Building With Salvaged Materials

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reclaimed building materials bottle wall

(image: Самый древний )

Salvaged building materials create one-of-a-kind homes and rooms, giving life to old lumber, fixtures, and appliances.


There are a lot of reasons to use salvaged materials in new construction or remodeling. It appeals to adventurous, creative people who want a unique and interesting home that is a reflection of who they are. Salvage is for eco-minded people who want to reuse whatever they can in all aspects of their lives instead of seeing it take up landfill space. Then there are the builders who are fearless and love the challenge of fitting found materials into traditionally built spaces.

Recycling has gained in popularity over the last several years due to the interest in green living. One benefit is that salvage and demolition companies have been cropping up. Websites like craigslist, Freecycle, ebay, and local for sale groups on social media are growing in number, too.

Are you interested in building with salvaged materials? Here are some thoughts on the process.

Vision and patience

salvaged door

(image: Ryan McFarland)

If you are thinking of using recycled material to build, you must already have a strong creative streak. This is not like building a 2×6 wall with 3’x3’ low-e windows and steel doors. Recycling is being able to envision a stained glass accent window over an old wood door, or finding an entire kitchen at a salvage yard, but not in the wood you had hoped for. Recycling is having the flexibility to work with what you find instead of making a plan you have to follow.

When you make the decision to build, start collecting materials you like and think you will use. You can resell what is left over in the end.

Gathering materials will not happen with an online shopping trip and a truck delivering your goods. It takes many visits to salvage stores, the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, yard sales, and demolition sites. Buddy up with some remodeling contractors. They aren’t crazy about storing what they take out of a building.

You will have to measure, measure, and measure again for the space you are building and the materials you find. Again, being flexible will work in your favor.

Elbow grease

Once you find your materials, be prepared to spend time cleaning up the older items. Nails will need to be pulled en masse, and the holes that remain will need to be filled. Sanding, staining, and sealing will give you a beautiful finished product, though!

Some doors may not come with frames, so you will have to build them. The sizes of your lumber may be different than that of a standard framed door. Make sure doors, windows, and cabinets are square. If not, keep looking.

A pile of bricks will have to be scraped and cleaned before going into a floor or fireplace front. Older light fixtures will probably need to be rewired. If you don’t know how to do this, hire an electrician. Sinks and bathtubs may need a new finish. Again, you might need to get a professional to do this.

Beware of lead paint, which was banned in 1978. It must be sealed or painted over, not removed by scraping or sanding.

salvaged wood table

(image: Inhabitat)

A few ideas

When I remodeled, I put my old wood exterior doors on the kids’ rooms. They are side by side, as the rooms are next to each other. It looks like it was an intentional design decision, but it just happened to work out that way at the last minute.

I had found some barn doors at the dump, and I planned to use one or both as room dividers for a large living area. I sold that house before I had the chance, but I think those were my greatest find.

The hardware store in town was remodeling the old apartments upstairs. A claw foot tub was sitting in the parking area, free for the taking. After having a few margaritas at the bar across the street, some friends and I loaded it into my truck for my new house. My plumber was not happy with that, since the drain was an odd size for modern hardware. He managed to hook it up, but extra work means extra cost.

reclaimed bathtubs

(image: Fred Scharmen)

Single pane windows can be installed inside to let light into interior rooms.

Tile scraps can make an eclectic countertop or backsplash in the kitchen or bath. If they are different sizes, bust them up to make a mosaic instead of laying them side by side.

Reclaimed lumber can be made into box beams on the ceiling. Faux beams, I call them. They do come in handy when you want to conceal wiring or duct work. Old lumber can also be ripped for custom trim.

An old wood beam can be upcycled into a mantel. Old crates and shipping boxes can become your kitchen cabinets.

Is salvage cost effective?

Sometimes creativity overrides financial payback. It’s gratifying to recycle, build, create something new out of something old, and have a unique end product. Priceless as the commercials say.

If you are concerned about recouping the costs, find out beforehand the average resale value of area homes. Don’t put in more money than you think you can get out of it. This is standard remodeling and building information, but working with salvage can drive the price up, because it can be so labor intensive. It’s more cost effective if you are willing to do the work yourself, putting in sweat equity.

Personal decisions

It’s up to you to decide how much salvage you want to use in your project. Some tiny homes are completely made of recycled materials, cutting costs to the bone. Tiny homes are not for everyone, but they certainly are inspirational as far as green living.

Building with salvaged materials is for DIYers and those that like having a project. Depending on the size of the structure, a homeowner could be debt-free or have very little debt.

You’re the only one who understands your creativity, patience, and finances. Let those be your guides.

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.