6 ways to remodel with reclaimed materials

Jennifer Noonan | Improvement Center Columnist | April 1, 2016

Reclaimed wood planksWith the overall movement in American culture toward being more environmentally conscious, green home design and remodeling is a trend that's here to stay. A big element of that trend is the use of reclaimed materials. And for a lot of good reasons. Reusing salvaged construction materials not only brings personal style to a home, but since reclaimed materials are generally less expensive than new, it keep costs down. At the same time, tons of construction refuse is kept out of landfills. It's a win-win-win situation. How can you use reclaimed materials to make winning design in your home? Read on.

How to use it


Used boards and beams instantly add character to any space. It's common to see wide, old, barn wood planks used for flooring, and for old beams to serve as mantles on fireplaces. But reclaimed lumber can also make for beautiful wainscotting or false beams and columns. A wall of salvaged lumber, artfully pieced together, makes an amazing focal point, and will be a standout element in any room.

Tile & brick

Reclaimed tile and brick are a boon to any remodeling effort, as their cost is a fraction of what you can buy new. The worn and weathered edges of reclaimed brick brings a time-worn quality to a patio or walkway, or a gentle earthiness to a fireplace or interior wall. The color and quality of vintage tile can make a big design impact, whether it's on a bathroom floor or on a kitchen backsplash or countertop.

Doors & windows

Doors are windows are an easy find in the reclaimed materials market. Finding the right size may be the tricky part. You'll likely need some custom fitting done by a professional, but the results will be worth it. You can get around size issues if you hang doors on sliding tracks - an application that works well for pantries and transitions between rooms. Reclaimed windows don't have the energy efficiency that new windows do, but they work beautifully on cabinets and built-ins, and as interior dividers.

Sinks & tubs

A new bath tub won't hold the heat of hot water like a cast iron, claw-footed beauty from yesteryear. You can save a bundle, and get a classy addition to your bathroom, if you're willing to have a salvaged tub reglazed. Sinks, too, are plentiful in the salvage market. Just be sure they can be accommodated by the current cut-outs in your counters, or plan accordingly if they can't.


Reclaimed door handles, drawer pulls, hinges, and other decorative hardware pieces can make a big impression on the overall look of a space. Cheaper than new, they do the job just as well, and will immediately punctuate a room with vintage flair. Don't be afraid to mix and match - eclectic is in when it comes to designing with reclaimed materials.

Trim & woodwork

It's hard to find the size and profiles of vintage trim without paying for custom millwork. And wood species like cherry and walnut are prohibitively expensive to buy new for most people. So, reclaimed trim like baseboards, chair rails, wainscotting, and picture frame moulding can help add luxury to your remodeling efforts, for a much more reasonable price. You don't need to use it for its originally intended purpose. Wainscotting can be re-used to make cabinet doors, and moulding can easily be transformed into custom picture frames for a gallery wall.

Where to find it

- Find the salvage dealers in your area and get to know them. Visit regularly, as items come and go frequently. Let those dealers know what you're looking for, so they can alert you if something of interest comes in. Ask for referrals, because if they don't have what you're looking for, they may know someone who does.

- Be on the look-out for buildings slated for demolition. If you're willing to do the work of removal, you could score some real deals.

- Consistently check sites like Craigslist and Free Cycle for free and reclaimed construction materials. You might not find what you're looking at first, but patience is a virtue. In the meantime, you'll get to know the market and inventory available in your area.

Buyer beware


Check for structural integrity. Salvaged wood is often warped, and may be full of splits and nails. Get advice from experienced professional contractors before using reclaimed wood to carry significant loads. Measure meticulously, and realize many boards will need to be trimmed at the ends. Always sand a small section of the wood to see what the underlying color and quality is before buying it.

Painted elements

Be sure if you are buying painted pieces that you're aware of the paint's lead content. It's best to assume it contains lead, and to take the EPA recommended precautions when working with it.


Just remember that what uniquely expresses your personal character will not be everyone's taste. So, if you know you'll be selling, try to design in ways to either remove or cover those elements if necessary in the future.

Working with reclaimed construction materials can be a real adventure, and lets you put a one-of-a-kind stamp on your personal space. And when you find that stunner piece that's a great deal for your wallet, know you're doing the Earth a solid too - putting those old materials to use, instead of into the landfill.

About the Author

A confessed DIY junkie, Jennifer writes about home improvement, gardening, upcycling, and all things do-it-yourself. She lives in Delaware with her husband and daughters, where she is ardently teaching the next generation how to use power tools.