free html hit counter Peak Oil Debunked: 275. THE FUTURE OF HOUSING

Sunday, April 02, 2006


A large part of the peak oil crowd is stuck inside a narrow minded way of thinking. They focus on oil and politics. Not looking at initiatives that are now small, but financially attractive. One of these is an idea that emerged in the minds of a man called Albert Veerman from Holland, only 2.5 years ago. To build a house from expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam, a widely used packaging and insulation material. The idea was formed when he was demolishing his house and discovered that EPS is far stronger than stones.

Since that time he has worked together with the Technical University of Delft to build a house from this material, compliant with European building standards. He started a building company (Veerhuis Bouwsystemen BV). In 2005 the first house has arisen in a small town called Volendam. It has a metal framework (can also be wood or concrete) to carry the construction. This framework is totally encapsulated with a 30 cm thick wall of EPS. Unto this wall a special layer of “veerman mortar” is placed to make the building weather and fire resistant. The floor also is built with special insulation materials. The foundation of the house is made with a material called stelconplaten in Dutch.

Veerman House

This simple idea has a truly amazing amount of advantages:
  1. Due to the super efficient design, this house saves 50% to 60% of the energy in comparison to conventional brick houses. The Dutch use an energy performance coefficient (EPC) which is a measure for the efficiency of a building. The average house in the Netherlands should have a coefficient of 0,8 since 1 January 2006. The EPS house has a coefficient of 0,3! The heating of the house comes from a unit that is so small that it can fit in a small backpack. The prototype in Volendam was even built so that the heating unit can be removed!
  2. The building costs are far cheaper due to the simple design; the EPS house costs 30% to 45% to build than conventional houses. One of the causes is the simple method in which EPS can be adapted to any form you want, just by using heat instead of drilling in bricks.
  3. This easiness makes the time to construct a house very short. The house in Volendam was built within six weeks. The design can be mass manufactured, pre-fabricated style. If mass manufactured the building time would only take two weeks.
  4. The building is compliant with all European building standards. Although the lightness of the material would suggest a storm hazard this is not the case. The house weighs 18 to 30 tons; it is totally weatherproof and can withstand a storm at wind strength ten. The Dutch institute TNO has extensively tested the building; it has a fire resistance of more than 90 minutes. Although some may think that the house will not be very strong, this is not the case. You can easily put very heavy things on your wall, no problem at all.
  5. This lightness is one of its strengths. It can be moved to another location very easily. A floating design to combat rising seas is on the drawing board.
  6. The sustainability is amazing. EPS is a plastic that only degrades due to UV-radiation. Thanks to the plaster and mortar on the outside this does not happen. In principal this house can last eternally. And even if destroyed around 80% of the materials can be recycled.
This invention has already been patented in the European Union. The next step will be to build 180 houses in Bruinisse and Krommenie, two other Dutch villages. The Spanish and Turks are already interested in building such houses. Especially in Turkey since the EPS house can be built to be earthquake resistant. Not long from now, the world will probably be filled with these houses. Think about the possibilities. You can even take your house with you when you take a job in another town.

[A pdf flyer on the Veerman design (in Dutch) is available here.]
-- by Rembrandt Koppelaar


At Sunday, April 2, 2006 at 8:16:00 PM PDT, Blogger Big Jay said...

This is a big issue especially for generation x and younger. Our houses cost too much already, and they're old technology. Unfortunately in most communities in the USA the code and inspection barriers, in addition to the construction barriers (ie - finding someone who can actually build it for you) to building with alternative technologies make the situation somewhat unfeasible for now. It's good to see this sort of thing start to make its way into the mainstream.

At Sunday, April 2, 2006 at 8:52:00 PM PDT, Blogger Jon said...

Thats incredible...

I would think something like this (if marketed properly and all the kinks were worked out) would be quite popular here in Canada with our extreme winters.

Why insulate a building when you can make the building out of insulation!

At Sunday, April 2, 2006 at 9:32:00 PM PDT, Blogger Zanth said...

wow, that's pretty friggin' cool! Much improved over the crappy wooden houses we build over here in the US that are only designed to last 40 years at best.

At Sunday, April 2, 2006 at 10:09:00 PM PDT, Blogger allen said...

Jon, it's already been done. Don't have a link handy but one of the tech-oriented cable channels had a piece about just such a building material.

A guy came up with a building panel for the housing units built for the Alaska pipeline work crews. It had to be fairly cheap, very high R value and quick to build with.

What the guy came up with was a slab of styrofoam laminated on both sides with plywood. Very good strength-to-weight ratio for building materials, relatively cheap and quick to build with since the panels were largely ready to use.

Latest version of the panels uses cement skin-panels rather then plywood making them even cheaper and more weather-resistant while maintaining good levels of strength.

I did a little googling but couldn't find the product.

At Sunday, April 2, 2006 at 10:41:00 PM PDT, Blogger Paul Ramsey said...

Friends of ours built a house (not quite a aesthetically pleasing) using a similar concept. Big interlocking foam bricks, with hollow cores. Stack them up into a house, then pour concrete down the cores. Now you have strong load-bearing walls with great insulation value. Stick a roof on top and you are done.

At Sunday, April 2, 2006 at 11:20:00 PM PDT, Blogger GermanDom said...

hate to burst your (styrofoam) bubble, but what will styrofoam be made of if the manufacturer can't get his hand on oil products?
Cheers, Dom

At Monday, April 3, 2006 at 12:52:00 AM PDT, Blogger popmonkey said...

there's a wicked house near san jose built out of similar stuff that has yet another interesting feature: no corners. all the rooms are spherical. corners are actually terribly inefficient energy wise.

i remember reading somewhere that this home can be kept comfortable through the body heat of 4 humans!

i'll try and find a link (initial attempts came up zilch)

At Monday, April 3, 2006 at 1:01:00 AM PDT, Blogger popmonkey said...

heh, my brain was full today. the house in san jose has rectangular rooms with rounded corners and is made out of EPS like materials.

but the home i was thinking of was actually designed by Roger Dean (he of the Yes covers fame)

check it out

as strange as it looks i would really love to live in a place like that. the bathroom is insanely cool.

the downside is that i read about this design in the 80s and i don't think anything has come of it yet.

At Monday, April 3, 2006 at 1:10:00 AM PDT, Blogger Thomas said...

Right, Dom, cause we all know that styrofoam production takes up like 90-95% of global oil consumption...

Let's not loose track of the fact that oil production is not falling of a cliff anytime soon.

It takes quite a bit of energy (oil or gas, mostly) to bake bricks as well.

While styrofoam bricks may become more expensive in the future in absolute terms, it's not at all certain they will be in relative terms.

We all need to insulate our houses better, even those who live in warm regions. Heating and cooling because we desire a temperature different from outside still takes up the bulk of private energy consumption in many regions.


At Monday, April 3, 2006 at 1:16:00 AM PDT, Blogger Freak said...

"hate to burst your (styrofoam) bubble, but what will styrofoam be made of if the manufacturer can't get his hand on oil products?
Cheers, Dom"

Coal, Tar Sands, Oil Shale Recycled rubbish, TDP of biomatter, synthetics using Renewables or nuclear........

EROEI is irrelevant to building materials, assuming you have another energy source.

At Monday, April 3, 2006 at 4:39:00 AM PDT, Blogger Chris Vernon said...

This is exactly the same idea as straw bale building... only straw is more available. My vote goes to straw rather than EPS.

As an aside I don't generally get very excited about new ways of building since even in 2100 in the UK something like 80% of the housing stock will be the same stock we have today. Houses last a very long time.

A better approach is to retrofit efficiency into existing buildings or undertake a systematic demolition and rebuild programme - I doubt the latter is a realistic option though.

At Monday, April 3, 2006 at 5:06:00 AM PDT, Blogger russ said...

I could see this cheap housing manufacturing happening in the Vegas or Arizona area where Air Conditioning is the bigger issue.

I wonder if there are any mold issues with this kind of construction.

At Monday, April 3, 2006 at 5:37:00 AM PDT, Blogger JD said...

As an aside I don't generally get very excited about new ways of building since even in 2100 in the UK something like 80% of the housing stock will be the same stock we have today. Houses last a very long time.

You don't think economics will play a role? I mean, if you think about it, paying for fuel to heat a crappy old home is going to total up to a huge sum of money, especially considering that Britain is already pretty much out of coal, and will be out of NG and oil shortly. Why not just knock the house down, and build a Vermeer house. You'll save an astronomical amount of money, even when you factor in the cost of demolition and rebuilding. What's the upside of holding on to the old inefficient house that's going to cost a fortune to heat? For that matter, what will the UK be heating all those old houses with in 2100?

At Monday, April 3, 2006 at 5:38:00 AM PDT, Blogger JD said...

Oops, I meant Veerman house.

At Monday, April 3, 2006 at 7:12:00 AM PDT, Blogger Thomas said...

I know people who live in London, and they're not allowed to make major restaurational changes to the appearance of their home. They are not even allowed to change the windows to energy glass of the same outer appearance. The same, btw, goes for some of my friends in a historical neighbourghood in Pittsburgh...

We need to get past that kind of crap before things can change.

It's true that buildings in Britain (and Denmark) are built to last more than 100 years. I agree with Chris Vernon that it would be better to come up with schemes to retrofit existing buildings with better insulation.


At Monday, April 3, 2006 at 10:01:00 AM PDT, Blogger allen said...

Veerman house? No results on Google for that string. Got a link?

At Monday, April 3, 2006 at 10:03:00 AM PDT, Blogger summerhome=wintersquat said...

Looks like the major ingredients of EPS are fairly safe for the environment too: hydrogen, carbon, oxygen.

At Monday, April 3, 2006 at 11:02:00 AM PDT, Blogger dub_scratch said...

This is cool technology that I think has a lot of promise.

But in terms of new buildings for housing the impact of urban patterns should not get lost. Building multi-unit blocks is far better for heating efficiency than the single family house subdivision model. The typical suburban house has much more of a higher ratio of exterior wall per square area than dense urban apartments & condos blocks. If we were to combine both high R-value insulated building technology with better urban planning, the energy heating issues can be optimized to the greatest extent.

And with regard to transporting all those warm bodies within each urban medium, the energy efficiency of dense mixed use urban settlement over sprawl is self evident.

Score two for dense urban and zero for suburban sprawl.

At Monday, April 3, 2006 at 11:15:00 AM PDT, Blogger HedgeFund said...

EPS over wood may lead to the same problems that has plagued EIFS (i.e., fake stucco) -- mold, rotting wood, etc. Like EIFS, one is likely better off using metal and/or cinder block behind the EPS. Of course, that increases costs. Also like EIFS, watch out for insect colonies -- they LOVE foam.

The big insulation gain from EPS over a *standard* house comes from the lack of air leaks. A well-built home house insulted with properly blown-in insulation (cellulose or fiberglass) can achieve a similar *air tight* structure. (I prefer cellulose; just my $0.02.)

I have first-hand experience with much of the above (EIFS, real stucco, fiberglass & cellulose insulation, bug infestations). I'll take a more standard house insulated with old newspapers (cellulose) over a giant foam coffee cup even thought it means I'm laying out more cash up front. In addition, the EPS stuff does not decompose -- its a landfill nightmare.

At Monday, April 3, 2006 at 11:50:00 AM PDT, Blogger GermanDom said...

"Thomas said…
Right, Dom, cause we all know that styrofoam production takes up like 90-95% of global oil consumption..."

And the two to four percent that are going to be missing next year? Which of these percentage points will be taken away from styrofoam production? Only four percent goes to making plastics, btw.

But as I will say again and again, it has to do with availability. It's all fun and games until you can't get your hands on it any more. That's the essence of Peak Oil, not how much the stuff costs.

"Let's not loose track of the fact that oil production is not falling off a cliff anytime soon."
Really? Glad you know that.

"It takes quite a bit of energy (oil or gas, mostly) to bake bricks as well."
And then you have to put four inches of styrofoam on the outside to equal the insulation of the house in the post (quoted 0,3 ; 4 inches = 0,32). Never said it would be easier to build a "normal" house. Just saying the good idea of this house (which it is!) only goes so far to solve any problems.

"While styrofoam bricks may become more expensive in the future in absolute terms, it's not at all certain they will be in relative terms."
Again, you're assuming you will be able to PAY for it. I'm assuming there will be a day when you CAN'T GET ANY of it at all. For your car, for your house, for the house you want to build, for the rubber on the tires of your bike, to bake your bricks... Who knows when that day will hit YOU and when that day hits ME. There may be decades between them.

I'm in the middle of paying 55,000EUR to fix up my German house built in 1967. Insulation and roof, insulation and siding, new 3-paned windows, solar panels to support heating, etc... I will save about 1000EUR a year at present prices in heating and warm water. Does that make economic sense? Well, the govt is giving me a 1% loan with other subsidies and the value of my house will certainly rise. Of course, I could move into a housing block with my wife and kids - sound idylic???
And I got rid of my car to help foot the bill:-)

Again, the point: JD is offering us a solution using oil for a problem that will result from a lack thereof. It's a simple logical exercise, really.

At Monday, April 3, 2006 at 2:03:00 PM PDT, Blogger Roland said...

That is an amazing idea.

At Monday, April 3, 2006 at 10:57:00 PM PDT, Blogger Chris Vernon said...

"JD: Why not just knock the house down, and build a Vermeer house. You'll save an astronomical amount of money, even when you factor in the cost of demolition and rebuilding."

What would be the pay back? People generally don't do things unless they payback in under three years. I would be amazed if a house could be knocked down and a new one built for 3 years worth of energy bills. In fact it never will be - we'll never be rich enough to spend as much on energy as it would take to demolish and rebuild a house every few years.

If it takes 20-30 years to pay back no one will even consider it - not even governments.

At Tuesday, April 4, 2006 at 12:10:00 AM PDT, Blogger JD said...

So what's the plan? Freeze to death? If the UK can't modify their structures because they're historic or "built to last a hundred years", and they will never tear them down and rebuild, what are they going to do as oil, gas and coal get scarce, as they eventually must? It seems weird that somebody across the street might be living in a cheapo Veerman house, or straw bale house, warm and comfy with a tiny space heater and the body heat of the occupants, while the guy next door is freezing to death because there's just nothing whatsoever that can be done about it.

At Tuesday, April 4, 2006 at 12:25:00 AM PDT, Blogger Markku said...

In addition, the EPS stuff does not decompose -- its a landfill nightmare.

But it can be thermally depolymerized and used for fuel - probably without the stench resulting from thermally depolymerizing organic waste such as turkey guts.

At Tuesday, April 4, 2006 at 4:53:00 AM PDT, Blogger Chris Vernon said...

JD, yeah - it's a problem. I'm not suggesting there is an ideal solution. I think we need to focus on retro-fitting insulation into existing homes. Internal and external cladding and -shock horror- not expect our homes to be a steady 21C in the living room all year round. People will be colder in the winter and people will wear more clothes. Welcome to peak oil.

At Tuesday, April 4, 2006 at 6:03:00 AM PDT, Blogger Thomas said...

Can we agree that conventional oil reserves are at about the same level as what has already been consumed?

If so, that to me is evidence enough that oil production will not fall of a cliff anytime soon. No one I've heard of, not even Colin Campbell, has made that suggestion.

It seems to me that in your argumentation you are jumping directly to a situation, way in the future, where oil is no longer available in sufficient quantities to make styrofoam.

Still, I feel confident that in a world-wide catastrophical styrofoam-deficiency emergency, tar sands or coal could/would be dug up to synthesize the stuff...

About being able to pay for the stuff, or anything for that matter, as you mentioned, the mere notion that everything will come to a grinding halt is absurd to me. Yes, there will be consequences to the economy and the way we live our lives, as there were in the 80's after the second oil shock, but I'm not so sure it will be worse than today.

For the record: you can build wind turbines using power from wind turbines! The same goes for solar. As a matter of fact, I'm surprised no one has yet built a solar power driven solar panel factory in the Sahara desert..? The two main ingredients are sand and electricity!

Calm down with the doom scenarios and help us figure out what to do when we run short (not out) of oil.


At Tuesday, April 4, 2006 at 7:04:00 AM PDT, Blogger Jan-Willem Bats said...

That's some pretty groovy stuff going on in my home country.

Also check out this idea from an Israelian guy:

At Tuesday, April 11, 2006 at 5:55:00 PM PDT, Blogger Brad Marshall said...

Houses very similar to this are built all of the time in America. It's a booming part of the building industry. The key term is "insulated concrete forms". Big styrofoam blocks that you pour a concrete core into as a structure. (OK, it's slight;y different becuase it uses concrete as a structure rather than steel or wood).

Very efficient. Very strong. Very expensive.


At Monday, June 12, 2006 at 7:25:00 AM PDT, Blogger Andrew said...

Structural Insulated PolyStyrene (is that right?) -- SIPS is a great way to build a home. It's basically a "Moon Pie" of big sheets of styrofoam sandwiched between plywood. It's stronger than sticks & bricks, easy to manipulate into unique angles that are cost prohibitive when using traditional materials, and it has a seriously high R-factor (like 35+). Structures can be completed in a fraction of the time that it takes to build when using studs & nails. It's a fairly new building method that just got started commercially just a couple years before the new Iraq war started. The war and other industry production factors tripled the cost of plywood, therefore tripling the cost of manufacturing the panels. It's a shame. It seems likely that we would be seeing SIPS in most new neighborhoods if the sudden cost hikes hadn't plagued the industry.

I do wonder, however, if SIPS are inclined to have the same moisture problems as EIFS.


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