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Recycled Building Materials

June 22, 2011

One of the questions we get a lot is if we’ll be using recycled materials to build the bulk of our house. The answer is both yes and no (mostly no). A more detailed discussion:

1) Using recycled materials can be time consuming. Depending on the materials you already have on hand, who you know, and the quality of the recycled building materials center in your area, finding what you need can take a lot of time. While there are engineers that will design structures based on the wood you have, Mr. B and I started designing our house before we knew we would be taking an old house apart. Sadly, our local recycled building materials center doesn’t have the biggest selection of wood, windows, or doors. You can find some great stuff, but you have to be willing to put in a lot of searching time and/or know some people who can call  you.

2) Recycled materials sometimes don’t save that much money. Sad, but true. You will probably save a lot of money on some things, but not much on others. We have also found in the past that the time/effort/money to make the recycled item usable (re-enameling sinks, stripping and sanding doors, building door frames, buying tub feet) cancels out the savings. This is one of those things that is a total judgement call. If using recycled materials is the most important issue to you, then some time/money may not be the deciding factor. Unfortunately, for us, it is.

3) If it is covered up, it doesn’t have to look nice. I think that this is one place where recycled materials can really work well. We have been staying outside some friends’ house while we wait to move out to the property, and their neighbor is building a house. All of the sheeting (which will be completely covered by siding) is recycled wood (OSB and plywood). He uses all different sizes and just nails it up. Using recycled materials in this way makes it (potentially) easier to find what you need – no one will see it, and it is easy to manipulate.

4) My favorite recycled materials are lighting, sinks, doors, and hardware – the things that you see. We found a great light in Portland a few years ago that hung over our dinning room table. It looked like it was from the 20s (although since it was for light bulbs it was probably newer than that), cost $25 and added so much to the room. I’m hoping to find the majority of our lighting at recycled centers. We have a lot of good wood from the old house that we’ll be using for exposed beams, porch posts, interior shelves, and exterior trim.

5) Look to near-by towns for resources. Our recycled building materials center has a lot of material, but the fact is that most just isn’t that nice (or at least, my style) because most of the houses in Missoula historically weren’t that nice. We also aren’t a big enough town to really collect a wide variety of things. Mr. B and I have been discussing going to Portland and Seattle to find interior items (see item #4), and potentially windows. You’ll have to factor in driving, trailers, and time (always), but it could really be worthwhile if you live in a smaller town.

In the end, we’ll probably use most of our reclaimed materials for other tasks around the property, like a future barn, chicken coop, pig pen, etc. These things don’t have to look nice or be as weather-tight as a house. As with all things, you have to find a way to balance your wants (to use recycled materials) with your time line and budget.


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