Your Garbage Could Be Someone's Treasure

Categories: DIY
Deconstruction conserves resources - not just the materials, but all the energy it took to manufacture them in the first place. Lumber, doors, windows, cabinets, flooring, bathroom and kitchen fixtures, hardware and wiring are items most typically recovered. Older buildings often contain rare, old growth lumber of very high quality
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)

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