PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A New England colonial house could be the living environment of the future, say engineers who are building the structure from high-grade plastic.
The house is being built by researchers at General Electric's offices here as part of a study of new uses for high-quality plastics in everything from windows to walls.
The engineers say the use of high-strength and heat-resistant resins, developed by the aerospace industry, is the next innovation in home construction.
"The market is really untapped," said GE program specialist Eric Babinski.
The two-story house will be built from all-plastic materials, but will look like a traditional New England colonial, Babinski said.
Quality Product Needed
"Plastic houses have been around for 40 years, but they've been in strange, futuristic shapes and largely unsuccessful," he said.
The trick, Babinski said, is to provide buyers with a quality product that moves people away from the idea that plastics are only used in disposable items, such as garbage bags.
"A house is not a throwaway item. It's real estate that should appreciate in value," he said.
One of the problems with the plan is that high-performance resins are now two to 10 times more expensive than traditional building materials.
But, Babinski said they could become competitive as builders look toward prefabricated and component assembly to hold down costs.
"The trend in the industry is to look for increased productivity, and that's where these high-performance plastics might find a fit," Babinski said. "About 40% of the homes now built use some form of pre-manufactured construction."
Need Good Ventilation
Engineering plastics typically have high melting points, create little smoke when they burn and have good sound-deadening properties. However, the airtight home would need good ventilating systems, and researchers would have to ensure that the plastics did not give off harmful gases, Babinski said.
The wall and other units could be assembled much like children's plastic building blocks, he said, but would require the development of whole new high-tech industries for home repairs.
The home handyman of the future might find a heat gun or ultrasonic welding device handier than a hammer for working on his plastic house, the researchers said.