Lost And Found

Whether it's salvaging historic hardware or leftover ceramic tiles, frugal homeowners are turning to recycled building materials

February 10, 2008|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun reporter

Piled on two rolling carts: four panel doors, two cases of gray ceramic tile, two bags of grout, one white pedestal sink, still boxed, and a pail of mortar.

The doors need some work. The tiles are in perfect shape: unused. The sink is in the original box.

Grand total: $156, less than half the retail price.

The castoffs of some homeowner or builder have become the treasures of another at the Loading Dock, a nonprofit Baltimore warehouse that sells reusable building goods and builder's seconds.

"It's an excellent deal," said Gwendolyn Hudson, who -- tape measure in hand on a chilly Saturday morning -- was matching a few doors for a renovation of the World War II-era Southwest Baltimore house she bought last year. Cutting corners here will let her splurge elsewhere.

With Hudson was her daughter, for whom re-tiling her kitchen just became more affordable, and a friend, who couldn't stand the mismatched bathroom vanity and door in her recently purchased house.

Whether seeking to save money or hunting for architectural gems, more and more people are turning to places that sell house parts and materials that somebody else didn't want.

Business is growing for stores that are split into two broad categories: new but leftover building materials and used contemporary house parts, and architectural salvage, the rarities, curiosities and collectibles pulled from old structures.

Such as the reclaimed heart pine flooring picked up by Ron Arnold, a Silver Spring flooring contractor who deemed his find amazing.

"This is 100-year-old wood," he said. "You can't find the wood."

If he could obtain it from a specialty salvager, it would cost more, he said.

He paid $40 for 60 square feet, which he will refinish and substitute for damaged heart pine planks of the same vintage in a client's Georgetown house.

Experts say that 80 percent of a house -- right down to the kitchen sink -- can be reclaimed: bricks reused, metal recycled, fixtures installed in another building, not to mention the never-used materials such as builders' extras and store overstocks.

The attraction? Paying less for leftovers and "gently" used goods, getting a tax deduction if materials are donated to a nonprofit or money for items that you sell; and participating in the trendy green movement to keep materials out of landfills.

For architectural salvage: add getting the actual old items, and saving bits of history and craftsmanship. For nonprofits: add helping them raise funds.

Nationally, the number of reuse stores has more than doubled in the past decade to about 1,200 -- and that excludes the architectural high-end stores and generic thrift shops, said Brad Guy, president of the Building Materials Reuse Association.

"The growth is pretty dramatic," he said.

Builders, contractors, stores and suppliers are the chief donors to nonprofits. Castoffs include new windows, lighting, flooring, wiring, bathtubs, and from contractors, used goods too. Merchandise changes fast, leading buyers to keep returning to see what's there.

The Loading Dock, started in 1984, claims to be the oldest nonprofit of its ilk, and everything from cabinets to carpeting to cinderblock is there -- new and used, nearly all donated.

"The newer stuff tends to disappear faster. New doors, they fly out of here," said Leslie Kirkland, executive director. Moderate and low-income homeowners are the chief beneficiaries, but small-time landlords and contractors are regulars, and renovators of all income levels prowl the warehouse, she said.

Habitat for Humanity accounts for 500 ReStores across the country. The oldest dates to 1986; the average store age is only five years, Guy said.

Habitat plans to open a 15,000-square-foot ReStore soon in Baltimore, its fourth in Maryland.

At the Pasadena ReStore, new items account for two-thirds of the merchandise.

On a recent weekend, that included a wall of high-end faucets, nearly a roomful of windows and such oddities as a coin-operated washing machine and 150 lap desks. The used stock featured furniture and a wood-burning stove.

"There is a lot of demand for the product," said manager Kevin Crawley. "We are starting to see a trend where those customers are coming in and they have seen designer things or trends. We get more people who are trying to decorate, to enhance the situation, not repair it."

Interest in architectural salvage -- collectibles and antiques considered part of a building's structure -- also has ballooned.

On the Old House Web, an online resource for homeowners, the number of architectural salvage dealers has grown to nearly 120, with 13 subcategories. The 35-year-old Old House Journal is read by 300,000, said editor Gordon Bock.

Old and used doesn't mean cheap and trashy. It often translates into unique pieces with a price tag to match, with the items bought and sold as art objects, Bock said.

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