How to Build a House Using Railroad Ties

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Railroad ties
Railroad ties (Image: Tracks image by Towards Ithaca from Fotolia.com)

Pioneers built houses out of logs. Railroad ties aren't much different. They're wood and they're solid. It's economical and environmentally friendly to reuse railroad ties. While unconventional, they're a material that will certainly make your home stand out. It's all the better for your wallet if you have access to used railroad ties.

Things You'll Need

  • Professional builder/architect
  • Measuring tape
  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Gloves
  • Ladder
  • Spacing blocks
  • Hammer
  • Nails
  • Steel dowels
  • Drill
  • Mortar
  • Steel brush
  • Masonry solvent

Consult with a professional builder or architect to have a design made for your home using railroad ties. Ties should be at least 10 years old, according to expert railroad tie homebuilder Sam Owen, in Mother Earth News Magazine. By then, enough of the creosote oil preservative used in railroad ties will have dissipated so that the smell will be tolerable in a home.

Assemble building materials with the help of a professional. Railroad ties can be found when railroad tracks are moved and disassembled.

Construct your home with the help of experienced builders. You will need help and heavy machinery to lift the heavy ties and stack them on top of each other. Place two-inch spacers in between each row of horizontally-laid ties. Later, mortar will filled in and the spacers removed. Leave appropriate spaces for windows or other openings.

Join the corners in block masonry style, so that the tie beams interlace. Drill holes in the corner of each beam so they line up. Place a steel dowel through the holes to secure the joints. The dowels should equal the height of the house's walls.

Consult with a professional electrician to lay conduit runs for electricity in between the ties, before the mortar is applied.

Nail old scrap nails every four inches and in two rows on both the top and bottom sides of each wall tie, meaning the side of each beam facing the ground, and the side of each beam facing the ceiling. There will then be rows of nails in between each row of beams, where the spacers are. Do this because wood and mortar do not bond--you will need nails that act as rebr in order to secure the ties to the mortar. Bend the nails so they form hooks.

Tamp mortar into the spaces between each tie surrounding the old nails. Once finished, remove the spacer blocks and tamp more mortar into the spots where the spacers were.

While the mortar is still soft, brush with a steel brush until it is even and clean in appearance. Wipe mortar off of the ties with a rag. Finish with masonry solvent to clean any mortar left on the walls.

Build window frames and install windows in the spaces left open for them, with the help of a construction professional.

Tips & Warnings

  • Construction experience is necessary for this project.
  • Wear gloves, closed-toe boots and appropriate safety measures when building a home out of railroad ties.

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