Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of a two-part series.
Last time we paid a visit to the architectural salvage yard — a place where, if you’re diligent, you can find quality building materials that are cheaper and greener to boot. Today we continue the shopping list with more potential bargains, though they may require some careful vetting.
Structural items: Many salvage yards stock a plethora of materials such as brick, wood and steel beams, sheet metal, structural hardware, and the like. If you happen to find exactly what you’re looking for (or, more likely, something that’s close enough), you can save a lot of money — often 50 to 75 percent over lumberyard prices. Occasionally, you may have to massage your plans a little to make use of a real bargain, but that’s the nature of buying anything recycled.
Lighting fixtures: In general, older lighting fixtures are of much higher quality than modern ones, with heavier parts and more durable finishes. However, you should expect to rewire all vintage lighting fixtures, since their old-style cloth insulation becomes brittle with age and can cause short circuits. Professional rewiring can add appreciable cost to a "bargain" salvaged fixture, but the added expense is still usually justified for a top-quality vintage fixture. If you’re reasonably handy with things electrical, you may also be able to do this work yourself.
Cabinetwork: It’s not uncommon to find very high-quality cabinets at a salvage yard, as kitchens and baths are always being remodeled to keep up with current fads. However, beware of cabinets damaged during removal, or ones that are so heavily encrusted with paint that refinishing wouldn’t be cost effective.
Windows: Here’s a classic recycling dilemma: Currently, most state energy codes require new or replacement windows to be double-glazed, and at this time, only a small percentage of salvaged windows fill the bill. However, if you find a single-glazed window that you simply can’t pass up, you may be able to make tradeoffs, such as upgrading your insulation, that will keep you in compliance with the law.
Modern building codes also require that windows in certain hazardous locations (and all glass doors) be glazed with safety glass, which is seldom found in salvaged items either. Since reglazing is expensive, make sure the code allows plain glass in the specific window locations you’re pondering.
Plumbing fixtures: Like recycled windows, salvaged plumbing fixtures can be a real bargain, but they can also stick you with some insoluble code conflicts unless you’re careful. Most states, for example, require that newly installed toilets use no more than 1.6 gallons of water per flush. Older toilets can use as much as 6 or even 8 gallons per flush, and there is no practical retrofit to bring them into compliance.
Likewise, older faucets may not include flow restrictors and hence cannot comply with water conservation requirements. Until conservation codes are rewritten to reflect total water use rather than attempting to micromanage individual fixtures, reusing old toilets and faucets will remain a problem.
Lastly, note that two materials now considered health hazards — asbestos, and paint containing lead — are both common in vintage materials. Traces of asbestos insulation are often found clinging to old ductwork, register grilles and heating appliances, while virtually any prewar woodwork that’s painted can contain lead. Be informed, gauge your own level of concern, and buy accordingly.