Working With Reclaimed Building Materials
Learn how to refurbish old materials for use in future projects.
When working on any project, consider where old materials may be reused. Lumber, and particularly structural lumber — the sort found in an old stud wall, for example — is usually suitable for reuse as long as it is sound. However, sheet materials are generally quite difficult to reuse, and drywall is hard to recycle. Wooden sheet materials may also be cut to shapes that make them unsuitable for a future project.
Structural lumber that you take down — such as joists — may be used in a future project, as long as it has retained its structural integrity. In many cases, the only work required is the removal of a few nails.
Use a pry bar for large nails, or a claw hammer for smaller nails, to prize them out of the surface of the wood (Image 1).
Older, rusted nails may snap off on removal. Use a hammer and punch to knock the broken shaft of the nail below the wood's surface (Image 2).
Old floorboards can break when lifted and, like other wood, are susceptible to infestation. Edges are especially prone to damage, so to make a board reusable you need to trim the edge back a little. Accuracy is required, so a circular saw or router is ideal.
Use a straight cutter and guide, or clamp a furring strip to the plank to act as a guide for the router (Image 1).
Simply run the router along the edge, trimming a few fractions of an inch (Image 2). Sanding will be required for a smooth finish.
Old lumber often has areas of woodworm or rot. However, once the worst areas are removed, the remaining lumber is normally structurally very sound. The shapes produced can add great character to a project if beams are left exposed.
An ax or hatchet is the ideal tool for cutting along the edge of old beams to remove woodworm or rot (Image 1).
Once the worst is removed, brush down and treat the wood to protect it and kill any woodworm (Image 2).
After demolition, bricks may be reused, but in most cases they will need cleaning, as old mortar tends to stick to their surface. Soft mortar (lime-based) may scrape off with a trowel, but for persistent lumps, and cement-based mortars, a sledge hammer and bolster chisel will be required.
Position the brick on a flat surface and gradually knock off the mortar (Image 1). Be sure to wear protective gloves and goggles for this procedure.
Wipe off any residue with a sponge and warm water, and you will be left with bricks that are now ready for reuse (Image 2).
Increasingly, many old and discarded items are becoming stylish centerpieces in modern renovations. As a result, reclamation yards are now big business and, while this means bargains are harder to come by, the increased competition has led to some stabilization of prices. Positive consequences of this expansion are greater choice and the potential to compare products in different yards. When visiting a reclamation yard, it often pays to go with an open mind as they are places where inspiration can strike. However, it is also important to be as certain as you can that the products you buy fulfill their specifications.
Recycling building materials is not only very green, in some cases, it can be financially beneficial. The most notable example of this is the current enthusiasm for old metal fittings and fixtures, such as copper pipes, brass plumbing fittings, lead pipes and flashings. All materials of this kind can be taken to scrap yards, where they are weighed and, from this measurement, a price is calculated. Although the price obviously varies, in the current market all these materials seem to be increasing in value. It is always best to take a sizeable pile of goods to the yard, as they may only pay for items over certain weights. Try to arrange the goods by type, as the more sorted the metal, the higher the price received — the price paid for a mixed load of metal will be far less than for metal that has already been sorted into different categories. Other goods that can be recycled, but are unlikely to fetch a price, are plastics such as PVC, rainwater goods and wood. These can be taken to a recycling center. Remember that if you are carrying out major works, any rubble or building spoil could potentially be recycled directly as hardcore.