Weird Things People Have Used to Build Houses


For years it’s been pretty standard to use wood or bricks, maybe some siding and shingles, if you want to build a house. That’s far from all you can use, though. Turns out there can be quite a lot more diversity in making houses than you’d at first believe.

10.  Coffee

Every day Americans take in about 400 million cups of coffee. That’s a heck of a buzz. But rarely do any of us think about what making coffee entails. Yes, we’re more aware of free trade coffee and responsibly getting rid of Keurig pods and so on, but what about the actual process of refining coffee from a plant in the ground to a hot cup in your hand? 

One step people don’t appreciate is the removal of the coffee husk. Every coffee bean is in a paper-like husk that needs to be discarded. It’s small and insignificant on its own, but when you need enough beans to make 400 million cups per day, that’s a lot of paper husks. Where does all that stuff go? Now it can go into a house.

Combining the husks with plastic, a company in Colombia is using the coffee waste to make panels for prefab housing. You can get one for as little as $4,500.

The point of the husk houses is to make a durable but lightweight material for homes and schools. The panels can be set up in rural and hard to reach areas, places where transporting large quantities of brick or lumber would be difficult and cost-prohibitive. 

The husks are stronger and drier than many other materials, and you can literally transport it on the back of a donkey if you need to.

9. Embalming Fluid Bottles

Anyone who owns a funeral home has to look at life a little differently than everyone else. Making a living out of death maybe makes you appreciate things in a different way. That seemed to be the case with David Brown. 

When Brown retired from the funeral business back in 1952, he was left with a massive quantity of empty embalming fluid bottles. Enough to do something remarkable. And, with the help of some friends in the business who donated their old bottles, he ended up with over half a million of them.

Brown set about making a house out of the bottles, using the square glasses vessels exactly the same way you’d use bricks. They are stacked and layered, held together with mortar, and the end result is a full sized and beautiful home reminiscent of a small castle.

The house is a tourist attraction in Canada and can be visited during business hours, if you’re so inclined. Word is that when you go inside, there is a distinct odor, however.

8. Mushrooms

Is there anything mushrooms can’t do? They can feed you, kill you, and even turn some lower life forms into fungal zombies. And now they’re primed to be places you live. Looks like the Smurfs knew what was up after all.

In order to make a mushroom brick you don’t chop up mushrooms like you might do to make something out of wood fiber. Instead, corn husks are mixed with mycelium, the filament-like vegetative part of the mushroom. The mix is put into a brick shaped mold and in five days it has grown into a solid, lightweight brickNo carbon footprint and no waste material.

The bricks don’t have to be grown from corn husks, they can grow from the waste husk of any crop really, like rice. That means the method can adapt easily to any place in the world. 

The bricks are resistant to fire, mold, and water. They are also stronger than concrete, pound for pound, but much lighter. Material costs are much lower as well, meaning making a mushroom house in the future could make things considerably cheaper.

7. 3D Printed Mud

When 3D printing first arrived, it promised to usher in a new way of designing and creating almost anything imaginable. And while the process has been slow to roll out in a way that is practical to most people in the real world, that promise was not exaggerated. 3D printing really is changing the way we produce everything, even houses. Take, for instance, houses printed with mud.

The idea of 3D printing a house out of traditional materials has its own merits – we’ll look at that later – but for people who live in countries where resources are scarce and the infrastructure to build homes from concrete is not readily available, a new method has been developed.

An Italian company has created a 3D print capable of producing a house using mud and natural fiber as the construction material. In many parts of the world, this mixture is common for building homes, but it is also a labor-intensive job that is usually done by hand.

The 3D printing method makes building from mud more efficient. Greater surface area allows the mud to dry faster, and also the printer is able to lay out the material in a way to increase the strength and durability.

6. Seaweed

If you live on an island or near a beach, sometimes the natural resources available for home building can be limited. Traditionally the homes of island people were often made from things like palm. But thanks to the efforts of a Mexican inventor named Omar Vázquez Sánchez, there may be a superior alternative for people near the sea, or anywhere, really. Sanchez has developed a way to make bricks from seaweed.

Similar in concept to making bricks out of other plant-based materials, the bricks are about 60% seaweed, and the rest is natural clay or adobe. The end product is very similar to a traditional adobe brick, and just as good at regulating heat, but half the price. And it also provides a secondary benefit by helping clean up beaches, which in many areas are becoming overrun with sargassum seaweed.

Sanchez made the bricks by hand, and by foot, stomping the seaweed into pulp with bare feet before mixing up the bricks concoction. When finished, the bricks are strong, waterproof, and devoid of any seaweed stink, which is something most of us wouldn’t think about.

5. Newspaper

They say you can only fold a piece of paper in half 7 or 8 times, depending on the size of it. While it may be weak and easy to damage when it’s thin, when it folds enough it becomes damn near impenetrable. And maybe that’s part of the inspiration for the Rockport Paper House. That there’s more to paper than meets the eye.

The house was built in 1922 and is still standing today. The frame, walls, and roof are made of wood, but the walls are another matter. About 100,000 newspapers were layered together with homemade glue and then varnished to make the walls, doors, and even furniture in the house. You can even read the papers if you want.

The house, which is a museum these days, even features a functional clock made of paper and a fireplace. The fireplace is also technically functional, though it seems unlikely anyone has ever used it.

4. Cardboard

As a kid, nothing was cooler than your parents buying something like a new fridge and then giving you the giant cardboard box to play with afterwards. It may not have been a full sized house, but it made a cool fort. These days cardboard construction has evolved. Cardboard houses are real and pretty amazing.

The Dutch design company Fiction Factory came up with a creative and industrious way of using cardboard to produce houses that are functional and attractive, despite the cheap material. Basing the construction around a prefab frame, massive rolls of corrugated cardboard are glued together and wrapped around the frame like wrapping paper. Twenty-four layers come together to produce a strong and well-insulated structure.

The final product has to be treated to make it waterproof, and then a layer of wood panelling is secured for added protection and also just to make the whole thing look like a house. 

The whole house can be produced in a day, and it can be designed to custom specifications. Since they’re modular, you can add bits and pieces to meet your needs. 

3. Industrial Waste

As much as houses are always being built, it’s worth remembering that they are often being torn down as well, along with many other structures that end up in industrial landfills. So what happens to all that old concrete and brick that was once a useful building but is now just trash? It gets a second chance.

Dutch architects have started recycling industrial waste making new bricks out of the rubble of old buildings, which is something so obvious it seems curious no one had really thought of it before.

Old materials including things like ceramic and glass were all forged together to make new bricks so that the end product wouldn’t look like a mosaic of long dead buildings. For their first project, 15-tonnes of waste was turned into the facade of a new house in Rotterdam that matched the style and aesthetic of local architecture. 

2. 3D Printed Concrete

While 3D printed mud homes have been making a difference in less industrialized parts of the world, in America and other Western countries 3D printed concrete homes are becoming a threat to traditional housing construction with its fast and cheap alternative to the old school method of house building.

Printed houses can cost as little as $10,000 and the end product is all but indistinguishable from a traditional house. That said, the first 3D printed house offered for sale in the United States was listed on Zillow. The home featured 1,400 square feet of living space including 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and a 2-car garage. Just because it’s a cheap construction method doesn’t always mean the savings will pass on to buyers, though, as this particular house was listed at $299,999. But for an identical house produced traditionally, it would have cost much more.

Using an elaborate 3D printing rig, a machine called the Autonomous Robotic Construction System, or ARC, is able to lay a foundation, interior and exterior walls, and even include space for pipes and vents according to a schematic. The entire process to lay a house from start to finish takes 6 to 8 hours.

The printer puts down layer after precise layer of concrete. The final product is incredibly strong and durable, but also as much as 50% cheaper than a traditional construction job. Unfortunately, local building codes are not very lenient when it comes to how homes can be built, and the 3D printing method is not permitted or permitted with tight conditions in many places. 

1. Lego

There has probably never been a single kid in the world who had access to Lego that didn’t build at least a basic replica of a house. Even if it was just a box with a door, it’s nearly impossible to resist trying it out. For some people, this compulsion got a little too intense. That led to a life-size, fully livable Lego house.

James May, from the show Top Gear, assembled a team in 2009 to construct a life-size house out of Lego. WIth over 3 million bricks, the home had all the expected amenities, including a working toilet and a shower. 

One thousand volunteers helped assemble the 20-foot tall structure at a vineyard in Surrey. Unfortunately, after it was done, the vineyard wanted the land back to use it for anything other than housing a Lego house. So the work of finding a homeowner began.

Weirdly enough, the house caused a bit of controversy because it was intended to go to Legoland, but May says the Legoland people backed out of the deal because moving it would be too expensive. Legoland, for their part, said they were shut out of the construction. And the vineyard gave a deadline for someone, anyone, to take it lest it be hacked apart with a chainsaw.

Legoland is the only company allowed to display Lego in Britain. That meant no charity or other attraction could display the house publicly. Likewise, they couldn’t even disassemble it and give the bricks away to kids because the bricks were donated and legally they can only be given to a charitable cause. Rather than have it chainsawed, the pieces were taken apart and given to charity, so at least some good came from it.

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