Last week I experienced something for the first time in my history of DIY -- The scrap yard cash out.

Over the years we've adventured to garbage dumps, salvage yards, antique stores, yard sales, dumpster dives, and countless old houses, all in the name of projects. But until last week, I'd not yet ventured out to a full fledged scrap yard. 

We have a bit of a mixed relationship with the scrap yard. On one hand, when someone stole our copper downspout from the side of our house, we cursed the scrap yard for enabling the degenerate to get cold hard cash for their thievery. But on the other hand, now that we have a lot of legitimate junk, we'll be able to get cold hard cash for all of our hard work. Oh the dilemmas we face.

As a major part of our work in our new house we've been tearing a lot of old busted stuff out of the house. Lots of stuff.

The freeze wrecked plumbing and baseboard radiators in every single room. It meant ruptured pipes, cracked valves, broken joints, and damaged fixtures.

And beyond the damage we could see on the surface, when we started opening walls there was just as much damage that was unseen. The end result was a need to cut out pretty much every bit of copper from the house, remove every metal baseboard radiator, and even figure out a way to get the 500 pound cast iron gorilla in the master bedroom (the cast iron radiator) out of the house.

We started ripping everything out months ago, and it was nothing less than a massive undertaking. And all of that effort culminated when Wendy and I removed the behemoth cast iron baseboard radiator in the master bedroom.

Luckily we were able to dismantle it and break it into smaller 30-40 pound pieces, otherwise there is no way we were getting it out of the house.

After Wendy carried a few sections down the stairs, we decided this was not the best way to get the heavy sections out of the house. Instead, we both felt the combination of the window and gravity was probably the best approach for removal.

It took about 45 minutes to completely dismantle the entire two sections of radiator in the room. Soon after the side yard of the house looked like this.

The pieces were joined with two furring pipes and tightened with a nut and bolt, so we just needed to loosen the nut and bolt and split the sections by wiggling them enough to break the old seal. Some of the sections had a little rusty water left in them, so it made the toss out the window an even better idea.

Beyond the radiator in the bedroom, we had metal baseboard radiators throughout the rest of the house with fin-tube copper. These were also really difficult to remove, requiring us to first remove the tubing, then pry away the metal surrounds. We worked our way through the whole house until we had just one small section of baseboard left.

As you can see, taking everything out did a number on the rooms and we'll have many projects ahead of us for some time to come.

After all was said and done we had a shed absolutely full of copper, metal, and cast iron just waiting to be taken away. But how exactly would all of this get taken away?

Well, that's the thing, metal, and especially copper, is worth money. That's a funny saying, and something that always makes me thing of my childhood. "It's worth money." We said the same thing about baseball cards, comic books, Beanie Babies, and just about any collectible thing that we gathered up like hoarders of commemorative merchandise, from Slurpee cups to limited edition coins.

But in this case, what we had actually was "worth money," and we just needed to get it from our shed, to that place that would give us money for it. While our various contractors would have been glad to take it off of our hands for us, we figured it should be pretty easy to do the cash out ourselves.

We have some great friends who lent us a truck to make our goal possible. So I loaded up all of our metal, cast iron, and copper into neat little piles in the back of their truck...

...then headed out to a nearby scrap yard. The scrap yard is an interesting place with a well defined process for dropping off your junk and getting paid for that junk.

The first step of the scrap yard is to pull your vehicle onto the large weigh scale. It's big enough for a semi truck but accommodates a car just as easily. In our case the fully loaded vehicle weighed in about 6,900 pounds.

The attendant then pointed me over to a section of the yard with scrap metal and instructed me to unload just the scrap and return to the scale.

While I was throwing all of our scrap into a giant pile, I had to act like I wasn't horribly intimidated by the huge crane slinging around a huge ball of scrap fencing just about 10 yards or so away from where I was standing. The operator obviously knew what he was doing in the crane, operating the giant claw like a surgeon, and I think he knew he was freaking my bean a little bit, but I also think it was all in good fun.

After unloading our scrap metal I returned to the scales and then headed back out to the cast iron pile, which was just a giant mound of rusted out iron stuff.

Emptying the truck of the giant heavy cast iron radiator pieces was nothing short of liberating. I was just picking up each piece and heaving it into the giant pile as far as I could throw it, trying to break things along the way if I could. I don't know if you've ever had the chance to just throw junk into junk, but it's a very freeing feeling.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't see a few things in the pile I sort of wanted to rescue, but I had to keep myself on the straight and narrow and stick to the task at hand, getting rid of stuff, not accumulating. A few minutes later, all 500 pounds of my cast iron scrap was sitting in the mound and I was headed back to the scales.

I had emptied nearly 1,000 pounds of metal from the back of the truck, but still had a large pile of copper yet to be cashed. 

Since copper is worth so much more than the other metal, they handle all of it inside. I had three different types of copper to cash out. 

  1. Air Conditioner Coil (what the fin-tube stuff qualified as)
  2. #2 Copper (basically anything not pure copper, with a solder joint, valve, or paint on it)
  3. #1 Copper (anything that is pure copper pipe)

After pulling everything out of the truck and onto the weigh carts, I had myself a total weight of the copper I was cashing out. The attendant got everything weighed up and printed out my final ticket with all of my totals for the cash out. 

$483.95!!! It sure felt great! We had successfully stripped all of our old and broken metal from the house and had made nearly $500 in the process. This may have actually been the hardest $500 I've ever made, as it required hour upon hour of work in the hot house and cramped crawl space. My shoulders, knees, and hips completely sore and bruised, and completely...utterly...unabashedly exhausted. But regardless, almost $500 felt pretty decent, even if I did feel paranoid that someone might think I had stolen the copper out of a house similar to what happened to our downspout.

If I learned anything from this experience it's simply that some things are "worth money," and sometimes you just need a little elbow grease and effort to make those things worth a little money in your pocket. Now we'll turn our attention back to repairing the mess we've made in the house. And we thought this step was difficult.

Comments 16


7/21/2015 at 1:01 PM

Good on you for recycling it all!


Thanks! Alt smile

It was a major effort, but well worth it.

7/21/2015 at 1:46 PM

The earth only has so much copper, aluminum, and iron so we need to keep these out of the landfills.

A year ago scrap metal was nearly twice the price as it is right now.

Rather than feeling like a meth addict you should feel proud that you did your part to help the planet.


It's easy to lose concept of the fact copper is finite when it's used so widely, but this is so very true. I used to work in a shop in the Flats of Cleveland and there was an old guy down the street who built his entire house from money he collected by turning in scrap copper. It's amazing how valuable it is, but not surprising in context.

7/21/2015 at 2:12 PM

I love you guys and your blog. But I have to say, the "meth addict" comment definitely rubbed me the wrong way. No need to judge the guys at the scrap yard, they're doing honest work, just like you. Who knows what their lives have been like.


Hi Em. We appreciate the feedback. Alex's descriptor wasn't at all a commentary of the people working at the scrap yard. When we had the copper stolen off our house, the police said that it's frequently the result of those addicted to meth, and they scrap metal from houses in order to finance their addiction, hence the comment. He wasn't trying to be offensive or rub anyone the wrong way, so we've deleted it. Thanks again.


Like Wendy said, that was definitely not what I meant. It was more of a commentary on the copper theft stereotype.

The scrap yard employees were great. Everyone working at the scrap yard was extremely helpful, friendly, and dealt with all of my stupid questions. I even ended up talking geothermal with the guy who helped me separate my copper. He was looking into it for his house and wanted to know more about the process.

7/21/2015 at 9:38 PM

Thanks for clarifying - you guys are great, and I'm glad that that's not what you meant!

7/21/2015 at 3:05 PM

Interesting post and perfect timing; we usually just put things out front for people to take, but lately I've been thinking about making a trip to the scrap yard.

Can you do a post about how you'll approach your renovations? Will you go room by room, first floor then second floor, or do walls in every room, then floors, etc?

Em, that's not at all what he was saying and I'm not sure how you got that idea :/


Hi Jacquelyn,

We'll certainly do a post like that. Right now we need to get through this initial HVAC and plumbing stuff, then we can start thinking about that. We have a rough plan that involves the floors, but not totally sure beyond that. We'll keep you posted.

Jean-Christian Pitre
7/21/2015 at 4:40 PM
Yeah I've been saving scrap metal since I bought the house. I have about 2 large drywall tubs full of bent nails and screws, several lengths of old pipes, aluminum floor transition strips, and other rusty scrap that I eventually need to bring. I'd probably be happy to just trade it all for lead (for clock weights).
7/21/2015 at 7:10 PM

It's amazing how heavy a bucket of old nail bent nails can be.

We have several 5 gallon buckets in the garage that we throw pieces into as we clean up after a project.

You get the best return on your elbow grease by separating metals. Sometimes my husband takes things apart. Some scrap places also take old electric motors and they pay pretty good.

7/23/2015 at 3:57 PM

We've hauled a lot to the scrap yard over the years - old cast iron and galvanized pipes, brake rotors, old fencing, you name it. Another good spare cash source is aluminum cans. We save ours and take them to the scrap yard when we have about 100 lb or so. You don't get rich, but it's enough to pay for an evening out provided you don't go overboard.


One of the guys hauling stuff in after me had a giant load of cubed up crushed aluminum cans in the bed of his truck, and they had a specific aluminum section of the yard.

I always think of going to NASCAR and Indycar races as a kid, and the post race period of trying to leave the track and lots. There would be groups of people collecting thousands upon thousands of cans and throwing them into the backs of trucks. With the amount of beer and soda consumption at races, that has to be a pretty solid payday.

7/27/2015 at 11:59 AM

That's awesome! I've been cleaning out my parents' home, and had some scrap metal and old nails for the scrap yard. I got $10. But that's better than nothing! Now, if I could get paid for all the styrofoam and cardboard I recycled ... lol.

9/23/2017 at 1:43 PM

1996 freightliner day cab pure metal

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