Reuse reflection

Right or wrong, I feel that I own bragging rights to the amount of reclaimed lumber we’ve used on our sustainable rehab.

In all, I estimate that I purchased about 5% at a regular home improvement store or lumber yard. Those were specialty items, such as cedar trim or treated lumber. The remaining 95% is all reclaimed, whether from our deconstruction process or purchased.

So – how did it work out – the handling of reused framing material? Well, I learned a few things along the way.

  • Always purchase the lumber at least 6 inches longer that what you really need. It is pretty common to have split or perforated ends that you need to cut off. Even if the ends are sound, they may need to be squared off.
  • Working with reclaimed lumber involves a lot of cutting, as the note above implies. It is safe to assume that most pieces require a cut at both ends. Contrast that with new lumber that may not require any cutting at all, such as a pallet of 8 foot studs for an 8 foot wall.
  • Reclaimed lumber is usually carefully de-nailed. Still, it is advisable to watch out for remaining nails, screws and staples. You hit one of those with the circular saw, and you will need to run to get a new saw blade.
  • Pay attention to the lumber dimensions. Take studs for instance. Today they measure 1 ½ by 3 ½ inches. Reclaimed studs from older buildings are typically bigger. I have found true 2 by 4 inch old growth, as well as 1 ¾ by 3 ¾ and 1 5/8 by 3 5/8 inch studs. It’s a good idea to match material dimensions.


  • I always check to see if the material is bent or warped. That is for salvaged materials as well as for new studs.

Some of the older studs are good quality, hard wood with dense growth rings. The disadvantage, if you will, is that they are also heavier to haul around. Some of the material is so hard that it is difficult to sink a framing nail or even a screw without pre-drilling. I think sturdy is the word that I am looking for…

I think it is fair to say that it takes more time to handle and prepare reclaimed lumber. But it doesn’t outweigh the fact that this is material that otherwise would have been destined for the landfill, and you can purchase it for cheap!

About Marcus de la fleur

Marcus is a Registered Landscape Architect with a horticultural degree from the School of Horticulture at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and a Masters in Landscape Architecture from the University of Sheffield, UK. He developed a landscape based sustainable pilot project at 168 Elm Ave. in 2002, and has expanded his skill set to building science. Starting in 2009, Marcus applied the newly acquired expertise to the deep energy retrofit of his 100+ year old home in Chicago.

4 thoughts on “Reuse reflection

  1. I agree – very impressive! We’re about to start a small remodeling project, and I have a few things (flooring, some doors, sink, countertop) salvaged from teardowns, and I’ve found most contractors I’ve met with are not enthusiastic about working with reclaimed materials. Wish more had your attitude!

  2. The industry is a strange beast. Wouldn’t you think that the savvy contractors would try to get into the green market, scooping up green minded clientele?

    That said, I noticed during the past year that it got increasingly harder to get my hands on salvaged materials. And guess what! I was competing with contractors to buy up re-use stock. I guess they are trying to improve their profit margin.

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