How to Build Affordable Housing with Recycled Materials

How to Build Affordable Housing with Recycled Materials

The high cost of housing is an issue facing many communities. Building affordable housing with recycled materials can help reduce costs while also diverting waste from landfills. Here is an in-depth guide on how to build affordable and environmentally sustainable housing using recycled materials.

Finding and Gathering Recycled Building Materials

The first step is sourcing recycled building materials. Here are some of the best options to consider:

Salvaged Building Materials

  • Wood: Reclaimed lumber, flooring, siding, trim, and more can often be salvaged from old houses, barns, factories, and other structures.

  • Bricks and concrete: Crushed bricks, concrete blocks, and other masonry can be reused for projects.

  • Windows and doors: Quality windows, interior and exterior doors can be salvaged and refurbished.

  • Plumbing fixtures: Used sinks, toilets, tubs, faucets, and pipes can be cleaned and reused.

  • Appliances: Used stoves, refrigerators, and other appliances often just need minor repairs.

  • Lighting: Vintage light fixtures add character and can be wired for modern use.

Recycled Content Building Products

  • Insulation: Cellulose, cotton fiber, denim, and plastic bottle insulation contains recycled content.

  • Flooring: Recycled rubber, glass, and plastic composite flooring diverts waste.

  • Siding: Composite boards made with recycled plastic and wood fiber are durable.

  • Drywall: Recycled gypsum and other materials create water-resistant drywall.

  • Roofing: Rubber, plastic, and recycled metal roofing lasts decades.

  • Countertops: Recycled glass, plastic, paper, and concrete create unique countertops.

Upcycled Materials

  • Shipping pallets: Pallets can be deconstructed and the wood repurposed for projects.

  • Scrap wood: Leftover lumber, crates, furniture and more can be upcycled.

  • Tires: Shredded tires can be compressed into durable building blocks.

  • Plastic bottles: Filled bottles create bricks. Crushed bottles can be mixed into concrete.

Design Considerations for Using Recycled Materials

When designing affordable housing using reused materials, consider:

  • Structural integrity – Consult an engineer to ensure all structures are sound.

  • Code compliance – Use certified products and meet local building codes.

  • Moisture resistance – Use appropriate recycled materials for damp areas.

  • Fire safety – Ensure proper fire breaks and flame retardant materials are used.

  • Insulation – Supplement salvaged materials with recycled content insulation.

  • Functionality – Design spaces to be livable, accessible, and efficient.

  • Aesthetics – Blend salvaged materials for a unique but cohesive look.

Basic Construction Steps Using Recycled Materials

The construction process when using recycled building materials involves:


  • Pour concrete slabs with recycled plastic or rubber aggregate.

  • Use reclaimed bricks or blocks to create stem walls.

  • Build retaining walls with used tires or glass bottles set in concrete.


  • Create stud walls with salvaged lumber and upcycled shipping pallets.

  • Use reclaimed wood for floor joists and roof rafters.

  • Install recycled plastic composite exterior trim.


  • Install reclaimed siding or salvaged windows and doors.

  • Insulate with dense-packed cellulose or recycled denim.

  • Hang recycled drywall.

Interior Finishes

  • Install reclaimed wood flooring or salvaged tile.

  • Use upcycled furniture and install vintage light fixtures.

  • Add unique touches like counter tops made with recycled glass.

Major Benefits of Building with Recycled Materials

Constructing affordable housing with recycled building materials offers many advantages:

  • Saves money – Salvaged and upcycled materials are much cheaper than new.

  • Prevents waste – Tons of reusable materials are kept out of landfills.

  • Conserves resources – Far less need for logging, mining, and processing virgin materials.

  • Lowers energy use – Well-insulated recycled structures are very energy efficient.

  • Creates jobs – Deconstruction and re-processing recycled materials creates employment.

  • Provides affordable housing – Building cost savings make quality housing more affordable.

Case Studies: Successful Affordable Housing Projects Using Recycled Materials

Here are some real world examples of quality affordable housing built predominantly using reused and repurposed materials:

The Phoenix Court Apartments – Los Angeles, CA

This award winning affordable housing project reused 85% salvaged and recycled content materials, including reclaimed wood framing, doors, and flooring. Recycled rubber tires were used in retaining walls, and recycled plastic composite boards for exterior trim.

Full Circle Cottages – Eugene, OR

Designed as village cottages, these small eco-houses were built by students using 95% salvaged and recycled materials. Reclaimed lumber, recycled content siding, and upcycled windows were sourced locally.

The Salvation Army Veterans Residence – Seattle, WA

This LEED Platinum residence for disabled veterans sourced 90% reused building materials from deconstructed houses. It combines reclaimed brick, doors, marble, and wood efficiently creating modern apartments.


Building affordable housing with recycled materials is cost-effective and environmentally friendly. With careful design and construction, salvaged and upcycled materials can create quality, comfortable, durable, and unique housing, helping make communities more sustainable. The many options for sourcing reused building materials make constructing affordable green housing achievable.