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Architectural Salvage: What You Need To Know

Why buy new when you can buy used building parts at a fraction of the cost?

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Victorian Radiator

This steam radiator was rescued from a Victorian house and cost less than a brand new radiator.

Photo by Jackie Craven
People throw away the damnedest things. Stained glass. Steam radiators. Porch columns. Pedestal sinks. Victorian moldings. That's why I spend so much time rooting through dumpsters at demolition sites. I also haunt garage sales and estate auctions. But for hard-to-find building parts, the best place to shop is an architectural salvage center.

An architectural salvage center is a warehouse that buys and sells building parts salvaged from demolished or remodeled structures. My favorite find is a marble fireplace mantel rescued from a law library. Over the past few years, I've also purchased chandeliers, filigreed door knobs, kitchen cabinets, bathroom fixtures, ceramic tile, bricks, door moldings, solid oak doors, and antique radiators like the one shown here. In every case, these items cost less than their modern-day equivalents.

Of course, there are drawbacks to using salvaged materials. It took considerable time and money to restore that antique mantel. And it came to me with no guarantees and no assembly instructions. Still, I had the joy of knowing I was preserving a small piece of architectural history. Moreover, my refurbished mantle is not like anything being manufactured today.

Where can you find the architectural salvage you need?

Types of Architectural Salvagers

Some salvage warehouses resemble junk yards with broken windows and rust-stained sinks piled in untidy heaps. Others are more like museums with artful displays of architectural treasures. Just look at the variety of products and services offered by salvagers who advertise their wares on the Web:
  • Architectural parts from pubs and churches
  • Rare and antique moldings, brackets, and columns
  • Antique lighting fixtures
  • Antique tubs, sinks, and faucets
  • Doorknobs, hinges, and cabinet pulls
  • Wrought iron fensing
  • Original and reproduction building parts
  • Used construction materials
  • Flooring, wainscoting, and baseboard from reclaimed lumber
  • House sales: Bring your own tools and help take apart buildings scheduled for demolition

To browse these and other items, be sure to visit our net links page. It lists this article along with an index of selected Architectural Salvage Centers.

Should you bargain?

Sometimes it's best to bargain... but not always. If the salvage center is operated by an historical society or charitable organization, you may want to pay the asking price. However, warehouses run by demolition contractors often have overstocks of lavatory sinks and other common items. Go ahead and make an offer!

How to Sell Architectural Salvage

There may be cash in your trash. If you must get rid of interesting architectural details such as stair banisters or useful items such as kitchen cabinets, a salvager may be interested. In most cases, you'll have to remove the items yourself and haul them to the warehouse. Call ahead to be sure there is a need for your materials.

In some cases, the salvager will come to your home and remove building parts that you donate or offer to sell at a bargain price. Or, if you are doing a major demolition, some contractors will discount the cost of their labor in return for salvage rights.

Finding a salvager may not be easy, especially if you live far from a major city. Here's how to find an architectural salvage center >

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