Architectural Salvage: Benefits of Reusing Old Buildings

Aug. 20, 2018

Get to know the Architectural Salvage Warehouse of Detroit, an innovative company salvaging materials from historic Motor City buildings to create furnishings, wall treatments and even guitars.

What happens to the buildings that aren’t in good enough shape to upgrade?

Empty, decaying buildings are an eyesore – but demolishing them means valuable, reusable materials take up space in a local landfill.

That’s where Chris Rutherford comes in.

Listen to Chris talk with Christoph Trappe and Kadie Yale about the many benefits of repurposing the materials from abandoned homes and buildings in Detroit. 

Read the article below for more information:

Architectural Salvage Warehouse

​This maker creates art from salvaged materials.

Rutherford, the executive director of the Architectural Salvage Warehouse of Detroit, rescues wood from Detroit-area buildings for use in everything from furnishings and wall treatments to guitars and speaker cabinets.

His training in interior and furnishing design led him to develop a solution for the materials coming out of Detroit’s abandoned residential, commercial and industrial buildings.

Abandoned houses in a deserted street in Detroit. Photo: Studio Specialty

“It’s just beautiful material,” Rutherford explains. “It’s sometimes the original growth forest of Michigan or the second growth, depending on how old the house is. Instead of an architect specifying lumber from a forest in Brazil, they can specify materials that were harvested here in Detroit from homes that are no longer in use.”

What is Reclaimed Wood Used For?

Products made from salvaged, reclaimed or reused wood can contribute to LEED credits, so if you’re looking to earn a certification, investing in reclaimed wood products is a great way to add to your point total. Depending on the manufacturer, you may be able to trace your pieces back to the factory, home or office they were first milled for.

“We incubate a lot of different companies, and a lot of companies base their entire product line on the materials that we provide,” Rutherford says. “Telling the story of where the wood came from is a really important part of their work too. The End Grain Woodworking Company makes beautiful frames, tap handles and other fun stuff, and with each piece they make, they engrave in it the origin and put a little story together about where that wood came from.”


“Workshop Detroit makes a lot of great tables and other pieces of furniture, and they hand-stamp on each piece the address that it came from.” – Chris Rutherford.

“When you get into a project like the Detroit Foundation Hotel, which was originally the fire department headquarters in the city of Detroit, we reuse a lot of the materials that we salvaged from that project back into that project, as well as bringing in materials from other places. Whether it’s written or stamped on the piece, it’s definitely part of the story that’s told, he continues.”

How to Get Involved With Salvaged Materials

Architectural Salvage Warehouse ships all over the U.S., so if you need aged lumber, trim work or windows, you can order it just like you would order brand-new wood.

If your building is far away from Detroit and you’re looking to buy materials closer to home, Rutherford recommends reaching out to the Building Material Reuse Association, where he serves on the board of directors.

“That’s a national organization that helps people find their local reuse outlet or deconstruction operator,” he says. “There are local outlets in many of the regions, and the BMRA is an option to help find that.”

[Trending: LEED Zero: 4 Ways to Add Net Zero to Your LEED Certification]

If, on the other hand, you’re looking to downsize your physical footprint or rebuild into a structure that better serves your needs, you can benefit from the warehouse’s work in more ways than one. Not only can you keep reusable materials from wasting landfill space, you can also reap considerable tax profits from donating your building to this 501(c)3 nonprofit.

“Those materials are a donation to us, and we work with third-party appraisers to determine the value,” Rutherford says. “For business owners who are in the 20 percent tax bracket, if they have a tax liability and they pay us to deconstruct and they get a donation receipt for $100,000, they’re going to get $20,000 back. And they’ll still be over demolition $10,000 in the positive.”

Donating your building materials doesn’t have to hold up the process either, Rutherford explains.

“If we get involved at the right point in it, it shouldn’t impact the timeline. Taking apart a building by hand is obviously going to take longer than crunching it up and throwing it away, but typically, the buildings sit there for a while for permitting and different parts of the process. We can get in there and get our work done before it affects the owner,” he says.

[More on sustainability: Your Guide to Reusable Straws]

Showing off your use of reclaimed materials is more than a contribution toward your green building certification—it’s a statement that your organization cares about the environment. Your building’s story can reflect the community around it.

“The businesses that we’ve worked with that have made the reclaimed materials a feature of their space have definitely seen the benefit of that in their business, and those places are what’s creating some of the trend too, because some of them made the decision to do that before it was popular,” Rutherford says. “They bring business in because of that, because of the aesthetics and because of the story. It’s a triple bottom line impact for everyone involved.”

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About the Author

Janelle Penny | Editor-in-Chief at BUILDINGS

Janelle Penny has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with a special emphasis on covering facilities management. She aims to deliver practical, actionable content for facilities professionals.

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