Green builders admire the idea of reusing or recycling old building materials. Facing a demolition project that might ordinarily result in truckloads of detritus being hauled to a landfill, a green builder might advocate the careful deconstruction of the building in order to save valuable materials and repurpose them for use in a new building.
Owner-builders often imagine that buildings slated for demolition might be useful sources of free materials. The most optimistic of these (usually young) builders assume that they might be able to assemble all of the materials for their construction project at no cost.
Some variation of these ideas circulate regularly among green builders. It’s time for a reality check.
Pulling nails and chipping mortar
Back in 1974, I helped other members of my family salvage usable materials from a house slated for demolition. The 100-year-old single-family house was a handsome two-story building that belonged to the college where my father worked. Having received oral permission from at least one person of authority, we removed windows, interior doors, a soapstone laundry sink, a few lavatories, most of a brick chimney, hardwood flooring, softwood subflooring, partition studs, and 2×10 floor joists. (As we removed these joists, the structural integrity of the house suffered. Sawing through the joists, we discovered that we had fewer and fewer places to stand.) We also removed coal from the basement coal bin and salvaged a considerable quantity of roofing slates.
Eventually, of course, authorities at the college started worrying about liability issues, and we were ordered to desist. But by then we had a pretty good haul.
We transported the salvaged materials to Vermont, and we found uses for most of the stuff. The hardwood flooring ended up in two different houses, including the house I now live in. The 2×10 joists were assembled…
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