On the House: Remodeling trend: Reusing materials

Posted: August 27, 2012

The National Association of the Remodeling Industry has a Contractor of the Year awards program that provides a look at the trends that the winners are seeing in the market.

One of the more interesting trends is the growing reuse of materials, either from the houses being remodeled or acquired from other sources.

This is not really new. In the 1970s and 1980s, when baby boomers were buying shells and fixer-uppers, they tried to reuse large and small pieces of the original that had been removed to accommodate the more modern.

For example, I renovated a bathroom. I "harvested" the original baseboard and trim from the room and stored it in the basement until I needed it.

The following year, I used some of it when I converted one room back into a separate bedroom and study. The brown baseboards were stripped after they were tested for lead paint and repainted white before they were installed.

I also reused some baseboard in the kitchen renovation, and probably would have used more if I had ever remodeled the basement.

We found a mantel in a place off South Street and added it to the living room, and a door in a shop in Germantown that we used for the entry from the foyer. An electrician rewired original light fixtures.

It was a lot less expensive than paying to have matching millwork and doors made from scratch, or buying reproduction lighting from catalogs.

It was also a lot of work to clean up and repair those materials, however, and time-consuming, as well.

Today, as any real estate agent can tell you, younger buyers aren't rushing to acquire fixer-uppers. The smallest problem, and they go on to the next house, or demand thousands off the price before they'll even consider buying.

Yet well-heeled homeowners with large budgets have no such qualms, especially if they can pay and watch, but not get physically involved.

In one market - Austin, Texas - 90 percent of remodeler Christopher Risher's clients are asking to reuse materials in renovation projects.

"I think people try to save as much as possible," Risher said. "They don't want to replace everything."

In his award-winning renovation project, Risher used reclaimed long-leaf pine flooring in an addition he built that matched the rest of the house.

He found the flooring through a salvage company in Dallas, he said.

It took quite a bit of work to make it match the original, Risher said, including separating damaged pieces and using twice as much wood filler as usual to seal imperfections, plus sanding and staining.

In this area, salvagers have harvested yellow pine flooring from old-factory demolition for reuse in renovation and new-home construction.

The flooring lasts longer than new pine because the reclaimed material comes from old-growth trees that were denser, Risher said.

Remember that when making small repairs to original wood floors. Look in the closet to see if you can get away with taking a piece, replacing it with something newer.

Ohio custom-cabinet-maker John Albrecht said there was a trend toward distressed-wood interiors and away from the contemporary look.

"Clients are consistently asking me to repurpose an old piece of wood into something else," he said, "or build something new and distress it to look old."

One of Albrecht's clients scours flea markets, looking for just the right pieces for her home. Barn beams run across ceilings or are transformed into furniture, tree trunks become the bases for desks, and rail carts are made into coffee tables.

"What is old is new again," he said.

Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or aheavens@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @alheavens.

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