Innovative solutions for creating healthy, efficient, eco-friendly homes

Recyclable Homes

Each year, more than 100 million tons of building-related construction and demolition debris are sent to landfills in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That debris accounts for about 40 percent of the solid waste stream in the U.S., the EPA estimates. Over the next couple of decades, 27 percent of existing buildings will be destroyed and replaced. Given those figures, you can get a good idea of how much demolition waste we’ll have to deal with in years ahead.

To get a handle on this problem and foster ideas on how to design buildings that are easy to disassemble so their materials can be reused, the EPA initiated the Lifecycle Building Challenge in 2007. The competition, which is sponsored by a number of partners, including the American Institute of Architects and West Coast Green, seeks entries from students and professionals, who are invited to submit designs for what could be called “recyclable” buildings.

In October 2008, winners of the second annual Lifecycle Building Challenge were announced, and the winning entries demonstrate imaginative thinking about the future of home building.

For instance, a winning entry called Tripod, which was submitted by students at Carnegie Mellon University, uses a “plug and play” approach to home design. At the heart of the building is a core structure housing mechanical systems. Homeowners can then easily add or subtract modular rooms, or pods, including living, cooking and sleeping spaces, as their needs change over time. Each pod is simply plugged into the core, which takes about an hour. This eliminates the need to purchase a larger home as the family grows or a smaller home as children grow up and move out. The concept reduces the frequency of demolition, and discarded pods are recyclable.

Other notable entries include the Loblolly House, which is a bolted-together modular home designed for rapid assembly, disassembly and reassembly in another location, and the Spoor House, a three-bedroom, solar-powered home made out of five standard (ISO) shipping containers bolted together. The modular containers can be easily unbolted for transportation to another location or reuse. The Spoor House utilizes passive solar heating, passive cooling and natural daylighting, and will be built to the Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standard. It just goes to show what’s possible when designers and builders think outside (or inside?) the box. For more information, visit the Lifecycle Building Challenge’s website at