|Don't Limit Yourself to Construction Materials Only
Although wood, stone and the like make great finishing materials, they're not the only items on the market worth using. Salvaged furniture, light fixtures, countertops, and even windows and doors can be incorporated into your home for a fraction of the cost. Bonus: It's likely something no one else has, making your home unique in the process.
We've all heard the saying, "Out with the old, in with the new." People envision their homes filled with bright, shiny, new products to keep them on the cutting edge with everyone else. But with increased interest toward sustainable building practices and using what's already available, more and more homeowners are turning their interests to reclaimed materials.
Whether it's lumber from an old barn or bricks from an old warehouse, reclaimed materials can be found—and used—in a variety of places, none of which is a dumping ground. "We're trying to expand views of what reclaimed materials can be," says Nathan Benjamin, principal and founder of Kansas City-based Planet ReUse. "Some people have no way to make this connection, so the material goes to landfills predominantly."
Obtaining and installing reclaimed material isn't the same, though, as making a trip to your local big-box store and picking out exactly what you want in the quantity you need at that exact moment. Although there are certainly myriad items on the market, the uncertainty of how much may be available can be a deterrent for some. "Most people don't think of reuse because it's not easy," Nathan notes. "The perception in the industry is that it's a very difficult process."
|Find What You Like First
Some pieces may not be a perfect match to newer construction, making it hard to retrofit a particular item. But the reverse process could provide great results. "If there's no flexibility—it has to have a specific fit—there are going to be some challenges," notes Jamie Heipel of The Green Institute. "But we've seen lots of success for architects (and others) who design a product around the reclaimed material that they're able to purchase."
"Part of it is timing," he adds. Planning ahead for what you want can help you gradually accrue the materials needed for your project, rather than restricting you to what's available. Knowing when a specific deconstruction project will occur in order to obtain certain materials is also a plus for Nathan's business, which operates as a broker between deconstruction efforts and new construction consumers. It can be a plus, too, for homeowners who are looking to save on storage of materials.
In terms of popularity, old-growth wood tops the list, with uses ranging from exterior siding to flooring. Availability can play a role here as well, though, with certain species used more often than others or more durable species not becoming as readily available because the wood lacks the need for replacement. Durability, on the other hand, is a given, even compared to new products. "Old-growth wood is much stronger than new growth," explains Jamie Heipel, executive director of The Green Institute in Minneapolis. "Old wood, just based on growth life and tightness of grain, is much more durable than the fresh wood from big-box stores." Old wood has also settled and shrunk into a more permanent form, creating less of a hassle down the road; maintenance for old and new is often similar as well.
|Know What's Underfoot
Before putting down reclaimed material as flooring, be aware of the moisture content of your subflooring to protect the material. "Don't put a great material down without knowing the moisture content—you don't want water damage on the bottom," cautions Nathan Benjamin of Planet ReUse. "Do the research, or make sure the contractor you're working with knows the industry as well as needed."
Lower cost is also a factor in choosing reclaimed materials. "One of the areas that is obviously a draw is the price point," says Jamie. "That's in direct correlation with the green aspect: It's green and a quality material at a very good price point." Region and availability may cause a bit of fluctuation in pricing, especially with the number of home renovations decreasing in this economy, as can the source of the materials.
"Unfortunately, there are companies that have superior products, delivery time frames and commitment to quality, and they also have great conference presence and marketing," Nathan explains. "They're out there, and that's where people will go to—they charge a premium for that. It gives the mindset that reclaimed is always more expensive. People who don't have overhead, and don't have the extra cost, find savings versus otherwise more expensive options."
Above all, though, reclaimed materials offer one thing upfront their new-product counterparts never will: a sense of history. "Whatever the material, these products have great stories behind them," he says. What could be more complementary for a structure built on the same tradition?
Resources: Aged Woods; agedwoods.com
Appalachian Antique Hardwoods, 877-817-7758; aahardwoods.com
Building Green; buildinggreen.com
The Green Institute's ReUse Center, 612-278-7113; thereusecenter.com
Planet ReUse; planetreuse.com
U.S. Green Building Council; usgbc.org