How to Repurpose Scrap Metal into Low-Cost Housing Materials

How to Repurpose Scrap Metal into Low-Cost Housing Materials

Introduction

Recycling scrap metal into building materials is an excellent way to construct affordable housing while diverting waste from landfills. With some creativity and DIY skills, various metals like old appliances, car parts, drums, and more can be repurposed for structural and decorative uses. This guide will provide tips on sourcing, preparing, and integrating salvaged metals into housing projects.

Sourcing Scrap Metal

The first step is accumulating a stockpile of scrap metal to work with. Here are some of the best sources to check:

  • Junkyards and auto salvagers – Great for parts like old car bodies, wheels, radiators, springs, and more. Call to ask what’s available.

  • Construction/demolition sites – Look for discarded metal framing, siding, roofing, rebar, and wiring. Ask if you can haul away materials.

  • Businesses – Restaurants, manufacturers, electricians, and machine shops may have old equipment, shipping containers, sheet metal, and conduits to remove.

  • Craigslist/Facebook Marketplace – Search for free or cheap scrap metal listings in your area.

  • Curbside collection – Drive around on large trash pickup days to spot appliances, tools, mower decks, and other items.

Preparing the Metal

Once collected, prep the metal for reuse. Here are some tips:

  • Disassemble – Take items apart into workable pieces by removing wiring, insulation, and plastic/glass.

  • Clean – Use a wire brush, scraper, and degreaser to remove grime, rust, and coatings.

  • Straighten – For bent metal, use a hammer, mallet, or press to flatten it out again.

  • Cut/reshape – Cut metal with an angle grinder, torch, or saw into sized pieces or new forms.

  • Sand/grind – Smoothen and deburr rough edges and welds for safety.

  • Prime/paint – Coat with primer and enamel spray paint to prevent new rust and corrosion.

Structural Applications

Salvaged metals can be integrated into a house’s structural framework in many ways:

Framing

  • Wall studs – Use thick metal tubing or pipe in place of wood studs for a sturdy interior framework.

  • Roof rafters – Cut C-channel, I-beams, or angle iron into rafters to support roof sheathing.

  • Door/window lintels – Angle iron and alloys like stainless steel make solid headers to distribute weight above openings.

  • Bracing – Metal straps add shear strength and resilience against seismic and wind forces.

Siding and Roofing

  • Corrugated sheet – Ribbed metal panels from shipping containers, silos, or culverts can side walls and roofs. Overlap and screw into framing.

  • Shingles – Layer and interlock used aluminum sheets, auto hoods, and other flat metal as an exposed roof cover.

  • Trim – Affix metal rods, bars, and windings around windows, doors, and wall edges for accenting.

Foundation and Flooring

  • Cinder block columns – Stack old engine blocks to make strong supports for beams. Fill with concrete.

  • I-beam piers – Stand salvaged I-beams vertically under major load points instead of poured footings.

  • Steel plate flooring – Weld together diamond plate, sheet metal, and expanded metal grids for durable interior floors.

Decorative Touches

Repurposed metal can add unique decorative flair to both interior and exterior spaces:

  • Kitchen backsplash – Use colorful metal tiles or flattened bottle caps to create a custom mosaic backsplash.

  • Countertops – Metallic laminates joined on plywood or a sheet metal top make an industrial-chic countertop.

  • Wall art – Cut and weld scrap iron, gears, springs, and chain links into abstract wall hangings.

  • Furniture – Incorporate metal pieces like cables, tubes, and license plates when building tables, chairs, beds, and shelves.

  • Lighting – Turn springs, pulleys, pipes, and engine parts into pendant lights or sconces.

  • Planters – Punch drainage holes in retired washing machine drums or bath tubs to use as metal planter boxes.

  • Fencing/gates – Use intricately welded rebar, car parts, and metal strips to make decorative yard barriers and archways.

Conclusion

With some resourcefulness and welding skills, salvaged metals can be transformed into both structural and ornamental building components for low-cost housing. Sourcing scrap steel, aluminum, iron, and alloys for free or cheap allows creative homeowners to construct durable and sustainable dwellings from recycled materials.