TrashWalls: Ultra Low-Cost Energy Retrofits (ULCER)

EPA Grant Number: SU835993
Title: TrashWalls: Ultra Low-Cost Energy Retrofits (ULCER)
Investigators: Richards, Robert F
Institution: Washington State University
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: I
Project Period: September 1, 2015 through August 31, 2016
Project Amount: $14,798
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2015) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: P3 Awards , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , Sustainable and Healthy Communities , P3 Challenge Area - Sustainable and Healthy Communities


This project focuses on developing and testing a new approach to retrofitting energy conservation measures in rented residential buildings. Due to perverse incentives where landlords pay for capital improvements and renters pay utility bills, many rental properties remain woefully energy inefficient. The burden of high utility bills then falls on those least able to pay them. The purpose of this project is to develop and test a new approach, “TrashWall” in which a temporary interior insulating envelope is built within the existing exterior wall of a rented residential building. In order to keep initial costs as low as possible, this interior wall is fabricated of materials harvested from the local solid waste stream such as plastic bags, paper, corrugated cardboard, and polystyrene. Keeping the cost of each TrashWall below ten cents per square foot, the payback period from utility energy savings should be less than one heating season.


Currently, there is no effective approach to retrofit rental units in low-quality housing to conserve energy and save money for the poor. While green building research has indicated very effective paths to build low energy structures, these paths are meaningful only for those with capital. We propose a pathway specifically focused on those with little money, who live in some of the least energy efficient buildings in the country, to conserve energy, save money and reduce pollution. Temporary interior building envelopes will be built from no-cost, locally-harvested, materials recycled from the waste stream. Installed in a rental housing unit, a TrashWall, will reduce heat losses from the unit, improve the comfort of those spaces during cold weather, and save the renter money on their utility bills.

Expected Results:

The proposed TrashWall approach should enable renters to retrofit their rented living spaces to reduce their energy use, and so cut their energy bills, and air pollution (especially greenhouse gases) associated with burning fossil fuels to directly condition living spaces or to produce electricity. Student groups will design, build and implement TrashWalls in their own living spaces, and then monitor their savings in energy, and energy costs, along with their associated reductions in solid waste and air pollution. An Online component, the website “TrashTalk” will publicize TrashWall designs, and document their energy, money and pollution savings. The primary result of this work is expected to be a new energy conservation strategy, which enables those with very few resources to use their own creativity to better themselves, their communities, and their environment.

Supplemental Keywords:

Sustainable buildings, energy Conservation, alternative insulation

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report