenging stuff out of the trash because it’s free,” Richards said.

While focusing on heat transfer last semester, mechanical engineering student Jodi Bowe said the focus is now to make the walls fast and easy to create.

Walls have been made out of recycled materials, Bowe said, such as cardboard boxes, soda bottles and energy drink cans.

Because of the material used, Richards said fire safety is a big concern. The team had a fire marshal check the walls to make sure they are safe to use.

In addition to efficiency, Bowe said the walls also have to look appealing since residents would have to live inside them. The architecture members have worked a lot on the aesthetic value of the walls, Bowe said.

The team will be attending the National Sustainable Design Expo in April to present its designs.

Originally planning to stick with one design, Miyasaka said a variety of walls will be brought to the expo, as the energy efficiency issue is nationwide and may vary upon location.

“We’re kind of just recommending and essentially just trying to inspire people,” Bowe said.

The TrashWall team partnered with the Community Action Center in Pullman, Richards said, hoping to put one of the walls on display for potential clients to see.

Richards also said he would like to see some of the walls displayed in the CUB and hopes to intrigue students and incorporate the walls into residence life.

The team will be presenting prototypes 9 a.m. this Thursday in the Engineering Teaching/Research Lab, Room 101.