A Low-Tech, Recycled Roof Design For Disaster Housing

Call it the positive convergence of two negative environmental trends. There are, by all accounts, a whole lot of discarded plastic bottles in the world. (According to some recent statistic, the contents of 1,500 more of them are being consumed each and every second.) Increasingly, there are also a lot of natural disasters, which many experts attribute to the influence of greenhouse gases trapped in the atmosphere. Now, a research team from the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) has developed a method for turning discarded plastic bottles into roofing for disaster housing.

Triple Pundit reports that Jason Van Nest, an associate professor in the School of Architecture and Design at NYIT, has worked with this team to develop a way to use plastic water and soda bottles as easy-assembly roofing materials for housing in disaster zones. The genius in this system is that it takes advantage of the same thing that makes plastic bottles such a problem when they hit the local landfill (or the Great Pacific Garbage Patch), which is their durability.

water bottle roof

image via Kickstarter

The SodaBIB project, as it’s known (short for Soda bottle interface bracket), exploits the tenacious nature of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) via a simple emergency roof that can be put up on the spot, with virtually no tools or equipment. PET is used by beverage companies in plastic bottles in large part because it resists puncture and leakage — a quality most of us appreciate in our roofs as well.

The “interface bracket” bit of the system is a grid of plastic fasteners made of holes the size of water bottle caps. Once those in disaster zones have this grid in hand, they can simply stomp on a plastic bottle till it’s flat (no tools needed) and screw it into the fastener grid. Repeat this process, and what forms is a kind  of overlapping tile design reminiscent of terra-cotta. When this flexible roof “skin” is attached, bottle-side out, to a rigid form, be it flat or curved, that creates a slope, water simply cascades off of the structure, instead of seeping between the bottles and leaking onto the heads of those beneath.

water bottle grid

image via Kickstarter

Of course, a cheap, plentiful rigid structure to form the basis of that roof would be helpful too. The team members realized that that was also close at hand in most places in the form of those cheap wood pallets that bottles of drinking water (and a vast variety of other goods) are usually shipped in. By redesigning the common pallet, the NYIT team was able to incorporate the plastic supports and the roof structure itself into a single self-contained unit.

Van Nest told Triple Pundit, “What we are most excited about with this project is … that the pallet ends up getting disassembled practically without any tools. Individuals can break (it) into building material and then merely crush the bottles,” before attaching them to the fastener. He goes on to note that because there are no nails or screws used in constructing a roof in this way, a person can literally put it together using nothing more than a hammer. As an added bonus, a whole lot of plastic that would otherwise wind up in the local landfill (say, after emergency water supplies have been consumed) wind up getting reused in keeping victims of natural disasters dry.

Interested in helping the NYIT team make this system available to those in need? Consider supporting their Kickstarter project, aimed at creating a full-size prototype of the roof.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.

1 Comment

  • Reply March 13, 2013

    Jacob Wadsworth

    This is a very good way to recycle plastic bottles instead of putting them in landfills. There are actually lots of these plastic materials around that have not been used properly. People should start thinking of ways to make use of whatever resources that they can use instead of just throwing them away which will have heavy consequences on the environment. – http://www.non-ferrousfastener.com/

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