What the three pigs missed: 'cow-patty' construction

Want to build with the world's most renewable resource? Deland Myers, a cereal technologist at Iowa State University, has just the thing: "animal processed fiber."

Actually, it's cow manure.

Don't laugh. It turns out that cows chew but don't fully digest the hay they eat. So when it comes out the other end, the hay and the, um, "binder" can be processed into a fiber board for construction.

The boards are still experimental and most readily adaptable to sheds, barns, and other outdoor structures.

"At this stage I wouldn't advocate using it in some housing situation," professor Myers says. That's because the material is untested, not because of its aroma. "It has a sweet hay, alfalfa-type smell," he volunteers.

Too experimental for you? Try adobe building blocks or cob (adobe not shaped into bricks). One entrepreneur has created "papercrete," which forms concrete-like blocks using recycled newspaper. TV actor Dennis Weaver lives in a home made with discarded tires rammed with dirt.

"I call these things 'fringe,' " says Tom Rogers, a construction management professor at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Ariz. Builders should always use recycled or discarded items close at hand, he adds, rather than hauling in used materials from far away.

Although he doesn't believe many of these building techniques will enter the mainstream, "there could be a shift."

But when Myers applied for federal funding to develop his processed manure board, the US Energy Department turned down the idea cold.

"It may have been too novel," he concedes.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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