Reusing items that would otherwise be thrown away to help build homes has been an element of home construction for as long as people have been building homes. While we have certainly gone through periods where recycled elements are less common, it’s easy to look back in our history to find many examples of this practice.
In many historical periods, it was common to build roads over existing roads and buildings atop of ancient foundations. In the UK, many modern roads sit on top of ancient Roman roads and a great many medieval churches still stand on sites that have multiple ruined foundations underneath them.
One of the most well-known examples of recycling being an element of home building is in ancient Rome. Spoliation has been a common practice in a variety of cultures and time periods, but is quite commonly seen in old Roman buildings; it refers to the practice of reusing building materials—often decorative—in the construction of newer buildings. Spoliation makes a lot of sense when you consider that stone construction took so much work, particularly in the creation of carved decorative elements.
In the 1960-70s, due to gas shortages and concerns over the environment, many people become very interested in building with materials that would otherwise end up in landfills or incinerators. One of the big developments during this period was “earthships”, passive solar homes that use earth-filled tires in their construction to help regulate temperature. These homes were primarily built in sunny areas, to maximise their solar-gain. Besides tires, other recycled materials commonly used in the construction of earthships include: aluminum cans, reclaimed building materials from demolitioned buildings, and other “garbage” items, like bottle caps, that can be used for flooring and wall coverings.
Nowadays, using recycled or reclaimed construction materials isn’t at all unusual. Many homes are built with wood from old buildings that have been torn down, oftentimes used for things like decorative reclaimed wood flooring. It is also possible to purchase reclaimed windows, doors, trim, other other decorative items to use in the building or renovation of your home to give it character. Other reclaimed or recycled materials used in home building are often less decorative, like fly ash and blast furnace slag used to make Portland cement, recycled plastic bottles used to make flooring and insulation, and a variety of recycled wood products.
Whichever recycled or reclaimed items you use to build your home, you can rest assured that you have helped to reduce the amount of garbage headed for your local landfill!