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Edmonton
October 18, 2019

Recycled Renovation

Opting for reusable home decor items pays in more ways than one.

When Avenue concluded its poll last summer to determine the city’s top-rated neighbourhoods, the results revealed something fascinating: Edmontonians (or at least you, dear readers) favour renovating older homes as opposed to buying brand-spanking-new digs.

Well, it seems home owners are now taking this logic one step further and are renovating those homes with gently used furnishings, fixtures and finishes that have been salvaged from demolition projects or rescued from the bin in one way or another. The recycled renovation is on the rise, and it’s a trend that could evolve into a cultural shift as people realize the financial and environmental impacts of tossing everything into landfills.

Places like Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, Home Reusables and Architectural Warehouse make it possible to lessen those impacts and offer a unique opportunity to think creatively about renovation projects. Their stock is acquired through private homeowners, businesses, construction companies, contractors, retailers, manufacturers and the like. But going the second-hand route doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice style or be boxed into using low-end materials. In fact, it doesn’t even mean you’re stuck with used items.

At the time of writing, David Bruns, co-owner of Home Reusables, had “about 300 brand-new Yale doorknobs along with some exterior and interior doors” in stock.

New items regularly find their way into these stores for several reasons: a construction company ordered too many windows or a custom-ordered piece was returned because it was the wrong colour. Patrons can then get a brand-new item for about a third of the price.

“I think a lot of people have the misconception that it’s just grubby old toilets and dirty kitchen sinks,” says Aaron Lane, a general contractor who is largely outfitting his newly built home with salvaged finishing materials from ReStore. This allowed him to install higher-quality items for a much lower cost than what would have been available through the builder. One of those improvements came in the form of natural stone for a nine-foot-high fireplace surround. “We got all that stone for $220 and the retail value is over $3,000. The builder-spec option would have cost about $1,200 and you would have known the stone is not real. That’s a huge upgrade.”

Other fortuitous finds include marble tile for two main bathrooms, which cost just over $100 for all of it (Lane estimates a savings of $1,800); new in-floor heating kits for $100, which usually retail for $500; and a free-standing bathtub – brand new with the wrapping still on – for $350. The same one was selling new through another retailer for $1,000. Lane notes, “On our first visit to ReStore, we found the exact size of skylights that we needed, brand new in the box, for $90. They sell for almost $400 at other retail stores.” But not everything he purchased was new. He recently scored a staircase from a house that had been demolished. It was a bit too long but that wasn’t a problem. “All I had to do was cut a few treads off and it went in like a glove. I got that for $60,” says Lane.

Of course, deals this good don’t always come easy. Usually, you’ll have to make many trips to a salvage retailer before you hit paydirt, and Lane admits that it’s very hard to find enough of what you need. The key is to go frequently, plan ahead and be organized. “I have a note on my phone with every single item we need for this house,” says Lane. 

You don’t have to go to that extent; even if you find just one or two items, you’re doing well. Incorporating some recycled material into your home renovation not only frees up some of the budget, it can be a source of inspiration for creative decorating and a chance to have something truly unique in your home.

For Lane, it’s the leftover commercial lighting fixtures from a Calgary airport renovation that lend a dash of the unexpected. “Architecturally, they’re stunning,” he says. “It’s just that the power they require isn’t feasible in the average household.” So he’ll have them rewired. Considering he paid only $20 for fixtures valued at $700 each, that’s a worthy investment, and it’s almost guaranteed that nobody else will have them.

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