Recycled materials are in high demand these days. Instead of demolishing old buildings with a wrecking ball, crews are carefully “deconstructing” them to preserve components that could be used again. You can even find reclaimed materials on display in Home Depot and Lowe’s.
The old method for clearing an obsolete building from a piece of property is to smash it to bits and haul it off to a landfill. Now with developers trying to give their buildings more character, and also trying to meet “LEED” green building standards, used building materials are a hot commodity. Construction Dive writes that deconstruction crews are taking “great pains” to avoid damage to materials like bricks, wood flooring, windows and doors, and other potentially reusable items.
The process of a building removal or replacement might begin with a desire to recycle as much as possible. In the case of a four-floor office renovation project in Atlanta by Perkins & Will, Dive says the sustainability team deconstructed the interior and donated all the materials. Salvageable items included wood, marble, ceiling and floor tiles, light fixtures, carpeting, countertops, and wall cabinets.
Putting these materials back into circulation doesn’t mean they’ll be doing the same job they did before. Dive writes that reclaimed materials, like old flooring, could be used to build furniture, and old fixtures might be incorporated into works of art. Most of them are used in a way that allows them to be seen in the finished product, and to give depth to the appearance of the building by linking it to the past.
This look of “days gone by” as a design feature is in high demand right now. The Dive says that some manufacturers are even letting people know ahead of time, that they’d like to be informed before those materials are tossed at a later date. Dive says they are putting notes and phone numbers on the materials for future reference, and offering to come pick them up for free.
Building Code Requirements
Of course, like all construction projects, you have to deal with building codes, and there could be a few hoops to jump through if you are using reclaimed materials. Dustin White of a Dallas-based construction company said in the article that items like old windows might not meet current standards for energy-efficiency, and that other materials might contain asbestos or lead, or have weakened with age. Steel is one of the materials that may actually be stronger because it was often made to exceed the needs of a project in the past. Steel now is made to “meet” those needs without anything extra.
White said in Dive: “The beauty of steel is that — most of the time — the farther back you go, the better the quality.” He says that it was less expensive back then, and that manufacturers often added “mass” to steel products to account for any flaws.
It’s also easy to check on the integrity of steel. Dive says that manufacturers often “stamp” the steel. It can also be x-rayed. Other materials are more difficult to verify. Wood and masonry won’t typically have any identifying marks so they may need to be professionally “regraded”.
It’s also important to know when materials should “not” be used. The Northeast Recycling Council has a tip sheet for the use of salvaged materials. It says that some older materials may pose safety hazards or have poor insulating qualities. Doors would fall in this category. If they are to be used as exterior doors, insulating ability needs to be considered, and if they require a fire rating, they may need to be inspected.
Materials that are not recommended for reuse include plumbing fixtures installed before 1980. That’s due to the use of lead solder, and leaded brass. Old toilets and showerheads are also not a good choice for recycling because they consume a lot of water. Single-paned windows are not energy-efficient, so they wouldn’t be good for a home, unless they were possibly paired with storm windows. They could also be used for an outbuilding or an interior design element.
Green Building Goals
Dive says that the used building material trend is driven more by the desire to meet green standards, than to save money. It says you can save some money on some recycled supplies, but not much. Some items, like “antique” brick and masonry products are highly sought after, and could cost more, unless you do all the cleaning yourself. There are also new bricks that are made to “look old”. One website suggested you buy regular new bricks and rub dirt on them. That probably won’t give you the result you seek…
Older materials that give you that feeling of yesteryear, or provide a historical context of some sort will likely come at a premium. Some people are capitalizing on that. Jacob Pannell of Columbus, Ohio is one of them. An article in the Columbus Dispatch says Pannell has built a niche business finding and repurposing timber, hardwood flooring, and old bricks. He’s apparently doing so well, he’s planning to move into a 5,000 square foot warehouse within the next year.
You don’t have to live in Ohio to find reclaimed materials. We did a quick search and found a website that will help you either get rid of materials, or find them: https://planetreuse.com
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