Tips for Getting Building Materials to a Remote Site

The remote building site you've chosen is beautiful, isolated and immersed in nature. But how will you get the building materials delivered?

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If your idea of the perfect location for your primary residence or second home is off the beaten path, you’re not alone. For vacation homes especially, many people dream of building on a remote lot, far from city lights, noise and traffic. It sounds like an ideal plan until you’re faced with getting building materials to that secluded plot.

Being realistic and budgeting for materials transportation will make your remote build less difficult and stressful.

Work Around the Weather

“Weather will play a huge part if the road isn’t paved or doesn’t have gravel,” says Jessica P., who with her partner Vaillant is building Pacific Pines Ranch, a shipping container home in a remote wooded area of the Oregon coast.

If rain turns your unpaved road into a river of mud, then rainy season is not the time to schedule deliveries, especially of heavyweight materials. Neither is winter if your rural access road will be covered in several feet of snow. Even if it means delaying your build, respect the weather. Schedule deliveries when you’ve got the best chance of good weather and a dry road.

Consider Smaller Loads

For their remote build, Jessica and Vaillant often arranged for multiple, smaller deliveries instead of packing heavy loads on big trucks. “If access is limited it’s better to break the delivery up into a few loads,” she says. “That will help with the weight of the delivery and allow smaller vehicles to carry the load.”

If your build site is far from the supply source, those extra trips can be an expensive and a time-consuming option. But it may be the only way to get materials to your site.

Build with Reclaimed Materials

One way to avoid the expense, hassle and time involved with hauling materials to your site is to look closely at what you have on hand. Could those felled trees be converted to timber to build the roof, deck or wood foundation of your new home? Can those boulders be repurposed into a retaining wall or fireplace mantle?

Incorporating natural materials as part of your build usually means planning ahead, so make sure your architect or builder knows you’re open to this while you’re still in the design stages. Every time you use natural materials on site cuts the cost of bringing materials in.

Upgrade Your Access Road

When delivering building materials to remote locations, “the biggest concern is usually getting stuck when you’re far away from resources to get unstuck,” Jessica says.

If you’ve got a dirt road, alleviate that worry by upgrading it to gravel. You’ll probably need a permit to do so. And unless you own heavy equipment, your builder will have to do most of the planning and the work. But it might be worth it if your project requires lots of heavy or oversized materials — like, in Jessica’s case, a shipping container.

Invest in a 4WD Truck

If you’re hauling a lot of building materials yourself, make sure you’ve got the right equipment. “The best option for the most difficult access is to have a truck with four-wheel drive,” says Jessica. “It’s also a good idea to have the tools and materials to get out should the truck get stuck.”

One such tool is a winch. Get one with a weight rating that’s 1.5 to two times your truck’s gross vehicle weight rating, as well as a tree-trunk protector if you use a tree as an anchor. This will protect the tree bark and potentially keep you from killing the tree.

“It also helps to have some experience with off-road driving and to know the limits of the vehicle,” says Jessica. If you’re lucky you might never use that winch. But if you need it, boy, will you be glad you bought it!

Make Room on Your Lot

On remote building sites, getting the materials delivered is often only half the battle. “It’s extremely important to have a plan and route in mind before attempting the delivery,” says Jessica, “including access, parking and turn around.”

Before the truck arrives, ask how long it is. Determine if it can turn around on your lot or needs to back out to exit the property. This could be tricky on steep grades or an unstable roadbed. Also, consider storage. You may not need that huge load of timber for a month or two, so where can you keep it secure, dry and out of the way of other trucks and equipment?

Take to the Water

Spring rains turned the road to your lakefront lot into a muddy mess, impassable for a truck bearing a heavy load of construction material. So why not look to the lake for a backup plan? Speak with your supplier or builder about delivering materials by water instead of land.

For example, on northern Minnesota’s Lake Vermilion, many vacation cabins are only accessible by water, so construction and delivery companies deliver building materials by barge. In the Florida Keys, builders take to barges when deliveries exceed weight limits on aging bridges. It may sound extreme, but big problems require creative problem solving!

Have a Contingency Plan

If you’ve ever renovated a home or built a new one, you’ve probably learned to expect the unexpected. Equipment failures, delivery delays or unforeseen problems are just some of the headaches new homeowners or renovators run into. A “hope for the best but expect the worst” attitude will serve you well on your rural build site.

If a delivery truck — yours or the construction company’s — gets stuck on your land, have a plan for getting it unstuck. If a surprise late spring snowstorm delays crucial deliveries, revisit your building schedule and adjust as needed, rather than panic over upended plans.

Elizabeth Heath
Elizabeth Heath is a travel, lifestyle and home improvement writer based in rural Umbria, Italy. Her work appears in The Washington Post, Travel + Leisure, Reader's Digest, TripSavvy and many other publications, and she is the author of several guidebooks. Liz's husband is a stonemason and together, they are passionate about the great outdoors, endless home improvement projects, their tween daughter and their dogs. She covers a variety of topics for Family Handyman and is always ready to test out a new pizza oven or fire pit.