How to Salvage Old Building Materials

A quick guide to salvaging or recycling windows, doors, roofing, and more


| January/February 1999



Years ago I dismantled several old motel cabins and a small older house to salvage various building materials, which were later used to construct a "new" home. This gave me some useful insights into what is worth salvaging and what is not.

Metal roofing is perhaps the most valuable manufactured item to salvage. The cabins we dismantled had aluminum roofing panels attached with spiral-drive roofing nails. Although care is required to remove metal roofing sections without damage, the long life expectancy of metal roofing (especially aluminum) makes it an excellent salvage item. Newer metal roofs usually are attached with screws, which makes damage less likely.

Common estimates indicate that up to 50 percent of the cost of new construction is in fixtures. Sinks, faucets, cabinets, cupboards, lights, baseboard heaters, fans, doorknobs, and other household details are often easy to remove and can be used directly in other structures. Some old-style built-ins—china cabinets, pantries, wardrobes—can be pulled out and reinstalled elsewhere. If you salvage more than you can use, trade or sell the extras. And remember: Older toilets typically consume from 3.5 to 7 gallons per flush (versus the current standard of 1.6 or less) and electric heating devices (stoves, ovens, heaters, etc.) will not be usable if you are planning to go off the grid.

Windows are a situational salvage item. If you can't use, sell, trade, or stockpile them for later projects, they will just sit around and take up space, possibly getting broken in the meantime. Some window types come out easily and safely; others aren't worth the trouble. Be aware that using old single-pane windows in cold climates may add up to more in energy losses than the cost of new windows. Keep other uses in mind: unheated structures, cold frames, or greenhouses.

Doors are usually easy to remove, and new doors of decent quality cost a fortune. Take all hinges, screws, knobs, latch plates, and related hardware, too. Often matching items will not be easy to find, especially for older doors that may not fit current standard hardware dimensions.

Planking of various dimensions and types may be plentiful in older buildings, built in the days before Sheetrock, particleboard, and plywood took over. Look for larch, oak, cedar, fir, spruce, pine, and other hardwood and softwood planks, possibly of a size and quality not seen since the last old-growth timber was cut and milled. Such high-quality wood is excellent for reuse in cabinetry and furniture. Or you can sell it for top dollar to cabinetmakers.

ianfranklin
4/16/2016 2:33:26 AM

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