Our experience using recycled building materials in 203K and other renovation projects

We are a proponent of using recycled building materials to augment a renovation budget or to support unique, "one of a kind" creative solutions to renovation/home improvement projects.  It can not only be thrifty, it can also be a fun "treasure hunt!"

Adding in a claw foot tub... We salvaged a cast iron claw foot tub from a Victorian-era motel a couple of years ago.  We had to bring in a professional plumber because some of the fittings had to be custom made in order to work with the modern system installed in the house, but it is very functional and one of the highlights on our impromptu home tours.
Replacing kitchen cabinets in a rental... We were able to get an entire set of kitchen cabinets from a ReStore in Chantilly, VA.  This is one of our favorite places to get second-hand/recycled materials.  They installed perfectly, and they were higher quality than we would've bought at Lowes or Home Depot.  The cost was about $700.

Distressed wood/scrap lumber.  Watch out and carefully inspect donated wood/lumber.  We have all but stopped shopping for this material because we keep finding warped wood, mold, and bugs--all kinds of insects from old house borers to termites.  You can get some good deals, but look over those boards before you install them!

Insulation, sheet metal/ductwork, wiring--go nuts!  Great bargains to be had on basic materials.

Used electrical, plumbing, and HVAC components... A whole new level of risk taking!  That having been said, you can get some bargains if you truly know what you're looking at.  I once donated a 200A disconnect panel and 30 feet of wiring (rejected by the inspector as part of a service connection to a newly placed mobile home) that had never been used.  Some lucky person carted it off for $20 (less than 10 percent of what it cost me)...  Don't expect your contractor to willingly install your new found prize.  Your chances are better if you let them know what you're up to before you cart that previously loved service panel or the "really cool antique" light fixture to the job site...

Doors and windows... Know what you need before you go and consider the ability of prospective replacements to match their counterparts--Frankenhomes are not known for curb appeal.  Also, consider that if a door was ever used for any length of time, it is probably in the middle or end of its expected service life.  I say this because I installed a door that the client just had to have because it was inlaid with stained glass (a lily in blue, white, and green; it was pretty).  Unfortunately, the door had extremely worn hinges and was out of plane (it also had an extra set of side lights that had to be removed to fit her opening.  We got it installed and working (we had to use fringe screws and bring in a table saw to trim down the door, etc.), but it took almost an entire day.  The door will probably wear out completely in a few more years.  In retrospect, we all agreed that we would have been much better off if we had cut out the stained glass inlay and reinstalled it in a new door!  We just got so caught up in finding a way to make what we had work that we forgot to consider other alternatives...

Anyway, using second-hand building materials supports charitable causes (ReStore support Habitat for Humanity and we also use Community Forklift in DC, but there are others in the area as well).  You can have a lot of fun and save some money, but you can also get stuck hauling off unusable material to the junkyard too if you're not careful.  Finally, work with your contractor before you show up with these materials/items expecting them to be installed or used.  There may be really good reasons why they are reluctant to do so...

Happy hunting!

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