The new house you buy 20 years from now could be made almost entirely of plastic. A demonstration house, built to show the feasibility of such a scheme, and to test new materials and construction methods, already exists. And the house is environmentally friendly—high-strength plastics, such as polycarbonate and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), reclaimed from junked cars and discarded packages, were melted down and reused to construct everything from the outside walls and shingle roof to the toilet bowls. Even the concrete in the basement is 60 percent recycled plastic.
On the interior, standard-sized plastic polyphenylene oxide wall panels are held to the studs with Velcro for easy access to plumbing, electrical, heating, and other utilities. Light switches and electrical outlets can be formed right into the panels. Heater ducts, molded into the panels and abutting a metallized plastic film just inside the wall's surface, turn the whole wall into a radiator. And the modular system allows panels incorporating built-in cabinets, desks, shelves, and so on to be added whenever, and wherever, they are needed.
The kitchen and bathrooms feature lightweight, superdurable countertops made of concrete-plastic, an alloy of poly(ethylene terephthalate) and poly(butylene terephthalate) aggregate, finished with a silicone sealer so stains and spills wipe away. Standardized sizes, modular units, and snap-together plumbing make remodeling the kitchen as easy as rearranging the furniture. The subfloors throughout the house are blown foam tiles, made of poly(phenylene oxide), imprinted with a pattern of raised squares like a waffle iron. The channels between the squares accommodate the plumbing, and the squares themselves are like the knobs on a Lego® block, allowing items like bathtubs and cabinets to be snapped into place. The windows are actually sheets of a transparent liquid crystal sandwiched between panes of polycarbonate plastic 250 times stronger than glass. The liquid crystal turns from clear to cloudy at the flick of a switch, making curtains unnecessary for privacy. And a tinted film of a polyester liquid crystal on the windows prevents excessive heat buildup indoors and keeps carpets and furniture from fading.
The parts for such houses would be manufactured in two plants. Large, centralized plants would receive the raw, recyclable plastic, grind it up, and form it into new roof, wall, floor, and foundation panel stock on a continuous-feed line. The stock would be cut into 8 by 40 foot panels and shipped to local finishing factories, where the panels would be customized according to the architects' specifications for the houses being built in the area. Bundles of finished panels, cut to size and with doors and windows already installed, would be shipped to the construction site, ready for quick assembly. The ease and economy with which such houses could be constructed may give new meaning to the term "affordable housing."