Pallet House Construction Alternative

This holiday season has been super busy for me, at work and home. You might have noticed by the lack of posts here and my other blogs. But this particular tiny house design concept has been stewing in my head ever since EJ, one of my readers, sent me a link to a very cool shipping pallet structure. I took this idea and went off on my own tiny house tangent.

I’m currently using pallets to build my tiny free house but keep running into big challenges that this approach would solve. Pallets are often made from hardwood which is really hard to work with. Pallets are also not super sturdy when you screw, nail, or bolt them together vertically. They are really best lying flat and supporting the weight of something heavy. I suspect that laying them horizontally and stacking and nailing them together might be a smarter way to go.

This approach would also make an incredibly insulated structure on almost any size. Think of it like building with any kind of big block, much like how one builds with straw bales or adobe. The difference here is that pallets can be found in trash piles and have an open cavity that would need to be filled with some kind of insulation.

Roof – The roof should really be framed from dimensional lumber. Pallets walls seem safe enough but anything that goes over your head should light weight and strong. A conventionally framed roof seems the most logical. I don’t think I’d ever put a flat roof on a house myself. I’ve got a flat roof now and have been fighting a leak so a shed or pitched roof with a metal surface seems like the best way to go.

Floor – The floor could also be made from pallets but covered in plywood and laid on a dry flat surface. Placing wood pallets on the ground will invite termites and other infestations. I think the best floor in this house would actually be a concrete slab which would also act a a nice heat sink.

Walls – The walls could be covered with anything, stucco, pallet boards, plywood, etc. I like the idea of stucco because the walls as so thick it almost looks like an adobe. The wall cavity would be filled with some kind of insulation. I imagine some kind of low emission environmentally friendly spray foam would be ideal. Stuffing the pallet cavities by hand with something like packing peanuts would be another potentially free option. But the spray foam just seems like it would be much faster and air tight.

Windows & Doors – In college I had the opportunity to help a friend design and build an adobe house in Abiquiu, New Mexico. In an adobe the openings are framed with large wood bucks made from at least 2×6 pressure treated lumber. A header is then embedded in the block wall above the opening. The walls here would be much lighter than adobe but window and door bucks with a header over them seems like a good solution for pallet walls too. The windows and doors themselves could be hand made, dumpster dived, or store bought.

What do you think? Is this crazy or what? Have you seen anything like this before? I’ve not been able to find anyone online who has build a house like this. Have you?

44 Comments Pallet House Construction Alternative

  1. Kent

    I am wondering if you could take the wall width down one more notch and cut the pallets into 4ths or 12 inches wide by 40. You would still have plenty of insulation area, your weight would be cut in half and you would use half the number of pallets.

    Reply
  2. Michael Janzen

    Great point Kent! I was thinking that 12″ might not be enough width for a stacked pallet wall but I bet it would be fine. I’ll draw it up and noodle over it more.

    Reply
  3. Grant Wagner

    I can’t help but be a little conserned about the insulation or sheeting. While this would make for easy framing, it seems quite wasteful in terms of number of required pallets, and the ease of adding insulation. Any sort of loose fill (straw or fiberglass) would take a lot of time.

    Reply
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  7. Dan

    Does this meet any safety code requirements and are electrical wiring and plumbing incorporated into the design to make the house livable? Are there larger designs, say for someone who may want to have more than one large room? This is an interesting concept and I’ve long thought about building an eco-friendly home with little impact on the environment. But of course can it be done without giving up some of the luxuries of modern living?

    Reply
    1. Michael Janzen

      Dan,

      I’d be surprised to find any pallet house that has been approved by any building inspector. But just like straw bale homes, I think a pallet house could eventually be acceptable by planning departments. It would just take some work to get the approvals.

      As far as size I don’t see why a larger home couldn’t be built this way as long as a conventional roof were used.

      -Michael

      Reply
    2. Robert Dunkel

      Yes, any house can have modern conveniences or even luxurious items, there was a small house that was built and it had a marble covered tub, the marble came from the kitchen counter tops out of a large home that was being torn down and another that was being renovated, they just cut and fitted the pieces of marble and they used other reclaimed items that made their look like a million dollars even though if I remember right it cost a total of 50 grand, but because of the other amenities and careful planning the house was worth 90 grand, it even had a natural pool in the back, and a cool outdoor wood fired kitchen.
      Just because a place is smaller, you can add all the amenities/conveniences you want and be quite comfortable, some modern items and older items will bring out the most environmentally and economical results to where you will be very happy.
      I know this is an old post but could help others who are looking.

      Reply
  8. Brian Gorski

    I’m loving this idea, and think it might even be a great way to eventually build my kids a club-house.

    I think for insulation, wouldn’t it make sense to use recycled denim insulation? I’m thinking this may be more environmentally friendly then the spray foam option, even though that is a great option.

    I also wonder if you couldn’t start heating/cooling it with passive geothermal/solar, that would make things very “green” Add day lighting, or with the shed roof, put windows on the higher side, and viola, free sun/heat/cooling/lighting, use a composting toilet, and a solar oven, and I think you have everything. (There’s an idea for making a solar oven more “traditional” on my website, but I don’t know if it would work.)

    Reply
  9. Elizabeth goertz

    Form follows function. How you use the pallets would depend on your needs. The tiny free house on wheels needs thin, light and strong walls. A tree house would have the same needs, and there for you would use them on edge.
    A house on the ground might use the stacked method. Depending on your climate you might want 24″ inch walls. There is no one best way.
    If you are trying to make cheep, temporary housing for disaster victims, you might use them on edge, if some one can come up with a fastening system to quickly and cheaply fasten them together. I’m thinking along the lines of the mettle joice hangers with the teeth you can bang in with a hammer and add a screw or two. Even if you had to ship in a pallet or two of them. grin.

    Reply
  10. Michael Janzen

    I think you’re right Elizabeth… there are many ways and none of them are right or wrong, only right or wrong for the purpose they serve.

    I love the idea of some kind of metal bracket that could be used to quickly fasten them. I had never thought of that. With something like that designed for pallet buildings the pallet structure could be assembled very quickly.

    I’ll look and see if something off-the-shelf could be adapted. Great idea!

    Reply
    1. Hannah Adams

      Hello Michael!

      Did you ever happen to find something off-the-shelf that would work well? I realize this is an old thread, but here’s to hoping you see this comment :-)

      I’m thinking of building an 8×12 tiny pallet house to live in while I’m building my tiny house on wheels. If you see this, let me know what you’ve learned :-)

      Cheers,
      H.

      Reply
      1. Michael Janzen

        No nothing. I bet the closest thing would be metal strapping since its versatile. But I’m not an engineer so not sure how best to apply it for the safest assembly.

        Reply
  11. Terry

    My name is Terry and I have been building small mountain cabins from pallets for about 11 years I have had many differn’t ones mostly just exsperiment’s, I plan on building one in 2009 to be permanent. I love building with pallets and look forward to my latest cabin thank’s for your web site I thought I was alone and alittle crazy.

    Reply
  12. Alan

    Sorry to find this discussion so late…I’m actually taking a class called Organic Architecture and have been given the daunting task of designing a dwelling for an indigenous pop somewhere in the world…. So I stayed home in my thinking; am currently developing plans for pallet construction for homeless, multi-unit dwelling with as much sustainable (and re-claimed) tools as possible…anyway, thanks for the ideas, pics, and efforts.

    Reply
  13. Michael Janzen

    Hi Alan. Sounds cool. On friday I’ll be posting a concept for the homeless. It won’t be pallet house based but it might have some stuff you’re welcome to use as you see fit.

    As far as pallets are concerned, if I were to do it again I’d stack them up like I’ve posted here and not put them on a trailer. No matter how you stack pallets they are heavy. But stacked up flat they could provide a great insulating shell.

    Love to see what you come up with too.

    -Michael

    Reply
  14. Elizabeth Goertz

    I recently discovered a family farm near by that has sheep, they shear them every year but have not sold the wool for the past couple of years due to low wool prices, I am considering making them an offer and using wool for insulation. Wool is fire retardant and natural, but will moths eat it? will the little house smell like a wet sheep? Has any one out there had experience with this?

    Reply
    1. NancyGraven

      Hi, I haven’t gotten through all the comments yet. but I wanted to offer a caution about using wool as an insulator… Wool, when burned, gives off Cyanide gas (hope I’m remembering the gas right) This contributed to the deaths of so many people in the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire, My memories of the news coverage said that some people were found dead in their seats due to the poison given off by the burning woolen drapes. I am not saying you shouldn’t use wool as an insulator, (it’s a great green idea) but you might want to consider some sort of treatment for it to make it fire retardant. Also, it’s going to need a LOT of cleaning first (which will pull out most of the smell). If you don’t want to do it yourself, there are fiber mills who will do it, Ohio Valley Natural Fibers is closest to me, and I know that Kent and Ginny will take your fiber to whatever level of finishing you want, short of actually knitting your sweater!(ok they MIGHT do that too) They can make the wool into batts which could be laid into the pallets as they are stacked.

      Reply
  15. Cara

    I am looking at building with pallets, but putting them vertically – two deep and alternating so the “seams” are offset. The pallets are fastened to each other since they are double think and offset and so you wouldn’t need to worry about a bracket system. This would make it strong enough and would use fewer pallets. It also wouldn’t be so heavy. For insulation, I would stuff with straw, then encase it in chicken wire and stucco over the entire wall. Vertical posts every 8 ft. (Conventional roof)

    Doing a test wall – we were able to screw together a 14ft long by 10 ft high wall in just a few hours. Stuffing with straw went quickly by using a mop to shove the straw down and we had the chicken wire stapled on and one coat of stucco applied all in one day.

    I’m hoping to start on a house in the Spring.

    Reply
    1. Kate

      Hi Cara
      I am interested in the method which you are using. I have seen pictures of a small place made with singe layer pallets stuffed with starw mixed with clay slip and then earth plastered over.
      I wish to do a trailer house ( gypsy wagon) and perhaps I will sacrifice floor space to have a double wall pallet structure.
      How is your test wall?
      Thanks everyone for the ideas here on this forum.

      Reply
  16. Gill

    Has anyone thought of papercrete, or for that matter simple papermache, (recycled newspaper) poured into the wall cavity? There is some way I seem to remember for treating it, to discourage rot and insects. Seems it would make a great sustainable insulation.

    Peace!

    Reply
      1. Blair Walker

        I know this was posted for ever ago but for the sake of future readers if you add wallpaper paist and lime dust to papermache it will solidify better and keep the bugs away

        Reply
  17. Anthony

    Don’t think that would be as fire frindly as woold tho. If there was a fire the wool would not burn and help to put the fire out.

    The pater is a good idea tho if your not to worried about fire safty.

    Reply
  18. JimmyBlitz

    This is one of the best things for house design that has come along in a long time .I whant to build something like this for my self wife and kids .On the place we have out in bfe .And get out of the city . It just seems that geting someone to come out and say you may live in it .Mite be hard .Half to look into that .Befor I start halling pallets out there lol

    Reply
  19. mack hill

    why not use rice hulls, there lightweight ,durable,cheap,fireproof,,nothing for bugs to eat. as your boarding up walls fill it walls. the voids are small so if you lose a little so what.

    Reply
  20. mack hill

    if you want a bigger house,just make interior wall out of pallet to,keep rooms small so spans won,t be to long. bring pallet walls right up to roof truss that are made from pallets..

    Reply
  21. Teleia

    I know I’m coming in almost 2 full years after this thread began, but I’m in the planning stage of building a little house, and I was mulling over the idea of using pallets.

    My building knowledge is pretty much zilch, but I’d thought that maybe pulling apart the pallets, sanding them, and finishing them might work for the outer layer on a house. I was pretty much thinking tradition framing, insulation and roofing.

    Even if the pallet wood is heavy, since it’s not going to be roofing, it should be ok, right? I’d love some input…

    Reply
    1. Joe

      Hey Teleia,

      Plenty of people seem to look at the threads on this website… You’re not too late.

      I purchased a used 14″ woo planer and have been planing down old fence boards for interior trim and exterior shingling. As long as your framing, sheathing, and insulation are intact and weatherproof, you will be fine. If you plan on sealing the boards, you take care of the weatherproof aspect.

      Another idea I’ve been kicking around is the one on this page ( http://pursuingwabi.com/2007/11/05/shou-sugi-ban/ ) I really like the look, and I imagine it could be done with oak pallet wood as well…

      Keep us posted on your progress!

      Cheers,

      Joe

      Reply
  22. saifuddin

    i just thinking how we want to fill up the blank space in the pallet(for wall).if i choose stucco,how could i apply the stucco for the wooden pallet house especially for the insulation for the wall.please answer my question.i really want to know because i am doing for my final project regarding this topic.

    Reply
  23. allen11

    This dough requires quite a lot of cards but is surface worth the endeavour. It is a real temperate and smarmy dough making it nonsuch for mille feuille, vol-au-vents and sausage rolls.

    _______________
    allen11

    Reply
  24. Jessie Ghig

    Ooh! I love the idea of using pallets for interior walls. I’ve also seen somewhere (though of course I can’t find it now) where countertops have been built from the planks from pallets, then sealed. Now that I think about it, you could probably use pallet wood to build almost everything you need inside: chairs, table, sofa, shelves.

    I found this
    from Green Echo Services… it talks about different things people have done with pallets.

    Reply
  25. Paris

    Could this be done two story or much bigger? Like 800sqft plus!? If so I would buy plans off someone!!

    Reply
  26. Kimberly

    We have been building our own home for the past 5 yrs just on our paychecks, surviving my loss of 2 teaching jobs due to the economy and surgeries, so we have been cutting all kinds of corners financially but not safety. We have been taking pallets apart and are running them thru a saw to make them tongue and groove. We will sand and stain them and plan to use the boards for interior walls rather than drywall. It is free!! The pallets come from a local air force base that a family member has a contract with to have their pallets dumped at her landfill. We go out there and pick the good ones out, salvage what we can, and haul it home. Lots of labor, no cost. We have been buying these as we find them on Craigslist, newspaper listings, etc so we have a lot stocked up waiting to go in. I bought brand new hardwood, unfinished kitchen cabinets for $400! We have all the appliances from clearance at Lowe’s-all at 90% off. Now we need plumbing, electrical, hvac and the labor to put it all together. We are in debt with medical bills so are at a standstill but have been lucky so far and hope to complete without a mortgage. We do have the house roofed, almost completely framed, concrete foundation and basement floor poured. Just need exterior.

    Reply
  27. Pam

    I was wondering how the people made out with the clay/straw infill? I have been thinking about that but was wondering about mold where the clayslip rests against the boards of the pallet. Clay slip/straw has been used for ages in Europe but I can’t find any details about it used like this..even old sites I had found earlier are difficult to find again now Google etc is deciding what people need to know and selectively providing links, mostly from commercial sites.

    Would it work to stuff the cavity with this straw/clay slip mixture and let it dry for a month or so and then do the exteriors and interior sides? It would provide a good deal of insulation.. but would still need to be finished so as not to allow moisture to get into the interior..If someone has done this it would be WONDERFUL to hear exactly what they did. and how it’s turned out. I’m old and this will be a one shot deal for me so need to get it right!

    Reply
  28. Jerry McIntire

    Insulation: I’m surprised that dense-packed cellulose has not been mentioned for insulation. Once the outer and inner walls are on, you can blow all of those cavities full of recycled newspaper which is inexpensive, treated with fire retardant (and natural) borax, insulates very well and is probably the easiest solution for installing insulation in these walls. I would not want to be the spray foam operator trying to fill the pallets with all of the obstacles to spraying. I have sprayed. You want large, open, easily accessible cavities. Instead, close up the ext and int walls, drill 2″ holes at regular intervals on the inside, where the base trim will cover them, and blow in cellulose. When it is dense packed, it is a strong air sealant also.
    Roof: to get code approval, you need a structure that will be recognized as strong enough to support the roof. Along with dim. lumber for framing, posts at the four corners (on the small design above) would support even a large snow load. Then the pallets are infill, which is how straw bale houses usually meet code. I also like shed roofs, easier to frame and more storage area up there.
    Exterior: I’m with you, stucco or natural clay would look good and be the lowest maintenance. You can put color in it and never have to paint your house. Or you can whitewash it with lime which carbonates– that means it pulls CO2 out of the atmosphere and binds it to your wall! Your home becomes a greenhouse gas sink. We’ve done this with our 1920 stucco house which has NEVER been painted.
    Interior walls: plywood, or natural plaster over chicken wire stapled to the pallets for that adobe/clay house look.
    Wall thickness: I would stick with half pallets, 24″ walls because you’d have much more insulation value and the structure would be more stable.

    Reply
    1. Jerry McIntire

      Floor: forgot to add that I would prefer a dirt floor (as in dirt cheap). It is softer and less expensive than concrete, and functions better as a heat sink/thermal mass for insolation. In order to keep it dry, put wing insulation around the perimeter of the house (rigid foam boards extending at least 4′ on a 12º angle down into the ground) and dig out under the house, place breaker run/road base (large rock) first, then sand, then a vapor barrier, then more sand, then the dirt (clay/sand/chopped straw mix) floor.

      Reply
  29. Darryl

    I built my small 672sqft pallet house 4 years ago and have been living it for 3 years now , to get the strength that you need . You have to cut and stack them like bricks , and run your outside sheeting horizontel . Do some more research and you will see what I am talking about .

    Reply

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