As I write this, my husband and I are in the midst of a daunting home remodeling project – as in, we are up to our ears in drywall dust and walking around on subfloors. After writing about my urge to knock out walls and create an open floor plan in our home last year, and mulling over the costs for months, we decided to pull the trigger and reconfigure the bottom floor of the house we love early this year.
Long story short: Our project encompasses almost our entire downstairs, but leaves our updated kitchen, half-bathroom, and office area alone. Once it’s done, a living room, family room, and foyer will become one L-shaped space, and I’ll finally have something close to the open floor plan I’ve been craving for years. Finally.
Of course, the dream of remodeling a home isn’t nearly as carefree and idyllic as the reality. One aspect of our home remodel that worried me at first was the vast amount of waste we would create. After all, knocking out walls meant replacing some fairly new carpet and around 700 square feet of existing solid wood flooring. Plus, there would be doors, wood trim, and all kinds of drywall to contend with. In addition to being cheap, I absolutely hate throwing away “good stuff.”
Fortunately, after a little digging, I found I could get rid of the vast majority of these resources – and not by throwing them into a dumpster. In reality, there is an entire underworld of used building materials that are changing hands from day to day with positive effects for both the environment and our pocketbooks.
How Salvaging Building Materials Can Bring Used Items New Life
Internationally-recognized designer Pablo Solomon has seen how used materials can benefit neighborhoods and individuals firsthand. Growing up in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Houston, Solomon helped his father repair and remodel older homes to earn extra money as a child. Since many of the homes they refurbished were more than 100 years old, Solomon and his father did everything they could to salvage workable building materials for profit instead of letting them go to waste.
Materials they saved most of the time were bricks, lumber, pipes, and fixtures, but Solomon was also known for pulling out nails to straighten and use in future projects.
As a celebrated designer, Solomon relies on his love of used and vintage materials to this very day – a strategy that works particularly well for his historical restoration projects. According to Solomon, nearly any building material in good or decent condition can be reused in a different project.
Five Home Materials to Salvage, Sell, or Give Away
But, which materials work best? In addition to Solomon, several experts weighed in to tell us which home materials can best be reused and given new life.
Designer Joe Human of Designs by Human notes that, despite any ideas to the contrary, hardwood floors are easily reused. When Human was working on a home remodeling project recently, he had someone come to the property and carefully remove all the wooden floors to reuse in their own home.
Thanks to my current “situation,” I can also attest to the value of old wooden floors in the secondhand market. When my husband and I pulled ours up for our remodeling project, I posted the giant pile of floors on my local Craiglist page to gauge interest. Amazingly, I had around 20 responses within in the first hour. And by the end of the day, a stranger from Craigslist hauled away every last board to use in their dining room and kitchen.
Their plan was to sand them, re-stain them, and nail them right back down, they said, which was perfectly fine with me. Not only did I keep around 700 square feet of wooden floors out of a landfill, but it felt good to help someone save money on their own project as well.
While old carpet isn’t all that desirable, carpet that is newer or exceptionally clean is considered a hot commodity. Mindy Jensen of BiggerPockets.com found this out a few years ago when she was remodeling a home she had just purchased. The carpet already down was almost new, so she took it to a center in her area that matches homeowners with hard-to-recycle materials.
“The carpeting went to a homeowner who had a slightly smaller room that needed flooring,” says Mindy. “It was brand spanking new, and I hated to just toss it, but I couldn’t use it.”
My husband and I also gave this strategy a whirl during our home remodel. I had two rooms of two-year-old carpet that was almost immaculate; after all, I never let anyone wear shoes or eat or drink anywhere near it. I put our used carpet on our neighborhood Facebook page and I had at least 10 responses within minutes. And in the end, a neighbor took the carpet and refinished part of his basement – a huge win for both of us, since he got free carpet and I didn’t have to pay to have it hauled away.
Locks and Door Knobs
According to Teddy Poulos of A-Access Lock & Key of Charlotte, N.C., people commonly overlook quality door hardware when they’re remodeling or demolishing a property.
“Always remove your locks without damage in case you need to reuse them or give them away,” says Poulos. “You can restore locks,” he says.
And since door knobs and hardware are small enough to ship, you can even try selling high quality pieces or antique hardware on sites like eBay or Craigslist. Or, if you want, you can donate your used hardware and door knobs to a building reuse center or someone who could use them.
Kera Cherrey, owner of Chesapeake Staging & Design in Maryland, says one of the easiest items to put back into circulation is lighting. While builder grade and shiny brass fixtures of the 80’s can be downright ugly, many people will take the time to breathe new life into your outdated light fixtures to save money and keep them out of a landfill.
“The easiest fix is paint,” says Cherrey. “I once instructed a client to take an old, gold chandelier and paint it black. She did this with an ordinary semi-gloss, but the job would’ve been easier with a metal paint.”
The next easy fix is to change the globes, or the glass which illuminates the light, she says. “Updating the glass from a frosted to clear or colored globe can easily modernize a fixture while allowing more light to shine.”
Vintage items have also become increasingly popular due to the popularity of shabby chic and rustic home décor. “Really old things have a habit of coming back in style,” says Cherrey.
And if you don’t want to do these updates, that doesn’t mean someone else won’t. That’s why it always pays to give these items away instead of throwing them directly in the trash.
From bathroom vanities to kitchen cabinets, wooden furniture items are easily refurbished, repainted or refinished, and reused.
If you simply want to update your look without buying new, you can try staining or repainting your old cabinets and replacing the hardware for a fresher, newer look. (I sanded and re-stained all of my kitchen cabinets last year, and it gave my entire kitchen a brand-new look. You can read about it here.)
If you’re insistent on replacing your old cabinets, on the other hand, give away or sell your old ones so that someone else can make them look new. Chances are good someone will be able to repurpose your old cabinets for a home remodeling project of their own – or for use in a rental property.
Other Materials That Can Be Reused
According to Martha Cerna of the housing nonprofit Habitat for Humanity, the organization’s ReStore storefronts receive and resell all kinds of building materials that can be reused, recycled, and upcycled. Currently, over 850 Habitat for Humanity ReStores around the nation accept everything from recycled paint to lumber, tile, and windows.
If you aren’t sure whether someone would want your used building materials, you can call up your local ReStore site or post your items on Craiglist or other local message boards in your area. What people are willing to take and reuse might surprise you, and you’ll never know what kind of response you’ll get until you try.
And if you’re not doing the demo yourself, there are entire businesses devoted to deconstructing your home or project in order to salvage as many materials as possible.
Deconstructing is “a definite ‘green’ trend because it keeps building materials out of landfills and can generate tax write-offs or extra cash to sellers who donate the materials to nonprofit reuse stores,” says Cheryl Reed, director of communications at Angie’s List.
“When a homeowner needs to demolish, instead of bulldozing the structure, these service providers use a crew to take apart the house by hand, getting salvageable things like lighting, molding, flooring, roofing materials, and what have you,” Reed says.
Experts Reed has worked with say that up to 85% of a typical home’s materials can be re-used if deconstructed in a careful, thought-out way, she says.
The process just takes longer than a traditional demolition, says Reed, which can be a hassle if you’re not prepared. That’s why your first step in salvaging materials should be planning ahead and looking for individuals who might want your materials as soon as you can.
Your Trash Might Be Someone Else’s Treasure
Before I began this process, I didn’t realize someone might be happy to haul away 700 square feet of wooden floors from my garage. But now that it’s behind me, I’m so glad I learned that people are generally more than willing to incorporate your used materials in their new building plans.
It just goes to show how your trash might be someone else’s treasure, and how a little ingenuity and craftsmanship can make old building materials look brand new. And since most of these items would have ended up in a landfill, anything that earns them a second life is a win for the environment – and for humanity.
The flip side to tall this is that if you want to save money on your own home remodeling project, shopping for used materials is equally smart. While saving money is the goal, saving the environment is even better.
Have you ever built something with used building materials? Have you ever given something away when your first inclination was to throw it in the trash?