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The Evolution Of “Free Homes”

Originally published on Green Building Elements.

This story about free shipping pallet homes turned a lot of heads in 2009 when it was first posted on GBE. Then it continued to draw attention year after year. There were some good reasons for the draw. First, other than a lot of labour – both from hard work and love – this particular house was being built for free.

Janzen cropped-Tiny-Free-House-13

Second, the developer of this house, Michael Janzen, gathering reclaimed materials from the waste stream like used shipping pallets and sharing his plans for others to use. What a good way to revisit the idea of sustainability.

Third, and importantly, this particular structure was small by intention, not a square footage monstrosity. His stated goal was to “live simply and reduce your carbon footprint.”

Finally, he wanted to find out if materials like shipping pallets could be used to inexpensively build emergency shelters for displaced people worldwide. What a logical notion, especially after viewing all of the flimsy and expensive designs that have been used in places such as Haiti.

Sadly this free building pioneer, storyteller, and innovator called it quits on his pallet home last December. He provided a number of convincing reasons – number one among them that he did not own the land he was building on. Second, he is not convinced used materials like shipping pallets are the best option unless you know the complete history of the wood. Has it been fumigated with toxic sprays, for instance. This is also a concern with many shipping containers that are being used today for building homes.

Thankfully, Janzen is not giving up his quest.

“So in a nutshell,” he writes, “I think it’s totally possible to build for free – except for the land. It’s not as easy as spending money, but for those with the time, skills, and desire I think building for free or cheap is totally within reach.”

Photo: tinyfreehouse

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Written By

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers was editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributing writer for CleanTechnica, and is founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.


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