Precious Metals Recycling - Where to Find Gold, Silver and other Precious Metals in Buildings that Were Destroyed by Fire

The National Fire Protection Association reports that 475,000 buildings in America are lost to fires every year. That includes all kinds of buildings - residential, retail, industrial - you name it. That’s nearly one million buildings every two years.

How much gold, silver, platinum and other precious metals were in those buildings before they burned? Are those valuable metals ever recovered, or are they still waiting to be found in the ashes and rubble?

Image of burning building for Specialty Metals blog post, Where to Find Gold, Silver and other Precious Metals in Buildings that Were Destroyed by Fire. Credit: Credit: photovova/iStock.

There are no statistics available about that. But in all those buildings, there must be some precious metals waiting to be found and recycled, right?

Here are some things to consider if you’re interested in recovering precious metals from the sites of buildings that have burned.

Fact: Most Precious Metals Do Not Melt in Building Fires

When buildings burn, their highest internal temperatures can reach about 1800° F. But bear in mind, temperatures reach that level only where actual combustion is taking place. Most burning buildings that collapse (or are destroyed by firefighters in order to put out fires) never reach that temperature uniformly throughout their interiors. So if precious metals are located where temperatures are lower, they will not actually melt.

That explains why many metal hunters report that they often find intact silver spoons, knives and forks in the rubble of burned buildings. Just to prove the point that precious metals rarely melt in burning buildings, consider the very high melting points of these precious metals.

Metal             Melting Temperature
24k gold               1945° F
18k gold               1700° F
14k gold               1625° F
10k gold               1665° F
Pure silver            1761° F
Sterling silver       1640° F
Platinum               3224° F
Palladium             2831° F

Fact: Some Precious Metals Become Discolored in Fires, Even If They Don’t Melt

So the real issue is not whether you will find melted precious metals in the rubble of burned buildings; it is how their appearance will have been changed due to exposure to smoke, heat, water, and firefighting chemicals. (If you’re combing through the remains of a burned building, you should be able to recognize metals visually, right?) Here’s a quick guide:

  • Gold will still look like gold – shiny and bright – even after exposure to high heat, and even if it has melted, because gold does not oxidize. Alloys like 10k and 14k gold, however, may discolor slightly after exposure to smoke, depending on the other metal that has been added to gold to make them.
  • Silver and silver plate will turn gray and oxidize - If silver tarnishes in your silver chest, it will tarnish even faster if it is exposed to smoke and elevated temperatures. It turns gray, and that can make it difficult to difficult to see in piles of ash and rubble.
  • Platinum and Palladium will not oxidize – They should remain bright, but they can still develop surface discolorations or stains after exposure to smoke or high heat. Because they are essentially silver in color, it can be difficult to distinguish them from surrounding ash.

Fact: Precious Metals Can Be Found in the Sites of Older Burned Buildings

The site of a building that burned down years ago can still be a good place to look for precious metals, even if no trace of the building is still visible. It takes a bit of research to find the locations of such old buildings – information about them can be obtained from newspapers, local historical societies, books about town history and other sources. (In a town where I lived in New Hampshire for several years, for example, there was a small monument on the site of a girls’ school that burned to the ground around 1900.)

Once you find out where old buildings stood, you’ll need a powerful modern metal detector to explore. And if you do find old pieces of silverware or other items, give us a call at 800-426-2344. Mention this blog post when you call and be sure to ask about free or discounted shipping to our labs for testing.

Related Posts:

If You Use a Metal Detector, You Should Keep Our Number Handy  
Unexpected Places where Precious Metals Can Be Hiding  
A Commercial Real Estate Agent’s Guide to Finding Precious Metals in Buildings
Discovering Precious Metals: Answers to Four Common Questions