Grand Designs Australia

Simple and Amazing Ways to Use Recycled Materials in your Home

Two brothers apply the clever use of recycled and natural materials to give an old sawmill a second life. Learn how you can replicate some of their building and design ideas with this expert advice. 

The Yackandadah Sawmill House was a once-in-a-lifetime project for a sculptor and his architect brother, who together planned on repurposing a 100 year old sawmill into a caretakers home. Each sibling brought specialised experience from their respective fields of training to the project, which made this 'do-it-yourself' construction possible. It was an immense undertaking, with an even bigger learning curve.

The building came with some limitations due to zoning - a caregiver’s classification was their only option, which permitted a one bedroom home with an open plan studio/living space.  However with some clever internal planning, shifting walls to create spectacular lines of sight throughout the studio, large sliding doors that connected the inside living area to the large outdoor deck and a retractable roof that allowed for maximum light penetration, the brothers made the project a success.

The modest budget meant that this duo had to be innovative on all fronts: design, construction and the selection of materials. The final product had to be inexpensive and environmentally responsible. With their clever use of recycled, locally sourced, natural materials and their hands-on approach, the brothers made it happen. The final result was a repurposed old sawmill built out of monolithic recycled concrete blocks that wrapped three sides of the studio and timber walls and floors sourced locally from fallen trees, providing a softer and warmer feel to this utilitarian  structure. In the end, the brothers achieved what was at first impossible - a unique aesthetic at a small cost.

Can this approach be replicated in a suburban home? Of course it can. There are 3 main categories of materials to consider:

1) Recycled Materials

There are many opportunities to incorporate recycled materials in projects. The key to doing this comes down to the planning. Below are some of materials currently available in the market:

  • Timbercrete is a cost effective alternative to your standard brick or block. Timbercrete is the brand name for a material that is available in bricks, blocks, pavers and panels. The product itself is a combination of timber waste (sawdust) from various sources and concrete. The end result is a product that is lighter than solid concrete, so easier to handle, with greater strength and better insulation.
  • Eco friendly timbers like “ModWoods”, made out of recycled materials, this product has the look and feel of natural timber.  The benefits are worth it – there is hardly any maintenance required which will help you save on future costs. Also, since the products come in a range of colours and stains there will be no painting or staining.
  • Engineered stones like Caesarstone are a commonly used as an alternative to natural stone or granite.  Engineered stones is a composite material made of crushed stone (usually marbles and quartz) bound together by an adhesive.  The application of this product varies, but it is used most commonly for indoor structures, walls and floors when using the marble aggregate and wet area countertop and splashbacks when using quartz.

2) Natural Building Materials

The ongoing concern about the impact of manmade products on the environment has resuscitated some older and more traditional building techniques and associated materials. These natural materials are cost-effective, readily available, environmentally sound and have fantastic building properties.  

Examples include: Natural wood, living roofs, strawbale constructions, earthen floors, mud bricks and bamboo. The list goes on, so it’s best to shop around and find the best materials for your design. Here are some resources to get you started:

  • Straw bale walls are surprisingly resistant to fire and have excellent insulation properties.  The final appearance can be very smooth and almost indistinguishable from rendered masonry. Natural Building Works is a sustainable straw architecture and construction company that focuses on straw bale homes.
  • Bamboo is proven as a sustainable and environmentally friendly option to timbers. It is one of the world's fastest-growing plants which quickly reaches maturity, making it readily available and at the same time an extremely versatile product requiring little care. Bamboo can be used for flooring, bench tops and veneers, to name just a few applications.  Refer to Bamboo Australia for more information.
  • Australian Sustainable Timbers produces high-quality timber products sourced from a group of sustainably managed, privately owned native regrowth forests in the Hunter Valley and Mid North Coast of New South Wales.

3) Reusable and Repurposed Materials 

Another alternative is the the use of materials from demolished buildings, larger construction projects with excess material or even your local junkyard - for those unique pieces that could be a feature element in your project. This whole process may take some time and energy, but the outcome can be both unique and, more importantly, budget-friendly.

A list of recycled building products can be sourced through the Yellow Pages under 'Building Materials - second-hand' or on Gumtree.

You could also try second-hand and salvaged material suppliers, such as the The Junk Map and Recycle Build 


Below are some examples of great projects where the use of recycled materials and a sustainable design approach has played a significant part in the overall project with magnificent results.

The Infiniski Manifesto House by James & Mau Architecture

The Manifesto House uses 3 maritime containers to form the base building in addition to cellulose from unread newspapers to insulate the house; reused wooden pallets for external cladding and eco-friendly certificated wood internally.  Images obtained courtesy of Half Cut Tea.

Glass House by Nick Olson and Lilch Howitz

The cabin’s main feature is a wall full of repurposed windows stitched together to create a very artistic façade which permitted the owners to capture the complete scenery the cabin overlooks. The aesthetic is not for everyone but the principles behind repurposing materials can be. Images obtained courtesy of James & Mau Arquitectura

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1 comment
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Posted by Reena18Report
Don't throw away your old decorations because you may be able to create other decorative pieces from them. Some people buy homes from free property listings and sometimes they look at the creativity of the previous owners based on how they have refurbished a home. Great article.