Danish ‘Upcycle House’ Adds New Dimension To Recycling

The recycling industry, though highly admirable compared to landfilling, has a serious flaw that has hampered much of its expansion over the last half century. The products that are made from the process of breaking down and reforming these “waste” materials tend not to be as valuable as the materials were before they were recycled.

In the absence of strong demand for post-consumer recycled materials, the trend of “upcycling,” or the adding of value to reclaimed and reused materials, is growing in popularity in many green building circles. Case in point is the Upcycle House, designed by Danish firm Lendager Architects and the Realdania Byg Foundation, which is nearing completion in the town of Nyborg, Denmark. While the actual value being added to the materials used in the project is debatable, the house does find an impressive number of uses for discarded materials that may not otherwise have end markets.

Based on two shipping containers, the Upcycle House is made mostly of recycled materials. Image via Lendager Architects.

Based on two shipping containers, the Upcycle House is made mostly of recycled materials. Image via Lendager Architects.

With an estimated price tag of about 1 million euros, or roughly US$175,000, the Upcycle House is intended to be a prototype for mass-produced house that can provide end markets for recycled materials while substantially reducing CO2 emissions and lowering the typical carbon footprints of new houses.

The guts of the four-bedroom, one-bathroom house are based on two standard steel shipping containers that anchor both ends of the structure and provide most of the support. In between the modified containers is an open room created with recovered wood framing and Tecnopor rigid insulation, which is made from glass bottles.

The Upcycle House prototype can be built quickly for a price of just $175,000. Image via Lendager Architects.

The Upcycle House prototype can be built quickly for a price of just $175,000. Image via Lendager Architects.

The exterior walls are made of Richlite, a hard paneling materials made from paper waste. During the Richlite process, the manufacturer says, the company uses the waste gases from the paper as a fuel source rather than relying on natural gas. By reusing these gases instead of allowing them to escape, Richlite reduces its CO2 emissions by 80 percent, compared to using a water-based resin in the process.

Drywall is also made of recycled gypsum and insulated with old newspaper fibers. The floors use a material called UPM profi deck, which is a type of “plastic lumber” made from a composite of recycled plastic and wood fibers. For most of the finishing touches, the house uses reclaimed bricks, laths and glass windows. The sloping roof is created from sheets of aluminum made from flattened beverage cans.

Diagram showing some of the passive energy-saving features of the house. Image via Lendager Architects.

Diagram showing some of the passive energy-saving features of the house. Image via Lendager Architects.

The house is also built using helical piles that are literally screwed into the ground, thus saving the labor and energy of excavating soil for the foundation. Later, when the house reaches the end of its life cycle, these piled can be unscrewed are removed with minimal disruption to the landscape.

According to Lendager’s calculations, the work on this modest, 1,076-square-foot Nyborg house has emitted 75 percent less CO2 than would have been produced while making a conventional structure of this size. Once Lendager finishes the Upcycle House, it plans to work with other construction firms in the region to build at least five more houses using the same principles.

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.

  • Jonathan_Justice

    ‘One million euros’? $175,000 is more like .1 million euros, a number more people would understand as 100,000 euros. At $150 to $170 to the square foot, the house would hardly be inexpensive by local standards where I live, but the relevant question is whether it is all that expensive in the part of Denmark where it is being built.