› Remodel Part 4

Recycled Building Materials

Saving Instead Of Throwing Out

Part 4 Of Our Real Life Remodeling Journey

Publisher's Comments

The following story is part of a series of articles about my family's experience with our home's remodel. Links to the other stories are found at the bottom of the page.

Recycled building materials are becoming more popular as the green movement continues to gain traction in the building and remodeling trade. If you think about it, it only makes sense that if something still has some useful life left, why discard it.

The expansion of our family room meant our existing room had to be torn down and rebuilt. I don't like waste but in our case there wasn't a lot in our current family room that could be salvaged. The carpet was well-used and the windows were bad. But the brick hearth, the french patio doors and maybe the overhead beams offered some possibilities for salvage.

You can take advantage of recycled building materials in several ways. You can shop for used materials and incorporate them in your home; you can reuse your own materials elsewhere in your house (using old kitchen cabinets in the garage or laundry room comes to mind); or you can contribute to the reused building material stream by donating useful items to building material reuse centers.

We chose the the last two routes, keeping some material for use elsewhere around the house and donating the rest.

Deconstructing The Brick Hearth

One of my favorite things about the old family room was the brick hearth. The floor-to-ceiling brick gave the room some grandeur and the height of the hearth offered a great place to sit and warm yourself in front of a fire on cold days.

family roomThe Bricks & Beams To Be Salvaged

With all that brick just sitting there, it seemed a shame to just see it go to waste in a dumpster. A few of the bricks were already loose, no doubt from one of the boys bouncing a baseball against them, so prying some others loose might not be that hard. I'm not sure what I'll use them for just yet, maybe a brick patio or walkway, but I'm sure they'll come in handy for something.

recycled bricksLoosening The Bricks

So with chisel and sledgehammer in hand and safety glasses over the eyes I went to work. The loose bricks were the perfect starting point and it didn't take me long to perfect the technique of prying them loose without damaging the bricks.

The bricks in front of the fireplace on the built-up hearth came off without much fuss. If the mortar stuck to the sides, a firm rap with the small sledge popped it off. Surprisingly, most of the bricks came loose without any damage.

recycled bricksTapping The Mortar To Break It Free

After the hearth was finished I turned my attention to bricks on the wall. This proved to be more difficult and the bricks wouldn't budge without a lot of effort.

With the time it took to break just one free it was quickly apparent that I wasn't going to be able to salvage these bricks, at least not without a lot of effort. It would take too long and the yield, the number of undamaged bricks, would probably be small.

recycled bricksThe Yield Grows

In the end I was able to save about 100 bricks or so. Not a bad haul for a few hours of work.

At this point I'm not sure exactly what I'll use them for. They may come in handy for a brick walkway in the yard or a border for a patio of some sort. Regardless of where they go I think it would be pretty cool to step out into the yard and see those bricks there and know that they still have a connection to our home.

Am I a sentimental sap? Maybe, but they've been part of our home for 17 years. For the time being they're safely stacked away behind the shed waiting to be resurrected for another life someday.

Salvaging The French Doors

recycled building materialsFrench Doors Ready For Another Life

The windows weren't in good shape but the french doors going out to our non-existent patio were definitely salvageable. We won't be making use of them because they don't fit the style of the other doors in the house. But that doesn't mean that someone else can't put them to good use.

I didn't need to do any disassembly to free up the doors. The builder removed them as part of the room's preparation for the wrecking ball. I simply told him not to throw out the doors and put them aside.

Although they're single-pane glass, they're true divided-lite doors, meaning there's an individual piece of glass between each of the muntins (grillwork). They're built as an exterior door but I can even seem them being used inside, perhaps as pocket doors or as a double-door entry to a living room or study.

Where will they go? My plan is to take them to our local building salvage facility. They accept items like windows, doors and cabinets provided they're in decent shape. I can't say for sure but my guess is that these doors will pass inspection and be accepted. Hopefully they can start a new life in another home.

Rescuing The Wood Ceiling Beams

reclaimed wood beamsTaking Down The Beams

The final "pieces" of the old family room I couldn't let go to the landfill were the ceiling beams. Their only purpose in life was aesthetic - they were non-structural, simply bolted to the ceiling joists under the sheetrock. But they were solid wood, save for two bolt holes. Call me a pack rat but I know I'll be able to find some purpose for them someday.

Removing these beams wasn't too difficult but it brings up a good point about the deconstruction process. Safety is paramount and it makes no sense risking injury just to reclaim some inanimate object. That's why deconstruction on homes and commercial buildings is usually a slow process. There's a lot of hand work involved and accidents can happen. If you take on any jobs like this make sure you have the right equipment and enough helping hands.

I tackled the short beams myself, simply unscrewing the lag bolts that held them in place. There were light enough that I could lower them down without any trouble. The longer beam that ran down the center of the ceiling was another story however. I wasn't able to handle it myself and decided to let it go with the rest of the demolition.

family room waiting for demo. . .It's All Said & Done (And Ready For The Demolition)

Recycled Cabinets

The kitchen cabinets are a great item to recycle because they can be used in several other places in the home. The garage, the laundry room or a basement shop make ideal places to reuse cabinets. We've always needed more storage space in the garage so our plan included recycling some of the old kitchen wall cabinets into garage cabinets.

A quick inspection on how our cabinets were built and hung revealed that they were built in place. The hanging rail for the wall cabinets was nailed into the wall studs and some of the adjoining cabinets were nailed together. With a little bit of prying and cajoling, they broke free from the wall.

kitchen cabinets recycled cabinets
From The Kitchen.....To The Garage

Pulling down kitchen cabinets should be at least a 2-person job. Small wall cabinets might be manageable but some of the larger cabinets can be heavy. If you endeavor to do this yourself, make sure you have some help.

Using And Contributing

As I mentioned above, you can take advantage of the recycled building material movement in several ways by either donating from your own remodeling project or buying materials to use in your remodeled space. Both strategies have positive impact because they save useful material that would otherwise be sent to a landfill.

It's also a great way to add some unique or eclectic decorating touches to your home. More and more older homes and commercial buildings are being deconstructed and the raw materials being reused. Look at any architectural salvage center and you can find beautiful wood fireplace mantels and carved doors that just aren't produced today. They also come with a history too, pieces that have traveled through time.

If you're interested in using or donating recycled building materials you can start by checking out the Building Materials Reuse Association. They have a directory of salvage resources in the U.S. and Canada.

Habitat For Humanity has facilities called ReStores that stock a variety of used building materials. You can purchase items from them at a discount or donate useful materials like windows, cabinets, doors and other items that come out of your home. U.S. and Canadian ReStore locations are at this link.

Even if you don't end up using any recycled materials in your own remodel, think about what you could salvage and donate. You might help someone else who's looking for material for their home while doing your part to preserve the planet.

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