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A doghouse named "Scrappy": a doghouse built from waste stream materials.

Several years ago I built an 8' x 12' "yard cabin" using some recycled and scrap materials. With an interest in sustainability issues, I was intrigued with the idea of building a small house version from locally available materials and one that would require very little energy for heating and cooling. Other concerns intervened and I never got around to starting on it. However, with the events of the last few years (deteriorating economy, increasing political instability and major climatic events), I realized that for me the time for this project had come. With these thoughts in mind I returned to the idea of building a small house using recycled and scrap materials where possible. The house I designed is small, simple and could be built by the owner (with mentoring). It should also be very affordable, probably costing under $35/sq. ft.; i.e., the actual construction cost for an 800 sq. ft. home should be around $25,000.

With 30 years of remodeling experience I know that using odd-sized and recycled materials have two fundamental problems: extra time spent "making big boards out of little ones" and avoiding a design that is driven by the component materials; the end result becomes a collection of pieces--a mess (driftwood furniture comes to mind). Attempting to build a double garage-size house before resolving these problems would be very time consuming, and I decided to simplify the process by starting with a small 3' x 4' built-to-scale model. As an exercise in sustainability, I decided to construct my scale model using only scraps available from the throw-away box of my favorite building supply center, plus what I had on hand: a few left over cedar shakes and a bundle of 20-year-old asphalt roofing shingles. The challenge (and fun) of this project was to turn a bunch of junk into something attractive.



The design for the small house version is a rectangular box with one or two rooms, a sleeping loft, a covered front porch and extended eaves to protect the walls from the elements. A curved ridgeline is added for appearance. It was only after starting to build the scale model that I realized that it could have a practical use.

With one or two minor changes it became ... a doghouse! The sleeping loft became a storage bin for toys, food and bowls, and the main roof opens on hinges for cleaning. This doghouse will be donated to the Humane Society as our dogs are of the indoor variety.

After looking over my scrap collection, I decided that the exterior walls would have cedar shakes, wainscoting and a stuccoed upper section (stucco hides blemishes in siding materials). The interior walls and ceiling would be finished with thin plywood. The insulation would be dried grass gathered from a near-by field and a few pieces of Styrofoam collected on one of our many trash-collecting strolls along the Columbia Riven The insulation value would be approximately R-10 value (roughly equal to a standard 2 x 4 wall). The floor would be left uninsulated in anticipation of a thick foam dog bed. The loft/bin would be a plywood box with a lift-off roof for easy access for cleaning. The bundle of shingles I had on hand was more than enough for the roof. Their dark-green color influenced the colors to be used for the exterior finish. Cedar trim would be used at the vertical corners and to demarcate the transition line between the shakes and stucco. The stucco area of the walls and the loft exterior would be done in cream with the trim and wainscoting done in green.

Building the scale model ... or doghouse

My intention was to use pallets for making the walls and roof. The pallet framing was more than adequate, but the gaps between the pallet slats would have to be filled to make a smooth and weather-tight surface. This would not be an issue for the roof, as the heavy asphalt shingles could easily bridge the gaps between the slats.

For the stuccoed wall area my initial thought was to stuff the pallet walls with grass insulation, which in turn would fill the gaps between the slats and provide a sufficient base for the stucco finish. I started with one wall section to see how this technique would work. The pallet-wall was stuffed with grass insulation, and a stucco finish was applied over the exterior wall section. In the gap areas between slats the stucco sagged into the insulation and the wall ended up looking ... well ... sad.

Back to square one. My options were to fill the gaps between the slats with narrow strips of wood or cover the entire wall with thin plywood. I elected the plywood option. To avoid the problem of cracks appearing in the stucco whenever the doghouse was moved, all seams were covered with a two-inch drywall nylon mesh tape. The plywood-covered walls were then stuccoed (the mix was made by stirring powdered Portland cement into a water-based primer until the desired consistency was achieved).

The result was satisfactory, but a new problem emerged. The weight of the one stucco-finished wall was noticeably heavy. A doghouse made with four such walls, a heavy asphalt roof and a plywood floor would be too heavy and awkward to be comfortably moved. I resolved this problem by building the structure in component form, with floor, walls and roof built separately. The walls are fastened together at the comers to form a single wall unit, which fits snugly over the floor and secured with a few easily removed screws.

For the roof I used two ridge beams spaced 14-inches apart, which extend past the front wall to support the porch roof framing. The curved ridgeline presented an interesting construction challenge that took several attempts to arrive at a workable solution. The roof is made from cut-to-size pallets. The roofing shingles are nailed directly to the pallets while thin plywood covers the interior surface (ceiling). The fascia boards are cut out from 3/4-inch plywood and nailed directly to the ends of the ridge beams. The twin ridges also support the storage loft. The original position of the loft was moved from over the front porch to between the front and back walls; this provided a larger storage bin and simplified roof framing. The floor is a single piece of 3/4-inch plywood positioned under the walls and resting on 2" x 4" supports.


All exterior surfaces received a primer coat and two topcoats. The shakes, trim pieces and fascia are painted green to match the roofing. The stuccoed walls and the loft exterior are painted in cream to create a color contrast.

On balance, I am satisfied with the completed model. Perhaps the most important lesson learned from working with recycled materials is to have all the materials on hand before starting. As it turns out pallets vary in size and thickness and trying to use two different-sized pallets together can create a problem. Learning how to work with different materials is critical for creating an attractive design, which could not be achieved from a design drawn on paper.

Sources of free materials

* Construction and remodeling sites: odds and ends of plywood, framing material, metal roofing and siding, cedar shake roofing. (Cut off the bottom 3" or 4" and use the reverse side.)

* Lumberyard waste bins--behind manufacturing sites--mostly pallets.

* Detritus found along shores of waterways.

Tools used:

* Normal hand tools

* Skill saw

* Jig saw

* Small table saw (handy but not essential)

* 1/4" drill
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Author:Barkley, Bill
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 25, 2011
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