Homes built from recycled materials reduce waste

Somewhere between the HGTV-inspired desire for a kitchen with reclaimed barn wood and the global movement for zero waste lies the emerging trend of building homes from recycled or salvaged materials.

Part eco-friendly action, part design statement, recycled homes take perfectly good, usable materials and keep them out of the landfill. In the United States alone, the EPA estimates, 230–530 million tons of construction and demolition waste are produced each year. By building with materials that have already been harvested, cut, built or forged, you can reduce your home's carbon footprint right off the bat. You also save those materials from being wasted, and give them a new life.

Saving materials from the scrap heap

A high-end example of this approach in the U.S. is a home in New York built from salvaged airplane parts. The "Aviator's Villa," designed by Urban Office Architecture, is the very definition of biophilic, as it incorporates sweeping views of sky, trees and the lake below.

An Airbnb home in Brazil was recently built using found wood, glass, ceramic and other scrap from demolished houses in the area. Similarly, a home in Mumbai incorporates doors from demolished homes into a unique facade, in addition to using salvaged stone columns and other scrap items.

Modified shipping containers have also come into vogue as housing. Repurposing these cargo containers can have unique challenges—you may need to install extra insulation and replace flooring—but they are also durable and inexpensive. In the U.S., according to Forbes, these structures are often discarded by companies that don't want to ship them back overseas, so reusing them for a residential purpose saves metal that would otherwise go to rust.

Planning for sustainability in the long term

Reuse does more than just recycle yesterday's materials. When you use good-quality, durable products to build your home, you are also making it possible to have a greener tomorrow.

For example, the "scrap house" in Ontario profiled in Dwell incorporates reused pieces in an industrial, shed-style aesthetic. The home is built from recycled steel I-beams and galvanized sheets, in addition to wood and concrete. The homeowner's long experience with scrapyards and steel mills showed him how recyclable metals truly are, and he views the eventual end of the home's life cycle as just the jumping-off point for the next life of its components.

An engineer in Victoria, Australia, built with this goal in mind when he designed a home that incorporated recyclable, as well as recycled, materials. Largely bypassing glue in favor of screws and nails, he ensured that when the home was eventually pulled apart, its timber, steel and plastic would be chemical-free and suitable for reuse.

More resources

Interested in trying this approach yourself? Here are a few ways to learn more:

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