One of my favorite places in Berkeley is Urban Ore, a giant salvage yard located just across the Bay from downtown San Francisco. I can’t imagine anything further than the glamor and relentless newness of San Francisco; Urban Ore is all about old, dusty, funky things, and it seems like an odd place for a finicky person like me to spend so much time.
The thing is, though, that Urban Ore is awesome, and it provides a treasure trove of beautiful, fascinating, and delightful things, just like other architectural salvage yards all over the country. Once a closely-guarded secret by contractors, many are open to the public, and they’re waiting patiently for your attentions. It’s time for you to get into salvage yards, and I’m here to tell you why.
1. You never know what you’re going to find
Salvage yards constantly get new items in, and they’re always refreshing the floor. That means that on any given day, the inventory turns over very rapidly, and you might find anything from beautiful stained glass windows salvaged from an old church to a huge box full of crystal doorknobs taken from old homes. Part of the joy of going to a salvage yard is getting inspired by new project ideas; I’ve built entire projects around a randomly-found salvage yard item.
2. They’re a great way to find affordable antique accents for your home
Numerous firms specialize in reproduction items for people restoring homes or dressing up modern architecture, but their hardware and other home goods tend to be extremely expensive. Why pay a premium when you can hit up a salvage yard for the real thing? You might need to comb through a bit more, and not everything you find will match, but that’s part of the charm.
3. They’re also a great way to find affordable versions of more mundane things
Need a new door? Toilet? Kitchen counter? Beautiful old tile? Salvage yards have those too, and at a fraction of the price of a brand-new item. If you’re working on a San Francisco remodel and you want to get cool items for your home, consider hitting a salvage yard to see what your options are, and think about using the items you find in creative ways.
Anyone who’s been to a lumber yard lately probably already knows how eyeboggling modern lumber prices are; and the quality of the lumber just ain’t what it used to be. Salvage yards often have beautiful lumber such as old growth and hardwood salvaged from historic buildings, for much less than you’d pay at a lumber yard. (Although you can still expect to pay a premium.) Salvage yards also sell brick, glass, and other building materials from historic buildings — great for finding a match for a restoration project!
Salvage yards have used items, sure, but that’s kind of the point: they’re still usable after someone else has gotten years (maybe decades) of use out of them. Historically, building materials were often overbuilt, because materials were cheap and readily available, as was labour. That means you can find things like 4×4 beams, a cut of lumber that’s rarer and much more expensive today than it was in an era when the US was heavily forested. Other high-quality items are also readily available.
6. The power of recycling
Obviously, every time you hit a salvage yard, you’re reusing materials and keeping them out of the waste stream. You’re also reducing the demand for brand new materials! So you’ve got reduce and reuse covered — and when your items from the salvage yard eventually wear out or start to break down, you can break them down responsibly to reuse components and recycle what simply cannot be used any more.
7. Friendly people
Salvage yard workers are often very enthusiastic about their jobs, and they love working with customers. Tell them what you’re looking for and they’ll help out — they’ll even take down your number and call you when they think something of interest to you has come in. They can also provide suggestions to help you branch out and get creative with your salvaged materials, and they might just push you into getting experimental with your sense of style.
8. Resale opportunities for you
On the flip side, if you’re taking down an old house or doing a remodel and you have perfectly usable household components (lumber, fixtures, etc.) that you have no use for, consider selling them to a salvage yard. Some contractors will handle this for you as part of the job, but you can get more money by selling to the yard directly. Yards may offer straight cash, commission, or trade depending on their policies, and you can work out the details with them.
Photo credit: Muffin/Flickr.com.