How To Find Cheap and Free Construction Materials (for any purpose!)

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So we’ve all been there: money is tight, but we have big plans to help our family with various projects (such as chicken coops). We look at the costs involved for the building supplies and we think to ourselves ‘we just can’t afford this right now!’

Paying attention to detail

This type of negative thinking prevents a lot of people from fulfilling their dreams of building gardens, sheds, chicken coops, and even just regular ol’ home improvement projects. Below I have outlined several tips and suggestions for getting around that so you can move to the construction phase of your big ideas quickly and easily.

    1. ASK for cheaper wood! Go to a lumber yard and speak to the manager or owner. You can also call, but the old saying ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’ so they’re going to see a potential customer RIGHT in front of them and be more willing to play Let’s Make A Deal than if you call. Ask them if there is any hardwood or construction lumber they would like to sell quickly and cheaply. Be careful with wood marked as ‘infested’. If you get wood which is marked as this, generally it can be frozen or sealed to kill any bugs in it, but I wouldn’t risk it personally. Check for insect activity before purchasing. Generally a smart manager will give you a good deal on wood they can’t sell for various reasons. And if you happen to run into a not-so-smart manager . . . move on. There are a million lumber yards so don’t waste your time. Most managers and owners know that you’re really doing THEM the favor by taking that wood off of their hands. It would cost more for them to dispose of it and this way they’re not losing as much money. It’s a two-way partnership.


    1. A lot of people will turn their noses up at wood that has knot holes and imperfections in it so ask for wood that people have returned (this works for lumber yards as well as your major hardware stores). It’s generally still good wood, but it didn’t meet their high standards of ‘pretty’. Sometimes entire bundles will be marked as rustic or second grade lumber when in reality only a few pieces on the top are imperfect. Other people’s snobbery is your gain!


    1. Don’t be a jerk. No one wants to talk to or give anything to a person who has a chip on their shoulder or an entitled attitude. Take a page from my wife’s book of Southern Charm and eat a spoonful of sugar before talking to anyone about getting free or cheap items. A pleasant tone of voice and a friendly smile goes a long way toward getting what you want in a subjective agreement that is usually off the books.


    1. Check the dumpsters around places under construction or behind hardware/lumber stores. I don’t recommend actually going inside the dumpster, but good items are generally left right there either on top or in front of dumpsters frequently. Think I’m joking? Years ago when I worked for a well-known hardware store chain that begins with L, we often threw away entire stained-glass doors, sheets of drywall that was missing a corner, charcoal grills, tons of good lumber, a million and one old wood pallets that could be used for a ton of things, and many items that came back from deliveries since we had a policy of removing the old appliances when delivering new ones. Many things were demos that we couldn’t actually sell so we had to throw them away! And when doing construction, companies will often purchase more than they need and the rest gets tossed. Just finding places to go ‘cruising around’ will be worth the weight in gold later. Things like this really irritate me because Western culture is so focussed on the ‘bigger is better’ mentality that good items are thrown away. It’s wasteful, but you can benefit from that and so can your chickens! The best part is that almost no one can tell that you got something from next to a dumpster unless you tell them so if you’re still nervous about keeping up appearances, don’t be.


    1. Visit the recycling center in your area and question them about construction items or other bits and pieces which may work for you. Old doors and windows, etc. Usually this stuff is free for the taking and almost any plan or blueprint you read can be adjusted easily to accommodate a recycled window or door instead of building one from scratch.


    1. Freecycle and Cheapcycle are both great groups to join on yahoogroups. Check out the rules for your local group, but usually you can both browse the ads and then post your own want ad for things you’re looking for.Craigslist has a dubious reputation these days, but if you follow basic safety rules you can generally sniff out great deals. People often want things picked up for free instead of paying to have it taken to the dump so they’ll happily give you extra construction items they no longer need. Just look for ads or post one of your own there.Need cheap paint? Go to any paint store or major hardware store and ask where they keep the mistakes. People often not only return paint because it isn’t exactly the right color for them, but the mixers also make mistakes sometimes, too. So it’s just a matter of sorting through their shelf to find what you want. When I do this I make a note on an index card of what type of paint finish it is, what brand, and then dip half the card and dry it so if I want to go back and get that exact same color again I have a paint chip for a color match with all the information on it. It worked great when I was repainting our daughter’s bedroom!


    1. Look for ads where people are wanting old barns torn down. You might not even have to do all the work, but you can sometimes lend a hand in exchange for as much of the wood as you can carry. The wood is generally older and well-seasoned so it’s great to use for chicken coops, garden sheds, and dog houses!


Until later,


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6 thoughts on “How To Find Cheap and Free Construction Materials (for any purpose!)

  1. Many businesses that sell yard and garden equipment often have a lot of pallets plus shipping containers made OSB and 2 x 3 stuff that they will give to anyone for the asking simply to get rid of it.

    • Yep that’s true. And sometimes you can get the shipping containers and resell them to make extra money. People will snatch them up for $100-400 a piece for various projects and you’ve made a good deal of money from something that doesn’t cost you anything but the sweat on your brow to pick up and deliver. I know a fella who makes a good living doing just that and people are very thankful for him to do it!

      • For those interested in raising their own beef, believe it or not if you invest the money into 1 sack of powdered milk per calf, you can usually get Jersey bull calves for free from dairies as they usually discard them. I was raised on an angus ranch but I moved to an all dairy community and a farmer gave me jersey steaks to try and honest to God it was the best meat I ever had and I raised grass only with no grain fattening prior to slaughter. The fat is yelowish but my goodness it’s awesome!!!! Also right now on the northwest of U.S. jersey steers are a hot commodity at age 6 months to 2 years. They are being shipped to California at over a buck a lb. live on the hoof!!!! Good grass fed will have 3 to 5 % fat which is $7.50 a lb in stores in Seattle right now if raised organically!!! Live on the hoof up there is paying out over $5 per lb. you just have to do your homework to find the right markets. 1 year ago jersey steers were a poormans free beef usually only enough raised to fill 1 freezer (300lbs. hanging weight) now they are being raised commercially in groups of 100 or more and bringing in good money for homesteaders. Just ask around at jersey farms and ask farmer if they will call you if they have bull calves born. Also if they call you it was just born so tell them you will pick it up the next day late in the day and they will let it get mommas colostrum for 24 hours. It will get a good start to life. I understand this is a building forum but being a homesteader I like to help out other homesteaders.

        • Gen,

          That is really, really good to know! I want to look into this some more and possibly do a post about it. Thanks so much for sharing!

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