• Christina Blanchard

Using Recycled Materials in our DIY Cabin Build

The good, the bad, and the ugly of using recycled construction materials.

If you are new around here, we are building a cabin on the ocean in rural Newfoundland and Labrador. We are not carpenters or builders (and have no experience) but we decided we would try to build everything ourselves. We purchased and cleared the land ourselves and we were ready to go, but we had a major issue......money!

Early on we knew we would have to be frugal and get creative if we wanted to build our cabin without accumulating debt (my student loans have me covered in that department). We decided to use as many recycled building materials as we could. This post is going to summarize the good and the bad of using recycled maters in our DIY cabin build. The ugly you can see from the pictures yourself (don't worry it will eventually all be covered up)!

Recycled Materials on the Front of Our Cabin

THE GOOD- Recycled Materials Save Serious Coin

Mike started combing the local classifieds, and by the time we were ready to build we had accumulated a ton of awesome stuff for next to nothing. Some of the awesome deals we've accumulated along the way include:

  • Fisher Grandpa Bear Wood Stove - $400

  • Cinder Blocks for Foundation - $50

  • Cast Iron Claw Foot Tub - $100

  • Bags and bags of Insulation - Free

  • 50-60 Sheets Plywood - Free

  • 20 Trusses - Free

  • Multiple 8-12' wall sections (studs and plywood)- Free

  • Windows and Doors - Accumulated a dozen or so windows ranging from Free - 200$

  • Random Lumber - Free

When you see FREE it usually means there was a ton of labor involved, for instance pulling insulation out of the walls and roof of a house during demo day (as found on the Newfoundland Classifieds). The trusses, walls, and plywood came from the old feed shed we demolished, you can read more about that here.

THE GOOD- Recycled Materials Don't End up Land Fill

Several of the items we mentioned above were purchased on the classifieds, and if we didn't buy them someone else probably would have. But the building we demo'd as well as the insulation we pulled out of a house being renovated.... that would have most likely gone to the local landfill.

THE GOOD & BAD- Character

There are some recycled building materials and items that add real character to our cabin. For instance, the awesome Fisher Grandpa Bear Wood Stove! They literally don't make stoves like this anymore. This thing is MASSIVE, can heat up our entire cabin, and it has bear paws for feet. An added bonus is the talking point of matching stoves at our family cabins... my dad has the Grandma Bear and Mike's dad has the Papa Bear. What are the chances?

Unfortunately, as you can see in the pictures, not all recycled materials offer character. We've aptly nick-named our cabin the "murder palace", due to the hilariously creepy vibe the mis-matched insulation gives the place. Thankfully the insulation will all eventually be covered up (hopefully leading to some very dramatic for and afters).

Fisher Grandpa Bear Wood Stove and our Recycled Insulation

THE BAD- Nothing Fits Together

The worst part about using recycled building materials is the fact that nothing fits together like new materials would.

The biggest example of this was the recycled trusses and walls we used. The trusses we used were all pulled out of the same building, so you would think the dimension of the trusses would all be the same? Think again. We had to use the skill saw to cut down several trusses to make the top off the roof level. We burnt the motor in a circular saw doing this.

And the walls? Some sections of the walls had taller studs than other sections, meaning we had to go along and add 2 x 4 lumber to the top plate of the wall to make it level. Also, there were sections of the wall that required new plywood and lumber, and had holes that needed to be filled.

Another annoying thing about using the recycled pre-built walls is that we need to remove studs and re-frame the walls for every window or door we put in. We spent this winter with only a handful of windows installed, it is a lot more time consuming to add windows after-the-fact.

The other thing... get a good pry-bar because you are going to be pulling A LOT of nails.

THE BAD- Transport/ Handling Issues

Used trusses and walls are great. We didn't have to build nearly any trusses or walls from scratch. This saved us lumber, plywood, and nails... aka a lot of money! However, the logistics of bringing 30' trusses down an uneven dirt road in the woods are not something to overlook. We had to hire a flatbed to drop the trusses off on the side of the highway, which we had to unload with the excavator, that was the easy part.

To bring the trusses 2 miles down a dirt road we had to get creative. Mike had a friend of his weld up a hitch attachment for the back of the pickup. Basically a small steel cradle (~1' wide) that attached to the hitch and could swivel. We could fit one end of ~4 trusses in the steel cradle at a time. We then lodged the other end of the trusses on a small quad trailer, and used a ton of straps to hold it all together. This was all extremely difficult to do with two people (the trusses are HEAVY). On one of the trips the trusses fell over and came off the pickup, we were very lucky... some friends were on their way over for a visit and helped us get the trusses back up on the truck.

You can see the setup here, this is the good part of the road before the trusses fell off.

Recycled Trusses Enroute to the Build Site

Recycled building materials: the good the bad and the ugly

Were the recycled building materials a lot of work to get? Yes.

Were the recycled building materials difficult to get to our off grid build? Yes.

Were the materials a pain to fit together? Yes.

Are they ugly? Sure.

But at the end of the day we saved a ton of money and we were able to build a huge cabin for a fraction of the cost. Not to mention, the uglier recycled materials are going to be covered by our finishes, so its just ugly short term. Also, our cabin has a history and unique stories in its bones.

If you are on a budget and you want to build your cabin NOW, I say go for it!

Follow along with us as we build our DIY cabin on the ocean.

A great place to start is our series on building our foundation!

About Christina

I'm Christina and I live in the beautiful Canadian province of Newfoundland & Labrador. We are building a cabin by the ocean in rural Notre Dame Bay. Come along with Mike, Duke and I as we pursue our version of the Islanders dream!

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Disclaimer: The information given on this website is for reference and inspiration only. When starting a building project always consult professionals and follow local laws and regulations. 

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