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.
STEP ONE: make a listStart 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)
|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 listBig 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:
- 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.
- 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.
|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 performanceFor 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:
- energy efficiency
- structural integrity
|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 timeSalvaging 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.
RESOURCESThese 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)