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6 Recycled Materials Used to Build Houses (Including Used Wood!)

Updated on May 30, 2010
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Using what the earth hasnaturally produced for us is an important part of alternative home building.However, an equally important part of being environmentally conscious is takingwhat would otherwise be wasted on our planet and putting it to use. Recycledmaterials can be used in the construction of alternative homes to cut down onexisting waste and even save on your building expenses. One man’s trash isanother man’s treasure, as they say.

Here is a look at sixmaterials that can be recycled to build a home:

1. Baled Cardboard

Believe it or not there are a lot of people interested inalternative home building who are using cardboard to build houses. The mostpopular method of doing this is to use baled cardboard. Cardboard can berecycled and “baled” just like hay is baled. The cardboard bales are then usedfor building.

2. Beer Cans

Before recycling became an every day part of the lives ofmost people in this country, the most common thing recycled by the averageperson was aluminum cans. There was a time when a profit could be turned by theindustrious individual who would go out in search of aluminum cans and thentake them in to get recycled, saving the earth and creating their own savingsat the same time. Today, there is not a lot of money to be made in aluminum canrecycling (although you can still get a few pennies for your efforts), but youcan still do a lot of good for the earth by putting these aluminum cans to useinstead of sending them to the landfill. If you regularly drink soda or beerand have an excess of cans piling up, you might find that they make a terrificaddition to your home. One of the most common uses for aluminum cans inbuilding homes is to create fresh aluminum siding. However, aluminum cans canalso be used in the actual construction of the home. For example, it ispossible to take the cans, fill them with water to provide thermal mass, andthen layer them to create the structure of the home. Natural insulationfinishes the home.

3. Plastic Bottles

Similar in concept to homes built with recycled cans arehomes built with recycled plastic bottles. Although people are encouraged torecycle, the sheer number of people who now drink bottled water has created anexcess of this kind of waste. Salvaging that waste from the local dump andputting it to good use in home building is one of the most efficient ways ofrecycling. The basics behind the concept are that you take these plasticbottles that are otherwise going to sit in landfills, fill them with sand togive them strength, and then use them as the building blocks for homeconstruction.

4. Cork

It is increasingly common to see people recycling cork. In fact, if you go to Trader Joe’s, you’ll see that they’ve started recycling thecorks from all of those wine bottles that they sell to customers! Cork can alsobe used to build homes. It is most commonly used to make the floor of analternative home.

5. Earth Rammed Tires

Another greatmethod of recycling is to take tires, which normally get tossed into landfillsand left there to do no good to the earth, and use them in home building. Theyare obviously large and so can be used to create expansive homes withoutrequiring you to purchase many new materials. The basic way that they are usedis to fill them with earth, ramming the earth with something like asledgehammer to really pack the dirt in there. The tires are then used to buildthe entire home. It’s easy to find old tires that people don’t want; sometimesfolks will even pay you to take them off their hands which can significantlyreduce the cost of building your home.

6. Used Wood

Urban forestry is an important industry that has only begunto gain interest over the past few years. What this refers to is the process ofharvesting wood in urban communities, wood that in the past has gone tolandfills or been burned. All cities are responsible for the trees locatedwithin their boundaries. When a tree falls down in a city park or is causingproblems with overgrowth on a busy street, it is the responsibility of the cityto remove the tree. These removed trees then need to be dealt with. Up untiljust a few years ago, it was common practice for the cities to remove the treesand burn them in mass fires or bury them in landfills. These trees are healthytrees that can be used for home building, but they have been going to waste.

You would not think that small communities could produceenough wood to sustain home building. You would be surprised. Trees are removedby the city all the time, but there is particularly a surplus after majorstorms and natural disasters, when a huge number of trees come down all atonce. The city has to immediately do something with those trees. When HurricaneKatrina hit, it left over four billion board feet of useable wood in its wake.Because of the need to rebuild the city, much of that wood was buried orburned, going to waste. Even when the storms are on a smaller scale,significant amounts of wood can be harvested. For example, in 2005 there was anice storm in the small town of Ashland, Ohio, that took down 30,000 board feetof wood. This is wood that would have previously gone to make firewood ormulch, if it was used at all — most likely, it would have gone to the landfill.But the town has become environmentally conscious, and the wood went to auctionfor reuse. That is just one storm, one year, in one very small town. This ishappening all over the nation.

The goal of urban harvesting is to locate the available woodwithin communities. This means working with the city arborist (every city hasone) to find out about trees that have come down in storms. In just the lastfew years, there has been a growing interest among builders to take advantageof this opportunity. For them, there is a significant cost savings at play. Thecity is just going to burn those trees anyway, so it is possible to get them ata relatively low cost. Milling them locally allows for continued cost savings,savings that are further increased when the building is done locally.

There has also recently been growth in this trend at theindividual level. Many times, people want to have a tree removed from theirproperty for one reason or another. For example, the tree may grow too big andbe dangerous to the property because of the risk that it may fall in a storm.People are starting to realize that, instead of calling a tree service andhaving the tree removed, it is possible to have the tree taken down and madeinto lumber that can then be used in building an addition to the home. Somepeople have whole properties of land that they want cleared and they are morethan happy to practically give that wood away to anyone willing to haul it.Alternative home builders are recognizing this and beginning to make use of thetrend to offer earth-friendly methods of building with what would otherwise bewasted wood.

In addition to urban forestry, you can use recycled wood tobuild homes. For example, in the San Francisco Bay Area, there are numerouswarehouses that have gigantic wood rafters holding them up. When thesebuildings are demolished, that wood often goes to waste. Builders can salvagethose woods and make use of them. This requires some intensive labor — nails,staples, and bullets all need to be removed from each board in order to preventdamage to building equipment — but it can be cost-effective for those willingto take the time to find these woods. In the Midwest, many builders work withrecycled materials from old barns. The barns themselves may not stand the testof time and must be taken down, but the builder can reuse the wood to create asolid structure designed to last. This kind of recycled wood is efficientlyused.

Cordwood building also falls into this category. This formof building takes wood that would otherwise have no use because it is small insize (normally reserved for firewood, if for anything at all) and uses it in the building of a home.


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  • profile image

    rida hussain 5 years ago

    hi hello bye

  • CWanamaker profile image

    CWanamaker 6 years ago from Arizona

    I have also seen homes built out of old Airplane parts. Its pretty neat actually. Another growing trend is the use of shipping containers (Conex Boxes) to construct new buildings. You basically stack a few up, secure them to a foundation, and add your electricity and plumbing. I've seen a couple of those houses as well. Great Hub!

  • profile image

    givetome 6 years ago

    become a recycler and will keep stuff out of landfills, help the city and country save money on garbage collection and in addition, it is also good for the environment and for the planet. GIVINGETTING allows people to give unwanted items and getting free stuff they don´t have, donating or getting it for reuse

  • my-success-guru profile image

    my-success-guru 7 years ago from Upstate NY

    Hello again KATHRYN,

    I'm still here after reading your first Hub on 3 essential minerals. Another intriguing Hub! I never would have thought of beer cans would be used for insulating homes. I give this Hub a BIG thumbs up!

  • SuperiorInteriors profile image

    SuperiorInteriors 7 years ago from San Diego, California

    I'm so happy to see so many people taking proactive positions on sustainable living. It's really amazing! Thanks for the fun and informative hub :)

  • borge_009 profile image

    borge_009 7 years ago from Philippines

    I've seen a lot of people trying to recycle things for their houses. Thanks For sharing this Kathryn

  • Katrina Ariel profile image

    Katrina Ariel 7 years ago from The Highlands of British Columbia, Canada

    Yay for recycling in all forms! I live part time in New Orleans, and it's pretty interesting how much recycling goes on here with all the rebuilding. Lots of waste too, but there are great programs and people doing what they can to minimize the waste and utilize materials from demolitions. Great hub!

  • Michael Shane profile image

    Michael Shane 7 years ago from Gadsden, Alabama

    Great Hub & ideas! However, the tires will increase & attract mosquitos, I'm still not sure how to use the recycled cans & bottles, but the used wood is an excellent idea to cut tremendous cost. The cardboard & corks can be used for various things but if the big bad wolf comes along, he may puff and puff and blow your house away! just kidding! These are creative ideas & more people need to get creative to save on pollution and to help their budgets in today's economy....Thanks!

  • myawn profile image

    myawn 7 years ago from Florida

    I use recycled stuff I pick up on the side of the road to fix my mobile home,window screens,wood,aluminum even furniture. I love to do this and it saves money and waste.You have a very good hub!

  • DREAM ON profile image

    DREAM ON 7 years ago

    I see great uses in the future.Why not use what would normally get wasted and burned.Nice hub.