With materials prices remaining high and lead times being what they are, it is worth considering construction materials that can be saved, repaired, or reused. Materials that are rehabbed or created from waste products can lower costs, keep the unique character of a building and reduce environmental pollution. Demand for alternative building materials also stems from an increase in sustainability awareness created by LEED building practices. More sustainable building solutions are increasingly in demand, driving the growth of the use and rescue of these materials and other alternative building materials that include bamboo, recycled plastic, and other environmentally friendly materials.
Whether it is for a typical construction remodel or saving a historic building where strict guidelines exist related to renovation; identifying, retaining, and preserving both exterior and interior features and finishes can go a long way in defining the overall character of the building. The scope of work can include columns, cornices, baseboards, fireplaces and mantels, paneling, light fixtures, hardware, and flooring.
Here are a few of the key materials worth saving and why.
Having new masonry work done on a building is incredibly expensive and time consuming. Many times, the masonry that exists on the given project can be saved by repair or cleaning, saving time and expense. Waste is also costly to clean up and haul off site for disposal. The most common ways to save a brick, stone or masonry wall is through cleaning and repointing.
For cleaning brick that is on the exterior of the building, muriatic acid is often the go to.
In many indoor cases, muriatic acid isn’t possible due to the hazards involved. In these situations, a natural cleaner may be the solution. Many recipes are out there, and most include common household ingredients such as baking soda or vinegar.
When the masonry is damaged beyond what cleaning can solve, it gets more involved. It may mean replacing some of the masonry or effecting repairs. Repointing is the removal of unsound mortar from the joint and replacement with new sound mortar to match the historic mortar. Typically the mortar joint comprises approximately 16 percent of the area of the masonry surface. With this much at stake, it is critical to get the design of the mortar correct in order to maintain the historic appearance of the masonry. For buildings that were constructed from sand mold bricks made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, harvesting can also include checking the backside of a deteriorated brick to see if it was made double-faced. These particular bricks can be flipped around when used for a new project, in order to look cleaner and less deteriorated. New bricks manufactured today are extruded through a pug mill, and in this extrusion process, only three sides of the brick are faced- and therefore unusable for flipping around after a long period of deterioration.
Hardware, Lighting and Glass
Although it isn’t the biggest financial expenditure on a project by far, some of the most popular and sought after products in a rehab are the hardware and fixtures. There is no substitute when it comes to the feel classic hardware can add to a structure. The products of yesteryear just aren't being made at any scale. As an example, If you were looking to buy a chandelier as a statement piece for a remodel, you might spend hundreds to thousands for an antique one but you could spend 10’s of thousands for a new one! And, you likely wouldn’t have one of a kind. An Ebay search for antique chandeliers reveals some stunning pieces.
During the early 20th century the architectural glass industry became especially creative, introducing a series of new glass products known as structural glass. Used predominantly for wall surfacing, these now familiar products included glass building blocks, reinforced plate glass, and pigmented structural glass. As tastes changed and production costs rose, many of these glass pieces fell into disfavor and direpair. With today's rekindled interest in the Art Deco, Art Moderne, and Streamline styles, the preservation and replacement of pigmented structural glass and other antique pieces have now become an integral part of many rehabilitation projects, particularly in relation to commercial storefronts.
Wood may not be the strongest or most durable material but it is arguably the most flexible. That flexibility has made it the most common building material throughout much of America’s building history and the most savable. Because it can be shaped easily in many ways, it is used for a building's primary design elements like framing, siding, and shingles as well as a broad range of decorative elements, such as cornices, brackets, shutters, columns, and trim for windows and doors.
Wood may be among the easiest building materials to repair. You can resaw it, sand it, patch it, fill it, paint it, stain it, seal it…the list goes on. There are hundreds of quality products made to be used with wood for appearance and repair and many of them can be picked up at the local building center. Another benefit of wood is that for a reasonable cost, a brand new wood treatment can be made to replace a damaged piece and when all is said and done, you will not be able to tell the difference between an original and a replacement. This is often the case when it comes to historic and protected historic buildings.
Where to find material:
We are fortunate to have the technology to make searching for used material of classic elements at our fingertips. According to For Construction Pros, the alternative building products market is expected to grow at 6% by 2030. Green building material growth is projected to grow by over 8% by 2027. Most major cities will have a number of locations where used material can be purchased. A quick search for used building materials in a couple of major cities brought up more than a few pages of search results. https://www.oldhouseonline.com/ lists locations in virtually every state.
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