It's the season. Tax refunds are coming in and the real estate market is heating up. If you're selling or staying put, you don't have to spend a lot to make to make a big difference in your home. I've found some places to get building supplies that are off the beaten path. Forget those big box stores, taking this route will save you money and be a lot of fun.
"We discovered this when we were building a house in San Pablo area and we love it," said Jeannie Pemberton.
Pemberton is talking about Urban Ore, a Berkeley salvage yard filled with stuff you can repurpose for a home project, or any project for that matter.
The day we saw them there, her kids and a friend are on a mission.
Claire Pemberton: "We came here to get stuff to build a go-cart.".
Madeline Pemberton: "Yeah, my brother and his friend wanted to build a go-cart."
Oliver Pemberton: "It's like the world's biggest Lego bucket."
Noah Ebio: "But we think it's more of..."
Oliver: "Go carts!"
Noah: "Mayhem destruction, catapult making stuff!"
Or, building stuff like a sea of toilets, tubs, sinks, doors, wood and windows and really anything else a person needs in life. There are clothes, records, and furniture.
Prices are in the thrift store range. There is so much here, sifting through it will take a while
"I was like, 'Kids, only a half an hour.' We've been here two hours," said Jeannie.
Urban Ore's founder and owner Dan Knapp is an ex-sociology professor on a crusade.
"You'd come here possibly because you want to save the Earth. This is part of a business that was really set up to end the age of waste. That's what our motto really is," said Knapp.
A lot of Urban Ore's stock was destined for landfill, Knapp and his staff pluck reusable, sometimes vintage, and top notch building products right from the dump. They also buy and trade from anyone who shows up at the yard. They take in over a 100 loads of material a day.
"What we can do is move the stuff through here and find new homes for it. So were essentially like a SPCA for stuff," said Knapp.
If you like the idea of used materials but want someone to cull all that stuff down a bit, head over to Ohmega Salvage. It's also in Berkeley. Owner Katherine Davis is more of a 'salvage curator'.
"There's something for everyone. There's lithographs and original paintings," said Davis.
Davis sells items in all price ranges. Things can range from a few bucks to a few thousand or free.
"We have a table right by the front gate and its free and people come and get lights that are still working or dishes and cups," said Davis.
There is a wide range of useful and beautiful things here from the kitchen to antiques to serious building materials. And in the spirit of waste nothing, the Ohmega site itself is a repurposed gas station.
"It's a really happy place. I come here almost every day of the week I really love being here," said Davis.
Across the bay in San Francisco, 117-year-old Fredericksen Hardware and Paint is a real find if you have an old house that needs some TLC.
"We've been around and we have everything a general store had back in the late 1800's and we continue to have the same things just updated," said Sam Black, a Fredericksen's manager.
This place is packed. They stock a lot of items you'd expect in a general store or a hardware store, but neighbors and contractors know they've also cornered a niche market. They stock hard to find hardware still used in old homes across the city.
"We have all the replacement fasteners and casement fasteners and locks, especially for all these old Victorian houses that need love," said Black.
And you will definitely be feeling the love when you see the prices. Salvage, or restoring what you already own, is often the way to go. Often the old materials are made better than the new stuff on shelves today. Any of these stores are a good starting point, but if you want more ideas and more deals, you can check out the whole list of home building recommendations in my book Finney's Finds.