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Recycled pallet house: DIY, IKEA-style assembly instructions

Architects Suzan Wines and Azin Valy were trying to come up with the ideal building material for refugee housing in Kosovo. It should be recycled, recyclable, affordable, plentiful. They thought about bottles and tires. Then Wines tripped over a shipping pallet on the way home from work one night and something clicked.

Using only shipping pallets, or skids, the I-Beam architects created a tiny, modular home design. They also created “IKEA-style assembly instructions” so anyone- even those without building experience- could build their own home, using only hand tools (hammer, nails, “a crowbar is helpful”). “We’ve also used zip ties to build entire structures,” adds Wines, “which is pretty quick, cheap and easy and doesn’t require any tools”.

With 4 to 5 people using power tools, it takes less than a week to build a 250-square-foot home out of 100 pallets. Wines and Valy- both fairly petite- have built a couple of pallet homes themselves with the assistance of a few helpers (in locations like Prince Charles’ Royal Gardens and for the Architecture Triennale in Milan). “The only part that gets a little heavy,” explains Wines, “Is it’s easy to pre-assemble a few pallets on the ground, but lifting them up on the roof takes a couple of strong guys”.

So, doing the math, if there are an estimated 21 million pallets sent to the landfill every year. If every I-Beam home uses 100 pallets (for the 250-square-foot model), 210,000 homes could be built from pallet waste alone.

Since refugee sites tend to have plenty of pallets (used for shipping in medical equipment and supplies), the idea is that pallet homes would provide ideal temporary housing (using a tarp as protective covering), but they can be easily upgraded with insulation and cladding to become more permanent housing. Since the pallets themselves provide a wall cavity, it wouldn’t take long to gather debris, stone, mud or earth to fill it and to cover the roof with corrugated metal, wood or straw. In the longer-term palettes can be covered with stucco, plaster, or roofing tiles.

It’s been over a decade since the I-Beam architects created the Pallet House, but so far it hasn’t been put to use in a refugee situation. Wines blames property rights issues, corruption and bureaucracy.

Short of getting their work out to refugees on a massive scale, the architects have decided to release their plans to the general public via their website. For $75, they offer all the information for building your own pallet home: pdf plans, sections, elevations, photos, diagrams, renderings and a materials/ tools list.

In this video, we watch construction of Pallet Houses in Prince Charles’ Royal Gardens and at the Milan Triennale and Wines and Valy talk about their inspiration for the project and just what it takes to build your own pallet home.

[Animation credit: Samantha Perry and Thomas Longley]