What Are Recycled House Materials: See These 12 Examples

Waste for recycling spread out on a table with a green recycling symbol in the middle. Across the bottom, the words "What Are Recycled House Materials? 12 Examples" appear in white lettering on a green background.

The construction industry is responsible for 30% of global waste generation.

An eco-friendly way to reduce this high volume of waste from the construction sector is by shifting to recycled house materials.

Besides reducing your project’s carbon footprint, recycled house materials reduce waste disposal costs while diverting waste from landfills.

So, what are recycled house materials?

Recycled house materials are recovered materials from post-industrial and post-consumer waste and diverted for reuse in house construction. Instead of disposing of these materials in landfills, they are reused in an eco-friendly way to construct homes.

In the rest of this article, I’ll discuss 12 examples of recycled house materials.

I’ll also elaborate on whether building a house with recycled materials is cheaper.

Let’s get started!

Understanding Recycled House Materials

The term “recycled house materials” is often misunderstood. People understand this term differently depending on the situation at hand.

When people use the term “recycled house materials,” they may be referring to one of the following:

First, materials that are recovered from the existing construction materials present in the fabric of a building at the end of its lifespan.

Such materials may include all kinds of recycled and reclaimed construction waste, such as concrete blocks, gypsum board from internal partitions and weatherboards.

Second, construction materials that are made from recycled materials, such as recycled glass bottles, plastic bottles, tires, and glass.

The 12 Examples of Recycled Building Materials

Now that you know what recycled house materials are, let’s explore some examples.

1. Recycled Timber

Shelves full of reclaimed timber ready for recycling.
Recycled timber is a great material to use, provided it passes quality tests to ensure it is safe to use.

Timber is a typical construction and demolition waste that contributes immensely to landfills.

Reusing this wood in other projects is an excellent way to reduce the amount of construction and demolition waste.

Recycled timber is recovered from demolition sites or old furniture and converted into other uses. Nowadays, it’s common to find recycled wood in projects such as landscaping, cubby houses, and hospitality fit-outs.

Although timber is among the recycled building materials, it’s worth noting that wood weathers and degrades over time. Therefore, you must factor in maintenance costs when building with recycled wood products.

2. Steel

Recycled steel bars, known as rebar, stacked in a pile.
Using reclaimed rebar requires special consideration because remilling or other technique for ensuring it is of sufficient strength and integrity is vital for safety reasons.

Steel is the most recycled building material globally for a good reason – it maintains its tensile strength and quality necessary for construction.

The process of producing steel is very energy intensive, which means the finished product contains a lot of embodied energy and is responsible for significant carbon emissions.

Recycled steel is often recovered from old appliances and machinery during demolition, and can be easily reused. It can be infinitely recycled and converted into other uses, such as reinforcing bars or structural steel.

Besides reducing carbon emissions, and construction and demolition waste, recycled steel is cheaper than virgin steel while providing the same strength. Consequently, building with recycled steel can help you save costs without compromising the quality of your building project.

Moreover, steel is pest-resistant and free of toxic chemicals. Therefore, you don’t have to worry about the durability or sustainability of your project. Most structural steel manufactured in America has at least 90% recycled steel.

3. Plasterboard

Plasterboard wall that has been aimes-taped ready for finishing.
One of the most obvious ways to reuse plasterboard is for filling gaps and holes. However, wholesale recycling of the sheets removed during demolition works is also possible.

Plasterboard (gyprock) is a type of wall material that consists of gypsum plaster sandwiched between sheets of heavy paper. It’s primarily suitable for making ceiling claddings and interior walls.

You can recycle plasterboard in the following ways:

  • Making wet concrete supports
  • Using boron-infused plasterboard to treat newly-laid garden beds
  • Plugging holes

Recycling plasterboards helps reduce their impact in landfills.

Using plasterboard produced from synthetic gypsum also involves some recycling because it is made with recovered fly ash from coal-fired power plants.

4. Clay Bricks

A pile of reclaimed clay bricks.
Reusing clay bricks is another way to improve the eco-friendliness of your building project. They can be a pain to clean, because all the old mortar must be removed using a brick hammer – a job I will always remember with a sigh.

Clay bricks are a common construction material that has been in use for centuries. With a longer lifespan of 500 years, clay bricks can be easily reused and are a favorite recycled building material.

You can recycle clay bricks in the following ways:

  • Reusing them as walls in new buildings
  • Crushing them into chips for use in new concrete
  • Making them into aggregates for other constructions
  • Refining and using them as fill-sand

5. Cork

An assortment of bottle corks jumbled together.
Cork is famously used as a stopper for drinks bottles. However, the waste cork can be reformed and used to produce all manner of building materials such as floor tiles and insulation.

Just think about the number of wine corks used in the United States alone – it’s mind-boggling. As such, cork is an abundant building material suitable for recycling and use for construction purposes.

Cork tiles are often used as insulation material for walls and flooring, soundproofing rooms, and even making wall art. Furthermore, you can use cork to restore vintage furniture or line your kitchen drawers.

Jelinek Cork Group is an excellent example of companies that deal with cork production and recycling.

6. Hempcrete

A worker mixing hempcrete by hand on site. The worker is wearing red protective gloves and a blue apron.
Mixing hempcrete can be done on site if it is being cast in place, or in a factory where hempcrete block are being made. Image courtesy of Hempitecture

Hempcrete is a concrete-like building material made from hemp fibers mixed with lime. It’s excellent for insulation and non-structural wall fillings.

It’s worth noting that hemp isn’t the same as marijuana in terms of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) composition.

Hemp and its related products don’t cause the “high” associated with marijuana because it has at most 0.3% THC. Therefore, you shouldn’t worry about using hemp in your construction project.

7. Glass

Recycling skips full of glass bottles outside a factory unit.
Glass recycling is common in the drinks industry, but there are ways of recycling glass for use in building, too.

Construction projects generate an enormous amount of glass that is suitable for reuse. From broken glass panels in windows to unused mirrors, there’s no shortage of glass for recycling.

Glass is a popular construction material used in glazing and creating functional features such as lighting systems. You can also use it to make mosaic walls or pavements by crushing them into different sizes and shapes.

Using recycled glass for windows and other parts of your building project helps reduce the amount of glass sent to landfills.

8. Plastic

Three piles of recycled plastic pellets, one green, one black and one orange.
Plastic is often recycled into pellets, ready for sale to manufacturers who mold it into all manner of products including gutters, ducting and other materials used in building.

Recycled plastic is one of the most valuable materials in modern-day construction. From roof linings to drainage pipes, plastic can create versatile and practical features or products in your house.

Recycled plastic is popularly used to make fences, guttering systems, and even wall claddings in homes.

Recycled plastic is much better for the environment than virgin quality plastic because the latter uses a lot of fossil fuels, responsible for carbon emissions in its production.

Due to its eco-friendly properties and tremendous cost-effectiveness, recycled plastic is an excellent choice for many construction projects, including in cases where costs must be kept low, such as in affordable housing construction.

9. Rammed Earth

A rammed earth wall with a green tree against it. The layers of the individual lifts of earth can clearly be seen in the finished wall.
Rammed earth often uses materials gathered on-site, which can include recycled aggregates.

Rammed earth is a construction material made by ramming aggregates such as clay, gravel, silt, and sand into wooden forms. It has been in use as a construction material for many centuries.

Recycling and reusing rammed earth on a new building is easy since it’s made from natural materials. For instance, you can break a rammed earth wall and repurpose it as a foundation.

10. Bamboo

A sieries of bamboo culms placed vertically, side by side to form a wall. There is an eco-friendly label in the middle of the image.
Bamboo can be used in buildings very effectively. Even waste scraps of this material can be recycled into fiberboard for use as flooring etc.

The construction industry is slowly shifting to bamboo as a construction material due to its sustainability. The good news is that bamboo can also be a recycled house material.

You can recycle bamboo canes for building walls, fences, and making flooring joists. Due to its tensile strength, bamboo can be used for vertical and horizontal construction without additional support.

For more information on bamboo, you might be interested to read our article “What Is Sustainable Bamboo Construction? (Pros And Cons).”

11. Old Tires for Retaining Walls

A wall of stacked tires that are non longer suitable for use.
Tires are very easy to build rough and ready walls with. Their use can be controversial and might not be permitted in all jurisdictions.

The high number of cars on our roads today means that tire production will continue to increase. Unfortunately, many tires end up in landfills, posing a health hazard.

You can recycle old car tires and convert them into practical retaining walls for your garden or landscaping project. Moreover, you can use old tires to create beautiful floral planters.

12. Cardboard

Bales of cardboard stacked on a pallet ready for processing.
Cardboard is quite easy to recycle and it is amazing how many products recycled cardboard can be used to make.

Cardboard is another recycled house material often used in making furniture or thermal insulation purposes. It’s a popular choice among DIYers when constructing shelves, lighting fixtures, and other decorative features.

The best thing about using cardboard is how easily it can be processed for reuse, and the range of uses to which it can be put. For example, you can use it for insulation or building cabinets and drawers.

Is It Cheaper to Build a House With Recycled Building Material?

A row of houses with solar panels on their roofs. There is a downward pointing arrow with a dollar sign in an overlain design next to circular recycling arrows. These designs appear in the top right of the image and are white against a blue sky.
Using recycled materials in your building projects can save you money as well as helping the environment. However, ensure you do the math before deciding to use them, because sometimes it can cost you more than using standard products.

It’s cheaper to build a house with recycled building materials since you don’t have to buy expensive new materials. Moreover, building with recycled or reclaimed materials means you won’t incur waste disposal costs. Consequently, you considerably lower the overall cost of your construction project.

A crucial thing worth noting is that the type of recycled material affects the overall construction cost. For instance, while hempcrete costs approximately $135 per square meter, concrete costs $85 per square meter.

However, the long-term benefits of using hempcrete, like thermal insulation, makes it cheaper.

I must mention that recycled building materials can be a double-edged sword. Since they come pre-used, there’s no guarantee they’ll meet the building codes.

Therefore, checking if the recycled material is up to code before using it in your construction project is essential.

It’s also crucial to inspect reclaimed materials for any signs of wear and tear before using them in your home to prevent accidents.

Final Thoughts On Using Recycled Materials

Although recycled house materials provide a cost-effective way to build, they are not always suitable for each project.

For instance, while hempcrete is an excellent insulation material, it’s not a load-bearing material, thus unsuitable for load bearing walls. Therefore, you have to consider your project before deciding on a suitable recycled house material.

For a thorough rundown of sustainable building materials, read our article “23 Sustainable Building Materials You Can Use Today.”

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