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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 even more.

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 something else.

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 arrive.

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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 counters.

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.

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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 stock.