saving wood

Deconstructing Houses

A question from this comment thread:

Hi there Conrad, I am in the early stages of my Environmental Design (architecture, interior environments, landscape architecture, city planning) degree and I happen to be writing a paper on your project for an ecology class...so I have been reading all about it and I am quite inspired! So much so that just emailed a green design/builder to ask about summer employment :)

I have some questions about demolition. (I have no idea about this stuff yet, but it is the sort of thing I plan to do in practice eventually.) I know you salvaged a lot of stuff from the old house, and I see that it took you a huge amount of time, but I am wondering if more was possible? Not as a criticism, but as a query about just how much potential there is in demolition projects.

In an ideal situation where time/labour/cost were not issues, could this entire house have been salvaged with close to zero waste? Is there reuse/recycle potential in insulation, drywall or plaster, linoleum, nails, siding, window frames,shingles, fascia, soffits, etc.? And I'm even talking stuff that's not necessarily in a condition to just shine up and reuse/reinstall. I'm talking about stuff that may be damaged or completely outdated...is there any productive way at all to prevent these from going to the landfill?

My Answer:

Hi Jolene,

Thanks! More could have been reused and recycled.

The studs in the walls were the most valuable things left when the house was demolished. They could all have been removed and reused by a conscientious framer as lumber. I have envisioned some kind of hydraulic device that could pop walls off of the floor by applying pressure after being jammed between two walls. Or, someone hardier than me could do the job with a sledge hammer.

Old shingles are worthless. They are semi-decomposed asphalt. No value whatsoever that I know of.

We reused all of the windows, and the window frames could have been harvested as above for their lumber.

I believe that drywall scraps do get recycled in Edmonton. Plaster, not so much.

Linoleum is glued on, so it is impossible to remove without ripping it. Plus, there are some very cheap linos out there. Once they've had 20 years of use, they are truly degraded and worthless.

Nails can usually be saved, but the labour to do it is enormous. First you pull the nail out with a crowbar (no small feat), then you need to straighten it. Plus, carpenters don't use hammers and nails anymore! They nail use nail guns, staplers or screw drivers.

Vinyl siding is pretty much worthless garbage once it is removed. I guess if you took it off carefully, and you were willing to put faded siding on some building (a garage?), and there was enough to cover the whole building (you want the same colour on every outer wall, right?), you might find a use for it. If the building wasn’t there though, where would you store the siding in the meantime?

Insulation bats can definitely be reused. Same with the wood chip insulation that was in our attic and walls. The catch is again labour - this would take hours and hours, and then where exactly do you reuse it? I guess as garden mulch.

All of the huge (10 inches high) beautiful solid fir baseboards in our house were painted white. The effort to remove the paint would have been enormous. Plus, some of the baseboards got damaged  while they were being removed. I saved them all, but in the end we had no use for them.

The foundation bricks could have almost all been salvaged (with a huge labour input, I guess). However, the chimney bricks were crumbling due to the temperature fluctuations that they endure. I guess they could have been crushed for use as gravel (aggregate).

The house that I deconstructed was built before asbestos, but there is a huge number of buildings that are full of the stuff.

Conclusion

I hope that I didn’t ramble too much.

In conclusion, besides everything that did get saved, more of the house could have been saved.

These materials could have been saved:

  1. Wood framing and ship lath wood (the latter for firewood).
  2. Wood chip insulation.
  3. Nails.
  4. Some of the PVC drainpipe.

These materials would have been virtually impossible to save;

  1. Plaster (there was and enormous amount in the house).
  2. Linoleum or other plastic fixtures.
  3. Asphalt roofing.
  4. Drywall (for recycling, the drywall needs to be clean, without paint).
  5. Painted wood (like baseboards).
  6. Rotted carpet.

Luckily, the easiest houses from which to salvage building materials are the oldest (and most energy-innefficient) ones. They have the least amount of asbestos, plastics, vinyls and glues in them, and they have higher quality, usually better-finished wood in them.

Using What You've Got: Recycling Renovation Waste

In October of last year we bought our first house in Edmonton--and we've been renovating ever since.  Sound familiar?

Our initial attraction to the property was it's three-fold potential:

•  Potential to make this old house (1942) into a energy-efficient family home (hopefully for many years to come);

•  Potential to make this huge double lot (8000+ square feet) into a more environmentally sensitive/edible landscape (we love growing our own food); and finally,

•  The potential (and challenge) of being good neighbors/citizens in an older and struggling North Edmonton community (Build better communities, stop urban-sprawl, "improve, don't move", etc.).

 

Idealistic? Yes, whatever...

One of the biggest challenges to renovations and landscaping we are constantly up against is cost. Not making a lot of money, the cost of creating a space we can enjoy without guilt has called for some genuine creative thinking... and I hope some of the ideas we've come up with will be of interest to readers who can relate.  read more... »

MCNZH - Progress (part 2) - more framing, wood reuse

We have trusses, and we'll have a roof by tomorrow. Nick and Adam of Green Door Builders are doing a great job of framing the house. Peter is always amazed at how little waste they create. They're only throwing out little toothpicks of plywood. On top of that they are dipping into a pile of reusable lumber that I set aside for them:

A 2x6 left behind by the cribbing crew (up top, covered with a light coating of concrete) was conscientiously reused during framing  read more... »

Reclaiming Cedar Siding

Man, there was a lot of wood around when they built the pink house at 9805 - 84th Avenue in 1916. It turns out that the pink paint on its exterior is covering cedar siding. 

So as part of deconstructing the 100-year old house that the Mill Creek NetZero Home (MCNZH) will replace, I've been removing the cedar siding.  read more... »