Home improvement can be expensive—even if you want the slightly battered reclaimed-wood look, be prepared to pay through the nose. Or you could get creative with shipping pallets, the bulky wood crates companies use to move goods. No, really. Pallets are the perfect material for just about any home project, rustic or modern, you can imagine. And you might be able to get those pallets for free. Repurpose them as smaller décor pieces, furniture, or even remodeling material for your house.
Bobby Sue Bower of A Building We Shall Go used pallets to create a rustic hardwood floor in her home. The idea was part inspiration, part ingenuity. After a house fire in 2012, Bower wanted to rebuild using reclaimed materials, but the cost was high. “One contractor quoted $12,000 just for the floor,” Bower says. Instead, Bower used pallet wood—and a lot of hard work—to build the floor herself. “We just love it,” she says.
Not ready to commit to a full-room remodel? Shannon Acheson of AKA Design used pallets to create a sliding barn door in her home. “The inspiration was born out of both necessity and our love of all things rustic-industrial. We needed to create a bit of a barrier between our living room and the downstairs family room noise,” Acheson says.
Pallets can work outdoors, too. Funky Junk Interiors created a beach boardwalk–style walkway along a garden path by using pallet wood planks as steppingstones. And if you’re looking for something smaller, pallets can be used to create accent furniture as well. In “Make Garbage Great,” author Albe Zakes converted a pallet into a modern-looking side table with minimal fuss.
Go get ’em
Typically, if a company—like a big-box retailer, local clothing store, or town newspaper—receives goods, it’ll have pallets. While some companies have contracts to remove and recycle these pallets, many don’t, and they’ll be happy to hand over the goods—all you need to do is ask. If you need help finding pallets, 1001Pallets has created a Google Map of known spots. Once you have a stack of pallets, make sure you’re taking home only the safest materials. Check for spills, stains, and discolorations, as they might be a sign of something toxic. If the pallet is clean, check for labels. Not all pallets will have a label or stamp, but if they do, 1001Pallets says to look for the following:
HT: The HT label means the pallet was heat-treated. Heat-treated pallets are not harmful to your health.
KD: KD stands for kiln-dried lumber. Done to reduce moisture, KD isn’t harmful.
MB: MB pallets were fumigated with chemicals. Avoid any with this marker.
Getting down to business
To get a gorgeous end-product, plan to pick up more pallets than you think you’ll actually need for your project and do a lot of inspection. “I always tell people upfront. More than half the planks we prepared for our floor were not actually used on the floor,” says Bower. “We were very meticulous in choosing the planks we put down.”
Check each pallet for signs of warping, discoloration, or cracks. While discoloration may buff or stain out, warping and cracks could cause your project to break down quickly. And if you find any you can’t use—don’t forget to recycle!