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One man's garbage is another man's ... house?


June 22, 2014

The Waste House constructed a the University Of Brighton employs waste materials sourced from domestic and construction sites (Photo: BBM)

The Waste House constructed a the University Of Brighton employs waste materials sourced from domestic and construction sites (Photo: BBM)

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Can garbage be used as an eco-material to construct a house? That's the intriguing premise behind the recently-completed Waste House project, which is believed by those involved to be the first permanent British building built almost solely from waste and recycled materials. Constructed at the University of Brighton's Grand Parade campus, the Waste House is an ongoing experiment which aims to prove, in the organizer's own words, that "there is no such thing as waste, just stuff in the wrong place."

A team of 253 students and apprentices led by BBM Architects Director and senior lecturer Duncan Baker-Brown spent three months designing, and another 12 building the house, with work completed in April this year. Around 90 percent of the materials that went into making the structure are waste products that were derived from various household and construction sites.

This included some 20,000 toothbrushes (used once by business and first class aircraft passengers), 2 tons (1.8 tonnes) of denim jeans, 4,000 DVD cases, 2,000 floppy discs, and 2,000 used carpet tiles – the latter used to clad the home's facade.

The frame and floors of Waste House are made from recycled wood, and the house also features a rammed-earth wall built from compacted chalk waste and clay. The rammed earth wall, made from 11 tons (10 tonnes) of chalk waste and 10 percent of clay, adds to the structure's energy-efficiency thanks to its 35 cm (13.7 in) thickness and natural thermal properties.

In addition, 4,000 VHS video cassettes are used as wall insulation, 100 sheets of used and damaged plywood are used for flooring, joists, columns and other structural purposes, while 500 bike inner tubes serve as window seals and soundproofing.

Some of the few new materials that went into Waste House include high-performance triple-glazed windows, a breathable facade membrane, and high-performance skylights. There's also new electrical wiring and plumbing to meet modern safety and health standards.

It's hoped the lessons learned from the Waste House could lay the foundations for a new kind of sustainable architecture. A series of sensors in the external walls of Waste House will monitor the home's insulation properties at key points and measure just how efficiently the different materials perform. In the meantime, it will serve as an exhibition space and design studio, and is available to schools, colleges and community groups for green-themed events and workshops.

Baker-Brown gives a tour of the house pre-completion, revealing some of the materials used throughout.

Sources: BBM, University of Brighton

About the Author
Adam Williams Adam scours the globe from his home in North Wales in order to bring the best of innovative architecture and sustainable design to the pages of Gizmag. Most of his spare time is spent dabbling in music, tinkering with old Macintosh computers and trying to keep his even older VW bus on the road. All articles by Adam Williams

Pardon my language, but doesn't that make this a sh#t brickhouse?

Anne Ominous

That's a very cool project.

IMHO, more people would be willing to do this if there was a way to accomplish it without a long lead time or a needing a truck full of money.


I wonder what the real costs were associated with this building? Three months of design, and 12 months to build it... And to use plywood for structural roof rafters, and wall studs, I assume you would have to hire an engineer. I'd bet that the cost associated with sourcing appropriate garbage, extra designing / engineering fees, and non standard building would outweigh what it would cost to build with new materials - assuming you are an architect trying to design / build this way. If, however, you are (for lack of a better word) a redneck pulling garbage from the local dump, salvaging, and reusing discarded material with no regard for building codes or other legal parameters, then yes - feasible.

Troy Sabean

I would like to know what binder was used in the chalk/clay rammed wall. Also, were the ingredients graded (screened) to a uniform size? What was the original source to the chalk, sheetrock?

Don Duncan

So, when you say "garbage," you really mean used building materials and other dry trash. Garbage usually means food waste, which would be pretty hard to re-purpose into building materials. Video cassettes as insulation? I'd hate to think of the toxicity in case of fire.

Fred V.

I think that this is a very good project with many ideas that will be developed for the future and the experience gained by the students will add to their usefulness in the future. I do not think that it can be judged by normal standards as it is more of a concept than a house to live in, well done to all and something that will improve the future in the wrong world.


I firmly believe that particle board material is a direct source of many Thyroid health conditions. Even brand new carpeting has been linked to cancer, and other health issues. I can't begin to imagine what other toxicity levels exist in this garbage house. No, I would not live in it, even if it were for free!


QUESTION: What's the difference between a large shack and a socially responsible building of recycled materials?

ANSWER: Multiple university degrees.

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