‘Like A Houseboat’ Floats On Hidden Sea Of Garbage

A house located outside Dallas proves that one person’s pile of garbage can be another’s nature preserve. Of course, it helps if the pile of garbage is buried under a layer of earth, monitored for integrity and covered with lush vegetation.

The house, which is LEED Platinum-certified, is part of a community called the Urban Reserve that was built atop a closed and landscaped former landfill. Dubbed “Like a Houseboat,” the home lives up to its nickname by resting lightly, or “floating,” on top of the soil used as landfill cover so as not to disturb the refuse pile below.

To avoid disturbing the poor soil below, the designers of Like a Houseboat "floated" the home over a steel frame. Image by Charles David Smith via Shipley Architects.

To avoid disturbing the poor soil below, the designers of Like a Houseboat “floated” the home over a steel frame. Image by Charles David Smith via Shipley Architects.

Designed by Shipley Architects, the Like a Houseboat home is heated and cooled with geothermal wells and a heat exchanger. The exterior is covered with energy-efficient, pressure-treated wood and the frame is made with wood salvaged from and old dance floor once owned by one of Shipley’s other clients. The corrugated roof also includes wide overhangs to provide shade and natural cooling during the hot Texas summers.

A gangplank-like entrance adds to the nautical feel of the landlocked home. Image by Charles David Smith via Shipley Architects.

A gangplank-like entrance adds to the nautical feel of the landlocked home. Image by Charles David Smith via Shipley Architects.

One of the biggest challenges in the adaptive reuse of former landfills is that the soil is often of low quality and often cannot always bear the full weight of a house without some subsidence occurring over time. To avoid this problem, Shipley devised a steel-beam support system upon which the house can rest above the soil layers. For stability, the frame of the house is secured by concrete pylons that are driven deep into the ground.

The LEED Platinum score was helped by the site's proximity to a light-rail station. Image by Charles David Smith via Shipley Architects.

The LEED Platinum score was helped by the site’s proximity to a light-rail station. Image by Charles David Smith via Shipley Architects.

After adding a gangplank-like access ramp to the front entrance, the Shipley crews noted the resemblance to a houseboat floating on the soil, so the nautical nickname stuck.

The rest of the Urban Reserve neighborhood is equally sustainable, with several green, space-efficient homes with reduced carbon footprints grouped around a convenient light-rail station that leads to downtown Dallas. The heavily vegetated site over the former landfill also includes hiking and biking trails.

Randy Woods is a Seattle-based writer and editor with 20+ years of experience in the business publishing world. A former managing editor of Seattle Business, iSixSigma, Claims and Waste Age magazines, he has covered topics that include newspaper publishing, entrepreneurism, green businesses, insurance, environmental protection and garbage hauling (yes, really). He also contributes to the Career Center Blog for The Seattle Times and edits a photography magazine called PhotoMedia. When not working, he likes to hide out in Seattle movie theaters and attend film festivals—even on sunny days.