Repurposing building materials on the homestead is a great way to save money and live more sustainably. By reusing items that would otherwise be sent to the landfill, homesteaders can reduce waste, save money, and get creative while transforming would-be “trash” into treasure, including usable tools, animal housing, composting systems, and so much more.
In this article, we’ll explore the numerous benefits of working with salvaged materials on the homestead, where to find them, as well as offering some practical inspiration to apply to that endless list of to-do’s and projects that we all have.
This post has been adapted from an article that originally appeared in the Summer 2022 Issue of Modern Homesteading Magazine. Subscribe here to get this issue, plus gain access to our entire digital library of past issues.
Repurposing Building Materials For Homestead Projects
Every new project that comes to mind starts with me brainstorming how to make use of what I already have on hand so I can save the trip to the hardware store (and keep more money in my wallet). To give you an idea of what you can build using repurposed materials, here are just a few examples of projects on our homestead that I built mostly, if not entirely out of scrap and/or salvaged materials:
- Chicken Tractor
- Rabbit Hutch
- Wood Shed
- Mason Bee House
- Rain Barrel
- 3-Bin Composter
What’s Worth Saving
Like anything, some materials are worth repurposing, while others aren’t. To ensure that your materials pile doesn’t just become another junk pile, consider focusing on saving the following:
Off cuts, barn boards, salvaged pieces from demolition sites and pallet wood. If it’s straight, flat, and not rotten, it’s probably worth holding on to! My general rule of thumb is that I don’t keep anything less than 12” long unless it is untreated and can be used for kindling.
Wire Fencing & Mesh
Wire fencing, chicken wire, cattle panels, and bird netting. Whether you want to keep animals in (or out), there will always be uses for this stuff on any homestead, and it can usually be re-used over and over again.
Roofing & Siding
Metal, cedar, corrugated plastic, vinyl siding and asphalt shingles are useful for animal shelters, wood sheds, tool sheds, etc.
Paint, Stains, & Sealers
It’s worth holding onto any useable amount, but if it’s more than 5 years old, say goodbye.
Screws, nails, hinges, latches, locks, knobs and metal brackets. Save good jars and clear plastic containers to help keep it all organized.
Doors & Windows
Doors and windows are always worth holding onto for building storage sheds, greenhouses, and more.
Rope & Chain
I also include things like aircraft cable and fishing line in this category.
Bricks & Pavers
Taking down a chimney or tearing up an old patio? Save any salvageable bricks and pavers and pile them up somewhere for future use.
Five-gallon buckets, metal and plastic bins, and even old sinks and bathtubs are all great options for container gardening!
Electrical & Plumbing Parts
Wire, switches, outlets, pipes, fixtures and fittings. These items can be expensive and they’re easy to store so don’t let them go.
Where To Find Salvaged Building Materials
If you don’t already have a stockpile of salvaged materials lying around your homestead, there are plenty of ways to get your hands on some things for free or very cheap. Work on slowly building up your inventory so you have what you need on hand when a project needs tackling.
Tip #1: Save What You Can
This one is obvious, but it’s worth mentioning anyway. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to clean up after completing a project. Look through what you’ve got leftover and set aside any items you think might be useful down the road rather than simply tossing things that are “in the way.” I also rarely return extra materials that I’ve purchased if I have stuff leftover from a project. I usually end up using it anyway, and it’s already been paid for. After all, everything only seems to be getting more expensive these days!
Tip #2: Scour Online Marketplaces
Don’t just look to buy, offer to demolish unwanted structures or clean up for people and you’ll be amazed what you can get for free!
Lots of people are willing to give away free lumber and materials to anyone who’s willing to dismantle it and haul it away. My wife and I even got a free wood stove a number of years ago after responding to a post on Facebook advertising that anyone who could uninstall it and take it away could have it for free! It sat in our garage for a few years, but when we moved into a new place and needed to install a new wood stove, we already had one on hand. We even got a free wood stove fan from a friend who didn’t need it anymore in exchange for a few seedlings we’d started. It’s amazing what you can get your hands on when you’re resourceful!
Tip #3: Hit Up Construction Sites
The building and waste disposal industries offer plenty of opportunities to get a hold of leftover and scrap materials for cheap or free. Make sure you get the okay before you go dumpster diving or try to salvage from these sites though, or you might end up in trouble for trespassing. In this case, it’s usually better to ask permission rather than beg forgiveness as it’s not worth the risk (or the potential fines) to just help yourself without asking.
Tip #4: Learn to Trade & Barter
Got something useful that you don’t want anymore? Maybe there’s someone out there who wants it and has something you could use in return. Talk to friends and neighbours or advertise what you’ve got to trade and what you’re looking for online. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure after all!
Tip #5: Search Thrift Stores
It’s amazing what people will donate because they don’t have a use for it themselves. You can find everything from shelving and building materials to kitchen and bathroom fixtures, lighting, tools and hardware at thrift stores for a fraction of the price of what they would cost new. I picked up a vessel sink for a bathroom remodel for just $15 at one of my local thrift stores, whereas new vessel sinks regularly go for around $100 or more. My best piece of advice when shopping thrift stores is to get there early in the day for the best selection before the good stuff disappears.
You can find everything from shelving and building materials to kitchen and bathroom fixtures, lighting, tools and hardware at thrift stores for a fraction of the price of what they would cost new.
Altogether, repurposing materials on the homestead offers numerous benefits, both for the environment and for your personal creativity. By reducing waste, saving money, and getting in touch with your DIY spirit, you can embrace sustainable living practices while transforming discarded items into functional resources.
Whether you’re repurposing pallets, up-cycling jars, salvaging construction materials, or finding new uses for old tires, the possibilities are endless. Unleash your creativity, repurpose, and create a sustainable and beautiful homestead!
For more information on repurposing materials on the homestead, including additional information on working with pallets and tips for how to store salvaged materials, subscribe here and check out the Summer 2022 issue of Modern Homesteading Magazine in your magazine library.