Building your own tiny/small house or dream micro-cabin for FREE/Nothing...
April 3, 2011

Building your own tiny/small house or dream micro-cabin for FREE/Nothing…

Guest Post by -Derek “Deek” Diedricksen

(by example of a recent FREE CLUBHOUSE-SHED/Playground Set in the Massachusetts area (the following is a ROUGH excerpt from an in-the-works salvage chapter on tiny houses that will be in my follow-up book to “Humble Homes, Simple Shacks….” a micro-cabin design collection)

We’ve had quite a few posts on this subject before, from scrounging pallet wood for construction (which can be found at almost every turn), to dumpster-diving for materials, and finding/collecting them streetside (esp. windows and doors on daily trash routes/construction site debris piles)…..but Craigslist is the one often used and obvious place we have not discussed quite as much- at least in terms of pure salvage.

You’d be amazed, in YOUR area (well, unless you’re in the middle of nowhere Montana, etc) at what pops up under the search title “Free”- lumber, appliances, boats, campers, defunct mafia torture tools, and more- and alot of it is perfectly good stuff- you just need to ask a few questions, and check out the photos first, before hoppin’ in you car for the trek.

Today;s Example: Now here’s a free 8′ by 8′ by 8′ clubhouse (or guesthouse? if you tweaked it) that was recently up for “FREE” in my area just last week- it also came with the offer of an enormous swingset worth of pressure treated lumber (none of it that old)- so, with some time and a few simple tools, you’d have this free shack AND an abundance of lumber all in one trip with a smallish trailer or truck.

Beyond that, if you want more bang for your buck, and have no kids, or no need for a swingset, with a little research you’ll find that the slide itself (and various other swings and parts) are actually quite pricey as replacements. Therefore, there is a used market for these items on craigslist and ebay- making your trip even more potentially worthwhile….AND, potentially providing even the most “broke” of us with a means to acquire additional funds for that dream micro-cabin in the woods. Heck, in this case, the 8-foot-cabin cabin COULD already be that tiny dream cabin, writer’s retreat, or treehome/treehouse escape- it just needs some rennovating and t.l.c.

Now the sticklers out there will immediately think “Now Deek, tisk, tisk…you’ll at least need nails and paint to complete the tiny house task at hand, and those DO cost money…so your cabin quest really wouldn’t be “FREE””. Well, that is true, but its also true that with a little time and luck, pre-planning and searching, you CAN find a TON of free paint most anywhere as well- and if the colors aren’t up to your liking- mix ‘em until you get something more workable or palletable. As for the nails, especially with larger ones, I always have two small buckets on hand when I’m dismantling projects and salvaging (removing nails) from wood- one bucket is for nails that are still useable and good (or easily bent back into shape), the other’s for nails that are totally hopeless. This later bucket eventually goes to the metal scrap yard for recycling. The point is, though, that after a little salvaging here and there, you’ll be amazed at how much by the way of hardware (nails, hinges, hooks, bolts, lag screws) you’ll accumulate- and aside from the expenditure of time, yes, even your nails will be free…

In the case of the swingset I’m also assuming (if built properly) that its fairly loaded with galvanized carriage bolts- and sizeable ones too….and those things don’t come all that cheap….not to mention the other specialized hardware a playground-set harbors- which you just may find a use for…

As for the gas money to get to these free items- well, that’s where selling some of this stuff on the side not only covers that and evens things out, but brings you out far ahead in the end of this often fun and rewarding game. Also, after doing this for awhile, you may end up with an excess of perfectly useable lumber. If that starts taking up too much room next to your front-yard collection of garden gnomes, then there’s also the cash possibility of moving THAT as well.

And….be sure to pat yourself on the back while reminding yourself that you’re most likely keeping a HUGE amount of trash out of landfills by going this avenue of cabin building- it always makes for a nice backstory too…

-Derek “Deek” Diedricksen Author of “Humble Homes, Simple Shacks…”, Host of “Tiny Yellow House” TV on youtube, Honcho of

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deborah - April 4, 2011 Reply

Good advice and sounds like it will be a great book! 😉

Pilgrim - April 4, 2011 Reply

Ha Ha–palletable! Ha ha

liz - April 4, 2011 Reply

Did you go get it?If so, I’d like to see what you can do with it!

liz - April 4, 2011 Reply

Just checked my local craigslist. Surprise! There are no listings for free stuff that aren’t dogs or puppies! There are people posting that they are looking for barns and old buildings to tear down for materials though. Of course I do Live in West Virginia, where people sell any thing, no matter how lowly!

alice - April 4, 2011 Reply

My local craigslist has a lot of useful building items at the moment, including bricks and concrete blocks, lumber, tiles, an old playhouse, scaffolding and a lot of appliances and cupboards. Sure wish I had a truck and some storage space that wouldn’t make cranky neighbours! People sometimes put useful stuff in the alleys around here on garbage day hoping someone will take it. Some people actually cruise around in trucks checking it out. Some places have a designated day to put out large items for collection and there are lots of construction sites nearby a person can collect bits and bobs from. Some contractors are happy to have less to haul away as long as you don’t make a mess. Ask nicely, you never know.

Judith Williams - April 4, 2011 Reply

I am just finishing up 2 small papercrete buildings for which I salvaged and bought at Habitat most of my components. I get cardboard from dumpsters and mix it with a small amount of cement mixed with fly ash from the coal fire plant in the 4 corners area. I collected all of my windows, doors, appliances, etc about 5 years ago. I have noticed recently that there are far fewer sources of good stuff. Even Habitat is charging a lot for used things. I check Craigslist occasionally and never see anything of value being offered for free, and Ebay has always been a huge disappointment. I don’t mean to be negative. I am a huge proponent of building with recycle material and hope I am wrong about the availability of it. I love your blog and look forward to your book.

Kevin Wilbeck - April 4, 2011 Reply

Another technique is to cruise old farm places looking for little buildings (feed sheds, garages, chicken coops, etc)and then track down the owner. Many would be happy to let you tear them down for materials or haul it away. We have converted 4 little buildings and soon to start on an old milk house (10’x16′).

Benjamin - April 4, 2011 Reply

Ironically one needs to have a large amount of space to store materials for tiny house building.

Julie - April 6, 2011 Reply

We are building a free chicken coop right now. My husband spotted a pile of lumber mixed with brush, ready to burn, and he stopped and asked if he could dig some of it out. The owner said yes.

Our best discovery were some wooden crates from a tractor supply shop. There are some really long, nice boards in there, 8 foot long, and they are really well built.

We’re also using pallets and some corrugated metal that we found.

john b - April 25, 2011 Reply

first tiny house story I read.
The 3 Little Pigs.
I wanted to talk about the possibilities of each house, maybe find out how a huffing, puffing wolf could blow down a well built stick or straw house. I figured he had to have some capped and fused dynamite in his hip pocket, or at least a big version of the Mattel Sonic Blast.

The teacher, and students wanted to go on to building bad 2nd grade art based on the book.

Now you know why we don’t have a Deek Diedricksen in our locale, certainly no Jaimie or Adam either!

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