How to Build Affordable Housing Using Recycled Materials

How to Build Affordable Housing Using Recycled Materials

How to Build Affordable Housing Using Recycled Materials


Building affordable housing is a major challenge facing many communities today. With housing prices continuing to rise faster than incomes, finding ways to lower construction costs is key to providing affordable options. One innovative solution is using recycled materials to build affordable homes. Using recycled materials can significantly reduce costs while also having environmental benefits. In this article, I will provide an in-depth look at how to build affordable housing using recycled materials.

Assess Construction Costs

The first step is to break down the major construction costs involved in a typical affordable housing project. The three main cost components are:

  • Structure – Foundation, framing, roofing
  • Enclosure – Exterior walls, windows, doors
  • Finishes – Flooring, drywall, paint, kitchen/bath

Of these, the structure and enclosure elements comprise the majority of costs. These areas offer the best opportunities for savings with recycled materials.

Choose Recycled Materials

Many building materials can be sourced recycled at a fraction of the cost of new materials. Here are some of the best options:

Structural Materials

  • Lumber – Use reclaimed lumber for framing and concrete formwork. Old barns and warehouses are great sources.
  • Steel – Check local metal recycling facilities for reused structural steel and rebar.

Enclosure Materials

  • Bricks and concrete blocks – Check with local suppliers for recycled bricks or concrete blocks. Old sidewalks and walls are sources.
  • Siding – Metal and composite siding can be sourced recycled from various outlets.
  • Windows and doors – Reclaimed windows and doors are readily available at architectural salvage warehouses.

Finishing Materials

  • Flooring – Recycled carpet tiles, reclaimed hardwood, and recycled rubber flooring can be used.
  • Cabinets – Used kitchen cabinets can save big. Check architectural salvage warehouses.
  • Fixtures – Used sinks, faucets and light fixtures are plentiful at salvage warehouses.

Partner with Recyclers

Connecting with recycling organizations in your area is key to accessing discounted recycled materials. Here are some tips:

  • Contact recyclers directly – Learn what types of recycled building materials they have available.
  • Use recycled material exchanges – These nonprofits connect recycled material suppliers to end users.
  • Partner with deconstruction crews – They salvage reusable materials from old buildings before demolition.

Building relationships with these types of groups can give you a steady, discounted supply of recycled building materials.

Design for Using Recycled Materials

When designing affordable housing using predominantly recycled materials, there are some important considerations:

  • Flexible floor plans – Adjust layouts to accommodate available recycled lumber lengths and window sizes.
  • Simple structures – Keep structural systems basic to utilize available recycled steel sections and reinforcements.
  • Adaptable enclosures – Design exterior walls, siding and roofing to work with available recycled materials.

Taking a simple, flexible approach allows creating efficient housing while taking advantage of recycled materials.

Case Study: The REGLAZE House

An excellent example of affordable housing built from recycled materials is the REGLAZE House in Huntsville, Alabama. The home was built by designers from Rural Studio using over 50% recycled materials:

  • Structure – Reclaimed lumber, recycled steel framing
  • Enclosure – Salvaged windows, recycled brick, reclaimed wood siding
  • Finishes – Recycled floor tiles, reused fixtures and cabinets

Using these recycled materials cut the home’s construction costs by 20% while reducing environmental impact. The 2-bedroom REGLAZE House was created for just $20,000.


Building affordable housing with recycled materials is an innovative, cost-effective approach with many benefits. Strategically choosing recycled structural and enclosure materials can significantly reduce construction costs. Partnering with recyclers provides discounted access to reused building materials. Designing adaptable plans allows taking advantage of available recycled resources. With care and creativity, affordable recycled homes can be achieved.