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Reuse or Replace? How to Save Money on Your Remodel the Smart Way

Find out when you should keep your appliances, fixtures, tile and countertops — and when you should replace them.

So you’re trying to save money on your remodel. Welcome to the (highly populous) club! Of all the questions I’m asked when I first talk to prospective clients, the two most popular are “How much do you think this will cost?” and “How long do you think it’ll take?” No surprise there — time and money are valuable.

And while choosing to remodel your home shows that you’re willing to spend time and money, I don’t think anyone is opposed to saving a couple of bucks.

There are many ways you can save money in a remodel. You can choose moderately priced materials. You can manage the work yourself (though you may spend extra money on headache medication or therapy). But one of the most common money-saving strategies is for people to reuse certain items (usually higher-dollar pieces) from their existing home.

This is a great practice, for the most part. It cuts costs, for sure, but sometimes it cuts corners on quality or safety. Before you go writing “Save” on everything, take a second to really think through whether you should reuse an item or replace it.


Reuse them if …

  • They’re 5 years old or newer. While some appliances can last for what seems like a lifetime, older appliances don’t take moves and disconnections and re-connections as well as their newer counterparts.

  • You’ve never had to make a service call on them. Service calls could be a sign of faulty manufacturing or a rapidly aging machine. If you’ve never had a problem with your appliance, feel free to keep it for reuse.

  • They fit in with the new design. If you absolutely adore your 60-inch fridge and freezer combo, but your architect is moving heaven and earth to make it fit in your new kitchen design, it may be time to rethink saving it.

Sell or recycle them if …

  • They’re as old as dirt. As I said, older appliances just don’t take the hustle and bustle of a remodel as well as newer models.

  • They’ve broken down several times. It’s time to face the music: If your fridge door is held shut by duct tape or your oven shuts down every time it goes above 375 degrees, it’s time to replace it.

  • They’re an odd size. If you build your kitchen design around a nonstandard-sized appliance (such as a 27-inch oven or a 30-inch fridge) and it breaks down, it will be a lot harder to find a replacement. You may be able to find one, but your options will be severely limited.

Plumbing Fixtures

Reuse them if …

  • They’re new. It’s hard to put an exact timeline on when plumbing fixtures become “old,” because some brands are higher quality and last longer. I would err on the side of caution and only save plumbing fixtures that are 6 to 12 months old or newer and come from a high-quality manufacturer.

  • They’re irreplaceable. A customer of ours has a tub filler in the shape of a swan. It was probably manufactured by cavemen — it’s that old. But she loves that swan! So she got it refurbished, and the swan was saved to see another day. If you’re going to keep something special to you, be sure to have it refitted or refurbished to avoid leaks or breakdowns.

Replace them if …

  • They’re wobbly or leaky. No one wants a water leak in their newly remodeled space. Plumbing fixtures that seem unsteady probably are. Get rid of them.

  • They’re so old, they contain lead. Lead + water = bad. Don’t jeopardize the health of your family in the pursuit of saving money.

  • They were cheap. Low-cost plumbing fixtures (even if they look the same as their expensive counterparts) are fitted with low-cost guts that won’t withstand the test of time. There’s also the chance that the parts will crack when they dry out between their removal and re-installation, a problem you won’t know about until it’s too late.


Reuse it if …

  • Don’t. Tile is almost guaranteed to crack or break during the removal process, and your contractor might charge a premium to be extra careful during demolition. In short, it’s just not worth the money.


Reuse them if …

  • They will fit in the remodeled space. If you’re not changing the size of the underlying cabinetry or the shape or size of any sinks that are installed in the existing slab, reusing your countertop is probably a safe bet. As long as you like the color and material, you have my stamp of approval. My only word of caution is that there is a chance of cracking when the countertop is removed, so keep that in mind.

Replace and recycle them if …

  • You want new cabinets underneath. If you’re planning on completely revamping the design of your cabinetry, it doesn’t make sense to try to work around a piece of countertop you’d like to reuse. I mean, it’s possible, but it definitely isn’t the path of least resistance.

  • You have a tiled countertop. See above (“Tile”).

Light Fixtures

Reuse them if …

  • They’re in good shape. Light fixtures are more reusable than items such as appliances and plumbing fixtures. If you still like them and they look good, it’s a safe bet that they can be reused.

  • They pass code. Residential building codes can change from region to region, but the one thing that’s standard nationwide is that light fixtures have to be UL certified. Most fixtures are UL certified (that hand-blown glass pendant by your Aunt Patricia might be an exception), but take a second to ensure that what you plan to reuse passes code where you live. Residential code can get a little wordy, but your building professional should be able to simplify it for you or refer you to an electrician for a more in-depth conversation.

Replace them if …

The wiring is shot. You can pay to rewire beat-up light fixtures, but it’s possible that the cost to refurbish them could be as much as buying new fixtures altogether. Unless they’re something special to you or your family, my vote is to replace them.

All that being said, it’s important to be aware that your remodeler may choose not to warrant any items you reuse. In fact, it’s likely that he or she won’t warrant them. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the primary reason is that the history of anything you choose to reuse is unknown.

So, yes, you’ll be saving money, but you’ll also be taking on additional risk. Whether or not that’s a reasonable trade-off is something you’ll have to decide for yourself.

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