Did you know that the National Association of Home Builders estimates that building a 2,000 square foot home creates up to 8,000 pounds of waste? And, despite the fact that about 85 percent of it could be reused or recycled, most of it is ending up in landfills. According to the EPA, it added up to 534 million tons in 2014. It’s a staggering, shameful waste. Fortunately, reclaiming, reusing, and recycling is becoming more common in the construction and renovation industry. Reclaimed building materials like doors, windows, wood flooring, and much more are becoming increasingly easy to find. Not only is reuse much more eco-friendly, it’s also incredibly budget-friendly: reclaimed materials can be 50 percent to 75 percent cheaper than their new counterparts. (Sometimes you can even find free materials! Hello dreamy, inexpensive sustainable home!) Plus, often times your recycled building materials come with a colorful history or weathered appearance that adds a truly unique touch to your project. Ready to find some secondhand solutions for your next project? Here’s how to find reclaimed home building materials.
11 resources for finding reclaimed home building materials
You might not think of recycled “building materials” when you think of Craigslist, but it’s actually a really great resource for lumber, bricks, cabinetry, flooring, roofing, and more. Most of your options will be materials that are being resold but don’t forget to check the “free” tab. You might also find brand new materials – the extras from other people’s projects that they couldn’t return. Check the site regularly and set up saved searches to get alerts when someone posts the materials you’re looking for.
Planet Reuse isn’t just a source for finding materials, they also provide helpful services. The PlanetReuse Marketplace lets visitors browse residential and commercial reused building materials, making the once time-consuming act of tracking down materials quick and easy. Through their Consulting Services, they offer insight and expertise on how to incorporate materials into your design, connect you with the perfect materials, and handle every last exhaustive detail. They even broker a wide variety of reused and recycled building material types to fit every need and budget.
The American Wood Council (AWC) and Canadian Wood Council (CWC) partnered with the Building Materials Reuse Association (BMRA) to develop an online North American directory outlining reuse and recycling options for wood and wood products: ReuseWood.org. You can search the directory based on what’s available in a specific zip code and they offer an extremely wide variety of types of wood products including barn wood, board lumber, millwork, engineered flooring, medium density fiber board, consumer goods, heavy timber, I-joists, pallets, wood windows, wood doors, and more.
This resource can be accessed online or through an app on your phone. It’s like Craigslist but for specific neighborhoods. There aren’t many ways to customize your search, but you can find some amazing deals. Look through postings or post an ISO with what you’re looking for. Like Craigslist, you’ll be able to find free and for sale items, but you can also try offering your services or unneeded items in exchange for reclaimed materials.
This website is similar to Nextdoor in that it’s organized by neighborhood, but everything listed is free. Not every neighborhood will have a Freecycle, but it’s definitely worth a shot to check and see – they claim to have over 5,000 groups with over 9 million members around the globe.
Residential construction dumpsters
When people do large remodeling projects they need to rent dumpsters to hold their construction waste. While it’s probably illegal to just jump in and hunt through the debris (check to see what the policy is where you live), if you ask politely, most people are open to the idea.
Friends and family
Try reaching out to friends and family for materials they might have. You’d be surprised how many project leftovers people hang on to. Your friends and family are also good resources for borrowing tools if you plan on doing a DIY home build or remodel.
These are gold mines for reclaimed and recycled building materials. Just like residential construction dumpsters, contractors doing a complete tear-down or home remodel have to dispose of their construction waste. Not only can you find all sorts of building materials to reclaim, but sinks and toilets can be reused too since most builders purchase new ones for their project. Try calling local contractors and ask if you can browse their latest sites; it might be helpful to specify exactly what you’re looking for. You may run into resistance from some contractors fearing safety and liability issues associated with literal “dumpster diving,” so ask if they will set reusable materials aside instead of burying them in the dumpster. You may find a sympathetic contractor who also hates seeing the waste and would love to see you find a new use for it.Here’s a great example of what a treasure trove a tear-down can be:
Habitat for Humanity Restores
Habitat for Humanity ReStores are nonprofit home improvement stores and donation centers that sell new and gently used furniture, appliances, home accessories, building materials, and more to the public at a fraction of the retail price. Not only are the prices great, you can also feel good knowing that proceeds go towards supporting your community and building affordable housing around the world.
Local salvage stores
Home salvage stores are private businesses that hunt down usable secondhand building materials – kind of like a thrift store for home renovators. Simply Google something like “salvage stores” or “reclaimed building materials” to find options in your area.
It may be unconventional in our digital culture, but going the route of the old-fashioned flyer can be incredibly effective. Alyssa from Pure Living for Life describes the great success she and her husband had: “In our flyer, we created a short bio with a photo of our smiling faces. We feel that this shows a little bit of our story and also puts a face to the names which may encourage folks to call. We then included a list of the building materials or tools we were looking for and mentioned that we were interested in trades. Shortly after posting our flyer, a kind gentleman gave us a call. He was a long time contractor and remodeler so naturally, he had lots of leftover building materials laying around from past jobs. We ended up getting tons of fiberglass batt insulation for $50 ($500+ new), 5 double-pane vinyl windows for $200 ($1,000+ new), 2,000 bricks for $75 ($4,700 in value because they are “patina” bricks), 200 sq ft of new-in-box travertine ($450 new), high-density foam insulation ($550 new), work lights, buckets of electrical and plumbing materials, two wood stoves ($520 new), thirty 1x6x10′ cedar boards ($450 new), one sheet of plywood and more. Talk about hitting a gold mine!”