When to Use Reclaimed Material on Home Improvement Projects


Homeowners on a tight budget but wanting to do some repairs are increasingly using reclaimed materials to save their wallets and spruce up their dwelling.

“You can save a lot using reclaimed material,” says David Lupberger, home improvement expert at ServiceMagic. “You can find some stuff at 50% of what it might cost new.”

Whether you’re looking to update a bathroom, replace a door or even redo your kitchen countertop, homeowners have a slew of options when it comes to reuse building materials.

Reuse or reclaimed materials are building materials that were used previously in a home or building, and stores across the country are gathering these materials and selling them at a discount.

In addition to saving anywhere from 30% to 60% off the original cost, buying reused products also helps the environment. According to Second Use, a Seattle-based reclaimed material store, reusing a single cast iron bathtub saves enough energy to drive a Humvee from Seattle to Spokane—close to 300 miles. Reusing building materials reduces the amount of waste going into landfills, and saves the energy it would take to manufacture new products.

According to Dirk Wassink, co-owner and general manager at Second Use, the number of reused  building materials stores is growing at an increasing rate. When Wassink started in the business almost 13 years ago, there were only a handful of stores that offering reuse materials, now he says there are more than thousand. The increased demand is driven partly by consumers’ desire to save money and partly due to environmental concerns.

More and more contractors are developing green buildings and reused materials are one component that goes into that.

Reuse stores are stocked similarly to other major home improvement stores, sans the inventory, carrying an array of used products, including lighting, bathtubs and everything in between. Discounts vary typically from 30% to 60% with things that are in demand sometimes costing as much as you can get it new.

“If you are really going for a vintage look, particularly a style that happens to be in high demand, chances are supply and demand make those items more expensive,” says Wassink. “If you’re looking for something functional that works fine, but the style may not be the best in the world, you can often save 50% to 75% on materials.”

Going the reuse route doesn’t make sense all the time. Since these stores aren’t stocked with an inventory of the same product and come from different sources  there’s no guarantee the materials will fit in your project.

“If you go to Home Depot they have options,” says Nathalie Pillsbury, a project manager at Roloff Construction. “If you find something at a reclaim place, you are at the mercy of the inventory.” Pillsbury argues it often costs more to use reclaimed materials from a labor perspective because it requires more work to complete custom jobs. For instance, for a kitchen remodeling, it may be hard to find all the same cabinets in the right size that match. Or, if you are looking to replace all the doors in your home, you may not be able to find ones that fit perfectly.

“You can’t go out saying this is what I want. It’s more going and seeing what is available,” says Lupberger. “You’re probably not going to find enough kitchen cabinets that match.” Since some of the items are older they may not meet today’s code requirements,  requiring you to do a little more investigating before making a purchase, adds Wassink.

The experts recommend using reuse materials for doing small projects or ones that don’t require a lot of the same material, especially if you aren’t skilled in carpentry or remodeling.  “If you have no expertise and don’t have a contractor, you might want to tackle the smaller things,” adds Wassink. “If you have more experience there’s no reason why you can’t do whole house using reuse.”

Using reclaimed material can also be time consuming. You may have to visit the store or stores multiple times to find what you need. Lupberger advises homeowners that are short on time and have specific ideas about what they want to do and can afford to purchase new materials skip using used materials. But if you have the time, like to hunt for those diamonds in the rough or you are looking for something unique, then buying reclaimed materials may be right for you.

“You have to plan ahead for what you are trying to accomplish,” says Wassink. “It might take a bit of time to find that perfect door or stained glass window.”