Building Grey

(It's even more fun than building Green!,
or "How I learned to love consumerism and waste")

What is building grey?

You've probably heard of building "green", the selection of eco-friendly building materials.  Building green involves the use of products made from recycled materials rather than their traditional new equivalents.  Examples include the use of Trex (2x6 deck boards made from recycled soda bottles) rather than redwood,  cement-fiber siding instead of redwood or cedar siding, etc.  We've found that in our consumer-focused society, particularly here in the San Francisco bay area, the remodel and "buy new" frenzy has created an absolutely amazing market for used but nearly-new appliances and other building products.  When a kitchen remodel occurs, or someone orders the wrong part for their remodel project, the original item is sold off, often at a sizable discount, even if the item being sold off is fully usable.  Furthermore, I have found from collecting stories from previous owners that there are an amazing number of "remodels" that start and end with the purchase of an appliance that never was installed because of cost or size problems, and thereafter sat in the garage until the previous owner became tired of tripping over it.  In the interest of coining an alternative term for recycling these cast-offs into a new building (don't call us Cheapskates!) I am calling this "Building grey", as in the use of "grey water", where recycled water is captured and then used for another suitable purpose.


Pamela and I recently finished an extensive second story remodel, acting as our own General Contractors. Pam was the perfect partner for this sort of crazy project, and we shared many hilarious moments, most of which were not particularly funny when they were happening.  Both of us have a weakness for frugality, and I have an additional weakness for unrelated diversions.  Being the cheapskates we are, I started searching manually ebay and craigslist for bargains, and made these important discoveries:

    1) Most people on Craigslist can't spell.  Searching for "subzero refrigerator" will not be complete unless you try all the spelling variants for refrigerator (you'd be surprised).  I found that all the daily searching for the items and their spelling variants was time-consuming and inefficient.  Furthermore, most expensive stuff for building projects is also big, which makes ebay not useful unless the stuff happens to be local. Stuff on craigslist is local, but moves quickly, so delay=missed opportunity.  There had to be a better way.  So I wrote a web script and registered the domain name "", which is a search engine (written in perl) that would perform daily searches of craigslist, report back the results, and provide them in a daily summary email, performing the search and sending the email at a convenient time of your choosing.  Dumb, simple, but powerfully effective.

     2) An innumerable number of remodel projects start with a major purchase and end with bad news or an argument.  After the expensive purchase, a contractor or other building professional shows up and says "sorry, you can't put a right hand tub in this space", or "your $1500 tub will cost an additional $10,000 in labor to install and tile", or the husband and wife quarrel about the design or don't like the thing after it is installed, and it's just easier to abandon the project fully, or remove the wrong color item and replace it with another new one.  Most big ticket items for sale on craigslist have a sad story.

How we Found Our Stuff:

Searching for all this stuff would ordinarily be time consuming business - lots of terms to search for each day, usually without getting any hits.  Rather than enter the searches manually into craigslist, I wrote the website, where the user opens an account, enters his search terms, and receives a daily email digest of matching items at a time of his choosing.  The user then follows the craigslist links to the original items, contacts the seller, and makes purchase arrangements.  This is a particularly powerful tool for remodeling, where the exact desired used item can be found during months of browsing these daily emails. 

What we ended up buying the "Building grey" way:

48" Sub Zero Refrigerator:  Previous owner was remodeling kitchen 5 years after original new house was built, changing styles of appliances, so this one was being sent off as a gift to a worker who then sold it to us. Cost: $300: If purchased new: $6500

This is an older (10 year old) model 48" sub-zero refrigerator that we had first purchased, then upgraded to the newer model above when it turned up a few months later on  We bought the old one for $200 and sold it for $450 after having the racks re-chromed.  The purchaser randomly showed up with a trailer exactly the same size as the refrigerator.

1 day old GE Profile kitchen appliances: Previous owner purchased all of these for a remodel, wife didn't like the color black after delivered and installed, so they then purchased and installed the exact same set in white, and sold these to us.  Cooktop(paid $100, would have been $900 if purchased new), Microwave Oven (paid $250, would have been $700 if purchased new).
Brand new GE Profile Double Oven (paid $350, would have been $1300 if purchased new), part of above set, which was installed in the seller's kitchen for just one day, where the motto was "out with the black, and in with the white!"

Master Bedroom Cast Iron Jacuzzi.  The previous owner was remodeling his bathroom, and just wanted it gone.  Cost: $0:  If purchased new: $2000+

Oak Front Door: Previous owner's wife didn't like heavy oak doors, husband found out when he came home with this non-returnable one.  Door was new in crate, never installed. Cost $100:  If purchased new:$800

Baldwin Estate Series Mortise Lock:  an Ebay item - purchased two for $75, installed one in this door.  Cost: $75 (for 2), if purchased new: $700

Furnace with A/C, including compressor and evaporator - complete unit.  Previous owner had purchased 1 year earlier, then decided to remodel.  Demolition was scheduled for the next day.  Cost: $300  If purchased new: $2500

Folding Attic Stairs (installed in garage):  Previous owner purchased for his remodel, then ended up needing a heating duct where the folding stairs were going in.  Cost: $100 If purchased new: $550

Master Bedroom Fireplace.  Previous owner purchased new home, wanted to use fireplace area for a television, removed new fireplace.  Cost: $250 If purchased new: $1500