Repurposing wooden pallets have been a trendy thing to do in the DIY space since 2004. That’s over 18 years of pallet gardens, dog houses, chicken coops, bed frames, yard furniture, and houses. The pallet house idea came along due to crafty people finding and reusing discarded pallets. You can also purchase them new from retail stores like Uline.com, which sell shipping supplies. However, now people are seriously considering building pallet houses as a cheaper alternative housing idea compared to traditional, stick-built houses, hempcrete, aircrete, or other more conventional alternative. Building with wooden pallets does have a few pros and cons that we will share with you, along with some pretty significant cost savings on the building side.
What are wooden pallet houses? Wooden pallet houses are tiny houses, cabins, or more conventional-sized houses made of wooden shipping pallets. These pallets can be purchased from shipping supply companies, reclaimed from a store that no longer uses them, or recycled from local landfills and recycling centers.
What to look for in a wooden pallet before using it for building?
Wooden pallets used for international transport are stamped by the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC). The IPPC standards require pallets constructed using raw wood to be treated. These pallets must be made of a material that will not carry invasive insect species or plant diseases through different countries. These stamps can tell you a lot about the safety of your wooden pallets. Not all pallets have stamps, especially those used domestically, so knowing how they are used, for example, to ship clothing, medicine, food, and dry goods. Knowing what the stamps mean and how they were used can save you from toxic materials to build your pallet house.
What do the pallet stamps mean?
1001pallets.com does an awesome job explaining all of the pallet codes and providing the resources to look up the pallet codes. However, we will tell you it is clear from their information that you should run far and fast away from any pallet that has been stamped with MB, which stands for methyl bromide. The EPA lists methyl bromide as highly toxic. It has not been used in most countries since 2005, but there are pallets still out there that have been treated with MB. It’s best to stay safe and not use these pallets.
Pros and cons of building a house with wooden pallets
Wooden pallets are a great alternative to store-bought lumber, especially if you reuse or recycle discarded pallets. However, as you’ll see in the cons section, there are a few things to watch out for before starting your build.
Pros of building a house with pallets
Cheap and often free– You can indeed find free wooden pallets. You may need to clean, sand, and make a few repairs to them before using but you can find free pallets or purchase some very cheap. You can look at Craigslist or check with local pet supply, grocery, hardware, or furniture stores. Newspaper companies, schools, and local small businesses are all excellent places to contact if you notice they have pallets sitting around outside. They may be willing to give them to you, so they don’t have to dispose of them or sell them for a small fee.
Tiny, small, or custom-sized house– Many pallet house plans show you can build a 70 square foot pallet house up to an 826 square foot pallet house. Depending on your budget, time, and resourcefulness, your pallet house can be customized to fit your needs. CutTheWood.com has ten customized plans you can follow.
Portable– Wooden pallets can be carried and moved quickly. While you may need a truck or trailer to transport enough to build a small house, 100-120 pallets, construction can be done with just a few people as they are easy to lift and carry.
Strong– Pallets are often made out of hardwood like Oak and softwood like Southern Yellow Pine. These are the two most common types of wood used in pallets built in the United States. The pine pellets are lighter than Oak, but with the way the pallet is built, they are strong and durable.
Cons of building a house with pallets
Bacteria and viruses– Yes, some pallets are used to transport food. When left outside in the elements, these old pallets, wind, rain, and heat, are the ideal place for bacteria like e-Coli and salmonella or viruses from rodent droppings to spread into the wood. Most pallets can be salvaged by power-washing thoroughly with dish soap, scrubbing any stained areas, and sealing with a chemical-free sealant. Sealants like linseed oil, Garden-Seal, or Seal-it Green Garden Box sealant would work as they are low VOC and food safe.
Chemically-treated– Methyl bromide (MB) treated pallets can cause a whole host of nasty medical issues. It is best not to try to use these pallets for a house. Just breathing in the off-gassing fumes or sawdust can be horrible for you.
Difficult to harvest– If you’re breaking down the pallet to use as single planks, you may have a more challenging time than using it as a whole pallet. Most pallets are made with low-grade hardwood that tends to splinter, crack, and break over time. They are acceptable as a whole but may not pass the deconstruction process. You can get around this by using a pallet splitter or just taking your time with a hammer and crowbar. It’s not an easy task and is time-consuming.
Rough wood– Unlike traditional lumber, the wood used in pallets is rough and often has nails or staples. You will need to saw off the nails and staples with a reciprocating saw or Sawzall to smooth the points and sand the pallet to seal and paint.
Wood acclimation– Often, you’ll find your pallets sitting outside; otherwise, they’d take up too much space inside a building. This means they could be wet dew, rain, or overall humidity. If possible, you should let it acclimate to the home’s humidity levels. Drying the pallet will cause it to shrink a little, and it could crack. You can repair any issues by drying out the pallet before you build.
Cost of building a pallet house
Depending on the type of pallets you find and whether they were free or you had to purchase them will cost your costs to vary. There are DIY pallet home plans that claim they were able to build tiny houses for $500, some for $1,200, and others are professionally built for $6,000. Customization, sourcing, and whether you do the work yourself will affect the cost. Here are a few examples at each price point.
How to build a house using wooden pallets?
At Alternative Housing Options, we will never claim to know how to build these alternative housing ideas, but we will find sources to explore if you’re interested.
Frequently asked questions about wooden pallets
How can I identify a rotten wooden pallet?
You can identify rotten pallets by hitting the boards with a hammer. If the board is rotten, it will appear “brittle” and break into a straight line. Good wood will splinter, then it is broken by force.
What kind of insulation can be used in the pallets?
You can use spray foam insulation or blown-in insulation between the slats in the pallets as you are building. Like traditional houses, you could wrap the pallets with waterproof wrap and side, stucco, or finish the outside if you don’t like the rustic wood look.