Sunday, February 20, 2011

A paean to salvage yards

Salvage yards are a staple destination for any contractor working on old homes, both for shopping and donating.  They are a source for original architectural details like brackets and doors; they offer more authentic alternatives to home-center building supplies, which are invariably imported and visibly cheap; they gladly accept donations of house parts we can't use on a particular project but can't stand to see thrown away and hauled off to the dump.

Shopping the salvage yards takes a lot of patience, flexibility, or both.  What they have in stock varies daily, as do the prices and qualities of the items for sale.  We keep a list of things that might serve some need for any of several clients, and we try to visit often to browse for items on the list.  Often we come away with nothing.  Or we modify plans for a particular remodel project based on what we find available in the salvage yards. 

This week, while walking out of The Green Project with two partial quarts of blue and yellow oil-based paint I was using to protect a client's new (salvaged) back door ($.50 each), I spotted an old farmhouse drainboard sink.  Another client had mentioned wanting one a month or two ago.  A quick measurement and consultation with notes on that client's laundry room, then I loaded up the perfectly sized and styled sink (after some scrubbing) for under $50.  Buying a similar sink new from the internet could easily cost $1,000 with shipping.  I'm hoping that the included faucet will need only some new gaskets and a polish to save our client the additional $250-$800 she'd spend on a new faucet. 

The caveats, though: first, for every great find like this one, I've made a dozen trips to numerous yards and found nothing, or brought something home that didn't work out.  Second, salvage materials often require far more investment in labor to prepare and install than items bought or custom-made new.  And third, old materials often carry lead paint with them. 

Here are the salvage yards in town that we visit most, and a few notes on each:

The Green Project.
The Green Project is the most proletariat salvage yard in town: they accept almost anything -- from bricks to toilets to outlet boxes to screen doors -- in any condition and sell for almost nothing.  Items in good condition go very quickly.

The Preservation Resource Center's Salvage Store.
Recently opened next door to The Green Project, the PRC's Salvage Store focuses more on finer, wooden architectural details, usually in decent condition.

Habitat Restore.
The Restore carries a slightly different collection, including furniture and books as well as doors, lumber, and hardware.  They used to have mostly surplus from commercial projects, but they seem to have more recently come across much of the architectural salvage from the VA and LSU hospital building projects.

Ricca's Architectural Demolishing Corp.
Ricca's has a great selection of doors, brackets, and cast iron, many items either restored or reproduced.  They are especially helpful with period hardware, both antique and reproduction.

The Bank Architectural Antique Sales.
The Bank means doors.  Plus mantels and shutters.  The Bank differs from the other salvage yards because they don't just resell donated materials, they strip paint, repair damage, and sand their items first, then sell a nearly finished product.  Worth a visit just to awe at the size of their collection, and the overwhelming smell of cypress.

Strip-Ease of New Orleans.  (504) 484-3040.
Strip-Ease is an up-and-coming version of The Bank near Bayou St. John.