Whether scrap, junk, litter, clutter, rubble: when it comes to salvage yards, one man’s trash is a homeowner’s treasure. Typically located on the outskirts of town, these industrial warehouses harbor a maze of materials just waiting to add value and character to your abode.
These troves of old house parts are hidden gems with the capacity to put hundreds to thousands of dollars back in your pocket. And, with row upon row dedicated to items ranging from paneled doors to ceramic sinks, digging can turn daunting. When it comes to recycled materials, deciphering value and quality is a lot like inheriting an older siblings hand-me-downs. A vintage leather jacket with a small stain probably holds more value than the never-worn sweatshirt from grandma.
So how do you determine the salvage items you keep or heap? We’ve put together a few tips and tricks to help guide you in the direction of your next treasure.
Successful Salvage: Proper Preparation
Before setting off, there are a few crucial steps that, if skipped, are very likely to guarantee leaving empty-handed.
Make sure you’ve got measurements in hand. For architectural elements such as interior doors, windows, and fireplace mantels you’ll want to gather dimensions from all important openings, closings and surroundings from the wall. For example, if looking for an interior door replacement, from the inside of one side jamb to the inside of the other, and from floor or threshold to head jamb. You’ll also want to take note of any variables that could affect the installment. This includes the direction of the door swing and the side where the hinges are located.
Check to make sure you can allow for a bit of wiggle room. This is especially important if you’re searching for a unique piece that’s more than likely not an exact fit. Know in advance if your project allows for slightly smaller or larger size.
If you’re planning on boosting your home’s value with salvaged elements, ask a local realtor to ensure this is even feasible. Appraisers more than likely won’t include a house’s reclaimed beams and fixtures when calculating a house’s value. However, depending on the market, authentic amenities can be used as selling points to use as leverage to boost the asking price of a home.
Remember, if you swap out recycled building material with perishable items, you are basically thrift shopping. This means mentally preparing with an open mind and ability to compromise if needed. If you live near a major city that has a salvage yard, you’re in luck. Many receive multiple shipments daily. Some even have started posting their items online so you can know in advance exactly what you’re heading to find.
Finding a posting online, however, isn’t the best substitute for just showing up. For one, it could’ve already been snatched up. Or, important details such as the finish, scuff-marks and other damage might not have been clearly identified in the photo. Even so, it could take a full day just trying to locate the piece. Depending on the extent of the intended project, be prepared to spend a few afternoons at minimum trying to track down the items.
Once you feel fully prepared to set off and start digging, it’s time for the next phase — the hunt.
Successful Salvage: Architectural Antiques
Architectural items make up the majority of the bulk you’ll find at nearly all warehouses. This also means an overwhelming choice of conditions and prices. From barely used to restored, dusty, worn and paint-caked it boils down to what the dealers sell.
Whether you’re seeking curb appeal or an instant interior update, reclaimed wooden doors are the golden standard of reclaimed items. They offer a range of pricing about $40 to $250 per door, come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are comprised of heavy wooden material that stand the test of time.
Keep in mind doors can come with thick layers of paint that you’ll need to strip. Make sure to take this into account when it boils down to measurements and overall aesthetics. And don’t skimp on the measurements. Taking more than an inch off will weaken the door, and only one-fourth of an inch thicker won’t fit in the door opening. Not to mention to issue with lead if it was built prior to the 1970s.
Also, make sure the hardware is on the door, especially the locks. Older doors, for example, might have a unique modular lock, which are often impossible to replace.
Windows offer a variety of options and are typically priced based on the make and style of the glass. On average the cost for a double-hung, modern style costs between $40 to $150 and stained-glass runs from $150 to $1,000. For new homes, consider curved, bay, Palladian, stained-glass and leaded-glass as accent pieces. Avoid mismatched glass, which could potentially stick out like a sore thumb in your home.
Go with windows that requires the least amount of repair to the glass retainers including the muntins, glazing and joints. If possible, avoid units missing the sash, trim, weights, pulleys or any other hardware that’s difficult to match. Also, make sure you’re measurements account for the entire width and height by opening a window.
Fireplace mantels can be pretty costly, up to $5,000 depending on the material, conditioning, detailing and size. Stick to the larger wood mantels or those with noncombustible material like stone. Check to make sure they meet local fire codes. A general rule of thumb is making sure they are at least six inches from the firebox.
Also, make sure the style, including molding profiles, match the era of your home. While antiques are great, an ornate Colonial-style mantel loses its value when it looks bulky against your contemporary-era home.
Successful Salvage: Plumbing Pieces
From freestanding bathroom fixtures to apron-front kitchen sinks, timeless plumbing pieces seem to be the trending fixture these days.
Salvage yards are famous for stockpiling these fixtures, typically sold “as is.” Before you even considering buying, it’s important to be mindful of the full investment. Come mentally prepared to sift through a heap of rust-covered ceramic and cast-iron items. Unless you find a “diamond in the rough”, you’ll have to weigh in the cost for repairs or professional refinishing. Also, if you are looking to buy vintage, you might need add in costs to have it retrofitted to comply with modern plumbing codes.
Always make sure these types of commodities matches the room style. For example, a highly decorated kitchen can accommodate a curvy or elaborate sink, but contemporary styles call for clean lines. Also consider the size of the space and installation constraints. For tubs, bring your bathroom dimensions, including those for the tub recess. A heavier sink such as a wall-mount typically takes up less room, but these are heavier and require additional wall-framing support.
Costs vary based on material. Expect to pay an upward of $150 for cast-iron and $600 to $1,200 for porcelain. Cast-iron sinks can end up just as costly. That’s because any types of damages, including rust spots, dents, chips and deep scratches, require professional refinishing. Beware of any hairline porcelain cracks known as “crazing”. This is a sign that it is brittle and cannot be remedied.
This is an important rule when it comes to antique bathtubs. Cracked tubs leak water and cause mold and injuries. If damaged enough the bathtub my be unfixable. This also goes for tubs with an undersized or nonexistent overflow. These are a violation of most local plumbing codes due to their flooding capability. A general rule of thumb is to ensure the overflow is a minimum of 2½ inches in diameter.
Bathtubs cost anywhere from $150 to $1,500. Try to avoid rust spots, dents and peeling paint on the exterior, and stained glass on the inside. These require professional refinishing, so you’ll need to budget in an additional $300. Avoid tubs with missing feet, which are particularly hard to match.
Successful Salvage: Fixtures, Floors and Furnishings
There are ways to bring character into your home without thinking big. From door knobs to door stops, pendant light fixtures and checkered tile —these various nick-knacks often pack a historical punch.
Typically located in the far corners and back rooms of the salvage yards, in bins, bundles and cubbies, you’ll find the random assortment of antique hardware pieces. And, if you know what to look for, these tiny time capsules can mean huge value. For example, you’ll find intricate detailing on brass, bronze and other antique metals.
If you’re in the market for an antique lamp, ceiling fixture, wall sconce or other decorative light fixture, make sure to examine all aspects before buying. That is, it’s possible discovering it’s elements are too big or small for the room.
Lighting should run from parts to whole pendants. Check electrical wiring to ensure it is compatible and safe. Have an electrician install vintage ceiling fixtures. Or visit an antique lighting specialist who can rewire the fixture for you.
For decorative tiles, consider the wall instead of the floor. Yes, floor tiles have an obvious appeal, but it is the wall tiles, in the case of antiques, that can hold tremendous value. Plus, vintage tiles, made of porcelain or ceramic hold a value of $3 a pop. That’s quite a bit more than today’s modern white subway tiles that are about 20 cents at major hardware stores. An easy tip to determine if a tile has vintage value is taking a close look for square edges instead of rounded ones, and for any fine crackling under the glaze.
Successful Salvage: Don’t Recycle Words
Remember the different verbiage from the very first sentence? Those were intentional for more than just entertainment value. Every generation and different regional localities often have their own vocabularies.
Antique dealers often find and/or market rescued items. Then there’s estate sales, where buyers peruse material, furnishings and various contents from an abandoned property. Lastly, salvaged material come from old homes and properties and sold on-site via public auction and/or taken to yards or warehouses.
To see if there are any of these types of vendors in your area, check out one of the various online resources. If you have any examples of successful salvaging feel free to share in the comment section below!