Materials Salvage and Reuse

 

One of the first things that struck me about our new house was how intact many of the original architectural components were. My first couple of inspections showed me what I believe to be mostly original siding, corner boards, fascia, windows, and doors. Once we gained access to the interior we were happy to find original floors, mantels and picture moldings to go along with the windows and doors (not to mention the barge board walls). As we started to plan and budget for renovation, we knew there would be many excellent opportunities for salvaging and reusing many of these original materials.

During our initial demolition efforts (documented in a previous post), we carefully removed the mantels, picture molding and baseboard and stored them in the backyard for processing. In addition we saved a large pile of the wood lathe, which was used to apply plaster. The former items will be de-nailed, stripped of paint, re-finished and re-installed in their original locations. The lathe will be repurposed as stair treads going up to the new loft bedroom.

My next large salvage effort started where you might imagine… at the bottom. I was tasked with carefully removing the existing floor boards so our contractor could inspect the floor framing for repairs. I have quite a bit of experience pulling up and processing old floors for reuse starting with my work at Operation Comeback of the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans, which is a non-profit organization that focused on the renovation and preservation of blighted housing in historic districts of New Orleans. My official position was warehouse manager, meaning it was my job to manage, process and store the materials we were able to salvage and reuse out of the homes we renovated. My next job at Central City Millworks entailed making tongue and groove flooring out of salvaged beams. After I left Central City, I worked with a start-up company attempting to create their entire business model on the practice of deconstructing old buildings, processing and then re-selling the materials.

Salvaged flooring from one of my old jobs.

Salvaged flooring from one of my old jobs.

My work experience making new flooring, windows and doors was extremely valuable to my work in materials salvage. Understanding how these architectural components were made and assembled is critical to being able to remove them with minimal damage. What follows will be a more technical description of the tools and methods for removing and salvaging these items.

The tools are simple: hammer, pry-bar (various sizes), chisels and maybe a couple of pairs of pliers, snips, or dykes.

 Tools of the trade

Tools of the trade

Flooring should be removed in the opposite direction in which it was installed. Nails are driven through the tongue of a floor board into the framing member below. When removing you should always pry as close as possible to the connection between the floor board and the joist below. Luckily for us, there was so much rot and termite damage to our floor joists that our floor boards popped up very easily.

Our awesome neighbor Brett, helping me pull up the flooring!

Our awesome neighbor Brett, helping me pull up the flooring!

This same concept applies to most other architectural salvage. Baseboard should be pried away from the wall at each framing member along a wall. Typically you will have to work your way down little by little before the whole piece is ready to give way. Applying pressure as close as possible to the point of connection is the best strategy to avoid breaking anything during removal. Patience is certainly another important attribute when removing materials that have been nailed in place for 150 years! Mantels are attached to the brick chimney structure at several points where small pieces of wood are wedged between the brick. Careful when prying these away, you might bring half the chimney down with you!

A wooden block in brick chimney for mantel attachment.

A wooden block in brick chimney for mantel attachment.

Some items such as window and door trim require a bit more finesse. As I mentioned before, my experience making and installing new windows and doors is invaluable in my approach to removing these items. Doors and windows are typically fabricated with casing pre-attached to one side of the frame. This casing or trim is then used to attach the door frame to the wall assembly. Once attached, the opposite side can be cased out. When removing windows and doors, I will remove first the interior casing by carefully locating the joint with the frame or jamb. This can be difficult as it has likely been painted many times over. A thin pry bar or even a stiff scraper work best to work your way into this joint before you can insert a large pry bar to really separate the two pieces.

Start with a smaller thinner bar to create separation without damaging the wood. Once you have opened up a gap, insert a larger bar to really pull the two pieces apart.

Start with a smaller thinner bar to create separation without damaging the wood. Once you have opened up a gap, insert a larger bar to really pull the two pieces apart.

More prying.

More prying.

 

Make sure and discuss in detail with your contractor or framer what components you remove and when. Construction and framing methods have come a long way since our home was built in the mid-1800s. Many architectural components that today are merely aesthetic, may have once been important part of a building’s structural integrity. Many homes in the New Orleans area have fallen victim to quick guts without proper bracing and collapsed as a result. At our house, we have elected to leave window frames and exterior door frames in place until new framing is in place at exterior walls. These window and door frames are literally carrying the load of the exterior wall. In addition we left all decking on top of our ceiling joists to provide more lateral bracing.

Once you have removed you materials from inside the house, the next step is to clean, de-nail and organize for re-use. An important decision to be made at this point is how to deal with the lead paint that is likely present. Megan and I have decided to have our materials dipped in a caustic soda that will remove almost all of the paint. Other options include making steam boxes and using traditional chemical strippers that can be purchased at your local big box hardware store. Which ever route you decide to take, make sure that you understand the dangers of working with lead paint and the best ways to protect yourself and dispose of the waste properly.

Pile of baseboard and trim before de-nailed and organized.

Pile of baseboard and trim before de-nailed and organized.

De-nailed, measured and packaged for delivery to paint removal facility.

De-nailed, measured and packaged for delivery to paint removal facility.

Stacks on deck

Stacks on deck, de-nailed and ready for paint removal

Say goodbye lead paint!

Say goodbye lead paint!

The next post will have some shots of the interior of the house.  Plumbing and gas lines have been installed and they are finishing the framing this week.

 

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3 thoughts on “Materials Salvage and Reuse

  1. Cool! Emmett will love all this detail. I’ll warn him to brew a fresh cup of coffee for more pleasurable reading. Melanie

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