Separating materials

If you have followed some of the recent posts, you will be aware that we are knee deep in the deconstruction process.  It is important to us to get this right, not only from a workflow perspective, but to minimize the amount of construction waste (see also 07/09/2009 post). To get there, we organize all deconstruction materials into four major categories and separate them accordingly:


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You’ll be surprised how much materials are available for reuse if deconstructed, rather than just ripping things out. Cathy started with saving all the casings and trims (see also 06/02/2009 post), most of which are high quality oak, beautifully crafted and definitely something we’d like to put back. There also were some doors and associated hardware, electrical accessories, lumber such as old growth and nominal studs, and a big old heavy cast iron bath tub. Another treasure that we will reuse, or better said restore, are all the beautiful quarter-sawn wood floors. Reuse is high on the priority list as it keeps the items out of the waste stream and reuses the embodied energy. Reuse is as close to waste elimination as we can get.


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I consider salvaging different from reuse—the next best option. These are items that we have but don’t need and which we plan to donate or resell such as some of the doors, light fixtures, cabinets, the original furnaces, radiators, and those windows that are still intact but which we will replace. Although they are slated for reuse by a new owner, I consider these items are a step closer to the waste stream.


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This has become a big buzzword, but we don’t feel that good about it. I would argue that recycling is mostly downcycling and takes the material a big step closer to the waste stream.  It is the product of failure to eliminate waste. With reuse and salvaging, as described above, the material should not lose its original intended functionality or embedded energy. With recycling, it often does.

Did I just spoil your recycling enthusiasm? Here is the upside: at the least it allows us to keep materials such as clean wood/lumber, metals and concrete out of the waste stream and the landfill and give it at least one more purpose in its lifetime, such as woodchips, recycled metal contend in a steel product and road base aggregate.

Remaining, non-salvageable or recyclable waste

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This is the last and very sad category. No matter how hard we try, or which direction we turned or twisted it, there is no reuse and recycling for painted drywall, old plaster, and painted wood/lumber that we can’t otherwise reuse. And there is a lot of it, destined for the landfill.

I really like to finish this post on a positive note, but I just got my mind locked into that landfill thing again.

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.

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