I've always hated waste. When I was working as a carpenter
here in the San Francisco Bay area, it bothered me to see
doors, redwood lumber, and quality cabinets go into the
dumpster during the demolition phase of a remodeling job.
"Teardown" projects — which involve demolishing an
existing house to make way for a new one — bothered me
There wasn't much I could do about it when I was working for
other contractors, but when I started my own construction
company in 1991, I was determined to prevent good material from
turning into trash. I started by publishing a local newsletter
that advertised the availability of materials at various job
sites around town.
The newsletter never attracted more than a few hundred
subscribers. Even so, it became my entry into the world of
salvage. People would call me whenever a building was about to
be torn down, and I started stockpiling salvaged material in
friends' backyards, sheds, and garages and selling it to
customers by appointment. This worked for a while, but it
wasn't a very cost-effective way to sell material. Also, my
friends got tired of tripping over my stuff. It was time to try
In 1995, I came up with the idea of holding a building
materials sale at a house that was about to be torn down. I
advertised the sale in my newsletter and in the classified
section of the local newspaper. We had a heck of a turnout and
sold the hardwood flooring and even the wood shingles on the
roof. It wasn't long before I got out of the construction
business and started doing salvage and deconstruction for a
living. Today, my company sells salvaged building materials to
both homeowners and contractors and holds regular salvage sales
at houses that are slated for demolition.
Cash and Carry
Before a demolition sale, we put price tags on saleable items
such as doors, cabinets, plumbing fixtures, hardwood flooring,
siding, and redwood decking (see Figure 1). We also draw up an
itemized price list, which we hand to customers as they
Figure 1.Items like this interior door are
individually priced at home demolition sales. Potential buyers
sign in when they arrive at the site, providing a constantly
updated database of customers, who receive e-mail notifications
of later sales.
Tools and liability. When
potential customers arrive at the sale, they're required to
sign a waiver before they enter the building. I'm not sure how
much legal protection this would provide in the event of an
accident, and I hope I never have to find out. But it does put
people on notice that they need to be careful.
Customers who aren't professional builders are welcome to use
hand tools to remove specified items, but they are not allowed
to use power tools or remove anything structural. A few of my
employees are always on site to supervise; for a fee, they will
do any removals that require power tools. Contractors are
allowed to use power tools if they provide written proof that
they're covered by liability insurance and workers' comp.
Payment and damages.
Customers pay in advance, but we're fairly lenient about
refunding their money if they break something in the process of
getting it out. Some materials, such as tile, can be difficult
to remove intact. But if something gets destroyed purely
through carelessness — which happens rarely —
we may ask the customer to pay for the damage.
Sales usually take place on weekends to make it easier for
customers to come by. Prices are negotiable and tend to drop
toward the end of the sale. We sometimes offer materials for
free just to keep them out of the landfill.
What Sells, What Doesn't
Many of the buildings we salvage are perfectly good houses
that are being torn down and replaced with larger, fancier
structures. The house that's being torn down is often in very
good shape, with many new components inside.
Fixtures and appliances.
There's always strong demand for newer sinks, toilets, faucets,
and shower fixtures. But there's also a market for older
fixtures that have historic value or can be used to match the
style of an existing structure. We can sell used appliances if
they are relatively new. Expensive high-end kitchen appliances,
especially European imports, are always strong sellers. We've
found that we can even sell antique gas stoves if they're in
good shape. But there's no demand for electric stoves, old
furnaces, or fluorescent light fixtures.
Cabinets. Vanities and
kitchen cabinets are big sellers. High-end cabinets might be
incorporated into remodeling projects, while low-end cabinets
are often reused as garage storage units. We can sell just
about anything made out of redwood, so we never leave it
behind. Architectural embellishments such as wide molding,
hand-painted tile, and wrought iron are highly sought after.
We've even had some success removing and selling stone
Millwork and lumber.
High-value items like doors, windows, siding, hardwood
flooring, and redwood decking are obviously worth saving, but
there's also a good market in this area for some of the
structural members we pull out of old buildings. We'll salvage
2-by lumber if it's 8 feet or longer and structurally sound.
It's not uncommon to take a building down and end up with a lot
of dry, knot-free 2-by lumber that's 16 or 20 feet long.
On one recent teardown job, a customer actually bought the
entire frame of a house. We dismantled it in sections, and they
were loaded onto a flatbed truck and hauled to another part of
the state to be reassembled as a spec house.
We also sell plenty of 1 1/2-inch T&G roof decking,
heavy posts, and structural beams (Figure 2). Around here,
there's a big demand for old clay roofing tiles that can be
used for repairs or additions to existing structures. Patio
bricks and pavers are also easy to sell.
Figure 2.It's not economical to salvage short
pieces of framing lumber or sheathing, but longer material
readily finds buyers. This 1x4 skip sheathing was sold from the
site, along with most of the 2-by framing