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The second time around

Savvy remodelers are saving money and gaining a vintage look by reusing salvaged items -- doorknobs, tile, wood and more.

April 03, 2005|Chuck Green | Special to The Times

Rene SPENCER was tooling around her neighborhood one day a couple of years ago when the sight of a home demolition stopped her in her tracks. The Long Beach resident had just purchased a Craftsman home built in the 1920s and wanted authentic materials for an extensive renovation the house required.

With the contractor's permission, she retrieved door trim and a stove that would have been destined for the dump.

"I just happened to be driving by," said Spencer, whose resourcefulness has yielded reclaimed lighting fixtures, ceiling fans, doorknobs, a picket fence and even a ladder for her attic.

In recent years, remodelers have found an increasing supply of recycled building materials available. The state's Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989, considered landmark legislation in the nation's recycling movement, mandated that cities reduce the amount of waste going to landfills by 50% in 2000. With the statewide recycling push and dwindling space in landfills, home builders such as Keith Brown, owner of K.B. Construction Co. in Monrovia, have felt increasing financial pressure to recycle construction materials.

"We find the costs at the dump are much more expensive now due to the lack of landfills," he said.

Consequently, Brown has turned to organizations that accept donations of building materials, both new and used, such as the San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity Builder's Surplus Store in Pasadena, where he previously was a board member. Habitat provides a list of its Southern California stores on its website at

"We probably save $2,000 or $3,000 a year in dump fees," Brown said, "and we give the materials to a good cause, so it's a win-win situation."

Spencer's recyclables sources include organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, tips from friends and Craigslist at, a website where consumers or companies can advertise the availability of or need for goods. She also has continued to prowl her neighborhood.

"I had to repair holes in the walls, so I went around and found other houses where they were doing remodels," Spencer said. "The house was a total fixer; it needed everything."

Spencer estimated that she saved roughly $5,000 on materials by using other nonvintage reclaimed materials, such as interior doors, lumber, fixtures, paint, tile and landscaping.

Inland Empire resident Rene Jarboe was at the point where she would have given almost anything to upgrade her kitchen, which has remained in "pretty ugly" condition for the last two years while she and her husband, Kim, focused on the rest of the home they and their two children live in. Now, thanks to recycled cabinets from the San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity store, the couple's kitchen will soon take shape.

"I've waited patiently, and now that the cabinets have come in, we're going to start ripping the kitchen apart," Jarboe said.

The Jarboes, both 41, saved more money than they originally realized by purchasing the cabinets, which were used, from the Habitat store instead of a retail outlet.

"We made a mistake in some measuring, and the sink base we have wouldn't fit. When we looked into getting another base, we learned the cabinets are worth thousands of dollars," she said. "The pantry alone, if we were to reorder it, would be $1,000, and we got everything for the whole kitchen for a little more than $1,000, so we saved a ton of money."

But recycled materials don't always yield huge savings.

"I tried to save money and get most of my stuff for free, but there was no free," said West Los Angeles resident Scott Hill, an environmental consultant who has purchased and sold salvaged materials online.

Hill is using a number of salvaged materials to add a room and a second floor to his home. "With the demolition, the de-nailing, de-painting, stacking, loading and hauling of materials, there are expenses," he said.

Labor can be a significant one. But the fact that Kim Jarboe is a carpenter helped the couple save money. "Our last home was a fixer-upper too, and he redid the whole thing himself, using a number of recycled products," Rene Jarboe said.

Whether a homeowner is a carpenter or not, she said, one trick to finding the right recycled materials is doing your homework before going to the Habitat store: "There are a lot of treasure finds there if you know what you're looking for. To the average person, it might look like a bunch of old stuff sitting around, but if you have an eye for it, if you measure and know what you need, you can make it work."

David Berman had "environmental consciousness" in mind when he tried to give away materials from his Rancho Palos Verdes teardown a couple of years ago.

"I wanted some of the materials to go to good use," he said.

"My demolition guy arranged for some of the materials to get taken away. But we found trying to recycle materials a major headache," said Berman, a 45-year-old physician. "It would have been easier to just have them dump it in the trash."

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