In an effort to tell the whole story about tiny houses I felt it necessary to show the not so pretty side of tiny houses. Namely, how much waste a tiny house generates in its construction. The reality of how much waste I have created in building my home really shocked me when I saw all the scraps loaded up onto a single trailer, ready to be hauled away to the dump.
This was a real reality check that even tiny houses have an impact, which of course I knew, but knowing something and facing the reality in the face are two different things.
A parallel for me personally – which may seem odd and obviously a much greater moral implication – was the first time I personally participated in “processing” a chicken. To be standing there, a knife in my hand with a live chicken before me, there was real coming to terms with what I was about to do. As a meat eater, it was the first time I personally had to grapple with the reality of eating meat.
I had a very similar experience when I stood in front of that trailer and was processing the fact this trailer was going to be taken to a dump and I was the cause of it. That I was creating a large amount of trash that later generations would have to contend with. Do I have that right? Am I okay with that?
So the above shot is pretty much all of the waste that my tiny house created. In this trash there is all the scraps from the framing, sheathing, roofing, siding, etc. Also here you’ll see the packaging that comes with some building products, along with some plastic sheeting that I used to cover materials that has since been torn or degraded to a point that I can’t use it any more. In total it’s about 400 lbs, it looks like a lot more, but it isn’t stacked very efficiently.
I also wanted to provide another side of this story by comparing how much waste I created to that of a traditional home. The typical home in America is about 2,600 square feet and in its construction generates about 2.5 tons (5,000 lbs) of garbage. It’s important to note that this is the onsite trash only, components like trusses and roof farmings are built elsewhere, but not accounted for. You can read about these statistics in this study (link no longer works).
Now I think its also important to talk about how I could have done better, while I need to come to terms with this amount of waste, hopefully I can help others reduce their waste.
First off it is important to note that it honestly is impossible to not have waste. We can also use reclaimed materials, which can help us reduce our waste and even offset the waste we create; the ultimate would be to have a net negative impact, but I think that would be tough. There is also a strong argument for inhabiting houses that are already built or could be rehabbed with less impact.
Our writer here on The Tiny Life, Andrea, told me once that she thought it would be impossible to have a house built of more than 95% reclaimed materials. Her house was about 80-90% reclaimed, but she had one huge advantage: She built her tiny house in a warehouse that was a building materials reclaiming company! That’s all they did, was reclaim materials and even with that, she was not able to achieve more than 80%.
Other things that might help you reduce your impact is being more efficient with materials. I think it would be tough to improve upon how I utilized my materials, but I figure I could have been better at it with enough practice. I also think that if I had a good storage space, I could better save and organize the scraps so I can keep the quality up and utilize them better. There were some pieces of wood that got damaged by rain after a tarp blew off in a storm, leaving the wood exposed to the elements and water pooling on it.
Finally, if I had chosen all my materials to be chemical free (no glues, resins, treatments) I could at the very least used the scraps to burn for heating or campfires. But in some cases I opted for treated lumber (which I still feel like was the right choice), but it meant that I shouldn’t burn it.
- How would you go about reducing your waste?
- What are some tips to reduce waste during construction?