A while back I was investigating the availability here in Panama of close-cell foam to use as a building material for shantyboat pontoons. There is one place in Panama City that has the stuff, but it is, for my purposes, prohibitively expansive, especially when you consider the cost of fiberglass mat and roving and epoxy resin to cover the stuff. Actually, I’d probably use polyester resin. I’m not talking about building a yacht, here, and since I’m a 73-year old guy with COPD and three stents in my arteries I’m not looking for something that needs to last forever.
One thing they do have around here in Chiriquí Province is stuff like this:
It’s a foam core with high-tensile metal mesh on both sides. At first I didn’t think it could be adapted to use in shanty boat construction. But as so often happens, things are put aside and percolate subconsciously. There is a place along on my bus route from Boquerón into David (dah VEED) that actually stocks the stuff. I see it sitting in racks near the street. It looks like it comes in 4X8-foot sheets. It may be available in other sizes, but that’s what this stuff looks like.
When they’re building houses with this stuff they set up the foam panels and then coat both sides with concrete. Then several things came to me over the past couple of days. First: remember when ferro-cement boats were the big rage for home builders a few decades ago? Hundreds, perhaps thousands were started. Few were ever finished. Second: down here in Panama the majority of houses are cement block construction, wood being FOOD for a lot of different things. So the people around here are skilled with mixing and creating stuff out of concrete. I’m not just talking about piling up blocks to build houses with either. At the hostel I’m staying at for a few days while the owners of my house are down here on vacation they’ve made these counters out of concrete out in the palapa hut where the communal kitchen is located.
So, I’m thinking…if the panels are cheap enough why couldn’t they be used as the basis for either pontoons or a barge and have concrete applied to both sides to form a hull? b-panel, one of several companies that make these panels advertise them as being “quake resistant” so a hull could probably be strong enough to survive a truck ride of 25 miles or so down to Pedrigal from my house. Besides, the company advertises that pre-fab wall panels can be easily built and transported to a building site.
b-panel also has this interesting segment of their web site…Q: Can expanded polystyrene (EPS) be used for a floating house?
A: Yes, because EPS consists of 98% air, its buoyance is excellent. EPS is widely used for floating structures including floating houses. Furthermore, EPS as floatation has a much better safety factor than drum or other materials because EPS cannot easily sink, as its buoyancy is provided by millions of individual air cells.
So, tomorrow, Monday, I’m going to swing by the place that has the foam and see what they cost. Who knows what might develop?