Reclaimed, Salvaged, Repurposed, Pre-loved – Building “New” With Used

The folks on HGTV don’t have anything on Howard Vogel. Or Timothy and Kathy Young, Phill Orth and Linda Weeks, or numerous other roll-up-your-sleeves, do-it-yourself types. Like the hosts of shows such as Rehab Addict or Fixer Upper, builders and homeowners around northern Michigan are constructing and renovating with materials scavenged from old homes, barns, and commercial buildings.

“I could be Joanna Gaines,” said Vogel with a laugh, referencing the female half of the husband-and-wife team of Fixer Upper. Joanna and Chip Gaines help clients find run-down homes, then re-imagine and renovate them.

Like them, Vogel is a realtor, a builder and a designer. The owner of Hearthstone Homes in Traverse City has worked with both residential and commercial clients. That includes a stint at the Leelanau School in Glen Arbor, where he refurbished several buildings using pre-loved materials. One example: The school was going to tear down and rebuild a dorm to the tune of $3 million. Instead, Vogel and his crew renovated the building with used materials and those found on-site, at a cost of $250,000.

He’s not alone. As a young man fresh out of grad school, Timothy Young found he had more time than money. He was working in the building trades, and observed the waste in the industry.

“You could build a home out of what they put in the dumpster,” he said.

So he did. The Empire resident took home scrap from his day job, as well as looked for opportunities to take apart buildings.

The result was a home made from salvaged materials: framing, fixtures, walls, windows, roofing, cabinets and sinks. The only exceptions were wiring and copper plumbing, as well as flooring made from trees felled on his property and from a mill in the U.P.

The cost of used materials is significantly less than new materials. But it’s not just about economics – it’s also about being green. Once windows, doors, floorboards, and the like have been made, the costs in natural resources and construction have already been paid.

“There’s a lot of waste, especially in remodels,” said Thomas Hirsch, owner of Bungalow Builders of Benzonia. “We have finite resources, (and) building is pretty resource-intensive.”

Even after they’ve been used in one application, floorboards, vanities, and the like can be re-used or re-purposed.

“Things still have value,” he said.

Nicole Curtis, HGTV’s self-dubbed rehab addict, restores old, damaged homes using vintage goods she’s saved from previous projects. In this area, builders such as Vogel and Hirsch as well as DIY types such as Young frequent Odom Reuse in Grawn and the Habitat ReStore in Traverse City.

Bruce Odom opened his salvaged goods operation in Grawn in 1998. He calls it “a green store for do-it-yourselfers.” It’s worked out so well, he opened a second store in Grand Rapids last August.

“You can’t get rich, but it’s important and satisfying,” he said. The store has an always-changing inventory of doors, windows, siding, flooring, cabinets, sinks, vanities, fencing, countertops, chairs, fixtures – you name it, and if Odom doesn’t have it, it did or it will.

The Habitat ReStore opened in 2006 and stocks everything from furnishings and appliances to building materials.  Store manager Donna Castor said she sees 50 to 80 customers a day.

Both establishments take in items from customers who drop them off, as well as send out teams to pick up large items. Odom even employs a crew that will disassemble buildings. That’s often when he comes across the best treasures, such as two-foot square tin ceiling tiles from a building in Owosso.

When Phill Orth and Linda Weeks purchased their home in Acme, they decided to use as many salvaged materials as they could.

“We bought a rescue home,” said Orth , referencing their foreclosed home that had been abused by its previous owners. They’ve used Odom and the ReStore as well as the online resale site Craigslist for everything from appliances to sinks, toilets, windows, even a sliding glass door.

One caveat to keep in mind: You have to adapt to what’s available. For example, Weeks and Orth bought a set of cabinets, but changes in their design forced the couple to resell them. They found an ideal kitchen counter on Craigslist, but the owner sold it before they could get there.

“You have to be flexible,” said Weeks.

The couple got a great deal on a package of appliances from the Habitat ReStore, though all they really wanted was the refrigerator and double oven. Then they found the commercial refrigerator was too big and heavy for their space. So they posted the refrigerator, compactor and dishwasher on Craigslist, and were able to recoup their entire investment, meaning the double oven was basically free.

Back when Young built his home in 1995, there was no Craigslist, no Odom Reuse. So he put ads in the local papers, asking if anyone had a barn or old building they wanted removed. Instead of the owner paying someone to tear it apart and haul it to the landfill, Young would disassemble it, remove the nails and reuse it.

Like Hirsch, Young looks at using pre-loved materials as a way to build green. It’s also a connection to the past. The historic materials gave him stories to share, from the ceiling joists originally from the Cedar Pickle Factory to the barn built by a man who told him that’s where he had met his wife.

This trend isn’t new. It’s what previous generations did.

“My parents grew up in the Depression,” said Hirsch. “Their parents were immigrants. So they saved everything.”

Young credited his parents and grandparents for his self-sufficiency. “I’m oriented that way,” he said. It’s in my DNA.”

Vogel agreed there’s more to it than simply economics. He ascribes to the notion of building not-so-big houses, a trend espoused and first codified by architect and author Sarah Susanka. Rather than building McMansions, he’s interested in crafting detailed, well-constructed buildings using materials close to the land.

“There’s some Zen in this,” he said.