Waste materials that are reclaimed for new structures can be as simple as a bunch of stacked tires or a boat that’s no longer seaworthy, or as complex as old stone bricks re-sculpted to look like new. They can be roughly cobbled together into rustic cabins, or masterfully incorporated into stunning modern residences along with new materials. Sometimes they’re left as-are, their signs of age providing a sense of history, and sometimes they’re processed into something that leaves no hint of their origins. These 10 recycled building materials were saved from the landfill and transformed into the following 30 green homes, and many more around the world.
Bottles & Cans
To some, they’re junk, but to others, discarded bottles and cans can be the main materials of a recycled home. Flattened tomato tins were turned into protective exterior tiles on a mountain home in Patagonia, and one million brown and green beer bottles were formed into an absolutely breathtaking Buddhist temple in Thailand. The ‘Beer Can House’ in Houston, Texas was crafted over 18 years out of 39,000 cans of beer. The cans were cut up and applied to just about every surface, used as siding, decorative trim and fencing. Plastic bottles were used to build a schoolhouse in San Pablo, Philippines, resulting in a structure that’s three times stronger than concrete.
Ships & Boats
Decommissioned ships and boats can be brought on land and transformed into unusual residences that become the talk of the town. While it’s looking a little worse for the wear, ‘The Ship House’ of Dalmatia, Croatia is certainly a creative example of a recycled house. The sight of ‘The Ship Residence’, top right, might just cause you to run your own boat aground as you stare. Located on South Bass Island in Lake Eerie at Put-in-Bay, Ohio, the home consists of a former Great Lakes Shipping Boat that was built by Henry Ford and saw 50 years of service before it was moved onto the lot. Or, you could just craft recycled wood into an amazing house that just looks like a ship.
Glass Panels & Windows
Recycled glass windows, plexiglass panels and even waste glass are transformed into light-filled homes. Kolonihavehus by artist Tom Fruin may not be a functioning house, but it’s certainly a source of inspiration for people looking to build green reclaimed houses; it’s made entirely out of used plexiglass panels, which the artist colored to create a stained glass effect. Another home in Freetown Christiania, a commune in Copenhagen, was built in the ’60s using reclaimed windows – bet they’ve never had to turn on a light in the daytime. And finally, though it might not be pretty, the bottom house is an inexpensive modular home with a build time of less than a week that was made from processed waste glass.
With cities expanding ever outward, farms are fewer and farther between – but that doesn’t mean that big beautiful barns should just be torn down. Many barns have been turned into stunning, spacious private homes, whether by simply insulating them and adding utilities or by completely disassembling the wood and crafting it into something new. Belgium’s reclaimed barn house, top, maintains the traditional shape of the barn it was made from, with lots of new glass and a fully functioning shutter facade for natural light and ventilation. Below, the heavy beams of a dairy barn were separated to form slats that protect rippled glass walls, making a formerly dense structure seem light and airy.
Compact, stackable and found in great abundance all over the world, shipping containers are an ideal material for building homes and other structures. While they used to sit abandoned in shipyards once their short 5 years in use were over, now they’re configured into houses small and large. Individual shipping containers with pre-cut openings are simply lifted by crane and dropped onto each other in a pre-determined design. There are lots of DIY used shipping container house plans for those interested in giving this cheap, eco-friendly building material a shot.
Strong and sturdy, grain silos form the basis of round houses, left rustic or given a contemporary touch. Two silos were joined by a hallway to form a home in the rural American Midwest; another forms the main internal structure for a home in Greensburg, Kansas. The silo has been disguised in the latter home, so you would never even guess that it’s there. At the Gruene Homestead Inn in Texas, a front porch gives a silo used as guest chambers a homey feel.
Tires are the main building component of ecological houses known as ‘earthships’. These homes, common in the deserts of the United States, are also ideal as low-cost housing in third world countries. Tires are plentiful and, when packed with mud, provide thermal mass to regulate the building’s internal temperature. They are often plastered over with a mud mixture that resembles adobe, though sometimes, they’re left visible. The top image shows a school in construction in Guatemala; the second depicts a wall in a Virginia earthship. The third image illustrates how tires have been used to make strong, inexpensive houses in earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
Did you know that shipping pallets are often made of hardwood? Once they’re used a few times to transport heavy loads, they’re cast aside, but this wood can make up the building blocks of a home. In Curacavi, Chile, a large modern home was given cladding made of pallets painted white, which provide natural cooling and ventilation, and let in light. Unmodified pallets could even be used to create quick and cheap disaster housing, used for everything from the front deck to the furniture inside. The modular Paletten Haus, designed by two students from the University of Vienna for a sustainable architecture competition, is modular and energy efficient; the students are working on smaller, similar designs that could be built for just $11 per square foot.
Reclaimed wood from various sources including demolished structures can add character and a sense of history to a home, whether it is used as an accent among more modern materials or as the main event. The ‘Treehouse of Hyeres’, top left, was made of wood and found objects and is clearly rustic in style; the reclaimed wood still retains the varying shades of tint and paint. Alternately, reclaimed wood makes up the core structure of a home which was finished with paler, newer wood for a beautiful contrast. The third home also made of mixed new and used wood, achieves a similar effect.
Recycled scraps of slate from buildings no longer in use were reclaimed for both the roof and the north facade of the Ty Pren residence in South Wales (top). A crumbling stone villa in Portugal was rebuilt, the time-worn stone blocks juxtaposed with new wood and glass for a modern look, in a luxury country villa conversion by Manuel Ribeiro. The beauty of stone is that it can be carved back into new-looking bricks if an aged look is not desired. British architect John Pawson used reclaimed stone to create The House of Stone in Milan, which appears brand new.