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GE Unit Unveils House Built in Material of the Future--Plastic

From Associated Press

The house that high-performance plastics helped build was unveiled Monday, a gracious Colonial dwelling with some decidedly 21st-Century, dream house technology tucked behind its facade.

“We are very excited in sharing with you what we feel the future of home ownership is,” Uwe Wascher, vice president of marketing for GE Plastics, said at the opening of the Living Environments Concept House at the division’s headquarters.

General Electric officials were quick to point out that the engineering plastics used in the house have little in common with the stuff of toys or with the highly futuristic, space-age type of plastic housing that has been experimented with during the past 40 years.

About one-third of the light-beige house is plastic. The total cost is estimated at $10 million, but that includes research and model development.

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The engineering plastics used typically have high melting points, create little smoke when they burn and have good sound-deadening properties. But the home is so airtight it requires strong ventilating systems.

The house has curved bay windows, generous decks and huge atrium windows in front and back. It is clearly in the dream house category, with such amenities as double showers that convert to steam rooms, power windows and movable walls.

Tour guides showed off some of the features, such as a 50-gallon reservoir in the basement in case of drought, liquid quartz technology to make naked windows opaque and refrigeration systems set into the kitchen walls.

Cutaway sections throughout the house showed the plastics molded into walls and floors and, in one bathroom, the tub was sliced in two, right down to a bisected rubber duck.

GE officials say the house will be a laboratory for exploring the use of engineering polymers in construction markets but that it also contains some practical concepts already in use. Roof tile panels of high-performance plastics are already on the market, as are some of the window units, which feature snap-in moldings.

“You get used to it. You don’t paint it, you just replace it,” said tour guide Rob Gillette.

The 3,000-square-foot, two-story house, with a split-level basement, was built for a family of four, with a large master bedroom luxuriously appointed with a Jacuzzi, window seat and state-of-the-art Japanese toilets featuring a built-in exhaust fan and automatic bidet.

Company officials conceded that it will be some time before all of the innovations in the concept house become commonplace.

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“We don’t think we can change the industry overnight,” Dickens said.

The plastics used in the building are now two to 10 times more expensive than traditional building materials, but GE expects them to become competitive as builders look toward prefabricated and component assembly to hold down costs.

Eventually, the plastic construction, which may feature prefab wall panels complete with insulation and siding that snaps together, will provide a more efficient way of building, company officials said.

More than 45,000 pounds of plastics are used in the house in such areas as the roof, windows, siding, plumbing, foundation and electrical and mechanical systems.

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But much of the visible material in the house is unabashedly traditional, such as the maple floors, and company officials said that was intentional.

“We never intended to replace all wood, glass, stone and steel,” Wascher said.


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