Natural Building Blog

Earthbag Building & Other Natural Building Methods

Pallet Floors

Free shipping pallets can be used to make durable, comfortable and beautiful wooden floors. (click to enlarge)

Free shipping pallets can be used to make durable, comfortable and beautiful wooden floors. (click to enlarge)


We recently discussed Eleven Earth Floor Methods. Here’s another low cost floor method to consider. The drawing above is pretty much self explanatory, but here are the basic steps and a few options. First, create a level, stable base with tamped road base, subsoil or crusher fines. You could use scoria or pumice in cold climates or sand/gravel in rainy climates. Add 6 mil plastic sheeting on top as a moisture barrier and 1” or so of sand that is carefully leveled. Set one pallet at a time, screwing or nail gunning each pallet to previous pallets. Use pallets that are all the same size. This will naturally take extra time and care when you select the pallets. Also, don’t use pallets that are badly broken since they will be supporting your floor.

Flooring options include rough sawn wood from a local saw mill, recycled wood or ‘barn wood’ from old buildings or gymnasium floors (excellent source of hard maple flooring), manufactured bamboo flooring or even split bamboo if you want a really rustic look, or tongue and groove flooring (T&G). You could mill your own wood with a bandsaw sawmill. Milling your own wood enables you to use unusual woods that are not commercially available and/or cut to special dimensions – wide planks, for instance. If money is really tight, you could use pieces of pallets for the floor itself. This would definitely require a floor sander to smooth and level the floor, and a nail set to pound the nails below the surface. The drawing shows trim screws that have small, inconspicuous heads, which would work well in most instances. T&G flooring can be toe-nailed with a toe-nail gun so the nail is not visible. (This is what most pros use.) Another beautiful flooring method – although much more time consuming – is achieved by using screws and dowel plugs.

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7 Responses to “Pallet Floors”

  1. harvey says:

    Owen what do you think about all the information coming out now about the chemical and insect issues with pallets. It seems they are very nasty.

    • Owen Geiger says:

      I think it depends where the pallets come from. Pallets shipped internationally are probably sprayed with insecticides. You should be able to find pallets locally that haven’t been sprayed. Treated pallets have an oily, darker look. Untreated pallets, or what I assume are untreated, have a natural wood appearance.

  2. Gail -- Infinite Possibilities says:

    Hi Owen, just my thoughtful nature, as I am wondering if there needs to be a layer between the road base and poly/moisture barrier that would cushion the poly from being ripped by the rock layer. Does anyone know what would best serve this purpose?

    In some earth building technique (Mike Oehler’s PSP method, et al), they will place cardboard layers between earth and moisture barrier. Would cardboard be sufficient for this application? Any other ideas?

    Thank you for the feedback on this matter. There are hundreds of pallets locally available. And I am envisioning various ways to utilize them in affordable housing/buildings, and other applications.

    Blessings to all.
    We are all amazing, magical eternal beings on our eternal adventures.

    • Owen Geiger says:

      I think a carefully tamped level of road base would work fine. Sweep off larger pieces of gravel before spreading the plastic. You could add a thin layer of sand if you want. Cardboard would decompose below ground, although it would serve its purpose temporarily. But it’s more time and effort. Either way would work.

      • Macrobe says:

        Possibly a layer (or two) of tar paper? We often did that in Maine under used or salvaged lumber/boards. Added just enough ‘softness’ to the flooring and also deadened foot traffic noise.

        I really like the flooring that the pallet wood imparts. Seriously considering for our bedroom in our adobe in the desert. Thanks for posting this idea.

        • Owen Geiger says:

          A layer of tar paper under the flooring can be helpful as you say. It’s also a second barrier against insects and air infiltration.

          I totally love the rustic look of recycled wood and pallet wood, and so I’ve put together several more blog posts on this topic. It’s been lots of fun searching for ideas and photos.

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