When one problem is being created, isn’t it great when that problem ends up being the solution for another issue? That’s what is being discovered in Colombia, a nation that has an issue with housing shortages and also coffee husk waste. Chances are that if you are a coffee drinker, at one point or another you’ve had some Colombian coffee to drink. Colombian coffee has long been known for having a rich flavor balanced with a mild aroma, and is preferred by millions of coffee drinkers worldwide. But because so much of the nation’s economy is based on exports like coffee, there is an opportunity for a great deal of coffee husk waste to be generated as coffee is harvested and processed. To put it in perspective, the typical American will drink around 11 pounds worth of coffee beans every year. This means that the demand for coffee, in general, and Colombian coffee, in particular, is huge.
In the past, coffee husks, which are lightweight and papery in quality, were essentially useless pieces of trash, and Colombia did not have an effective means through which they could deal with coffee husk waste. Typically, they have ended up in landfills, where they ultimately contribute to Colombia’s rising methane emissions. But now, there is an entirely different prospect to be found within coffee husks, which could change the way that we approach coffee husk waste on a more creative level. Rather than being tossed aside, coffee husks could in the future be used as reliable building materials.
This is in part thanks to Woodpecker, a company based in Bogota, Colombia. In the past, Woodpecker attempted to synthesize other organic materials into building materials. These included palm fronds, sawdust, rice fibers, and more. They also turned to less organic materials like recycled plastic. But finally, one product stood out above the rest in terms of its recyclability and ease of use: coffee husk waste. Although there was the obvious benefit of keeping that waste out of garbage dumps to consider, coffee husks represented valuable opportunities for Woodpecker independently. For one thing, it’s remarkably available, especially in Colombia. But it’s also quite fireproof and waterproof, while also being resistant to insect infiltration as a natural material. These materials are also lightweight, and ultimately allow Woodpecker to make the panels for housing for as little as $4,500.
The Need for Affordable Construction in Colombia
Colombia is a nation that has periodically struggled economically for much of its recent history. This has led to widespread poverty throughout the nation, and many of the people in Colombia are not able to afford expensive real estate. Additionally, it can be difficult for small towns and villages to afford the expenses associated with building new schoolhouses and clinics. This means that not only are the people living their everyday lives in subpar or even borderline nonexistent housing; they also are unable to send their children to school safely, or seek public resources.
The affordability issue is not the only factor at hand. Many of these people as previously mentioned, live in extremely rural areas. Therefore, those that need affordable general construction most are often unable to get it because affordable construction materials are still often expensive and physically difficult to transport. Many Colombian areas rely upon livestock and lightweight planes to transport materials. Therefore, if building materials are too heavy for a plane or a donkey to carry, in many cases they cannot be efficiently transported.
Building materials made from coffee husk waste, therefore, solve several different problems at once. For one thing, these materials are quite lightweight and easy to transport. They can be loaded onto boats, planes, and quite often the backs of donkeys with relative simplicity. Obviously, they are also rather affordable to make considering the fact that coffee husk waste is inexpensive to obtain and fairly easy to have processed into building materials. But there is an additional level of ease through which these building materials can be harnessed and used for good. This is by using them in prefabricated building kits, otherwise known as “casa kits”.
Prefabrication essentially means that rather than having a building made from the ground up, it will be constructed through a kit. In the kit, the different building materials will already be laid out, with detailed instructions and parts that fit together, similar to building blocks. Usually, prefabricated construction systems are more lightweight than traditional building materials. Typically, items like bricks and cement are difficult to transport to rural Colombia because of how heavy and unyielding they are. This is not the case with prefabricated construction kits. Additionally, a lot of money can be saved because there is less of a need to hire a massive fleet of workers. Prefabricated casa kits are easier for workers to put together, and they usually can be put together in a relatively short period of time as well, further cutting costs. Furthermore, more specialized workers like asphalt contractors do not always have to be a part of these projects, which means that their higher fees can be avoided as well.
The way this works is by having lightweight steel beams as a part of the casa kits, which click together with as little tool use as possible. After that, the boards made of coffee husk waste can be attached to the steel beams. They actually don’t even require the use of nails or screws, which further helps keep both material and labor costs down. These procedures can be applied to both houses and public buildings, ideally making their applications as diverse as possible.
The Problems Solved Through Coffee Husk Housing
As previously mentioned, housing made in part through coffee husk waste is rather affordable, which is perhaps one of the main problems solved by the concept. But this kind of housing also allows people in rural Colombia to live much healthier lives. They are able to live in housing that protects them from the elements, and at the same time are given access to better school buildings as well. Additionally, because coffee husk housing is naturally resistant to the elements, people are able to not only be protected but save money on various fixes that could otherwise become quite expensive.
For example, there is the issue of pest control to consider. While bugs are considered distasteful by many, there is certainly more to worry about if you have a bug problem in your home than simply the disgust factor. You also need to worry about the health hazards that certain insects present, biting and potentially causing allergic reactions and infections. Because building materials made of coffee husks are naturally insect repellent, the boards act as their own forms of residential pest control. Additionally, in a country as prone to weather events as Colombia, the fireproof and water-resistance of the boards cannot be discounted.
Because Woodpecker has experience in terms of building affordable housing, with a 10-year history in the industry and over 2,500 houses built, the company understands the importance and value of coffee husk housing. In fact, it has already been able to do good within Colombia thanks to the coffee husk building materials. The Colombian island of Providence was hit by Hurricane Iota, a category 5 hurricane, rather recently. Over a thousand homes were destroyed when the hurricane hit, leaving the Colombian army desperate for affordable solutions. Woodpecker was actually able to donate two houses, which were not only given to the island for free, but easy for the army to assemble quickly. This was despite the fact that the army itself didn’t necessarily have a great deal of experience with Woodpecker building materials. They were relatively easy to use, offering a major boon for the island. Additionally, the army was actually working in terrible conditions, with muddy ground, no energy supply, a damaged airport, and little food available.
The reality is that these types of houses are not only meant to patch holes when an emergency occurs, however. They are meant to solve a long-term housing crisis that has been facing Colombia for a significant period of time. It’s one thing for general construction contractors to even be made available in the country; it’s another issue entirely for them to be able to do what they need to do and help the people of Colombia source affordable housing.
Understanding How Coffee Husk Waste Became Building Materials
Obviously, there is some trepidation surrounding coffee husk waste being turned into building materials. Some may be worried about whether or not this material is a valid alternative to more traditional building materials. Firstly, it’s important to understand that due to various limitations, traditional building materials simply are not options for those in rural Colombia. Therefore, an alternative must be found, and in this case, one of the best alternatives has been the products provided by Woodpecker.
But additionally, once the product itself is further examined, it becomes clear that there is little reason for doubters to be concerned. Coffee husk was partially selected by Woodpecker over other organic fibers because it is naturally stronger and drier than alternatives like sawdust and rice fiber. Furthermore, coffee husk is not used completely on its own. It is reinforced through recycled plastic. Not only does this make the building materials even more environmentally friendly; it also makes the materials more durable and more resistant to fire, water, and insects. Additionally, understanding that these coffee husks do not make up the building materials completely independently may make it easier for people to grasp the concept of them being used for residential roofing purposes, among other things.
Additionally, the structures being built are not overly complex. This is in part because this obviously makes it easier for the materials to be transported; but it’s also because this is easier for solid, reliable structures to be made in this sense. Again, the prefabricated kits that are created by Woodpecker are fairly simple and straightforward. But they can still include support plumbing systems, as well as electrical wiring if need be. They are often single-story buildings, without many rooms. Each building is designed to use as few pieces as possible, which will keep costs down as well as construction times.
In fact, construction can take as little as a week total for a full building. The reality is that this will further keep costs down, but it also is incredibly useful in that buildings can be constructed in a short amount of time. This means that when Woodpecker buildings are needed during emergency situations like during the aftermath of Hurricane Iota, they can be constructed rapidly. These buildings may not be massive or overly complex, but they are easy to create and certainly can be viewed as viable alternatives to the type of construction that really can’t be facilitated in Colombia. Additionally, having this kind of reliable housing will empower the people in rural Colombia to live more comfortable and healthier lives.
In Conclusion: The Benefits of Coffee Husk Housing, Reviewed
There are many different benefits to utilizing building materials that are made of coffee husks. For one thing, the coffee husks are remarkably affordable and are already in excess throughout the country. Additionally, using the coffee husks for housing rather than simply letting them go to waste ensures that they avoid landfills, and do not contribute to the methane issues in Colombia.
For that matter, there is a great deal of opportunity for prefabrication to solve the problems facing those interested in building in Colombia. Prefabricated building materials made in part from coffee husk waste is easy to transport, while also being hardy. The simple, efficient buildings constructed from these materials can be used for housing as well as schools, shops, and small clinics. In the long term, these types of materials are not only good for Colombia but could potentially be effective in other parts of the world as well. Ideally, these types of organic materials will allow for a new frontier in creating prefabricated buildings.