In this increasingly eco-conscious environment, many Atlanta homeowners are looking for ways to make their homes oases of environmental consciousness. "Green" cleaning supplies are now a major force in that industry. Home energy audits are a popular way for homeowners to have a professional help them find extra energy savings at home--savings that benefit both the pocketbook and the planet.
So, what about green home improvement projects? Using reclaimed materials to create that deck, fix that shed or remodel that guest room means both cost savings for you and space-saving for some landfill where these materials might otherwise get dumped.
What are reclaimed materials?
These materials are a class of building or remodeling and redecorating supplies that may include bricks, wood, slate or architectural features such as doors or moldings. They have already been used in an earlier building project and are now available to be purchased or scavenged by you for use in your projects. Unlike recycled materials, reclaimed building supplies still look like what they were originally. They have not been melted down, chopped up and re-molded to create something entirely new, so they still carry the patina of age and character that so many homeowners are looking for.
Where do you get them?
There are an increasing number of stores and suppliers that specialize in these supplies. Staff and buyers from architectural salvage stores are often called to the scene of a major demolition to gather old moldings, turret caps, hand-shaped bricks and tiles and other treasures before the bulldozer begins its work. These store then sell their finds to you, sometimes at a significant mark-up.
If you're feeling slightly more thrifty than this, you could also try an Atlanta-area salvage yard. This will have fewer of the pricy trappings of the architectural salvage stores. If you're feeling really bold, find a house that looks like it's undergoing a major overhaul or demolition, and hang around the site for a while. Get friendly with the people doing the work, and then casually ask where the stuff going into the dumpster is likely to wind up. More often than not, someone working on a home will be happy to give you free materials rather than having to pay to have them hauled off.
You should also learn to check the classifieds. There are an increasing number of people who recognize that the materials they are removing from a home are valuable to someone. Just because they don't want them anymore doesn't mean someone else won't. It is not uncommon to find listings that make statements such as the following: "100 bricks free to anyone who will come get them" or "Set of three antique doors. Make me an offer."
When to go "reclaimed"
While using reclaimed materials is an interesting, eco-friendly and often cost-effective way to change up home improvement or construction projects, it's not the best choice for every project. Using older materials also comes with some cautions. Perhaps the primary one is to take precautions when dealing with old, painted wood. Any door, molding, etc. you find that was painted prior to 1978 may contain lead paint. You need to have it tested and sealed if lead paint is found.
Reclaimed material may also be inappropriate for larger jobs where you need to be able to count on a consistent supply of the same material. Large projects may take on more of a mix-and-match feel since you are constrained by what is available rather than what you are able to custom order.
Planning for a project using reclaimed material is a bit more of a challenge as well. These supplies may have to be re-prepared to fix structural imperfections such as warping or bolster areas where the material's age has taken a toll on its structural integrity. Also, if you don't know at the beginning of a project which materials are likely to be available, then it is difficult to plan for which ones to use. This makes using reclaimed rather than new materials more time-consuming, even though you will get more of a custom effect.
Also, used materials are probably better suited for finish projects than structural ones. Unless you are the most committed environmentalist who would never dream of using anything newly manufactured, it makes sense to create the unseen structural elements of your house out of the strongest materials possible, as well as those engineered for the greatest longevity. In some cases, this might be a reclaimed timber or cash of bricks--but not always.