Recycled & reclaimed materials
Recycled building materials can add character to a home while you save money and reduce building waste in landfills.
Recycled barn beams and a refinished clawfoot bathtub © Joel Guindon
The cost of every item we purchase is determined in part by the price of oil. This includes products that are in no way petroleum based, since material extraction, manufacturing and transportation will in one way or another, rely at least in part on oil.
As the price of oil continues to rise, the money saved by employing used building materials becomes greater all the time. And that is simply considering the direct cost to the consumer; indirectly, the costs are exponentially higher through environmental destruction and the costs that come with it.
Depending on the type of product, some used building materials will save you a lot of money and add character to your home, some will at times cost more and add absolutely nothing, except perhaps help ease the burden on your conscience.
While we don't have suppliers listed by region and there is no national supply chain for 'used stuff', here is a list of some items that are worth considering. As mentioned a couple of times in our pages, one of our favourite projects is the Hemloft, a secret little mountain hideaway in B.C. that was made entirely from used building materials found for free on the internet. Inspired by that, here is a short list some ways to get your hands on some great stock. Please feel free to add comments below if you have ideas of your own.
Collecting used building materials
Doors: Exterior doors from the past might be best left alone, since they are part of your building envelope and should be well-insulated and well-sealed. We are speaking more so about interior doors, and you can find some really nice ones. If they need refinishing, professional sandblasting is ideal for the safe removal of old paint, as it will most likely contain lead.
Old windows: Old windows can be great for sheds and greenhouses but are best not used in homes, for a number of reasons. Older windows might not have had the best performance record, even in their prime. And if they have seen some useful life already, they will have a reduced lifespan, so you may find yourself needing to change them sooner than you'd like. Money invested in high performance windows is money you will likely recoup in savings.
Wood: We have an entire page on how to find recycled and reclaimed wood products.
Finishing boards: Old baseboards can be very easily reused and save a bunch of money.
Using reclaimed bricks for interior finishing and thermal mass © Ecohome
Bricks and masonry: Putting materials with high thermal mass in the path of the sun will absorb heat and help regulate home temperatures.
Recycled concrete for foundations and slab floors: Concrete production is a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions; buying concrete with a percentage of recycled content will add pretty much nothing to your life, but the atmosphere will thank you.
Fixtures: You can often find some pretty funky looking older lighting fixtures, but avoid plumbing fixtures. Not a lot of thought went into water conservation with older toilets and taps, so those are probably best purchased new to ensure high efficiency.
The main thing that needs to be considered regarding used building materials is whether they will perform properly in their assigned role. If a material isn't up to snuff for what it was originally intended to do, think about downgrading its role to something else. For example, old flooring might not be safe on bare feet, but it could work fine as strapping on the side of a house.
Things like metal roofing, windows, doors, and structural members have pretty important roles in your house, so be very careful when reusing materials in these capacities.
Anytime you are collecting used materials, pay attention to the dimensions in case they don't meet modern standards. Collect stock as far ahead of time as you can so you can plan for any changes that might need to be made to accommodate unusual sizes.