Alternatives in Island Building (Update 2-29-12)


It depends on your resources. Some have access to 55 or 48 gallon drums. They float, and have been used to make a floating island.

The 48 gallon ones should float nearly 400 pounds, each, and the 55 gallon ones, over 450. But by themselves they tend to turn easily. So hook them together. If you know how, and have the equipment, they can be welded. However if not, you can use Natural Fiber Reinforced Concrete (NFRC) to both make a deck, and to hook them together so they wont spin.

But the problem is that they rust. So paint them, or you can hook a small electric voltage to them when they are completely submerged, (or just turn them over in a month) with the other wire to copper plates, like are used for electronics, or old copper pipes, placed several inches away, but not touching your barrels. And in a month or so, your barrels will be covered with minerals from the sea. It doesnt work so well in fresh water, but you can try it. You may have to reverse the DC polarity. Youll know in a week. The wind can be used to generate the DC using old car parts. (See Biorock on Google.) A good second hand store will come in handy.

Brians Stacked Recycled Rubber Tires

Stacked, tied together rubber tires provide protection for your island, especially on the perimeter, and in harbors. However, you may not have the resources for many of them.

They also need a deck, that can be constructed of NFRC.


Plastic is a good choice if youre planning on locating in one of the oceans gyres. That is where the natural circulation of the sea is gathering plastic you can harvestfree. You should test each method to be sure it works.

The cheapest forming method is Rotomolding, using Concentrated Solar Energy to melt the plastic into shape.

Rotomolding has been used for years. There is quite a bit of information on it on the Internet. Basically you make a mold of aluminum, put a pile of plastic in it, and rotate it while heating it. When the plastic melts, it sticks to the mold. Then you pour a bucket of water over the mold, the plastic hardens and shrinks just enough to get the formed piece out of the mold when you open it up.

First, make a master of exactly what you want to duplicate. Make the angles of it, so you can get the final piece out of the mold. This is called a draft angle.

Coat the master with an oil that wont stick to epoxy. Then coat the master with about 3/8 inch of fiberglass and resin, made as a mold that can be opened. When its hard send the mold pieces to a foundry, where they will cast it in aluminum.

Back home, make a solar concentrator for heating the mold. Construct a mechanism to hold the mold together, rotate the mold, at about 25 rpm, while tilting it about once in that time so the melted plastic will coat the entire mold inside.

It will probably have to reach about 600 F. to melt it right. Not all plastic is suitable for Rotomolding. You will learn this by experience.

In theory a Rotomold can be built of NFRC, if you use refractory cement instead of Portland Cement. Its made to withstand the higher temperatures involved. However, Ive not done it.

If possible, work with a commercial Rotomolder to learn the process. Try it and see.

Recycled Plastic Soda Bottles

Rishi uses recycled components. Thats a good idea if you have the resources. Recycled plywood, palates, bags, and soda bottles with lids. It works real well. However, they must be tied together into an island, and there are various ways to do that.

However, he had a source of plywood for the deck. You may not. A deck can be made of NFRC as I have described, while using a bag full of sealed soda bottles as the float. Tie the bags to the Hexes with plastic string as I have described. Read all the things I have written for you.

Plastic bottles can be held together in the shape of a Mae West life preserver.


Glass bottles float real well. The problem is, they break. You can coat them with a thin layer of NFRC, but unless they are fairly large, its a lot of work not required with plastic. Better to use it topside to store fresh water.

Hefty or Glad Trash Bags

Ive written many articles about these. They have many advantages, but you must use them allowing for their limitations.

All of these methods are ment to be inexpensive. Obviously, there are many expensive methods out there. The Titanic was expensive, but its floating mechanism was obviously inadequate. Be careful asking for ice.

Plants can be grown and then used both as a fiber supply, and as shelter. Theyre just slow.

Hook Them Together

If you stand only one barrel, or the like, on end in the water, it will fall over, because the base in the water is it's smallest dimention. So several must be hooked together in each horizontal direction. That way, when one starts to be pushed down, its shape causes a greater displacement of water. Thus it doesnt flip over, but is stable. Your island uses many floats hooked together. Thats why they can be much safer than those unsinkable ships. Try it!

Restroom The interior of your dome should have room for a restroom. One easy way to make one is to use tongue-n-grove wood flooring to stand on end, and put in a cure so that it will stand up, and make a nice wall that will hold up your loft and bed. You can stain it, and coat it with clear waterproofing, like Thomsons Water Seal so it wont be damaged by your shower.

These should be strong enough to hold up your loft and bed. If you dont have an upstairs, use NFRC or opaque plastic sheeting for privacy.


If you choose to use electric tools, use the battery-run type, its safer around water. If you can, tie a small float to them in case they fall in the water. Even if they sink, the float may be easier to find when youre skin diving. I had a cell phone jump out of my pocket into San Diego Bay once. It had no float and wasnt waterproof. I watched it sink out of sight.


Rummage Sales or Yard Sales can be a good place to haunt. See what they have, even old cotton clothes you can cut up and use in NFRC may be had cheap or even free, at the end of the day. Ask.

Car radios etc. are 12 volt, and may work well with your homemade island electric system. Other car components may be useful. Use your imagination.


Storms have to be considered. Rishi had two islands destroyed by the weather. So you must consider your location, in addition to your construction.


Regular frame and plywood construction works. However, you need a cheap source of plywood and 2x4s.

You could pitch a tent. Even an insulated tent. Nomads in the desert live in tents, and so do Mongolians as yurts. So it will be suitable on your island.

NFRC can be made into a shell structure, such as a dome or yurt, or some other. Its quite permanent, yet light enough weight for your island.


Rubber can often be a free, or as low cost recycled items. It is long lasting. I saw old truck tires in the beach off Guam that were still in reasonable shape after 20 years stuck in the beach.

Inner Tubes for automobile tires can be useful, both as under-island floats, and as safety devices. They have the advantage of having a check valve in the filling tube. You do need the right connector on your pressure hose, but it can be very convenient.

You should have all the safety equipment required on boats. After all, you are on the water.

Metal containing copper has been used for years. Barnacles and other biologicals wont grow on it. In pictures of the Titanic, brass light fixtures look as good as new. But the Iron is rusting away.

Wood is often limited because bugs like it. Plywood or wafer board should be exterior. Otherwise it will delaminate as the glue is water soluble. Thats the problem with particle board. Dont use it.

However, Teak Wood is different. The cruse ship Andrea Dora had teak decking. It sank in the ocean. After many years, the steel around it was rusted away. But the decking was as good an new. Teak is very heavy, and usually wont float. But it can be used, and can be very beautiful.

Iron wood is somewhat saltwater tolerant. It grows next to the beaches in the tropics. Its a beautiful evergreen tree. It looks like a spruce tree. But I dont know of its building properties. There are some other trees you can grow on your island, the written literature about them may just be someones opinion, so try them yourself.

Coconut Leaves are used for traditional housing in the tropics. They can be free, and used in NFRC.

Sawdust in Ice can be very strong. The problem is that it melts. So refrigeration is required. Eskimos live in igloos. So snow works too. It depends where you intend to live.


Diving can be an enjoyable experience. A wet suit, big swim fins can be found second hand. But be careful about using second hand breathing equipment. That you should purchase new. It can be wind or wave powered on your island


Sliding Patio Doors are required to be made out of tempered glass so they are stronger. Lay them horizontal just below the waters surface, at the most vertical but laid sideways so they arent so deep in the water. Regular glass may break from the pressure, or get knocked out by people or fish. Plastic may be ok, but you have to try it. Be careful!


Land can be expensive, so building an island can be an inexpensive alternate. Living on the ocean can be free, but you should check both safety and police protection where you intend to live.

Have Fun

Neither Dr. Hait, nor the Rocky Mountain Research Center hold any responsibility for your project. This paper is strictly educational.

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