How-To find and use reclaimed materials in your Tiny House

by andrewodom on February 9, 2011 · 9 comments


When we decided to build Tiny House we knew that our project was going to be different from others. It had to be different from others. Up until that point Crystal and I had taken great pride in recycling, reusing, reclaiming, and repurposing a number of materials around Odom’s Idle Acres and our little county of Lamar in Georgia to create some exciting project.

You may remember the solar shower, the Coop de ‘Ville, or even our Earth Oven. All were made with reclaimed and recycled materials. So when thinking about Tiny House we decided from the word go that we would incorporate the most sustainable building techniques we could find and commit to (within financial reason, of course).

Even after scouring the shelves of the Habitat for Humanity store, the clearance racks at Home Depot, Craigslist, and other sources, we realized that the least expensive and most sustainable ways to acquire building materials would be to collect supplies from current construction projects, soon-to-be demolished homes, and people’s “junk piles.” Afterall, this is how we scored the 102 year old wood for our chicken coop, the windows for our cold frames and cold boxes, the tongue and groove flooring for a small shed, and literally dozens of other random projects. Granted we could work a manageable budget even buying new lumber and materials but that contributes to deforestation and waste. And honestly, in our opinion, it is more fun to scavenge old doors, windows, fixtures, etc. to provide character, history, and whimsy to our build. In fact, according to the Building Materials Reuse Association, recycling is becoming more common in the construction industry.

But if you’re like us you may not be real sure how to go about finding said reclaimed materials. Using recycled building elements is like shopping at a thrift store: You can’t be certain you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for. If you are hoping for a good deal to save on your construction budget…well, here are a few tried and true tips for using reclaimed materials to build your Tiny House (or even larger size, eco-friendly, home).

  • Good things come to those who wait. Anyone interested in a good deal to spruce up their home—an ornate wood mantelpiece or a set of authentic French doors, for example—has to be willing to compromise on some of the details and commit some time to the endeavor.
  • Urban decay can be a rural builders delight. If you live in or near a city and have access to a salvage yard, you’re in luck. They get tons of construction “waste,” often receive daily shipments, and some stores even post offerings online.
  • Be present. Crystal and I have found that there is no substitute for showing up on a regular basis and going through the inventory. A lot of reclaimed stores change stock frequently. If your search is specific it may take numerous trips to find it. But be patient and be present!
  • Switch it up. We are familiar with searching the newspaper classifieds for people selling stuff. However, you may want to try listing an ad looking for something. When we were trying to build raised beds we simply put an ad in the paper stating what we were looking for and that we would pick it up in exchange for removing it. It worked like a charm and we got a super deal.
  • Learn to say NO. Perhaps the hardest thing to do is turn down anything free. But when you are building your own home you want quality. Not all free stuff is quality (or even attractive). Don’t take something or even buy something if it is just going to bog you down, clutter your space, or go to waste. There may be someone else behind you who could use the material more!

What is your take on reclaimed materials? Do you use them? If so, for what? Are you against recycling building materials for other use? Why? And as always, we love to hear from you and to have you share this information with your friends on Facebook or followers on Twitter!

  • Heather

    There was a new house going up on a street that we drive regularly. We noticed that they had put the roof trusses one day and the a couple of days later (after a big storm blew through) they were leaning over and a couple days after that they were on the ground. We stopped and asked if we could have the damaged lumber and they said we could have whatever we wanted out of it. We scored tons of brand new 2×4′s and even a bunch of header boards and have used that lumber on countless projects. You can’t beat free and it seems that when it comes to lumber, we always find a use for it.

    • http://www.anotherkindofdrew.com anotherkindofdrew

      That is an awesome story. Man, Mother Nature sure gifted y’all. Amazing what contractors and subs will waste, huh?

      • Heather

        Seriously. All it took was a bit of effort (which I actually found quite fun) to remove the nails and connector plates and viola! Good usable lumber. Our society has gotten to the point where the cost of paying someone to pull nails out of something is more expensive than buying new stuff. So, it’s cost prohibitive to efficiently use materials. Pretty sad.

        • anotherkindofdrew

          Sad indeed. When my folks were building their home they went to the job site each night and collected nails, “scrap” lumber, etc. and then made the contractor use the discarded material. Many times there would be whole clips (for a pneumatic nailer) of nails that had just fallen to the ground and forgotten about.

  • http://nycgardening.blogspot.com Meemsnyc

    I wish I knew of more places to get reclaimed material where I am!

  • Olivia

    That’s how we built our sons’ “tree” house. We picked up what was left from an old demolished home (windows and 4′ long 2×4′s), pallets from a construction site, crates from a Curves after equipment delivery, trash piles during our neighborhood’s “summer large trash days”, and freecycle. People were more than happy to give us stuff if we caught them pulling things out to the curb. It was great fun. The design evolved to fit the materials found and is quite cool.

    • anotherkindofdrew

      So cool Olivia. So very cool. I bet the boys love the treehouse.

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  • Casey

    My mother recently passed away, so I’m cleaning out her stuff after I moved back into the family home. I’ve only been researching the tiny house movement for a few days now, but I’ve been amazed at how much stuff I’m finding in my own home that could be used/repurposed in a tiny house. For example, my mother had a large propane grill, but never covered it…so it’s rusted out in many places and simply not usable anymore. But before sending it off to a landfill, I took off all the handles and the counter top portion to save. One handle is large enough to serve as a bathroom towel rack, and the other two could be used for hand towels in the bath or kitchen. And of course, used for drawers or cabinets. I also saved the metal grilling racks–planning on cleaning them up a bit and then placing over fire pit supported by cinder blocks I found lying around.

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