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ARCHITECT Magazine: The Road to Salvation


Skimming, cherry-picking, prospecting. Removing building materials from one structure and repurposing them in another isn't a novel practice. But it is gaining traction among architects willing to venture out on scavenger hunts in the hopes of finding the right item to perfect a project.

On the surface, the process is straightforward: First salvage, then reuse. The trick is finding the right product at the right time.

The process begins at the jobsite of a structure scheduled for renovation or demolition. "We're the first people in," says Dave Bennink, who has scoured more than 3,500 projects in the last two decades with his Bellingham, Wash, firm RE-USE Consulting. By volume, most of what his teams save is old-growth wood found in framing, siding, and paneling.

At design/build firm Carnemark in Bethesda, Md., project manager Frank Sis and his crew remove anything from a structure that has an inkling of being suitable for reuse: cabinets, lighting fixtures, bathtubs, sinks, counters, windows and doors, molding and trim, tile, appliances, and occasionally flooring. An average job takes a week, with items salvaged retailing between $3,000 and $10,000 per project.

Unlike demolition, deconstruction requires finesse instead of shear force. Reusable items such as cabinets and flooring can lose their value if they are damaged during the salvage process. To recover a window, for example, workers must remove its interior and exterior trim, cut fasteners in the frame, extricate the window, and store it safely on site until it is transported to a salvage yard.

Most of what Sis pulls out of homes goes to Community Forklift, a nonprofit salvage yard in Edmonston, Md., that caters both to members of the public and professionals looking for used materials at below-market prices or obscure pieces to finish off a project. At the firm's 34,000-square-foot warehouse, products such as windows, doors, cabinets, and kitchen and bath fixtures are cleaned, priced, and sorted by category.

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