As traditional material prices continue to rise, more and more builders are looking for alternative materials to complete their projects.
ByFusion, a Los Angeles-based startup founded in 2017, has introduced a construction-grade building material called the ByBlock made out of 100% non-recyclable plastics. So what sets ByBlock apart — and how viable is it for use on projects in the near future?
Related coverage: 17 Alternatives to Common Building Materials
What are ByBlocks?
The ByBlock is a “multi-purpose, reusable” insulating building material roughly the size and shape of a traditional cinderblock made entirely out of non-recyclable plastic waste. The ByBlock is designed to integrate with traditional building materials such as lumber, cement, and steel to complete a building.
ByFusion’s Standard ByBlock (BBK-011) is similar in dimension to a standard concrete masonry unit (CMU) — about 16″ width x 8″ depth x 8″ height — and weighs 22 lbs (although the ByBlock website states the block “can be customized to specific densities”).
ByFusion’s recycled building blocks are created using the ByFusion Blocker machine, a system that shreds discarded plastic and compresses it with steam. The result is an eye-catching, multi-colored ByBlock. ByFusion plans to sell both the ByFusion Blocker machines and the ByBlocks themselves.
ByBlock’s optimistic environmental goals
It is no secret that traditional construction methods generate huge amounts of waste. In fact, up to 30% of unused materials intended for a construction project are eventually thrown away.
This isn’t the only issue with commonly used methods. In recent months, material costs have experienced increases not seen since the 1970s. The average price of a cinder block has soared since January from $1.66/block to $2/block — a 20% increase.
Price swings for conventional materials have caused major disruptions and disputes between contractors and suppliers. Any product that provides reliably sourced materials for the construction industry is a good thing. With many factors pushing construction towards more sustainable methods, ByFusion aims to create solutions that address both waste and price volatility.
Considering the massive amount of unrecyclable plastic in our environment, ByBlocks could be a plentiful and cost-effective option — but it is not yet clear how viable the ByBlock is as a budget building material.
Will ByBlocks’ benefits outweigh the cost & risk?
Unfortunately, there’s no direct answer to this right now. While marketed as a cost-effective solution to pricey materials, it may be too early to experience the true cost benefits of ByBlocks — and it’s possible they’re still quite expensive. Actual price comparisons are not yet readily available to consumers, which poses questions about the accessibility of ByBlocks to most buyers.
There is also an inherent risk when building with newly developed materials.
“Insurers are unlikely to take on a risk that is hard to quantify. As the effects of faulty green construction are often hard to measure, it is less likely that an insurer will take on the corresponding unknown amount of risk,” said Matt Viator, construction attorney and senior Legal Associate at Levelset.
Some construction professionals have also hesitated at the idea of incorporating ByBlocks into certain projects. The blocks are being perceived as a good short-term solution, but some believe they are not equipped with enough structural integrity to withstand certain environmental conditions, particularly fire.
Reddit users debate the attitude consumers may have toward their buildings being made from waste. In a discussion thread on ByBlocks, user @professorcorn said “I’d be concerned about off-gassing in high heat conditions and they likely can’t be used for anything with structural requirements (aka where concrete is often used).”
According to ByFusion, ByBlocks will require the application of additional fire retardants.
“Like timber building materials, ByBlock is a Class 5 product. This means it will require a fire retardant in certain applications. These retardants are readily available in the market and are used in everyday building projects,” ByFusion said. “Upcoming testing strategies include a full array of ASTM fire rating tests based on internationally-accepted standards.”
ByFusion does note that the ByBlock has undergone safety testing for a variety of other conditions.
“ByBlocks have undergone independent testing for Compression, Thermal, Acoustic, Fastener Withdrawal and Shear Strength, as well as Environmental screening,” ByFusion stated.
ByFusion also supplies a ByBlock Data Sheet that outlines details on testing, as well as technical specifications, environmental impact, and other details such as installation and storage.
Despite contrasting feedback, ByBlocks represent just the latest development in a budding green construction movement. Cutting-edge construction concepts that assist homeowners in saving money by using materials designed to conserve energy — like the TikTok-famous Tstud™ — are catching on, so it’s likely we’ll continue to see an influx of alternative building methods and materials in the future.