Our New England home was build sometime between 1910 and 1920, and in the couple of years that we've owned it, have spent a great deal of time and energy bringing it into the 21st century. I'm talking real basic stuff -- like electric wiring. When we bought the house, much of it was still wired with the original "knob and tube" cloth-coated wire. We had to have the house re-wired for a number of reasons -- safety, being the biggest. Insulation was another "upgrade". For our first winter, we endured perpetual drafts and chills, even with the heat on, so we got that fixed too.
Despite shortcomings like these, I love our house. It's an amazing structure, built of old-growth timbers by skilled craftsmen, and the did it all almost 100 years ago, sans computers, laser-levels, or nail guns. Everything in it is still solid -- the banisters, the doors, the floors. I have great respect for this place, and my wife Gretchen and I are doing our best to restore it . Luckily, the previous owners didn't mess with it too much, making only a few minor cosmetic updates here and there.
One of our guiding principles is to use as much salvage as much as possible. And doing so is easy, because we're close to an amazing supplier of architectural salvage: New England Demolition and Salvage. This store is simply mind-blowing. Occupying a huge old shipping warehouse in New Bedford, Massachusetts, it's a well-organized nirvana for old home restoration. Half a mile (it seems) of nothing but old doors. Thousands of old wooden shutters. Cast iron tubs, porcelain sinks, ornate radiators. Door knobs, drawer pulls, hinges of every size and shape. They even have a huge supply of pintels, which is the hardware that enables a working shutter to be affixed to the house and swivel. New, they cost $30 a pair (sold online by a specialty company). At New England Demolition and Salvage -- they're $2 each (I bought 20). I also bought a beautiful 5 panel sold fir door -- it matched the other doors in our house exactly -- for $40.
Not only is this generally the lower environment impact way to go, what you can find in salvage is often better and certainly cheaper than modern replacements. I've purchased a number of old shutters from NEDS, and at $40 a pair, they're far cheaper than the equivalent custom-built wooden shutters, which can cost up to $600 a pair. And I can't imagine they're built any better either than these old pieces (held together without nails, still going strong after 100+ years).
This has us thinking about all the other ways that re-using/salvaging/recycling is part of our lives -- from accepting our wonderful neighbor's hand-me-down toys for our 2 year old, to trash recycling, to composting...yet I am sure we aren't doing nearly enough.