True Costs of Using Recycled Materials

From my Facebook Author page: (  Note, I don’t do Facebook actively; I just have my blog posts put up automatically. There’s just not enough time in my day to be a full Facebook participant.

Hey Lloyd Kahn, Thanks again for all your hard work, you inspire us! I have noticed a lot of articles in the tiny home archives over the years mentioning such statements as “Man builds tiny home for $500…” what about his total labor time, and those often overlooked overhead costs… do you find such a statement at all misleading? I am a licensed builder myself, running a company in Portland, OR and feel as tho I often have to re-educate clients as to what the “actual costs” of construction really are (mostly the cost of my Time.) This conversation inevitably arises when during design phase we discuss the option of reclaimed materials… which almost always ends up costing more $ (sourcing, milling, install.) Hooray for folks who are living their dreams building a place of their own with their “free time”, but let’s also paint a realistic picture by including the price of time, and thus value the craft appropriately. As a builder yourself, any of your thoughts would be appreciated.

-Kiel Kellow

Kiel, You’re absolutely right, the costs (as here) are way more than $500 if you consider labor. Time is precious.


About Lloyd Kahn

Lloyd Kahn started building his own home in the early '60s and went on to publish books showing homeowners how they could build their own homes with their own hands. He got his start in publishing by working as the shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog with Stewart Brand in the late '60s. He has since authored six highly-graphic books on homemade building, all of which are interrelated. The books, "The Shelter Library Of Building Books," include Shelter, Shelter II (1978), Home Work (2004), Builders of the Pacific Coast (2008), Tiny Homes (2012), and Tiny Homes on the Move (2014). Lloyd operates from Northern California studio built of recycled lumber, set in the midst of a vegetable garden, and hooked into the world via five Mac computers. You can check out videos (one with over 450,000 views) on Lloyd by doing a search on YouTube:

4 Responses to True Costs of Using Recycled Materials

  1. Another issue I think is usually overlooked is the true hard costs of recycled material such as fuel used to retrieve the materials, energy costs for refurbishing, etc. It's not always as easy as driving to your local reclamation yard and picking up the sink or window you need. . While it may sound groovy to be able to say you sided your house in recycled barn wood I suspect it represents greater consumption of fuel, energy and time spent. When managed responsibly wood is a wonderfully renewable resource

  2. I'm currently in the final throes of building my own house. Some new materials, some recycled. I've spent 4 years of site time so far and look like being at it for 6 months more. If I was contracting out all of the tasks, the build would be well over double in cost. I had the option of staying in a high pressure / high earner job and paying someone else to do it all. However, when we did the sums, it made economic sense to forgo income and build an asset instead. If we had to sell up 12 months from now, we would still (just) be ahead financially VS having paid a builder to do it.

    What I hadn't really counted on was the immense satisfaction gained from learning and doing all of the building tasks – this alone is worth all of the (physical, mental and emotional) pain.

    The old adage – "time is money" – never said whether it was money saved or money spent!

  3. It all depends what you are looking for. For example, i was building some raised beds for my backyard this year. I noticed a neighbor down the street replacing a fence and asked about the old panel boards and they let me take what I wanted. I DIDN'T need raised beds built to last. I saved money, time, and waste.

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