Keep costs in check by reusing and recycling building materials

Building a Recycled Deck

by Karen Millard

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How often have you begun a do-it-yourself project only to wonder halfway through where the savings went? You total up the money spent on materials, hardware and supplies and without even factoring in the cost of your time you arrive at a bill far higher than you could have imagined possible.

The trick to making do-it-yourself work as a money-saver is hidden in the Environmentalist's slogan: Reuse and recycle. My husband and I recently put this principle to work when we decided to build a playhouse and sandbox for our children and later, when we remodeled our deck. Several trips to the builder's supply stores to check out the prices of playhouse-kits had left us discouraged and frustrated. Even the simplest models were going to cost us over four hundred Canadian dollars. Our only option was to try and reuse something we already had. That something turned out to be an unused deck around the side of our house. We think the previous owners used it as a place to store firewood, but it had never served us any useful purpose.

After borrowing a few design ideas from the professionally- prepared kits and sketching them on graph paper we tore up the old deck and put the lumber to use in the new playhouse. We even had enough to build a huge sandbox beneath it. All we had to buy were six pressure-treated fence posts for the corners and roof-supports, nails and sand. The roof is a large piece of tarpaulin we had in the garage. Although we made our sandbox out of salvaged lumber, many people use old waterbed frames with equal success. Queen or King-sized are best, just flip them over and the triangular corner-braces become ready-made seats! Obviously, when building for children, be sure to maintain high safety standards.

Our remodeled deck came about in much the same way. Previously it had been a rather small and confining space surrounded by broken lattice. We wanted something more spacious. Still, budget requirements got in the way again so we started looking around to see what we already had. We came up with a simple rectangular design which would use all of the two by fours currently supporting the lattice. The deck itself is still in good shape, all we needed to do was build a small fence along the two short sides and (eventually) a set of steps parallel to the house which will serve as bleacher-style seating. We didn't have enough lumber of our own to complete the project however, so we began to look around to see what we could find. It turned out my father was on the verge of throwing out an ugly but very sturdy home-made desk. Cut to the proper size, it's parts took on new life as railings in our deck-surround. We even managed to build a cap for the railing, wide enough to lean on comfortably or to support a well-stocked plate! The cap came, not from the desk, but from discarded wooden valances my brother and his wife were sending to the dump!

Don't be afraid to ask around for salvageable materials. Friends and family are often thrilled to have you take their "junk" off their hands. To many people, a clutter-free garage is the ultimate treasure! You might also check out government institutions, which are notorious for throwing out perfectly good items. Keep your eyes open when school- boards, libraries, hospitals and government offices are renovating or redecorating. When you attend garage sales, look at an item not only for it's value as is, but for what it might become. My favourite "bookcase" is a repainted wooden sleigh which now sits beside my desk!

As you can imagine, any project completed with bits of this and bits of that is going to have a rough, often multicoloured look! Paint is the best remedy. It unifies the appearance and protects your project from the elements. Who needs to see all that hard work destroyed by rain? Use the best quality paint and water-seal you can afford and apply at least three coats. (You will of course, have shopped around for the best deal possible on these high-quality paints!) And don't skimp on nails and screws either. Check with your builder's supply store for the best kind of hardware for your project.

You may have to scale back your plans somewhat when you work with salvaged materials, but the satisfaction of knowing you completed a project for next-to-nothing and helped out the environment to boot is ample consolation!

My husband Mark and I live in Saskatchewan, Canada with our three children and have been living frugally on one income since our first child was born almost eleven years ago.

Take the Next Step

  • See if you have a local Habitat for Humanity from which to get some of your materials. There's a reason it's called the affordable home improvement store!
  • Take your deck project one step further with these tips for making an outdoor room on a budget.
  • Join those who 'live better...for less' - Subscribe to The Dollar Stretcher newsletter, a weekly look at how to stretch both your day and your dollar! Subscribers get a copy of our ebook Little Luxuries: 130 Ways to Live Better...For Less for FREE!
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