Can Custom Home Builders Construct With Recycled Materials?

Gonzalo Azumendi, Getty Images

You might find bin mornings to be a bit taxing (especially if the driver decides to reverse right outside your bedroom window), but the reality of the situation is that recycling is important – all those empty wine bottles that are washed and refilled, all those newspapers that are pulped and turned into books. With all this talk about recycling, you might start to wonder whether a house can be built using such materials.

A custom house builder will say yes!

If you have caught the recycling bug, we recommend taking inspiration from custom house builders who have already taken on the challenge of constructing with recycled or upcycled materials:

  • Portland, Oregon – Bruce Campbell turned a Boeing 727 that was destined for the scrap heap into his woodland home. He plans to build another one (this time using a 747) in his second home, Japan. With between 500 and 600 aircraft retired annually, others (from Costa Rica to Holland) are having the same idea.

  • Bridport, Dorset – Rose-Marie Finlay is the proud owner of a converted railway carriage, which she uses as a holiday rental. The property, located near the beach, consists of a 1905 Great Western Railway carriage. A bedroom and bathroom are attached. The carriage still possesses its original doors and some of its old signage.

  • Trinity Buoy Wharf, London – Here you will find a small community of around 70-odd people who live in converted shipping containers. They are exuberant, multicolored and stacked four stories high (See photo). It takes AU$95,000 to convert one of these containers into a habitable apartment and they rent for anywhere between AU$1000 and $1900 a month.

    As well as doing your bit for the environment, using recycled materials could also mean big cost savings. With property prices continuing to skyrocket, a premium has been placed on low-cost building solutions. The insulation used in the attic, for example, doesn’t need to be top of the range. Your kitchen cabinets don’t need to be made from the finest imported timbers.

    It’s possible to take cost-saving shortcuts at nearly every stage of the building process.

    It is important that you approach the use of recycled materials in a hardheaded, practical way, and not just to go with the eco-friendly flow. Using recycled ‘features’ that don’t really blend with the rest of the house, for example, can really detract from the good intentions behind the project. It is important that the architecture of the home transcends any recycled elements that have been used in the construction, otherwise, it just looks like a mess.

    We have seen, for example, people use recycled commercial windows in homes that had an otherwise traditional feel. Whilst there is nothing wrong with the windows in the slightest – they would have looked fantastic in an industrial style home – they just weren’t the right fit for this particular project. When mistakes like this are made, it starts to draw attention to the fact that upcycled materials have been selected (when they should, instead, go almost unnoticed).

    You should take the time to choose recycled ‘features’ that are really in keeping with the look and feel you are going for. Simply jumping on whatever materials you come across can sometimes have the opposite effect.

    We wanted to leave you with some tips for a green build, which many custom house builders are already following. Think holistically and try to use recycled materials that are appropriate for the locality or setting. Make sure you budget for planning objections, especially if you’re attempting anything a little too eccentric. Don’t always visit reclamation yards for materials – you might actually get them cheaper on eBay, at auctions and so on. Above all else, good luck!