Why salvage construction materials?

Beware of These Salvage Issues

Rescuing old construction materials before they're sent to their death in a landfill can be a really smart idea. But not everything that's old should be saved and reused, even if it would look supercool in your home or office. Here's what you need to watch out for with some of the more popular salvaged materials.

  • Lighting fixtures: Older fixtures with cloth insulation should be rewired, as the cloth gets brittle with age and can cause a short circuit or even a fire. This can be an expensive proposition, but if the fixture is of good quality -- and most older fixtures are better than those made today -- it'll be worth it [source: Gellner]. It may even be wise to rewire newer fixtures, because any time you install or remove one, the coating over the wires is stressed and may crack. Plus, even if the visible ends of the wires are in great shape, you don't know what they may be like inside [source: Bowman].
  • Plumbing fixtures: It may be hard to resist that old pull-chain toilet, but check your local building codes before handing over any cash. Most parts of the United States stipulate newly installed toilets use no more than 1.6 gallons (6.1 liters) of water per flush, but older ones can use up to 8 (30.1 liters). In a similar vein, older faucets may not meet building codes if they don't have flow restrictors [sources: Gellner, Bowman].
  • Cabinetry: It's not too difficult to score beautiful old cabinetry in salvage yards, as home remodelers often tackle kitchens and bathrooms. Just make sure they aren't too dinged up from use or removal, or so heavily painted it would cost too much to have them refinished [source: Gellner].
  • Windows: It's tempting to purchase salvaged windows, because new ones are so expensive. Make sure windows fit your structure's openings, and again, check your building codes. Most codes specify replacement windows must be double-glazed and, if placed in certain locations, be glazed with safety glass. Vintage windows won't have either feature, and reglazing is pricey [source: Gellner].
  • Doors: Check to see they swing open in the proper direction, as rehinging is expensive. As with cabinetry, watch out for doors with multiple layers of old paint, which may not be worth stripping off [source: Gellner]. Even if a door has a single layer of peeling paint, that could spell trouble. The peeling may indicate rotting wood underneath, and if the door was painted before 1978, that peeling paint may have lead in it, which is a health hazard [source: Bowman].