According to iPropertyManagement, American homeowners spent an average of $6,649 on home improvement projects in 2017. Materials account for a sizable chunk of that spending. For instance, according to HGTV, most consumers pay $2 to $4 per square foot for bathroom floor tile (though it can go as high as $20 per square foot). That’s $240 to $480 for a 10-by-12-foot bathroom.
One way to cut this cost is to shop for secondhand materials. Reuse centers and architectural salvage stores, such as the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, sell salvage and surplus home construction materials at a fraction of their retail cost.
The savings can be substantial. When my husband and I remodeled our bathroom 10 years ago, we found Italian ceramic tile at the ReStore for only $2.67 per square foot and a cultured marble sink and vanity top for $32. Your local reuse center or architectural salvage store could offer similar bargains — plus the satisfaction of saving leftover building materials from the landfill.
Reuse Centers vs. Architectural Salvage Stores
The line between reuse centers and architectural salvage stores is somewhat blurry. When you look up reuse centers and architectural salvage stores in a given city, many stores appear on both lists. But the subtle differences between them may affect which store type will best meet your needs.
How Reuse Centers Work
Reuse centers can sell building materials at such a low cost because they get most of them for free. The materials fall into two primary categories: Salvaged or reclaimed materials are ripped from old buildings, and surplus materials are left over from new construction projects.
Reuse centers get their materials from several sources:
- Demolition. Buildings due for demolition often still contain lots of reusable materials. Architectural salvage teams buy the rights to go in beforehand and remove parts, such as molding, doors, windows, and cabinetry. After demolition, salvagers can find materials by picking through dumpsters or piles of rubble near demolition sites.
- New Construction. When a new building goes up, there are often some materials left over: lumber, tile, even plumbing fixtures. Rather than pay to store these for a future project, the builder can pass them along to a reuse center. Since many centers run as nonprofit charities, the builder gets a tax deduction for the donation.
- Renovations. After a remodel, rather than send your replaced fixtures, such as kitchen cabinets and countertops, to the landfill, you could donate them to a reuse center so another homeowner can use them. Contractors can do the same thing with materials they rip out of other people’s homes, saving themselves the disposal cost.
In general, reuse centers only accept donated materials that are in excellent condition. The exact selection of products they offer varies from store to store, and even from day to day, as new materials keep coming in and going out all the time.
But typically, reuse centers carry all sorts of products used in home construction. For instance, you might find:
- Appliances, such as washers, dryers, refrigerators, ovens, dishwashers, and air conditioners
- Bathroom fixtures, including sinks, toilets, and vanities (with or without faucets)
- Doors and windows
- Floor coverings, including vinyl, tile, and hardwood flooring
- Furniture, such as sofas and chairs, bed frames, tables, dressers, and office furniture
- Hardware, such as knobs and hinges
- Kitchen fixtures, including cabinets and countertops
- Lighting fixtures, including table and floor lamps, ceiling fixtures, and wall sconces
- Lumber, including plywood, trim, and molding
- Masonry, such as cinder blocks, bricks, and pavers
- Paint, stain, and painting supplies, such as rollers and paint sprayers
Most reuse centers do not carry fabric goods, such as mattresses, bedding, table linens, or curtains. Some stores don’t sell carpets and rugs, either. However, others accept them as donations as long as they’re in good condition.
Also, while many reuse centers sell paint, they typically don’t accept used paint donations. Instead, the paint is collected at local landfills. Matching types and colors get mixed and sent on to the reuse center.
How Architectural Salvage Stores Work
In general, architectural salvage stores are smaller than reuse centers and focus on high-end goods, such as antique furniture and fixtures.
Cruising the aisle of an architectural salvage store, you might see:
- Aged barn wood
- Vintage drawer pulls
- Stamped ceiling tiles
- Stained-glass windows
- Carved woodwork, such as door frames and newel posts
- Antique light fixtures
Shopping at architectural salvage stores isn’t always as affordable as buying new, low-cost materials from a home center. For example, if you’re looking for flooring, heart pine floorboards from an architectural salvage store won’t be as inexpensive as laminate flooring from Home Depot.
But architectural salvage stores can sell you a high-quality, one-of-a-kind floor for less than you’d pay to buy the same thing new.
Additionally, if you already have old flooring in your home, the salvage store gives you a chance to find a match for it. Old floorboards are usually 4 to 12 feet long, a length that’s rarely seen in new flooring. By shopping at the salvage store, you can match your old floorboards without going to the trouble and expense of having new ones custom-made.
Pros & Cons of Salvage Shopping
Shopping at reuse centers and architectural salvage stores isn’t like shopping at ordinary home centers or furniture stores. You can’t walk in with a detailed list and expect to find everything on it. The inventory at these stores is variable, so you can’t be sure of finding a specific product, let alone a specific model you’ve researched.
But if you go in with the right attitude, salvage shopping offers big rewards. Reuse centers and architectural salvage stores sell many things you’d never find at Home Depot, often at amazing prices. If you treat the trip as a treasure hunt, exploring the aisles and looking at everything the store has to offer, you can discover some real gems.
Pros of Salvage Shopping
Shopping at reuse centers and salvage stores offers big perks — for your wallet, home, and the Earth. They include:
- Savings. Prices at reuse centers can be much lower than the cost of comparable products sold new. For example, the three Habitat LA ReStores in greater Los Angeles claim to sell everything from plumbing fixtures to lighting at 30% to 70% below retail cost.
- Vintage Materials. If you’re making repairs to an older home, the modern materials sold at your local home center — doors, windows, and trim, for example — won’t match the existing finishes in your house. Reuse centers and architectural salvage stores offer your best chance to find materials consistent with your home’s style.
- Protecting the Environment. Shopping at reuse centers puts salvaged materials that would otherwise end up in landfills to good use. It also saves the natural resources and energy that would go into making new materials and reduces pollution, including greenhouse gas emissions.
- Helping Charities. Many reuse centers work hand in hand with charitable or nonprofit organizations in the field of affordable housing. For instance, all Habitat ReStores support Habitat for Humanity in its work building homes for families in need.
- Helping Individuals. Some reuse centers, such as The ReUse People of America, recruit workers who have trouble finding jobs elsewhere. The ReUse People has trained and certified over 500 unemployed, underemployed, and disadvantaged workers in salvage and “deconstruction,” an eco-friendly alternative to building demolition.
- Learning Opportunities. Some reuse centers, such as Building Resources in San Francisco, hold classes on specific home repairs and home improvements. These classes give homeowners a chance to try do-it-yourself jobs hands-on instead of trying to follow a set of instructions from a book or YouTube video.
Cons of Salvage Shopping
Despite the many advantages of salvage shopping, it’s not always the best choice for your home repair needs. Two major drawbacks are:
- Limited Locations. Often, the first problem is finding a reuse center or architectural salvage store in your area. Although many big cities have at least one, you won’t find them in every shopping center like Home Depot or Lowe’s. There’s a good chance you’ll have to drive several miles to the nearest one.
- Limited Selection. Even large reuse centers can’t offer nearly as wide a selection as a regular home retailer. All they have is whatever people happened to donate recently. If you go in looking for a specific appliance model or a set of matching doorknobs, you’re likely to be disappointed.
Where to Find Reuse Centers & Architectural Salvage Stores
If you live in or near a major city, chances are good there’s a reuse center or architectural salvage store near you. For example, these major cities have reuse centers or architectural salvage stores.
- New York, New York. Big Reuse in Brooklyn sells everything from appliances to windows. It also runs a composting program. Residents drop off food scraps at 14 locations throughout the city, and volunteers pick up the scraps and send them to large composting facilities. The finished compost goes to city parks and community gardens.
- Oakland, California. The ReUse People of America has regional offices across the country. It provides deconstruction services and sells the salvaged materials in its warehouses in Oakland, California, and three other states. The ReUse People has deconstructed over 4,000 houses and recovered over 400,000 tons of building materials.
- Chicago, Illinois. The Rebuilding Exchange (RX) has diverted 23 million pounds of building material from landfills and resold it at affordable prices. It accepts donations and will even pick up materials throughout Chicago. RX provides formal training in building deconstruction, materials management, warehousing, retail, and carpentry as well as offering workshops on topics like DIY, woodworking, home improvement, and recycling. Clients can hire RX to remodel their sites or build custom furniture from repurposed materials.
- Baltimore, Maryland. The Loading Dock is a “self-sufficient, nonprofit building materials reuse center” serving more than 11,000 homeowners and community groups. Besides accepting donations, it collects paint and other building materials from landfills and sells them to the public in its 45,000-square-foot warehouse.
- Minneapolis, Minnesota. Bauer Brothers Salvage has been featured on the HGTV show “Rehab Addict,” which features host Nicole Curtis working to restore historic houses to like-new condition. She turns to Bauer Brothers for the vintage materials she needs to complete her houses, from doors to fireplaces to lighting fixtures.
If you don’t live in one of these cities, there are several sites you can search to find a reuse center near you. The Loading Dock maintains a nationwide list of reuse centers with some basic information about each store along with a phone number and a link to its website.
But the list isn’t comprehensive. For one thing, it doesn’t include all of Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores. To find a ReStore in your area, you can enter your zip code on the Habitat for Humanity website and get a list of the nearest stores with contact information for each one.
To find architectural salvage stores, consult the nationwide list at Old House Online, the website of the Old House Journal. It lists architectural salvage stores in 37 states, plus a few in Canada and one online salvage seller on eBay.
Using reuse centers is a win-win for everyone. Contractors and builders can get rid of extra building materials without paying for storage or dumping fees. If the store is a nonprofit, the builder can even claim a tax deduction for their contributions.
Homeowners can find high-quality materials for repair and remodeling projects at lower prices. In some cases, they can also attend hands-on classes on home repair.
Finally, society as a whole benefits. These centers reduce the need for landfill space, keep the air and water cleaner, and help provide jobs and low-cost housing for people in need.