How to Build a Pallet House – Step 1: Build the Shipping Pallet Floor


First choose a flat stable surface to build on like a concrete slab or flatbed trailer. Count on the house weighing between 4000 and 5000 pounds when complete and choose your trailer carefully.

I’m suggesting this arrangement for the shipping pallets because it would most likely fit on many common double axle trailers you’ll find. It also is less than 8′ wide which is the legal limit for trailers in many states. In the drawings you’ll see the steps for bringing the pallets together.

In the first drawing I’m simply showing that it’s best to prepare the pallets by attaching 2x4s to the open ends of the pallets. This makes the pallets stronger and gives you four sides to nail, screw, and bolt to. You can free the necessary 2x4s from other pallets by cutting through the nails with a reciprocating saw. This is the fastest way to dismantle a shipping pallet and will leave you with the most usable wood.

Here are the prepared pallets ready to connect. In my tiny free house project I’m finding it useful to screw the pallets together first and then bolt them once the pallets are connected. It feels quicker although a bit redundant but seems to work well. You may also find it useful to have a couple clamps around to clamp the pallets together as you make the first attachments. Many shipping pallets are made from hardwood and getting screws to bite into the wood, saws to cut, and drills to drill can be tough. Better to use quality tools that plug into the wall or generator. Leave the little battery operated tools to small home repairs.

Next: Lay the Floor…

Pallet Safety Question

A fellow named Paul emailed with this question:

I really like what you have set out to do with these projects. It is so important that we find new ways to structure our social systems so that they are more inclusive of alternative, lower embedded-energy housing solutions. Recycling is the most obvious way of lowering the environmental cost of building – particularly if the recycled material is destined to be junked. I have one little concern though – I have heard that many products in shipping containers are routinely doused or loaded with pesticides before being allowed through customs. If true, this would mean many imported products are coated in a layer of poison. Wouldn’t this be absorbed into the timber of the pallets? Has any organisation ever conducted toxicity tests on pallets to establish whether they are safe to use, especially around children? Cheers, Paul

Here is my answer:

Hi Paul,

I know of no studies, and no expert myself, but the knowledgable people I’ve consulted tell me that any reclaimed wood should be handled carefully especially when being cut or sanded – and never burned if suspected of contamination. These activities, especially burning, could release anything bound to the wood so proper safety measures should be taken – use of respirators, etc.

The other thing that was conveyed to me was that most of the fumigants known to be used on pallet shipments evaporate/dissipate quickly, so little residue would theoretically be left on the wood. A good layer of sealant over the finished wood would be a wise precaution, but make your own decisions about safety.

Lastly… considering the amount of toxic chemicals used in many manufactured wood based materials and their known dangers I suspect an old pallet is the least of our worries – but that is just my humble opinion.


It’s an excellent question. In short, use caution when handling any reclaimed material.

Pallet House Construction Illustrations

pallet-house-pallet-detailI was recently contacted by a fellow named Roy who was looking for something to do with 200 pallets. He couldn’t find any buyers or even someone to haul them off free, so he’s decided to build something out of them. To help him visualize how I’d build a house from pallets I drew these 3D drawings with Google SketchUp, the free 3D drafting software from Google.

I’ve been getting better at drawing with SketchUp and it only took about 30 minutes to draw this up. I’ll eventually replace the 2D plans on this website with a better 3D plans. In the mean time I thought I’d share with you what I shared with Roy. The tiny house pictured here would use about 50 to 70 pallets. I left the roof off the design because I’m thinking more and more that the roof should be conventionally framed. Pallets over head just seems a little too risky, although I think Roy is going to find a way to do it safely. Continue reading

Homeless Housing Design Concept

emily_carr_homeless_housing_projectThis is a tiny house concept designed by students at Emily Carr University that is intended to be a simple shelter for the homeless.  These little houses measure less than 64 square feet and cost less than $1500 in materials. As tent cities continue to grow accross America maybe it would make sense for local governments to allow tiny house communities like these to solve the immediate need for affordable housing. They would sure beat living in a tent. Read more

Prepare Your Mind – Download A Copy Of Wikipedia

wikipediaPreparing for disasters usually includes things like storing food, water, and basic survival gear for keeping yourself alive and safe through difficult times. But I’ve never seen anyone suggest that they should prepare for the possibility that information itself may become difficult to access during a disaster situation. There is an incredibly simple and virtually free way of solving this problem; download Wikipedia itself.

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Tent Cities on Oprah

oprah-tent-cityYesterday there was a great story on Oprah that included a segment on tent cities right here in Sacramento. I first came up with the tiny pallet house plans one weekend in the fall of 2008 as a hurricane blasted into the Gulf Coast. Today I’m thinking that tiny pallet houses might be a valuable temporary solution for those Americans stuck out in this current economic hurricane.
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