It is satisfying, fun and economical to reuse old building materials. In our society there has been a stigma attached to "used" stuff. We value "new" above all else, or at least the advertising forces would have us believe that. Antiques, of course, have acquired their own cachet and their value is hyped, primarily because of rarity. It's that middle ground of stuff that isn't new and hasn't acquired the status of being "antique" that I would like to focus on here.
The local dump is a great place to look for such stuff because it
is often perceived as valueless. Our local dump actually has an area set
aside for potentially reusable items, and they encourage people to sort
through it. We found our kitchen sink there, in perfectly good condition,
except for a little chip in the corner that I covered with tile. The virtue
of recycling used building materials lies in diminishing the need for
industry to recreate it. All of the energy that is spent in manufacturing
and transporting something can be saved. The raw materials that would
be drawn from the earth can be saved. The need to cover the item in the
local landfill can be saved.
The value of recycling building materials, or anything else for that matter, is that the cost is likely to be a fraction of the same thing in the "new" category. The savings can be substantial. Take the case of Lonny Roth's house that he is building in our neighborhood. It is a very nice looking house of about 1,200 square feet. Lonny tells me that about three quarters of all the materials used to build the house have been recycled. He estimates that the cost of the house when it is finished will be right around $20,000. About half of the materials for Lonny's house were pulled from dumpsters at construction sites. Much of the framing and sheathing materials were found this way. Also many of the doors, windows, sinks, plumbing parts and appliances were used.
Another approach to recycling is to take an existing container and incorporate it into the structure of the house. I've seen this done with water towers, wine vats, silos, cabooses and box cars. There are several houses in our area that have utilized railroad box cars very effectively. One of these has incorporated two refrigerated box cars lined up parallel to each other, with a room spanning the space in between them. Refrigerated box cars are nice in that they are already well insulated. One of the cars in Larry Johnson's house is earth bermed all the way to the top on the north side. The other one has a greenhouse attached to the south side. These box cars measure about fifty feet by ten feet, so they create about 500 square feet of living space each. With the additions to this space, Larry has about 2300 square feet all together.
In our earthbag house we used lots of old metal wagon wheels and culvert couplers to create circular supports for windows. We had to scrounge a bit for the wheels because they seem to be popular for yard ornaments. We also used a few truckloads of trash paper making the papercrete to cover the earthbags. The polypropylene bags themselves are recycled misprinted rice bags. Some of the lumber used to frame the solar roof was salvaged from a local barn.
There is a good chance that old wood (if it has been kept dry) is better that what can be purchased as new lumber. This is true for two reasons. First, it has had a chance to cure; new lumber is often green lumber. Secondly, the trees that supplied the lumber in the first place were likely larger in girth, and therefore the wood has fewer knots and is less likely to twist and warp.
Many localities have places that collect and resell recycled building materials. They might accept and sell such materials as wood, flooring, doors, windows, electrical supplies, ducting, hardware, plumbing, insulation, cabinets, fencing and landscaping. So I suggest that before you go off to the store to buy something new for your house, you might check the used section of the classified ads, second hand stores, salvage yards, the dump, or your neighbor's garage sale. Rather than stimulate more industrial activity, why not utilize something that is looking for a home?
For more information about this plan, and many others, visit our sister site www.dreamgreenhomes.com, where you will find a wide range of plans for sustainable homes, greenhouses, small buildings, garages, and food storage space for sale. Dream Green Homes is a consortium of outstanding architects and designers, who have pooled their talent and expertise for your benefit.
bmra.org The Building Materials Reuse Association is a North American non-profit organization.
grn.com global recylcling network with links.
STORES or OUTLETS
habitat.org/env/restores Habitat for Humanity ReStores sell recycled building materials.
buildingresources.org Recycled building resources in the San Francisco Bay Area.
resource2k.org Recycled building resources in the Boulder, Colorado Area.
thereusepeople.org Buys and sells used building materials in Oakland, CA, Boulder, CO and Seattle,WA.
oldwoodworkshop.com sells reclaimed lumber and architectural features.
frtirerecycle.com this company sells huge bales of recycled tires that have been used for various building projects.
wholeloglumber.com sells a range of recycled wood flooring materials from North Carolina.
oldewoodltd.com features reclaimed wide plank flooring and antique hand-hewn timber.
recycle.net worldwide recycling directory.
nytimes.com an article, titled "This Old Recyclable House" weighs the pros and cons of the modern deconstuction industry.
TheBarnPages.com You can buy and sell used barns all over the U.S. from this site.
reuseconsulting.com is a blog-style site about the deconstruction industry.
staplescabinetmakers various pieces of furniture are made with lumber reclaimed from New England buildings.
retreadproducts.com manufactures "tire logs" from recycled tires that can be used for many building and landscaping projects.
earthstonetechnology.com takes recycled glass bottles and turns them into a variety of useful products.
viridianwood.com features a nice gallery of uses for reclaimed lumber, such as flooring, paneling, tables and counters.
AppliancePartsPros.com, Inc. carries thousands of parts for all sorts of appliannces and features part photos, diagrams, and live help.
HOUSES from RECYCLED MATERIALS
agilitynut.com has several links to some wonderful examples of bottle houses.
krepcio.com/vitreosity a pictorial presentation of many lovely and amazing bottle construction projects/art.
paperhouserockport.com describes an entire house made mostly of old newspapers, furniture and all.
bluecollarindustrialist.blogspot.com the story of how an old grain bin was recycled into a dwelling.
inspirationgreen.org has a wonderful collection of pictures of houses made from plastic bottles.
buildsimple.org describes how plastics and unwated agricultural waste can be baled for building walls.
sgblocks.com describes a system for reusing steel shipping containers to build residences up to several stories high.
cnn.com an article with embedded video and photos about shipping copntainer homes.
buildinggreen.com an article about the importance of retrofitting existing homes for energy effciency.
youtube.com this video shows how some plastic bottles were used to create a wall.
youtube.com video about using recycled pop bottles for daylighting.