Heritage Restoration, Inc.

Salvaging & Using Old Building Parts

“We would be open to using salvaged materials in new construction, but don’t know where to start or what the pitfalls are. Where can I get used building materials?”

Brad, Wakefield

Saving and repairing an old window is better for the environment.  Add weather stripping and a storm, and you can a new window equivalent.

Saving and repairing an old window is better for the environment. Add weather stripping and a storm, and you can a new window equivalent.

Repair vs. New.  The old fits, and with some careful, repairs, can be new.

Repair vs. New. The old fits, and with some careful, repairs, can be new.

“We would be open to using salvaged materials in new construction, but don’t know where to start or what the pitfalls are. Where can I get used building materials?”

Brad, Wakefield

Brad, I commend you for your interest, but there are some great aspects to using old building parts, and a few bad ones. But you struck a chord with me, and I will try to answer your question. I deconstruct, de-nail, pick, sort, stack, store and hoard a lot of stuff, but never as much I as I feel I should. I have seen kings and queens of the building hoarders, with barns, basements, houses, and attics full of seemingly useless at the moment but useful for someone someday items. Three legged chairs, timbers, shutters, windows and buildings stuff is a jewel for some, and landfill material for others.

The first reason to reuse is to keep things from the landfill. Why these things were removed or made into garbage in the first place? Changing taste is one reason, not knowing how to fix something, finding a cheaper replacement, or old built up paint or lead paint are some others. But for me the biggest kicker is because it can’t be fixed. There are many big box hardware store tools, materials, and equipment that don’t last for the job your doing, let alone the hundreds of jobs you can do it with in the future. The old things that are still around are around for two reasons: care and quality.

We have been terrible stewards of the earth. According to the EPA website, in 2006 The Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC) Construction & Debris(C&D) waste facility reported an input of about 210,000 tons, recovering about 53,000 tons for recycling, about 124,000 tons for landfill cover, and the rest in the landfill. But then the wallboard-hydrogen sulfide became an issue, so the ground material moved quickly from cap material to the landfill. In Massachusetts, the 2002 C&D material accounted for 36 percent of all residential and commercial solid waste. This is way too much. “Reducing C&D debris conserves landfill space, reduces the environmental impact of producing new materials, and can reduce overall building project expenses through avoided purchase/disposal costs.” EPA website, Solid Waste in New England, Construction and Demolition (C&D) Debris.

We should reuse for another big reason; something called “embodied energy”. In a simplistic form, embodied energy is where the effort to make something was already spent. It can be everything from physical energy, to fuel and off gasses, to environmental impact. So a 100 year old window has energy already spent, where maintaining it uses far less energy than making a new one, especially when the new one would have to be made 5 times in the same 100 years, and it gets thrown away and not recycled. Embodied energy combined with concepts of cradle-to-cradle, make a product or material has less of an impact on our world. Reusing materials AND thinking about end of life reuse and recovery makes for a better planet and better buildings.

So Brad, you have opened the Pandora’s Box of building preservation vs. parts hoarders. Building preservationists have some nasty names for people who take buildings apart for no other reason except to capitalize off the architecture. The best place for old building parts is in an old building, where they were put in the first place. But, there are many good reasons to salvage an old house and it’s parts. When using old building parts, you have to consider ease of use, condition, and the “smarts” of your building team.

I would reserve old building parts for the accent, not bones. You can build a house completely from recycled parts, but there is extra effort and extra cost. You can find the right team who can handle the processing of the parts and proper installation, but the wrong team can be a nightmare. Things like historic plumbing fixtures are a challenge to fit with modern parts and meeting modern code, but it is possible.   So I would consult with the right design and construction team, surf the web, call, and visit some of these really great local building recycling centers, and see what you would like to stick in your new house.

National Wrecking
130 Grotto Ave
Pawtucket, RI
(401) 723-1545

Gladu Wreaking and Recycling
165 Poplar Street
Woonsocket, RI
401-769-9125
www.gladuwrecking.com

Providence Revolving Fund Architectural Salvage
Wayne Trissler
401-272-2760 ext: 205
http://www.revolvingfund.org/salvage.php

Habitat ReStore Rhode Island
1555 Shannock Rd
Charlestown, RI
401 213 6716
http://southcountyhabitat.org/

Northeast Millwork Corp
500 Eagleville Road
Tiverton, RI 02878
Tel: 401 624 7744

Renaissance Antiques Inc.
42 Spring Street
Newport, RI
Tel: 401 862 5069
www.antique-lighting.com

Brooklyn Architectural Supply
12 Gorman Rd
Brooklyn, CT 06234
(860) 774-6759

Urban Miners
30 Manila Avenue
Hamden, CT 06514
(203) 287-0852
www.urbanminers.com

New England Demolition & Salvage
73 Cove Street
New Bedford, MA
(508) 992-1099
nedsalvage.com

Irreplaceable Artifacts
428 Main Street
Middletown, CT
860-344-8576
irreplaceableartifacts.com

The ReCONNstruction Center*
New Britain, CT
230 South Street
(860) 597-3390
reconnstructioncenter.org

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