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.

Problem: Our beautiful property came with some house (1250+ square feet), some garage, lots of lawn, tonnes of concrete and zero garden space.  We desperately wanted a garden come spring, so this was definitely a problem.  One of the best areas for our "potential" garden included a 1000 square foot concrete driveway pad, some of which I can only presume was at one point used as RV storage by a previous owner.  

Solution: It took almost two full days last November with my father, his old pick-up truck, a sledge hammer and a rented jack-hammer to remove a third of the pad to make room for our garden plot.  Who knew the residential noise bylaw kicks in at 8:00 pm on weekdays?  So much for being a good neighbor.

Problem: I’m thankful to live in a city that has free concrete-recycling.  Unfortunately, this particular concrete had wire mesh run through it, which—according to who you talk to at the dump—means it doesn’t qualify for “free” status.  Ouch!  

Solution: We ended up paying for some loads and breaking-down/hand-separating the mesh as best we could from some of the last loads to keep costs under control.  With the grunt work done (thanks Dad!) thus emerged  our next dilemma.

Problem: The ground beneath the concrete was so gravelly and compact that without renting an expensive bobcat to do some serious groundwork, would have been unusable.

Solution: After doing some research we decided on building a series of raised garden beds.

 Pros: more plants, less earth compaction, fewer weeds, better yields, etc.

Cons: more watering, minor bed repair and maintenance, etc.


The majority of the planks for building the beds came from my attic where we'd shoveled and vacuumed out wood shavings in order to redo some really old electrical and make way for blown in insulation. Other wood used for the beds came from my basement renovation (basement insulation and planning a future mother-in-law suite) and the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. A significant amount of the wood shavings (20+ contractor size garbage bags) from the attic went straight into our garden beds and compost. 

 Attic Boards: Here's the boards and shavings from our attic.

Problem: As we built and planted these new beds, we were also striping large-rock stucco siding off the house in order to re-insulate the walls with fiberglass (as opposed to wood shavings) and an external layer of 2-inch rigid insulation. I wasn't happy to learn that no facility exists in Edmonton to recycle or reuse old stucco. The thought of all this stucco going to landfill and the cost by weight (approx. $75 per truckload) was discouraging.

Solution: I decided to try using as weed control on the paths between our raised beds--it looked pretty good! We now have white stucco paths between our raised beds and not a truckload of the stuff left the yard. 

Our Recycled Raised Garden Beds: Recycled brick border, stucco paths, attic board boxes, stucco mesh trellis 

These first few little innovations have let to a stream of other useful ideas--old french doors protect our cucumber patch like a greenhouse, stucco wire was used to build pea fences, two-litre pop bottles used to protect and warm vulnerable plants from an unusually cold spring, etc.  But how’d our garden do?  Until next time...

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Wow Clint (et al)! Great creativity in using what you had. Raised beds remind me of Cuba's organoponicos ( which were often built on old parking lots. Love the stucco idea.

I applaud your efforts to keep material out of the landfill however I'd suggest you take a sample of the old stucco and get it tested for asbestos.  I have an uncle, now retired, who did stucco work in the 60's, 70's and 80's and he has stories about how some guys would buy bags of asbestor powder and add it to the stucco cement in the belief that the asbestos fibre would make the stucco stonger.  The odds are low that it contains asbestos but you have a small child(ren) that will be playing in and around that material so it's probably worth the $200 to $300 to make sure you're safe.  Check the yellow pages for a lab that can test a sample.


Wow--thanks for the tip.  I think I'll do just that.  I had done some basic research into stucco mortar mix just to see if there was anything harmful for the soil, etc. but this is the first I've heard of the possibility of their being asbestos in there... I can't believe how much asbestos is around. After finding Vermiculite hiding under blown-in fiberglass insulation in the attic of an addition on our house, and then footing the bill to have it professionally removed, I'm quite paranoid of the stuff.  Thanks again.   

Me again!!
I wonder how best to use this site. This time I travelled around a few of the categories to decide where to comment, and I trust you'll see this, even though I'm writing after a 2009 comment. (??)

Asbestos has to do with one of my Qs. My basement floor has asbestos -backed lino (I had a piece of it tested). I wonder how I could insulate this floor. I assume that I would want to avoid nailing through it. Is there adhesive-backed rigid insulation? If so, could I put a flooring over that then (e.g. fake hardwood over rigid insulation)? It's hard for me to imagine everything be wedged between walls and not nailed down.

Another Q I have is about an air/heat exchanger. My house is 1968. It has a fireplace. I highly doubt I'll need an air exchanger. Never-the-less if I were to achieve such a tight seal, does such an exchanger mean the following: it probably costs about $1500-$2000 and about a day's labour of venting and work with my furnace ducts? (so maybe a $4000 expense)? I ask because contractors hold that up as a barrier (and I'm thinking it masks the sentiment: that's too much hassle, R4 is good enough for me). So far, the contractors have not answered that question, and I haven't yet found who I'll work with.

I have some green architect friends in Austria and Germany, and they built a house that is heated by one stick of wood in the winter (burned in a 4 sq foot stove that goes from the main floor to the roof, heating the main and second levels). Austrian stoves, as you probably know, are more like ceramic columns that emanate a gentle heat. They are usually placed in the middle of a room. I suppose this is rather impossible as a retrofit, with a risk to my roof! It would sure warm up the north part of the house. No one believed he could achieve such little wood usage, but he did it mainly via doubling insulation. (they also have lot of passive solar and photovoltaiks).

Lastly, I can't find where you referred to the figuring out of wall R-value (basically preferred room temp + outside worst prolonged temp). Where would I find that latter figure? (Maybe it was on P.A.'s blog)

After reading your MillCreekNetZero blog - I see that you reused windows and bought from All Weather Windows. This would for sure decrease the incremental costs. It's very interesting to to read the different advice on windows. Do you have any double pane windows on the south?

This site has been the most informative. I think Edmonton is leading this work in Canada! It helps me to make decisions, and that prepares me for finding someone to work with. Please let me know if I'm using this site properly (or not). Thank you again,
Mary Anne

Mary Anne
I want to answer my own post to say that there is an online document regarding asbestos abatement. And I think my estimates re a heat/air exchanger were about right. Assessing the presence of asbestos and properly protecting workers and inhabitants looks like part of the whole pictures to me.
Mary Anne

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.