Tiny House Construction Waste

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.

Your Turn!

  • How would you go about reducing your waste?
  • What are some tips to reduce waste during construction?


  1. I would purchase a cheap tent with a floor and store the scraps in it.
    Then I would surf the web for DIY scrap projects and have lots of fun.

  2. Great article, really thought provoking Ryan. Another thing I’m trying with my new build is designing everything to lumber lengths. It helps by not only making much fewer cuts but also reducing waste.

  3. I pretty much avoided all the waist when building our tiny house. We used green rough sawn lumber from a local saw mill. When the house was done, all that was left over were tiny ends from trimming boards to square.

    Those have been used for anything from starting a fire in the wood stove, to small carving I have made in my shop. I had one small piece of metal left from the roof which covers my generator “dog house”.

    There was a little left over fiberglass insulation which I gave away on Craig’s list.

    That’s about it. The total unusable scrap was probably about a wheel barrow full.


  4. Looks like some pretty useful stuff in there still. If you set up a small storage shed for the leftovers you often find uses for the stuff over time. For long term storage of wood scraps I find a simple rack-like structure with lots of air circulation and protection from weather keeps things in reasonable shape for quite a while. It’s very satisfying to reach into the pile for just the right piece to get something done. Problems can occur with wasps, mice or other critters taking up residence though.

  5. One way to reduce waste in construction is to use someone else’s waste! I have used and frequently send people to the local “ReStore”, which is a Habitat-for-Humanities building outlet. They take donations and tear down buildings to stock their store with reusable materials and fixtures.
    As mentioned above by “Tim” I also pass on usable materials to others. And last, to show you the ingenuity of some, a friend of mine built a chicken coop out of 2×4 ends from several local housing tracts under construction. He laid the 2×4 ends like bricks with a little glue and nails and built a beautiful structure from these discards.

  6. The above personal experiences, and thoughtful suggestions made above, are ALL valid, have significant merit. Combining ALL of them would be very practical, and result in not having, albeit little in comparison to ‘normal’ sized home waste, minimal to none, waste building a Tiny Home.

    Only thing I would add to ALL above suggestions, worth taking the time to read and think upon, is to set up a small ‘storage’ shed TO START with. Long before you begin to build. This could be erected, recycled or rented, storage space. Perhaps someone you know would allow you to erect a storage building on their property, such as is commonly seen and used by homeowners for lawn mowers etc., not a haphazard eyesore. Irregardless, almost anywhere in the USA, one can rest ‘storage space’ for $25 a month, yes, yes, yes..you can! Not $50,$25. Not much space, enough most likely.

    This is how I am storing already salvaged wood, old doors, etc. I am nowhere near accumulating all I hope and intend to before I build. I am using an old metal building that was on the property I am living on now. It’s pretty ugly, but water tight. I check on things in there, mostly to assure that no racoons have managed somehow make it their home. I used a good bit of steel wool, leftover, old, caulk, and just whatever I could scrounge at the time, to seal in the small building from local wild life intrusion and the elements. Roof had been ‘tar pitched’ as had the old original tin shingle roof of big house, the last and only time I had roof so treated, had the shed roof done too. It still is doing the job.

    I don’t throw out a caulk tube that has maybe 1/4 left in it. I have saved these over the last few years, and use them for just such type need. I caulked the inside of that building, still didn’t use all I had, but did use all the oldest stuff I had. I had to put a new metal roof on this old Vic I am currently in, and I saved usable metal roofing pieces everyday. Took them 2 weeks due to weather, 2 stories and 4 gables to complete the roof job. So I had the time, between chasing down flying metal (ever had a metal roof put on your regular size house?) to collect enough to use for a really nice dog house, and chicken coop. Who knows how it will all get used, especially the paint in the basement I have collected, and dated. PLEASE lets not ‘go there’ as to how long paint is ‘good’, as opinions and experience vary greatly.

    Point is, I am salvaging NOW, planned it this way. Still waiting to ‘find’ a list of items. Yes a LIST, fully descriptive, and in the hands of friends and family, is necessary. People will want you to take anything they don’t want, once the ‘word’ gets out…..so if not on list, it is easier to say ‘no thank you’. If on the list, it is a race to get it once I or family/friends spots something or knows about items. I have accumulated lots of tile, good size and condition remnant cuts of plywood, 2×4’s, this way. So many potential uses for those end cuts. Nice piece I would keep is easily seen in your ‘to the dump’ trailer. ALL my scrap/end cuts come off construction sites! I never turn away from windows (no glass, no problem) doors, nor tile either, also easy to store ! I don’t plan to tile any of the Tiny House floors, but I am going to use it, mostly using mosaic technique as : kitchen backsplash – including behind the range, under range vent, the floor for mini loft (a la Fenci) for my mini jungle of PLANTs (in some mosaic containers) and tote storage, to create a shower ‘pan’, ..so many things actually.

    I also collect rock from construction sites! A bit trickier to say the least for me to haul away, yet never have missed getting the one’s I wanted. Why? Landscaping for this and that purpose.

    I do plan to use ‘blue’ plywood and 2/4’s, and other chemically treated wood. All not used, will be saved, all the little pieces, saved. My mess, I will NOT bury, burn or dump a bit of it.

    As the lady says above, will then get busy making ‘DIY’ things. Waste not, want not.

    So, I suggest salvaging , and storing on sale purchases that which you probably will need and use to build, saving a lot of money (like kitchen cabinets). Afterwards, save what can’t be used, but is usable. Get creative, become inspired, and create.

    My mess, My problem.

  7. Two additional tricks:

    Plan your building around standard sizes of construction materials – if as much as possible is done in increments of 4 feet, you can use most standard construction materials with minimal cutting.

    Use freecycle. If you need to get rid of stuff due to lack of storage, post it to the nearest freecycle group (just google your town and state + “freecycle”). People always need scraps for kid’s projects, chicken coops, whatever. There’s little that really has to go to the dump. For example – even wallboard scraps can be saved and the plaster from them used (over the course of years), as part of the soil/fertilizer mix for tomato plants.

  8. I am scouring the net about tiny houses and actually googled ‘tiny house on wheels that does not waste material” and wound up here. my house is very standard and utilizes standard dimensions and uses mostly full sheets of plywood with almost no waste ok one strip 4″ by 8’. i have found metal roofing where they form it and cut it to size so no waste there. i have a cutting list and a list of scrap from such cutting list to use when needed and have used several pieces. i have a year or two to plan as i save money. trying to figure out how to make old windows to suit my needs.

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