Back in 2009, Pixar Animation Studios released the immensely successful “Up.” The comedy-action film went on to be nominated for five Academy Awards, becoming only the second animated film to receive the honor, behind Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”
In short, “Up” was a landmark film, both beautifully rendered and beautifully told. The film follows curmudgeon Carl Fredricksen, who attaches balloons filled with helium to his home until he and it are lifted away on an exotic adventure.
As a company that deals with homes, Movoto Real Estate had to ask: How many balloons does it take to lift a house? Fortunately, great minds have already tackled the question. This, however, didn’t stop us from building on fellow balloon enthusiasts’ work and calculating how many balloons it would take to lift some of the world’s most famous structures–imaginary or not.
Before we get to the fun, we’ll recap how others have attempted to tackle this question.
How Many Balloons Does It Take to Lift a House?
According to Wired’s Alexis Madrigal, who dissected the issue around the time the movie came out, it would take 105,854 balloons to lift Carl’s house.
Online magazine Slate took a stab at the question as well. Nina Rastogi pointed out that Madrigai’s calculation left out the weight of the balloons themselves. And then there is the weight of the rigging—which adds even more pounds. How much weight? Slate guessed about 8,400 pounds. This would add 125,374 balloons.
In total, Slate estimated it would take 231,228 balloons for Carl to start his adventure. More specifically, however, the magazine pointed out that Wired used larger than average balloons, instead of the everyday happy-birthday variety.
If party balloons were used—the kind you can get most anywhere—the number jumped to 9.4 million, Slate wrote.
With Madrigai and Rastogi’s helpful notes and our own extensive knowledge of hypothetical housing situations, the Movoto team was able to crunch the numbers to figure out how many party balloons it would take to lift tourist destinations from around the world such as the Taj Mahal.
Up, Up, and Away
After we did some estimating, we learned it would take an absurd amount of balloons to lift any famous structures from around the world. This is no surprise. If you’ve ever been curious about ballooning or are looking for some unique trivia, we’ve compiled a list:
- White House: 2,976,470,589
- Empire State Building: 68,705,882,353
- Wayne Manor: 1,100,000,000
- Mr. Rogers’ House: 5,647,059
- Taj Mahal: 2,447,058,824
- Sears Tower: 41,882,352,941
- Neverland Ranch: 428,235,295
- Playboy Mansion: 500,800,000
- Painted Ladies: 73,647,059
- Washington Monument: 15,058,823,529
- Pentagon: 260,000,000,000
- Burji Khalifa: 94,117,647,059
How’d We Do It
To figure out how many balloons it would take to lift any object, we relied heavily on the works of other curious people and added our own estimations. The two most important things we needed to know were:
- How much weight a party balloon can lift
- The weight of the various structures
Speak Squeaky, Carry a Big Balloon
According to this helpful website, a helium balloon experiences an “upward force that is equal to the weight of the air it displaces (the buoyant force on the balloon) minus its own weight.” At sea level, air weighs about 0.078 pounds per cubic foot, meaning the upward buoyant force on a cubic foot of helium is also about 0.078.
As you might have guessed, helium weighs less than air. Otherwise, it wouldn’t float. In fact, helium weighs about 0.011 pounds. This means a cubic foot of helium can lift itself and 0.067 pounds per cubic foot. It would take about 1,500 cubic feet of helium to lift 100 pounds.
With these numbers, it’s relatively easy to figure out how much helium it would take to lift an object. However, because we wanted to know how many balloons it takes, we needed to decide on the type of balloon.
This made the project much easier.
Pick a Balloon, Any Balloon
If you’ve ever wanted to strap balloons to a lawn chair and go for an early morning ride, you’ll be glad to know that it’s possible. Cluster ballooning is a hobby/sport in which a harness is attached to a cluster of helium-inflated balloons and then to a person.
The most famous cluster balloon flight, according to the not-for-profit clusterballoon.org, occurred in 1982 when Larry Walters attached 42 helium balloons to a lawn chair and accidentally soared to 16,000 feet.
Did we mention he had no previous ballooning experience?
When Wired tackled how many balloons it would take to lift Carl’s house, they used something akin to a cluster balloon, though smaller. If you actually want to lift an object, you’ll want to use these. Still, finding out how many cluster balloons it takes to lift an object feels like cheating.
When the Movoto team imagined a floating house, we imagined party balloons. When it came time to pick out balloons we went with these.
According to cockeyed.com, a typical party balloon that is 11 inches in diameter, with 26 inches of ribbon, can lift 0.17 ounces—or 0.010625 pounds. In other words, it would take about 9.4 million party balloons to lift Carl’s house, not including other pratfalls such as additional weight.
We went with Cockeyed’s figures to help us metaphorically heft the Empire State Building, and other landmarks.
Once we knew this, we had to defeat our second problem. How do you calculate the weight of homes and structures?
How Much Does a House Weigh?
A couple weeks back, we entered the space race with Mission: Space House. It was our attempt to figure out how much it would cost to shoot a house into space. The benefit of the project is that it gave us an idea of how much a house weighs.
According to The Seattle Times, the construction industry estimates a house weighs:
- 200 pounds per square foot for a single-level home;
- 275 pounds per square foot for a two-level home; and
- 350 pounds per square foot for a three-level home.
After a quick glance, it appears that each additional story adds 75 pounds per square foot. We used this to help gauge the weight of famous structures. Nonetheless, some of the buildings and skyscrapers we picked, such as the Washington Monument, already had a known weight. In these circumstances we went with what’s already in the public domain.
So if you’ve ever wanted to spend a day blowing up balloons for an adventure, remember to bring a BB gun to help you get back down.
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