tips for shopping for salvaged building materials

Buying your sinks, mantels, or doors for your home from a salvage yard can pay double environmental dividends.  First, reusing salvaged building materials keeps them out of landfills.  Second, you are reducing the energy used to manufacture those materials.   But the biggest benefit of all is that you are using materials from an era when craftsmanship was king.


Knowing what to shop for and making sure the pieces fit your home can take some saavy though.

  • Measure, then re-measure, then re-measure again!  Buying salvaged materials does you no good if the materials will not fit into your home.
  • Make sure that the old windows and doors that you buy are square and that the hardware and hinges are functional, or can be easily repaired or replaced.
  • Salvaged and antique materials aren’t necessarily cheap — make sure you have a budget and stick to it.  You can easily spend more fitting a salvaged bathtub into a space than buying new if you don’t work within your budgetary parameters,
  • Beware of how sizes have changed over time. Standard sizes, such as door thickness and the size of framing lumber, have changed over the years. Ask the store manager about the product you plan to use and how it compares to modern materials.  Take your measurements with you.
  • Are there enough? You may love a set of vintage oak cabinets, but you might need more than what’s available at the salvage store. Remember, you can always get creative by mixing old and new materials, or using fill-ins, such as open shelves.
  • Remember old building materials were sometimes hazardous. Years ago, folks didn’t recognize the dangers of lead paint and asbestos.  Also, old wiring may not meet modern electrical codes. Ask the store manager what they know about the materials and if they have been tested.
  • Hire an expert!   Hiring a contractor who has experience working with recycled materials can help you overcome most of the challenges of working with repurposed materials. You can always ask the manager of your local salvage store, or friends who’ve done similar projects, who they’d recommend.

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