How to build a house out of recycled materials

Written by michele rappoport
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How to build a house out of recycled materials
(home sweet home image by .shock from

Building with recycled materials is a hot trend right now, but the concept is far from new. Whenever there's been a shortage of conventional building material, people have turned to resourceful substitutes, recycling materials they used every day. This practice is particularly relevant today, as the planet is called upon to support an ever growing population with limited resources. If you've been thinking about building a "recycled" home, this information will help you get started.

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    Visit some recycled homes. If you're just starting to think about building a recycled home, the best place to start is by visiting one and talking with the builders or residents. (In many cases they are the same.) You'll get a feel for what it's like to live in a recycled home in a way that simply looking at pictures or videos cannot match. (See link under "Resources" below.) You'll also be able to get some first-hand information on the time, cost and labour required to build a home from recycled materials. If you can't physically get to a recycled home, read blogs and articles on the Web. Some links are provided under "Resources" below.

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    Research different approaches. There are many ways to build a recycled home. You can start with an old or abandoned home and then restore or expand it. According to Kelly Hart, who writes for, this is the ultimate form of recycling, since "most of the basic components of a house are utilised intact instead of being tossed into a landfill...." Another way is to use an existing structure, such as mobile home, cargo container, rail car or bus, as a jumping off point foryour recycled home. You'll gain many of the same benefits as you would if you restored an existing home.

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    Think about materials. There is an amazing array of objects that have been used to build recycled homes. These include plastic and glass bottles, beer cans, used tires, old wagon wheels and cardboard. In choosing your materials, think about availability, cost to acquire and transport, insulating properties, labour requirements and aesthetics. You might love the durability and comfort of a home built from old tires, but if you hate the idea, you'll never be happy in one. Check the link under "Resources" below for a guide to building with recycled materials

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    Get some hands-on experience. There are workshops around the country where you can learn how to build a recycled home. One of the best places is Earthship, near Taos, N. M. At Earthship, you can learn the basics of Earthship Biotecture (a concept that includes using recycled tires to build the habitat, as well as incorporating self-sustaining utilities that will enable you to live mostly off the grid), arrange for a personal consultation, stay overnight in an actual Earthship and sign up for a workshop to get hands-on experience. See "Resources" below for links.

Tips and warnings

  • There is a wealth of information on the Web about building homes from recycled materials. For a comprehensive list of books, videos, DVD's, building plans, and useful links to sites related to building recycled homes, go to

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