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…

45 thoughts on “How to Build a Pallet House – Step 1: Build the Shipping Pallet Floor

  1. Hello, Great article. I am starting to collect my pallets now so I can start my building in the early Spring. You suggest screwing and bolting the pallets together as the best way to join them. Can you please advise where this should be accomplished and about how many screws and bolts should be used in joining two pallets together? Thanks in advance, Joe

    • joe, you have to remember that a screw in two pieces of wood perfectly instaled, will hold 100 lbs of sheer strength. a 1/2 inch bolt will hold prolly 5oo lbs of sheer and a common 16 penny nail holds 150 lbs of sheer.

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  3. Amazing! My brother and I built our first pallet house together back in 1978. We started with simple one level construction, which quickly expanded into two levels. It was a true learning adventure! As he was only 15 and I was 12 years old! (We used trap doors to access the loft above.) Great memories! Rhonda

  4. Awesome – I printed this down for future reference. In todays world it pays to be prepared. You should send this to Oprah for those people in tent cities. Some of them have been there for more than a year and I understand the mayor is looking to make that legal and give them some help to make it more permanent.

    • Thanks Sheryl.

      Ironically those very people on the show last night are only miles from where I live… I had no idea they were there until yesterday. I plan to whip up a pallet house design tonight that can be built with few tools and found materials. I hope the ideas I publish here will inspire people to build better (safer, dryer, etc) temporary housing. I hope that government steps in and helps but I don’t think anyone should wait for them.

  5. Was wondering if you think it would be feasible to build a pallet house that is larger? By larger I am thinking 24×24. We are trying to build a house on our property and wondered if this would work? Any ideas out there?

    • Yes… the roof is the concern. A roof made from pallets is not as strong and should be well supported. If you used some normal lumber and/or beams you could make a very sturdy roof and pallet walls.

      • you an use pallets for the roof, but you will be better off using a 2X6 down the middle of each row of pallets to help support the seams, this way you will use less of the standard wood and more free pallets.

  6. Genius! I ran this idea past some friends who all declared I was nuts. The next challenge would be to get ideas like this more publically accepted.
    I’m on a fixed income and watching it’s buying power shrink dramatically. Now I know I can buy an acre of land and build myself a small house and always be able to live within my means and not in a tent.

  7. Great dog house design also. We will be collecting our pallets soon.

    In Nevada we worry about our dogs exposed to the elements (95 – 102 degrees). This would be a fun project for the kids science fair next year, with all the sources noted and acknowledged in their project, of course.

  8. My mate and I have been working on a chicken coop that has turned into a palace, with more money spent than ever intended. I believe this is going to be our answer for future “homes” for our ranch animals. Thanks. I’m also considering making larger ones around our 20 acre hobby ranch for guest quarters and small homes for some retirees. I’m in Montana and it gets mighty cold here in the Rocky Mt. winters and very windy where we are at. Any recommendations will be highly and greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Holli.

      A chicken coop sounds like the perfect hing to build from pallets. Quick, cheap (pun intended), lots of air, and easily closed in for the roost.

      I cam e up with another idea for a more permanent house you should look at. I think it would work better in a northern climate too. The only disadvantage is that it uses more pallets. http://www.tinyhousedesign.com/2008/12/16/pallet-house-construction-alternative/

      The main advice I have for anyone looking to build a pallet house is to seriously consider a conventional roof and use the pallets in the walls and floor only. The idea of a pallet roof coming down on someone if it’s not built strong enough is concerning.

      -Michael

  9. Hello Mike, I’m the program director for the School of Design at Westwood College in Houston Texas. Over the next two terms, I teach two courses, the first is residential design and the second is residential construction. I think challenging the student to develop sustainable and functional designs will be a great project. In our March term we will design it and in our May term, I want to team up with our local Housing Authority or Habitat for Humanity chapter to actually build it. I’m hoping local government takes note, there were a lot of homeless people after Hurricane Ike hit and I think this is an excellent solution for temporary housing. I’ll keep you posted.

  10. Dude, you’re a xxxxxx. You can build a much better house by using purchased dimensional lumber. Sure, you have to pay for it, but it will be sturdier, be uniform in dimension, and be finished ten times faster than pulling all the nails out of palets to recover the boards. Use the pallets to heat your house with an outdoor wood furnace :o)>

    • Thanks for the kind words LB… in fact if you read on you’d notice that is my advice as well. Building with pallets is hard and if you have regular lumber, use it. If a hurricane has destroyed home depot and all you can find is junk and pallets, get creative and build whatever you can to stay dry.

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  12. Hi Michael,
    Would a pallet house be feasible for permanent housing. My 1870 house is falling apart and I would like to build something within my means. I would like to build something small, but my city’s zoning requires that the house be a 1000 square feet, excluding a two car garage.
    Thanks,
    LaLaine

    • Hi LaLaine,

      I personally think a larger pallet house could be built and be perfectly suitable for living but it is not ideal and would probably be a nightmare to get approved by any planning department. It is also difficult to build with pallets. I would suggest building with normal dimensional lumber if it’s available. It can be very inexpensive to build a simple framed structure if you’re careful in design and choice of materials.

      You might also consider researching the zoning of your lot. You might find that multiple units are allowed. Often the square footage of multi-family units is different and you might actually find that you can built a duplex smaller than you can built a single family residence. At the very least half of the duplex could be rented out.

      Another idea is to find out if ADU’s (accessory dwelling units, aka in-law house) are allowed. Build one of those in the backyard to live in and then take your time fixing up or replacing the old house.

      But my biggest piece of advice is to keep it simple and be frugal when choosing materials. The framing is cheap compared to other costs like interior trim and finish, bathrooms, kitchens, and windows. Keeping things like plumbing all in one area of the house can keep costs down. A simple roof with a simple low pitch can also be much less expensive than more ornate roofs.

      Good Luck!

  13. Thanks Michael for all the great information and advice. I actually am allowed to build an in-law on my property. I’ll have to ask about the possibility of a duplex. Also I wanted to run the idea of building with cargo containers by you versus building with lumber.
    Thanks again,
    LaLaine

  14. LaLaine,

    The in-law unit would have fewer obstacles I bet.

    Shipping containers are very popular but I suspect they aren’t quite as turn key as one would suspect. They really only provide the shell, which is not that expensive to build out of wood. You’ll also be limited by the size and shape. I don’t think you’d have too many challenges getting it approved, more and more are being built, but I do suspect it would be quite a lot of work.

    With conventional framing you’ll find a lot of people with tons of experience to help and the cost is low.

    Good Luck! Love to hear how it turns out.

    -Michael

  15. Wonderful site! I have seen fences sheds and chicken houses built from pallets and have been wondering about houses. I have a question..did you ever use opened tin cans for your roof> I had thought of that last year ( I am a pensioner and have been trying for 2 years!!! to get someone to come reroof my house conventionally without success..in my neck of the woods there is more work than workers. Anyway, I watched how the can behaved and they seemed to want to rust..I suppose that when they are sealed the lack of air is what stops them from doing it before. I had been thinking of hitting up restaurants and schools etc for their big gallon cans but not sure now if it is worth it.I wouldn’t want to have to try to strip them off!!
    Do you know if anyone has tried using opened and flattened tin cans for roofing? Could you paint them?

    • i saw someone use vinyl records as roof shingles. very sturdy. overlap so the hole in the center is covered. would be great for a doghouse or chicken coop. not sure about human house though!

  16. Hi Pam,

    I have not roofer my house yet but I still plan to use cans. I think painting them would help but eventually I expect the cans to rust.

    You might consider using aluminum cans. IN fact I’ve been thinking about that too. They are a bit easier to get because they are everywhere but there would be a lot more prep time involved.

    Check out this How-To article on instructables:

    http://www.instructables.com/id/Make-Shingles-and-Siding-Out-of-Aluminum-Cans-Bee/

  17. mike hey would this pallet house hold up in high wind or stromy weather like a normal 2×4 built shed is? also where would ya put the sanation areas at in a pallet built house

  18. Thank you for the great idea. I am from Alaska and pallets are plentiful around here from all the shipping to and from the lower 48. I told my brother and husband about this idea and they think it is very interesting. I always wanted to use the wood for flooring, but this is by far a greater idea.

    Thank you,
    Cheri

  19. Hi, Nice blog post. Having only discovered blogs recenly and I am totally addicted!! It’s sites like this that are responsible! =D I’ve been so encouraged that I made the decision to create my own blog. I’m in the process of researching for a post i’m writing and would like to enquire if I can link to this post? I think it will be of some interest to my viewers. All the best! . Jed Pavone

  20. You would be better off, cutting down trees and building a log cabin or cutting boards out of the trees you cut with a mini chain saw saw mill, and building it. This pallet deal will work you to death and in the long run if you add all real costs wind up costing more than going to HD. And, they will even deliver it so you don’t need a truck.

  21. I built a pallet dog house in the 1980′s. I stuffed insulation between the pallets and covered with plywood. It’s still in great shape, just needs a roof now, and it kept the dogs quite warm – I used shavings or straw for bedding, since I also keep horses.

  22. Found your site, and boy did it bring back some memories like it did for Rhonda. I was a teenager, and a friend of mine started a small clubhouse at the far end of a large outside storage are, where a local factory that his dad worked at. They stored all of their old shipping skids in a 3 acre areaat the rear of their building. The area where he stsrted it was next to a local creek. When you were looking at it, all you could see were a bunch of skids. It had a couple of trap doors in three locations out of sight that would allow you access. The interior space was not quite high enough for you to stand erect, but that was because the stacks would have been higher than all the other surrounding ones, and a dead give away to the workers that something was amiss. Spent many hours in there that summer and fall. Lots of good memories for sure. Always had something like this in mind for rustic construction of sheds and animal pens and lodging. Nice site. Can’t wait to see more.

  23. hey mike im doing a design for a pallet construction for my course in architecture and i was wondering if you have any calcluations on the stresses and strains of the building and if it would need any extra supports/bracing?

    • Theoretically… yes. The trouble with mobile pallet houses it’s tough to make them as sturdy and lightweight as a traditionally framed house – so I’d not recommend using pallets on mobile tiny houses. Mine is built on a utility trailer but mostly to avoid building codes – not so much for mobility.

  24. This is a great plan. I live in Zambia and a lot of used wooden pallets are thrown away and sold out cheaply.The idea of building a house from warehouse pallets is amazing.Thanks for the insight

  25. My daughter and I built our chicken coop out of shipping pallets!! No plans to go by. It was easy….and free, except for the screws, nails, etc. :)

  26. Haven’t seen any posts since 2013…just curious to see if this is still active. I am 28 years old and have a endless supply of free pallets. I REALLY want to build a cabin for myself and my dog that is functional and most importantly livable. PLEASE email me and give me some direction on where to begin.

    Thanks!!

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