About Architectural Antiquities and Salvage

Why Buy New When You Can Buy Used Building Parts at a Fraction of the Cost?

Radiator salvage yard in Massachusetts.
Radiator salvage yard in Massachusetts. Steam radiators can be rescued and cost less than a brand new radiator. Photo by Alvis Upitis/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

People throw away the damnedest things. Stained glass and glass mirrors. Steam radiators. Porch columns. Pedestal sinks. Victorian moldings. It's worth spending time rooting through dumpsters at demolition sites and haunting 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.

You might find a marble fireplace mantel rescued from a law library or a chandelier from the reading room. Salvage centers might have filigreed door knobs, kitchen cabinets, bathroom fixtures, ceramic tile, old bricks, door moldings, solid oak doors, and antique radiators like the ones shown here. In every case, these items cost less than their modern-day equivalents.

Of course, there are drawbacks to using salvaged materials. It might take considerable time and money to restore that antique mantel. And it comes with no guarantees and no assembly instructions. Still, you also get the joy of knowing you are preserving a small piece of architectural history—and you know that the 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 and cast iron fencing
  • 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

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.

How to Find Used Building Parts:

Remember that every generation and different regional localities often have their own vocabularies. Think of all of the words that may be used to describe these used home products—including "junk." Antique dealers often find and/or market "rescued" items. Reclamation yards will have a variety of "reclaimed" materials from homes and office buildings. Begin your search for used building parts and architectural antiquities by following these steps:

  1. Do business over the Internet. Search online directories for Architectural Salvage. Results will reveal local dealers, but don't neglect national organizations like Recycler's Exchange, Craigslist, and eBay—the world's largest online marketplace has everything, including architectural parts. Try several key words in the search box on the eBay home page. View photographs and inquire about shipping costs. Also, take advantage of social media and Web sites that offer message boards and discussion forums for buying, selling, and trading.
  2. Check the yellow pages of your local telephone directory for Building Materials - Used , or Salvage and Surplus. Also look up Demolition Contractors. Call a few and ask where they take their salvaged building materials
  3. Contact your local historic preservation society. They may know of salvagers who specialize in antique building parts. In fact, some historical societies operate nonprofit salvage warehouses and other services for old-house restoration.
  1. Contact your local Habitat for Humanity. In some cities, the charitable organization operates a "ReStore" that sells salvaged building parts and other home improvement items donated by businesses and individuals.
  2. Visit demolition sites. Check those dumpsters!
  3. Keep an eye on garage sales, estate sales, and auctions.
  1. Know when garbage night is in your and neighboring communities. Some people don't know what they've got until it's gone.
  2. Beware of "strippers." Reputable architectural salvagers support the cause of historic preservation by rescuing valuable artifacts that would otherwise be demolished. However, irresponsible dealers will strip a viable building, selling historic items individually to make a fast profit. It's always best to purchase salvage from a source recommended by the local historical society. When in doubt, ask where the item originated, and why it was removed.

Keep in mind, most salvage centers don't operate 9 to 5 hours. Always call before making he trip!

Happy hunting!

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Craven, Jackie. "About Architectural Antiquities and Salvage." ThoughtCo, Mar. 23, 2017, thoughtco.com/about-architectural-antiquities-and-salvage-175958. Craven, Jackie. (2017, March 23). About Architectural Antiquities and Salvage. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/about-architectural-antiquities-and-salvage-175958 Craven, Jackie. "About Architectural Antiquities and Salvage." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/about-architectural-antiquities-and-salvage-175958 (accessed November 18, 2017).