30 March 2013

One Person's Waste...Is Another's Treasure

Salvaging building materials brings new life to otherwise discarded items.  Figuring how to reuse materials can inspire creativity and save loads of money in construction costs.  But you need to have a plan, or you risk spinning your wheels and burning out from all the leg-work involved.

all of the windows for this house are high-quality & energy-
efficient....and yes, they were all salvaged at huge cost savings
Below is the process that I share with my clients who want to make the most of salvage building materials in construction.  The key to success and keeping stress to a minimum is to start early and have a plan!  And don't forget to plan for a place to store what you find that ensures your materials stay protected.

Salvage-Hunting Process...

STEP ONE: make a list

Start by making a list of materials you will need for the project.  This way you know immediately when you see something interesting whether or not you can use it.  Try to avoid just purchasing items with a "maybe this will work...somewhere..." attitude.  You will end up spending a lot of time & money needlessly.
You also will want to track your list.  I use a spreadsheet with at least the following columns:
  • item (doors, windows, sinks, flooring, etc.)
  • location (this helps you keep track of your salvage items)
  • minimum size (what's the smallest your item can be)
  • maximum size (what's the largest your item can be)
  • special requirements & notes (to help you remember any specifics)
The goal is to have a shopping list to take with you as you go salvage hunting, with reminders of any limitations or special needs that each item has.

This built-in nook makes use of a salvaged church pew, cut to fit.
(The client had "two 4-foot nook benches" in their shopping list.)

STEP TWO: prioritize your list

Big items that can save you the most money include, doors & windows (see more info below), cabinets & counters, fixtures, and flooring. Other items can include framing lumber, railings, overstock insulation, patio pavers, etc. You can prioritize your list one of two ways:
  1. By construction timing - which item do you need first, second, third, etc. to keep your construction process flowing smoothly.  I think this method is best if your plan is to do your salvage hunting concurrent with the construction process.
  2. By which items can provide the greatest cost savings potential, such as windows, doors, and cabinets. This allows you to start looking for the items that give you the biggest dollar savings for your time spent, and by the time you get to the smaller items on the list you will be a salvage pro.
If you aren't sure how much energy you have in you for the salving hunt, then I would do option #2.  That way, if you start getting overwhelmed by the salvaging, at least you have collected big savings items.

This interior door is an old salvage door with single-pane glass...
not suitable for exterior use...but great for creating interior sound
separation while keeping visual connection between the spaces.

STEP THREE: research baseline pricing

In order to ensure that you don't overpay for your salvage items, you will need to do a little bit of research on what your items would cost if you purchased them new.  This can feel like a big task when you first start, but you will start to get the swing of it as you become a salvage hunting expert.

This counter is made of 3" thick maple, from a repurposed bowling
alley floor.  The total cost was 10% of what the counter would
have cost for new maple (or other solid-surface countertop).


STEP FOUR: don't give up performance

For items that have a performance implication, make sure you take that into consideration.  Otherwise you are saving upfront costs, only to find you need to spend money again later for higher energy bills or for replacement.  Performance criteria include:
  • durability
  • energy efficiency
  • structural integrity
For example, if salvage wood will be used structurally, it should be structural grade, show no signs of rot, be free of compromising holes, etc.  For windows, you will want energy efficient, double glazed windows in good condition. If the windows are used for passive solar gain in the winter, the windows also need to NOT have low-e glazing on them.  For appliances, you still want them to be energy efficient. You get the idea...

These wooden posts were salvage from 75+ year old building.
 The wood is hard and dense, and in great shape.  We had a
structural engineer inspect the wood before using it to build with.
(It could also be milled into beautiful flooring or trim.)

STEP FIVE: put in the time

Salvaging requires quite a bit of time & patience, so keep that in mind as you jump in.  And this is why I recommend starting early so you don't find yourself overwhelmed by a "holy heck we need this door tomorrow" moment.  I have included salvage resources that I find to be the most helpful in the region that I work (greater Washington DC/Baltimore MD region).  Feel free to post comments below to share your favorite building material salvage resources.

This metal railing was reused from another part of the same house!
The addition was built over a flat-roofed garage...the garage had a
railing all the way around, that was removed to build this art room.

Some specific Tips...

Salvage doors and windows usually provide the biggest savings for your time investment.  For windows, you have a few options. One is can find local companies that specialize in selling new & replacement windows. They often have a room in the back of new windows that were ordered wrong or were never picked up...orphans, if you will...that they are happy to sell at a discount.  It takes a lot of legwork, but this is a great way to get high quality, new windows for a fraction of the cost.
Used furniture can be nicely converted into a funky bathroom vanity.  You can check yard sales, local thrift shops, and even drive by upper-income neighborhoods early on trash day.
Another great resource is to check for a local Habitat for Humanity "Restore".  They sell donated, salvaged building materials & appliances at a great discount.  See www.habitat.org/restores to search for a ReStore resale outlet nearest you.  Proceeds go directly back to Habitat for Humanity.


These are my most-used resources in the Washington DC/Baltimore MD metro region.

www.secondchanceinc.org (in Baltimore)

www.rebuildwarehouse.org (in VA, but they have a lot of salvage building materials)

www.communityforklift.com (just outside of DC, in Maryland)

www.restorenova.org (Alexandria, VA)


  1. http://www.caravatis.com/ (Richmond, VA)

    1. Looks like a good one! Thanks for posting.

  2. Try The Loading Dock also

    1. Yes, of course! Thanks for that reminder Jenny!!

  3. No mention of craigslist? Of course everyone knows about craigslist. :)

    1. Craigslist is hit-or-miss to me. Definitely worth a gander, but also definitely verify quality vs. price for anything you find.

  4. Love your blog, and the work that you do. Maybe I'm not seeing it in here, but what about kitchen cabinets in a straw bale house?

    1. You can "sew" a couple 2x nailing boards through the strawbale wall that allows you to attach cabinets directly. I will add this to my list of details to take step-by-step photos of so I can post. Or you can build a wooden wall in front of the strawbale and use that as attachment. Does that help clarify?

    2. Thank you very much. It does help clarify.

  5. Freecycle is an amazing resource that works extremely well in the UK, more for interior fittings and furniture than windows and doors but it's always worth a look. You can ask for items too!!


    I have yet to find such a resource in France, where I intend to build. Anyone?

  6. Can you modify straw bales plans or modify non-straw bale plans? We are a large family and unable to find plans that have enough bedrooms.

    1. Hi Catherine,
      If you are asking if I provide plan modification as a service, the answer is regretfully no. I currently provide only a full design process, start-to-finish with support through construction. I am working on pre-designed plans that will be available in early 2015, but those will focus on smaller homes. Please let me know if you are interested in pursuing a custom design process with me. Thanks, Sigi

  7. Thank you for your post. This is excellent information. It is amazing and wonderful to visit your site.
    upvc sliding doors in hyderabad
    upvc sliding doors manufacturers


  8. parking permmits
    text message to tenants
    Cloud based parking management
    Explore the Web Based Software of Web Parking Software:
    For those people who are in search for the best web based software that are creatively developed, designed and intended for solving parking problems, you don’t need to look any further since Web Parking Software is the ideal choice that you should take into account. In addition to this, the company strives hard and work together to make their parking related services quickly accessible from the Internet. Web Parking Software has a professional, dependable and competent management team with in-depth expertise in the field of parking management, business management and IT computer software.
    The well trained and fully skilled engineers of Web Parking Software spent almost two years with their parking management team to create their first parking management and permit system. Apart from this, the company took daily procedures on snail mail, fax, phone and paper for almost a decade and at the same time applied a cloud based internet delivery system to enhance the reliability, organization and method. On the other hand, the web based software of Web Parking Software has an excellent deal of programming complex code and man hours.
    The entire interface was built to look simple and with a few mouse clicks, you will have a full control of your own building. They also include other non parking components that have the ability to facilitate management that include CRM components, email blasts and a lot more. Moreover, Web Parking Software together with their sister company Callbeforetow are part of CBT software that is fully operated by CBT Inc. The company wants to take the dissatisfaction out of parking management for townhouses, condominiums, home owners associations, apartments and other parking areas. This is one of the reasons why Web Parking Software has reinvented how the parking management should be done.
    The web based software of Web Parking Software was built for commercial property, board members, apartment managers, property managers and anyone involved in overseeing a managed parking environment. With the existence and help of Web Parking Software, you can be sure that all your parking problems will be completely solved by simply using the web based parking software of Web Parking Software. The web based parking software of Web Parking Software is a great system that will allow you to have a full control over your buildings whether onsite, by using your phone and even at your office. Most people who already tried and avail the services of Web Parking Software are all astounded and satisfied with the quality of their web based parking software.
    Once you decided to use their service, you are assured that you can able to eliminate about 75 percent of your paper work. Web Parking Software will guarantee their valued clients that they will never be disappointed with their services and most especially their web based parking software. If you want to learn and know more about the web based parking software of Web Parking Software, just feel free to visit their website at http://webparkingsoftware.com and see it for yourself.

  9. Thank you for your post. This is excellent information. It is amazing and wonderful to visit your site.
    upvc casement windows manufacturer
    upvc sliding windows manufacturers in hyderabad

  10. DABBL is a leading Manufacturers and Suppliers Company - specialize in Shower Enclosures, Shower Cubicle, Frameless, Sliding, Custom, Glass Shower Doors, Shower Stalls, Shower Cabinets, Tray etc and make your bathroom beautiful Enquiry at sale2@dabbl.com more information visit here Frameless Glass Shower Enclosures, Shower Cubicle, Shower Door, Screen