Things to do with old pallets: The Rustic Squirrel Hotel

Squirrel hotel

Would you like to do something good for the environment, good for the local animal population and also really fun? Try making a pallet squirrel hotel!

 

THL’s upcoming book “The Case of the Climate Caper” is the latest environmental science installment in the Galactic Academy of Science series.  The book, featuring our beloved “Fraudulent Fossil” characters Benson and Anita, is about saving the Earth from man-made disaster.  Well, we all know that one of the biggest waste problems we have is from synthetic/artificial products made from petroleum, and the burning of refined petroleum itself.  But did you know that even seemingly natural products, like wood, which are semi-renewable resources, can also be major sources of pollution?

Wooden shipping pallets, are used in the international and even local ground freight industries for shipping large objects.  Most things are produced overseas these days, which means that most things you buy were once on a pallet in a boat or a plane and a truck.  When you think about all the things you see in stores every day that get sold or used, that adds up to lots and lots of pallets.  Just taking a quick look at the “Free” section of Craigslist in any major American city and you’ll see pallets given away by the dozens, sometimes hundreds nearly every day.  These 4-to-6-foot long dangerously-splintery (is that a word?) objects can take up a lot of space, very quickly, so businesses try to get rid of them as fast as they can.  They often are not made of high enough quality wood to do housing or furniture construction, and often can’t be easily reused.  If they can’t be reused for another purpose, then frequently, they are left in piles somewhere in the woods to rot, or are chopped down into firewood, which then ejects more harmful CO2 into the atmosphere.

Reusing pallets for other purposes is not only good for the environment by not creating waste, but it can also produce really cool and useful things that can help the ecosystem as well.  This blog focuses on a way that you can reuse a pallet to give a squirrel, an owl, a kitterling or any other type of arboreal animal a really cool home — and keep their populations healthy!

This is a great project for children to do in close collaboration with parents/guardians or teachers, because of safety and transportation issues.  Pallets are heavy, full of splinters, sometimes have dangerous chemicals/materials on them, and also contain rusty sharp exposed nails or screws (watch out for tetanus!).  It is also hard to transport them from dumpster areas or get them into or on top of cars (well tied down or bungied) without scratching your car or yourself.   All in all – this is a pretty dangerous exercise, but if you are very careful, it is reasonable to assume that even a young elementary-school-aged child can be helpful and enriched by working on this project.  So, kids if you are reading this, please just don’t go off and do this by yourself — GET PERMISSION FIRST!

pallet

First thing you need to do is go out and get a pallet – they come in all shapes and sizes, and can be found by asking around any local stores or auto shops – or even the receiving department of your own school!   If you can find one close to home or school that’s great – but if you have to transport it a distance, be sure to wear heavy work gloves and use something to protect your vehicle or whatever you use to transport the pallets.  Try and get a clean one, without too many cracks in the wood.

pallet dissassembly

Then, be sure and remove the wood and nails carefully, using a clawed hammer, without breaking the wood if possible.  Likely a few pieces will break a bit, but eventually you’ll get the hang of it.  You could also use an electric saw and just cut the “rungs” off, but that is a little less environmentally friendly and creates shorter wood pieces.  If some pieces break a little bit (please don’t use broken/cracked pieces on structural parts of the squirrel hotel though), you can generally glue them back together with Elmers or Gorilla glue.

tools

Here are some of the tools I used including various hammers/wedges, glue, pencil, measuring tape, and screwdrivers and screws. Also a scrollsaw and jigsaw were used to cut parts to size.

Make sure you make measurements of all the wood you end up with, as you’ll need to assess how big your squirrel house can be.  I won’t provide exact measurements here, because you should draw up your own plans (it’s more fun that way), but generally, this is what you need: a strong, reinforced backer  (to nail/tie/connect to the tree) from about 15 to 20 inches, walls that are around 10 to 15 inches long, and 10-15 inches wide, about 10-15 inches tall.  You’ll also need a sloped roof (so snow and rain can fall off easily), a hole for the animals to get in & out, about 3 inches in diameter, and a bottom with some small holes or cracks (smaller than the approximate size of the eggs or babies of the animal you’re housing, but large enough to allow for waste materials and animal urine to be able to drop through very easily, and provide some ventilation).  You’ll also want to seal it somehow so the wood does not rot and fall apart, preferably using non toxic, low-VOC primer/paint/stains.

 supported wall panels

 First, I suggest you start off by creating paneled sides, with the “backer” longer than the other sides, for easy tree-mounting.  These are about 4 inch wide pieces of wood, supported with a single cross-support, nailed and glued together.  I reused the nails which were removed from the original pallet to do this.

squirrel home siding

Then, make sure you create sides with a slant, so you can later mount a roof with a slight pitch on top, so rain, snow, sticks, etc will fall off easily (gutters not needed – that’s a bit too fancy, IMHO).  Be sure and make an entry hole on one side, with a few small pieces of scrap wood as “steps” both for the inside and outside of the doorway.  Don’t measure it to be like a box with all equal sides — don’t forget the side opposite the backer will need to be a bit smaller because of the angled roof.  Make sure you take careful measurements along the way, so you don’t have to remake pieces.

squirrel home - staple gun

Note that glue and staple gun staples will add stability to the frame – but don’t use toxic glues and don’t use too much glue or too many staples, otherwise you may be harming the environment yourself.  Be sure not to have any sharp corners on the interior – all nails and staples should be hammered down flat, or they could harm the baby animals inside (a few nail heads won’t be a problem though – I mean, in nature they live in nests made of sticks, many of which have sharp edges).  The structure should feel very solid when you hold it – not wobbly.  The last thing you want is for baby animals to fall out of the tree due to shoddy construction — you want something that will last for many many years.

squirrel home interior

Note here the “step” created from a piece of scrap wood, nailed and glued across the cross supports, which adds more structural stability and creates a way for the animal to get to the entrance/exit door more easily.

Then, as you mount the bottom, again, make sure it is structurally sound, with the base supported both by the sides, as well as the cross-supports.  But, at the same time, make sure there is some room between panels for ventilation and for waste to drop out.

staining the squirrel house

Be sure to use a good weather-proof stain/seal so the wood will not deteriorate in the sun and rain.  But make sure it is a kind with low or minimal toxicity, in case the animals chew on it a bit.  I use a few coats of weatherproof stain on the exterior and a non toxic primer on the interior, so that animal urine does not cause the wood to rot and thus weaken the structure.

completed base squirrel house

Here you see the completed and stained base of the “squirrel hotel”.  Note that exterior screws and strong glue were used to mount stepping blocks, and a small rain hood for the doorway, to make sure they don’t break easily with repeated use.  There is also a piece of reinforcing wood on the backer, which will be used to strongly mount the structure to a tree.  Overall, this house is approximately 10 x 12 x 13″ of interior space, which is just barely enough for a squirrel family, but was the easiest way to work with the dimensions of the wood I recovered from the particular pallet I used.

mounting roof of squirrel hotel

 

Another paneled and cross-supported piece of wood is made for the roof, and note there is a slight overhang on all sides to ensure that rain is kept away from the interior and the overall structure.  Note that when mounting the roof, I triple sealed it for weather protection, and used natural edges in the pallets to create something to the effect of gutters/channels to divert rain quickly away from the top of the structure.  Water is the enemy of all wooden structures!

 sealing the roof

 Note that any small seams on top can be sealed with caulk, or alternately, a hot glue gun, to prevent rain from coming in.  The hot glue should be able to hold up well enough over time.

 

sealed seam

closeup of sealed seam

At this point, once the roof is carefully mounted, the structure can be sealed again with another clear coat stain/seal and final holes can be drilled for mounting.  Be sure to let it completely dry out for a few days before taking it outside, so that animals are not exposed to any paint or seal chemicals when they are fresh and most toxic.

cardboard tube for toy/bedding

Insert a few used cardboard toilet tubes (using uncoated/non-chemical-infused toilet paper), and some dry leaves for squirrels or other animals to create bedding.  I like to put a few peanuts into the tubes and close the ends to make a little welcoming gift to open up and eat, right after checking into the “squirrel hotel”.  It’s all about the hospitality you know!

squirrel hotel outsde

I then placed the squirrel hotel outside to make sure all the chemical smell is completely gone, and to test it out in the real world weather to see how it holds up before finally mounting it to a tree, using nails and a supporting string.  Generally, squirrels like their homes mounted 20 feet or higher.  I mounted my squirrel hotel in a place where I could see the guests from my window.  When mounting, be sure to place the base of the  ”squirrel hotel” against a branch or other tree structure that will help support its weight and will help to break its fall in case a nail or screw comes loose.  Additionally, I use a string tied tightly around the mounting plank to ensure that there is a secondary failsafe in place, in case the structure gets hit by a falling branch or say, an attack from an angry opossum jumping down on the roof from a higher branch – or something like that.  Clearly, you will need a ladder for this, and you’ll need to have tools strapped to your belt or brought up via strings once you achieve the right height.  Ladders are typically not safe for children; it’s best that an adult does this part.  Be very careful with ladders, and make sure aside from an adult to help steady the base of the ladder, that nobody else is below you when mounting the hotel, because falling hammers and squirrel hotels can cause concussions or worse!

Squirrel Hotel - Open For Business

Then, once all that is done, you can finally put up your “Vacancy – Rooms to Rent” sign up and you’re in business.  Every once in a while, say once a year, when you’re sure nobody is home, you should go up and check on the structural integrity.  If the structure does not feel safe, take it down and do whatever it takes to patch it up or shore it up (and be sure and re-seal it every now and then too).  Nobody would want to destroy a little squirrel family, in the unfortunate event that the bottom broke open due to rot or worse – if the entire hotel were to fall to the ground.   Be sure not to disturb squirrel families or feed them inside their new home — sometimes human scent can cause animals to abandon their homes, and that would be a very bad thing.  It’s best to enjoy them from afar, with binoculars, and have the satisfaction of being an environmentally-friendly freecycled-pallet Rustic Squirrel Hotel owner.

Have a huge backyard with lots of trees, and lots of kids at home or in the neighborhood?  Why not start a Rustic Squirrel Hotel franchise?

Squirrel entering home

squirel hotel my nut funny

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Feb 26, 2014 | Posted by in About | Comments Off