One man’s solution to build an affordable and environmentally-friendly home for his family has turned into a much sought after construction material – Timbercrete. This Australian invention is not only lighter, more flexible and provides better thermal insulation than most conventional building materials, but it also sequesters carbon, storing it within the building and compensating for the emissions churned out by thousands of cars. So what exactly is Timbercrete and how can it be applied to sustainable building projects throughout the world?

What is Timbercrete?

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Timbercrete is a blend of sawmill waste, cement, sand, binders and a non-toxic deflocculating additive, which is cured using the renewable resources of sun and wind into a unique building block (http://www.practicalsustainability.org/building.html). It’s then converted into bricks, blocks, panels and pavers that are used not only in residential, industrial and commercial building projects, but also landscaping design. It can be moulded into a vast array of different sizes, shapes, colors and textures, with a few qualities that make it a true standout when compared to conventional bricks or cement.

It’s around 2.5 times lighter than concrete or clay and has a semi-flexible quality that improves its engineering diversity and application, together with the ability to be nailed or screwed just like timber (http://www.practicalsustainability.org/building.html). Compared to clay and concrete products, it has an improved insulation value and thermal mass, meaning that it will store thermal energy more efficiently and release it more slowly, reducing heating and air-conditioning costs and the environmental knock-on effects. Its fire rating is greatly enhanced compared to concrete, clay, timber or steel (something that is of extreme importance in bushfire-prone regions of Australia) and it’s even bullet proof against a huge array of weaponry (http://www.gatheringspot.net/topic/building-our-sustainable-future-0). Timbercrete has been tested to ensure that it is completely safe and non-toxic, ensuring that it’s suitable for those sensitive to allergens.

How durable is Timbercrete?

Evidence from ancient cement stabilized blocks blended with straw (that lasted more than 1000 years) indicate that this modern-day counterpart will endure for generations. The cellulose used in Timbercrete is far less susceptible to breaking down than straw and is encapsulated in a cementitious tomb which basically mummifies and preserves the organic material. It’s also not susceptible to the “concrete cancer” that affects steel-enforced concrete, so it’s expected to have a long-life.

Timbercrete is also far less porous than most concrete blocks and won’t wash away or erode when exposed to the elements like mud bricks. Having said that, it’s by no means waterproof, and water will start to penetrate through the surface over prolonged exposure to rain if the external walls are not sealed.

How easy is it to build with?

Compared to conventional building bricks and blocks, Timbercrete is far more forgiving and relatively easy to lay, meaning that even those without extensive experience in the building industry can produce good results. It’s most cost-effective when built as a “single skin” wall construction, although you can opt to build a more conventional “brick veneer” home using Timbercrete. There’s no need to line the interior of your walls with gyprock, as Timbercrete provides an attractive internal finish, again reducing the overall cost of construction. It can also be used to clad existing walls during renovations, with a relatively thin block that mounts to exiting cement, brick veneer, timber or fibro walls.

In addition to housing, Timbercrete can also be used to build fences, retaining walls, garages and barbecues, as well as indoor fireplaces providing it’s lined with a reflective material such as steel, cast iron or terracotta tiles.

Who is behind Timbercrete?

Timbercrete is the brainchild of Peter Collier, a professional potter and ceramic technician who was looking for a way to build an affordable family home. He started experimenting with raw materials, using his experience with clay, and eventually came across the blend of cellulose, cement, sand and binders that has been patented as Timbercrete today.

It was then tested to see how it stood up against the Australian Building Standards requirements, and researchers were surprised to discover just how well it compared against traditional building materials like clay bricks, cement and timber. Rather than sell the rights to his invention to the highest bidder, Collier decided to offer Timbercrete through franchising to individuals who shared his vision for environmentally sound building solutions, within a market that was affordable to a wider cross-section of society.

What is their mission?

Collier didn’t just want his invention to be confined to so-called “developed” countries, but reach out to those in the “developing” world also through micro-enterprise opportunities and humanitarian aid projects. His vision is to equip people with the knowledge and technical know-how to build low-cost, environmentally sustainable and thermally efficient housing, and assist them in becoming financially independent.

Although Timbercrete was initially created in a struggle to build his own family dwelling, he realized that both the process of manufacturing Timbercrete and the financial gains of selling the product could be shared with those in need. Not only are Timbercrete customers benefiting from an energy efficient and affordable building material, but the franchisers are getting a financial breakthrough. Many of these individuals are, in turn, assisting charitable endeavors that seek to create a positive change in the world. On occasion, they also allow non-profit organizations to manufacture Timbercrete blocks at low-cost for specific projects that assist those most in need. His hope is that this network of franchisers and non-profit organizations will form a community to support and assist one another and help realize the full potential of Timbercrete.(www.timbercrete.com.au).

Where has Timbercrete been used?

Within Australia, Timbercrete has been used as a resource in building homes for underprivileged families through the Habitat for Humanity organization, as well as training indigenous communities to manufacture blocks for their own housing use. Micro-enterprises and training programs have been set up in India, South Africa and Fiji, while communities in Sri Lanka, Argentina, Romania and Pakistan have been building low-cost schools and orphanages using this innovative new material.

In each new application of the product, the unique qualities and attributes of Timbercrete are slowly been uncovered and shared (http://www.gatheringspot.net/topic/building-our-sustainable-future-0). What started out as a solution for Peter Collier in a great time of need, has been transformed into something that can impact the lives of people throughout the world.