A consequence of the housing melt down since 2007 has been the abandonment of hundreds of thousands of home, hundreds of thousands of which have had to be demolished. Almost half of the construction debris when a two-thousand-square foot house is torn down can be salvaged and reused, and there’s a ready market for what’s obtained through salvage operations.
Why, after all, pay full price, particularly when prices of lumber and building materials are going up as the economies of China and India gobble up building supplies and materials? This is one way globalization is creating markets—many people can economize in building an addition or a home. They get materials and objects with histories!
You can take advantage of this opportunity by eliminating the one potential problem with salvage—people want the treasures that can be unearthed from older homes and buildings but are reluctant or unable to go to the effort to get the items they want. That’s what makes architectural salvage a business!
You can turn these desires into a livelihood from the two hundred thousand homes and commercial buildings demolished each year in the United States. There are a couple of directions you can go to make a living from architectural salvage. The major considerations are the amount of time and money you’re prepared to invest. You can have a sideline business salvaging and selling what you acquire to other businesses. Or if you would really like to make this exciting and rewarding and build a bigger business, you can open a store yourself.
Either way, architectural salvage can be satisfying and even fun. This is a field populated by the self-employed and very small businesses, according to Brad Guy, ,president of the Building Materials Reuse Association. He observes, “People do this because they love it; it’s very visceral.”
Let’s say that you have the time and start-up money to start your own architectural salvage center, a fairly fancy name for something that’s essentially just a vintage clothing store, but with home supplies. An architectural salvage center, such as the Re Stores in Bellingham and Seattle, Washington (www.re-store.org), is a warehouse that buys and sells building parts salvaged from demolished or remodeled structures. The centers can be small or large; major ones can be real warehouses, with huge stocks and a large number of employees, but others are more like your ordinary antiques store. These centers purchase chandeliers, fili-greed doorknobs, kitchen cabinets, bathroom fixtures, ceramic tile, bricks, door moldings, and doors, just to name a few categories, and then resell them. In every case, these items cost far less than equivalent things today, but they cost even less for the center to purchase, allowing everyone to win!
As in any antique store, there is a wide range of different kinds of settings. Some salvage warehouses resemble junkyards with broken windows and rust-stained sinks piled in untidy heaps. Others are more like museums with artful displays of architectural treasures. Some of the types of items that can be salvaged and resold include:
- architectural elements from homes and commercial buildings
- bathroom fixtures
- bricks, ceramic tiles
- building and construction materials
- doors, windows, doorknobs, and hinges
- flooring and baseboards, kitchen cabinets and knobs/cabinet pulls
- lighting fixtures
- molding and trim piping
If you don’t want the intensity and expense of having a store, you can still have a fun and profitable career in architectural salvage. As we’ve just described, architectural salvage centers and warehouses depend on people to sell them a wide variety of items, which they can then resell to homeowners and decorators. You can have a lot of fun being a “freelance” supplier to the salvage centers and selling items that justify shipping cost from a web site, on eBay, Craig’s List, etsy.com and Pinterest.com—and support yourself at the same time.
The best way to figure out how (and where) best to make great finds is probably to go to a salvage center and ask. (A link to help you find centers near you follows.) You can also browse the net for “used building materials” or “demolition contractors,” and it may also be a good idea to contact a local historical preservation society that might know of buildings or houses being renovated.
Related to being a freelance salvager but unlawful in some places is “dumpster diving.” You can learn more about dumpster diving on the Web at which provides a message board, and www.dumpsterdiving.meetup .com, which lists groups of trash aficionados.
For an initial free consultation to explore this or another sustainable livelihood that bests suits your personality and your community, contact me.
Comments on the substance of the blogs are welcome. If you have other questions, please contact me directly for a consulting appointment.
Kim Bower says
Your site is exactly what I was looking for. I want to salvage older homes for wood frame windows and and the beautiful ornate pieces and items you spoke of. I just don’t know where to start or who to talk to. Any help would be great. I live on Merced, CA.
Paul and Sarah Edwards says
I suggest you identify and visit architectural salvage shores in your region. These stores might become customers and in chatting with them, get some tips.
Denise Cate says
Excellent article. Just what I was looking for. My husband and I are looking at this as a ‘retirement’ option to keep us busy while allowing travel ops. I noticed the articles 2014. Is this still a good idea now in 2018?
All indications are that architectural salvage remains a viable business in good markets. Notice how many designer items are made with distressed wood. If I can help you, my number is on the site.