The House Gut Vol. 4 – Beyond Home Depot

The House Gut is written by HumaneFoodie. She lives in NoMa. You can read the first installment of The House Gut here, the second installment on finding the right contractor here and the third about Investing in the mechanics of a house here.


So, you are gutting a house.

And you scroll through the list of items you will need: 100 square feet of tile for ONE of your bathrooms, cabinets, sinks, doors, windows…the list goes on.

Suddenly, the Story of Stuff video starts playing in your head. If you’re anything like this bleeding-heart environmentalist, the thought of buying all new stuff from Home Depot, Ikea or Lowe’s makes you cringe.

Thankfully, the D.C. area has delicious salvage gems hidden all around. We found quite a few, thanks to tips from our contractor and other fellow salvagers we met along the way. We found more gems post-reno when we started looking for salvaged wood for our garden.


Here is a list of the places we went and what we got:

Community Forklift

Located right outside of D.C. in Edmonston, Md., Community Forklift (CF) is a huge warehouse full of your treasures/someone else’s trash.

CF has rows of doors and windows with the specs listed. (We got one interior door here, and this is also where Mark, our contractor, found our front door.)  We salvaged some of our tile here, and bought a short radiator for under our bedroom window. We also got a vanity for our upstairs guest bathroom and a pedestal sink for the powder room.

Continues after the jump.

Hall Bathroom

CF has a nice selection of old-world doorknobs and antiques, appliances and cabinets, lumber and lighting, bathtubs, and salvaged slabs of granite and other stones. We looked for salvaged countertop material for our kitchen island, but CF mostly had small pieces at that time that wouldn’t work. We ended up going with Vetrazzo recycled glass countertops, which are made of recycled glass bottles and concrete.

Like voting, it is good to go to Community Forklift (or any salvage place, for that matter!) early and often. CF is open every day except Monday, and the staff is super friendly and helpful. CF is also dog-friendly (a bonus for someone like me, who didn’t want to neglect my pup).  My husband and I also ended up being donors as well as buyers, bringing some items to CF we couldn’t use or were in the garage and basement from the previous owners.

Habitat ReStores

There are many Habitat ReStore locations around D.C. We went several times to the one in Gaithersburg and visited the location in Alexandria.  The one in Gaithersburg had some real finds. It was there that we bought our kitchen cabinets ($800 used). When we priced out similar cabinets made of recycled materials, it would have cost more than $10,000; even at Ikea, cabinets can cost thousands of dollars! My mom (our architect) worked with our contactor to tweak the kitchen design so the cabinets fit.

We also bought floor and wall tiles for our bathrooms, finding colors that went well together.
Note to people looking for contractors: This is where having a contractor and architect who are excited about your vision comes in handy. My mom designed the tile schemes and helped us calculate quantities. Mark and his team worked patiently with us to help match the many shades of white and off-white and make bullnose work with straight-edge tiles.

The Habitat ReStores were great. The staff is mainly kids fulfilling some sort of community service requirement, and they help carry stuff to your car and organize the shelves of tiles.  They are not open on Sundays, so we often went to the ReStores on Saturdays and CF on Sundays.

Southern Sales Services

This warehouse in Baltimore is a surplus live auction. Southern Sales Services collects surplus or “damaged” items from renovations and other projects. Unlike Community Forklift and Habitat ReStores, everything here is new, ranging from interior and exterior doors and windows, toilets and sinks, medicine cabinets, and bathtubs and appliances.

A recommendation: If you decide to go here, go up for the “preview” the day before the auction. That way, you can see what you want. If you don’t head up the day before to find what you want and where it is located in the massive warehouse, you will be completely overwhelmed like we were. The auctions start at 9 a.m., and several roving live auctions happen simultaneously, so if you know ahead of time what you want, you can prioritize. You can also go up on the Sunday after the live auctions, although many items will be gone.

We ended up getting all of our toilets (save one that we swapped out to our contractor), two vanities, two medicine cabinets, and one interior door.

While Southern Sales is more expensive than CF and the ReStores, this is the place for you if you want newer stuff but don’t want to add to the grid. I wish we had found out about this place sooner, as we could have acquired items we wanted new before we were so far along on our project, like our glass weatherized back door and over 500 square feet of basement floor tile, which we ended up getting from Home Depot.

Pros and Cons of Salvaging

I’m not gonna lie—there were many times when I wanted to throw my hands up in the air and just order everything online and be done with it. But we were excited about having a home that had salvaged and recycled materials. In the end, I wouldn’t have done it any other way.

And we didn’t have to buy everything. We kept most of our radiators and interior doors, and Mark saved as much of our hardwood flooring as he could. He filled in the unsalvageable boards with flooring from another project.

Plus, we have some great stories that you could only get from a live auction warehouse or trying to cart away and sort through hundreds of pounds of tiles.  And there is getting great ideas about future projects from the creative people you meet.

Stay tuned for my last installment on future projects and living in and touching up your new home!

12 Comment

  • Great writeup! I had amazing luck with Southern Sales. Got my kitchen sink, granite tiles for countertop, and many interior doors there. I did not parttake in the auctions, just visited on a Saturday and bought whatever I found and wanted. I also love CF, but unfortunately didn’t find out about it until after my house was finished.

  • This is great, thanks! I need a complete HVAC overhaul and I’m considering trying to replace my terrible forced air heat with radiators, as were originally in the house. Did you work with somebody to run a new line to radiator? Were the rest of the radiators in working order?

    • Hey SF! Here is what our contractor’s answer to your question:

      “for your house, most of the radiators were already in place. However, to move the pipes out of the way in the basement, and to separate the radiators by floor, we ran new lines. And of course for the ones we moved (basement, master bedroom, master bathroom) we also ran new lines. All of your first and second floor radiators were in working order. The basement ones probably were, but they would have been hard to reuse, so we removed them without ever testing them.

      “in a house where the radiators have been removed, a lot of the above answer is moot. We’ll have to run new lines for each zone (typically by floor), which allows the radiators to be placed with a lot more flexibility. That said, the right place to put them is usually where they were in the first place – near windows and entry doors. This will require opening walls and ceiling to pull the pipe through. We use PEX for this (rather than the old-school iron pipe), which reduces the number of holes that need to be cut and patched.”

  • This is really fantastic! I’m hoping to purchase a house in the next 6 months and environmentalism aside, will need to do it on a budget and with salvaged/recycled materials. I have been to Community Forklift several times, but mostly just to wander their antiques section. It’ll be great when I can look for things other than funky old windows to hang on my living room wall.

    • T

      It largely depends on how much of the work you plan to do yourself, but in our experience using salvaged material was actually considerably more expensive than using new material. The only exception being hardware floors. For example, hanging a salvaged door is far more expensive than installing a new (pre-hung) door. The labor costs far exceed any difference in material price.

      • My dad will be helping me, so labor is less of an issue for minor things like hanging a door. 🙂

        • If you think hanging a door is a minor thing, boy are you in for some surprises.

          • He built the entire front half of my childhood home without outside help, complete with (gasp!) old antique front doors that weren’t true. So I really think we’ll manage. But thanks for your concern.

    • Southern Sales Services has TONS of pre-hung doors. Just figure out the specs and swing direction before you go.

  • Awesome! We love CF too. I’ve never been to ReStore so I’ll have to check that out! We are planning on redoing our kitchen in the near future and were going to go the Ikea cabinet route, but would love to find a great salvage set. Did you refinish yours or did you buy them like that? I just LOVE your cabinets, they’re gorgeous!

    Have you ever been to Second Chance in Baltimore? I’ve heard some great things about it, but haven’t had the chance to get out there yet.

    • I highly recommend checking out Second Chance. I haven’t been to the other places yet so I can’t make direct comparisons, but I got an awesome deal on a chandalier at Second Chance.

    • We did not refinish them; they came in that color. And my mom actually matched salvaged tiles from my grandparents’ home that matched, so it flows well. I have not been to Second Chance either, but have heard great things about it!

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