Preservation or Conservation: Building for the Past or the Future?

One could argue that the greenest buildings are the ones that last the longest- not only because of the material, but also design.

Borgund stave church, in Borgund, Lærdal, Norway, built in the 12th century

Borgund stave church, in Borgund, Lærdal, Norway, built in the 12th century

As with all things – buildings erode. From the 16th century half-timbered houses in Norway to the Chrysler building – even the best built structures wear with time. As time moves forward, and the paint chips off, our emotional attachment to these structures only grows. It seems obvious that we should allocate funds to restore and maintain these buildings as these are icons of a time and space which no longer exist. But then a question arises: do we preserve their original integrity or do we implement new technologies to make these famed structure more energy efficient to comply with changing times?

Conservation is the process through which historic materials and design integrity are prolonged through carefully planned interventions. Preservation is a process that seeks to preserve and protect building, objects and landscapes in their original form.
Although these two schools of thought may seem to be very closely related, there seems to be a tension that has emerged.

To examine these difference in the ideology of preserving and conserving, I will examine two case studies-the first of which is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Seth Peterson Cottage. The second is Mies Van De Rohe’s Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Frank Lloyd Wright was designed over 1000 structures and completed 500 works. He believed that architecture should work in accordance with nature to create a harmonious relationship between the natural and built environment – he called this philosophy organic architecture.

The Seth Peterson Cottage – a two-room, 880 square foot lakeside cottage located in the Mirror Lake State Park in Wisconsin was designed in 1958. Seth Peterson, the owner, took his own life prior to the completion of the cottage; the next two owners completed the project.

The cottage went into disrepair after 1966. It was not until the 1980’s when local activists came up with the idea of completely restoring the now State-owned cottage to offer as a getaway to renters.

The State hired Chicago architect John Eifler to do the restoration. Following the initial inspection of the cottage, Eifler’s mechanical engineer concluded that the existing single-pane glazing (which covers 60% of the façade) would lead to a building that would be virtually impossible to heat in the winter. Eifler proposed a double pane glazing increase the heating efficiency, but the State Historic Preservation Office refused his initial proposal.

Eventually, Eifler succeeded with the proposed double pane glazing and installed his windows and added appropriate Usonian-style furniture and was able to restore the FLT gem to its original glory.

Eifler didn’t just restore the original FLW design but rather built it towards the future by considering the present and expected energy concerns. Eifler added a radiant floor heating system, with insulation beneath the heating system to ensure that the heat rises into the house, rather than seeps into the earth and electronic roller shades that drop down on winter nights providing further insulations.

Mies Van Der Rohe’s Crown Hall

Mies Van Der Rohe’s Crown Hall

Our second case study concerns Mies Van De Rohe’s Crown Hall, which is the home of the Illinois Institute of Technology. Completed in 1959, Crown Hall is one of the most architecturally significant buildings of the 20th century. As one of Mies’s masterpieces, Crown Hall is a perfect example of steel and glass construction and an example of the beauty that is inherently found in function – a notion that is also applicable to Green building.

By 2003, Crown Hall was in desperate need of repair, the stairs were cracking, the once-jet black facade had faded to a shade of gray and ivy had begun to climb up the exposed steel structure.

In order to restore the structure, Krueck& Sexton of Chicago along with preservation architect Gunny Harbow were commissioned to update the iconic structure. In order to maintain design integrity the architects chose to use huge low-iron glass sheets for the façade/ In order to keep these massive sheets in place there were forced to diverge from the original design. They were forced to design diagonal sloping “stops” – this made the right-angle-Mies-worshippers crazy. The result was not only successful but the low iron glass restored the cool elegance of increased natural light which lead to lower light use and cut down on the heating requirements.

Although both these projects are dealing with structures by modern masters, Eifler was dealing was a small, residential building were as Krueck &Sexton were dealing with one of the Mies masterpieces. For Krueck & Sexon, maintaining the authenticity of the original design was the greatest concern and outweighed the energy concerns. To the Crown Hall crew, prolonging the life of the building while maintain the highest level of artistry and expression was the objective. For example they felt it was inappropriate to install a green roof just to cut down the urban heat island effect not merely outfitting a classic example of architecture with solar panels.

It seems that when that there is a pivotal choice that has to be made: what meaning or interpretation do we choose to express in a restoration? Artistic integrity or buildings for the future?

The Eco Brooklyn Showhouse is a hybrid of both the preserve and the converse schools of thought. When Gennaro and his partner, Loretta in 2008 the bought their Carrol Gardens Brownstone was livable but the latest restoration had taken place in the 1970’s. Gennaro knew that he would use this structure has a laboratory for green research, design and construction. Over the past four years he has refurbished the entirety of the interior and exteriors not just by repairing what needed repairs but diving into the history of the structure.

The Eco Brooklyn show house combines original details like the slate and painted flowers with new details like the planters.

The Eco Brooklyn show house combines original details like the slate and painted flowers with new details like the planters.

When cleaning paint off of the siding on the house, Gennaro discovered reminisce of three painted flowers. He has since updated the paint and the flowers are now an interesting and historic detail that is once again visible on the façade.

Gennaro also used the original staircase and banister that connects the first floor to the third. When they first bought the house, the original banister was in terrible condition. Gennaro and his crew had to deconstruct and then rebuild the banisher to its originally glory.

Although, preserving the historic integrity was not the only goal of this Carroll Gardens restoration, this house was to be a green Showhouse, so it not only needed to represent the past, but simultaneously build for the future.
Through the restoration Gennaro suscessfully created an extremely tight thermal envelope similar to the standsards used for Passive House, and also added a natural pool, green roof, and a garden pond.

By going back to these old structures, whether that be a lakeside cottage in Wisconsin, a steel and glass academic building or a classic Brooklyn brownstone one can learn something about efficiency and function. Advancing technology often brings us away from the simplicity of good design. In the Frank Llogd wright cottage, the floor plan centered around the fireplace to effective heat the entire space. The Mies building had large glass windows to increase natural light and the Brooklyn brownstoners abut each other to retain the heat. There is something to be learned from the past as we move forward.

The Living Building Challenge- Winner of the 2012 Buckminster-Fuller Challenge

Green building and eco-sensitive design is currently at the forefront of our modern ethos.   What this means for the green builders, contractors and architects of NY, and the world, is a period of dramatic change and challenge is ahead if not already begun. A change in the way we think about new buildings and construction, in how we consider “used” materials and how we use and interact with space.

As Scholar David Orr stated-

“We are coming to an era the likes of which we’ve never seen before, we’re in the white waters of human history. We don’t know what lies ahead. Bucky Fuller’s ideas on design are at the core of any set of solutions that will take us to calmer waters.”


One of the most prominent voices in sustainability and responsible design since the 1960’s is R. Buckminster Fuller.  Fuller pioneered in fields from architecture, and mathematics, to engineering and automobile design and only patented 12 designs allowing the vast majority of his work to be open-sourced and free to the public.

His life’s mission and philosophy was simple, “to make the world work for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or disadvantage of anyone.”

Even today, years after Fuller’s death his name is still the vanguard of the sustainable design community. The largest testament to his legacy is the R. Buckminster Fuller Institute and their annual international competition the Buckminster Fuller Design Challenge.

According to the institution’s website $100,000 is given “…to support the development and implementation of a strategy that has significant potential to solve humanity’s most pressing problems. Named “Socially-Responsible Design’s Highest Award” by Metropolis Magazine, it attracts bold, visionary, tangible initiatives focused on a well-defined need of critical importance. Winning solutions are regionally specific yet globally applicable and present a truly comprehensive, anticipatory, integrated approach to solving the world’s complex problems.”

In 2012 at an awards ceremony held here in NYC at Cooper Union The International Living Future Institute was awarded first prize for their “Living Building Challenge” initiative.  According to the institute’s website the Living building Challenge is:

-a PHILOSOPHY, ADVOCACY PLATFORM AND CERTIFICATION PROGRAM. Because it defines priorities on both a technical level and as a set of core values, it is engaging the broader building industry in the deep conversations required to truly understand how to solve problems rather than shift them.

-an EVOCATIVE GUIDE. By identifying an ideal and positioning that ideal as the indicator of success, the Challenge inspires project teams to reach decisions based on restorative principles instead of searching for ‘least common denominator’ solutions. This approach brings project teams closer to the objectives we are collectively working to achieve.

-a BEACON. With a goal to increase awareness, it is tackling critical environmental, social and economic problems, such as: the rise of persistent toxic chemicals; climate change; habitat loss; the collapse of domestic manufacturing; global trade imbalances; urban sprawl; and the lack of community distinctiveness.

-a ‘UNIFIED TOOL’. Addressing development at all scales, it can be equally applied to landscape and infrastructure projects; partial renovations and complete building renewals; new building construction; and neighborhood, campus and community design.

-a PERFORMANCE-BASED STANDARD. Decidedly not a checklist of best practices, the Challenge leads teams to embrace regional solutions and respond to a number of variables, including climate factors and cultural characteristics.


The challenge seeks to encourage designers to bridge the gap between the built environment and the surrounding ecosystems thus reinventing the typical developers’ business model and transforming the role of the building occupant from passive to more of an involved partnership with the earth and her resources.

For all manner of development the Living Building Principles are applicable, whether, “… a single building, a park, a college campus or even a complete neighborhood community, Living Building Challenge provides a framework for design, construction and the symbiotic relationship between people and all aspects of the built environment.”

You can download a complete document that outlines the specific requirements and benchmarks that must be met to receive certification HERE.

With its radical and rigorous requirements, this is more than “green washing”.  This is an excerpt from a statement released by The Fuller Institute after the award ceremony;

“The Living Building Challenge (LBC) is setting the standard for how to build in the 21st century by establishing the highest bar yet for environmental performance and ecological responsibility within the built environment … by “building a new model” and establishing new benchmarks for non-­‐toxic, net-­‐zero structures… The Living Building Challenge goes far beyond current best practices, reframing the relationship between the built and natural environments. LBC seeks to lead the charge toward a holistic standard that could yield an entirely new level of integration between building systems, transportation, technology, natural resources, and community. If widely adopted, this approach would significantly enhance the level of broad-­‐based social collaboration throughout the design and building process and beyond, dramatically reducing the destructiveness of current construction, boost the livability, health, and resilience of communities … the International Future Living Institute is charting a new and critically needed course in an industry that arguably remains one of the most consumptive … The LBC’s model of regenerative design in the built environment could provide a critical leverage point in the roadmap to a sustainable future and is an exemplary trim tab in its potential to catalyze innovation in such a high impact, high consumption industry…”

This is a valuable new asset and tool for the green building and green contracting community in NYC nd abroad in the fight for a greener and livable tomorrow.  -living building challenge website  -Buckminster-fuller institute website

Occupy Wall Street

On 10/11/11 Eco Brooklyn, a green builder and supporter of a better America and world, went down to the Financial district to check out Occupy Wall Street. Nearly 30 days ago, a diverse group of citizens took to the street in NYC, and marched down to Zuccotti Park, formerly “Liberty Plaza Park”, placed in between Wall Street, the financial center of the U.S., and Ground Zero.

            Although formal demands will not be made, the message brought by Occupy Wall Street is clear.  They call for an end to corruption and greed, to bring about a better, cleaner, fairer world.  Cleaner, fairer, and better are all words that definitely relate to the idea of sustainability, which seems to be a theme for the protesters at OWS.  They hope to create a sustainable system of economics and government that’s not only sustainable for the people in charge and involved now, but also for the people of the future.  Similarly to OWS, Eco Brooklyn sees the need for an immediate change in the building and construction industry. For too long, a system has been used that leads to crumbling infrastructure and high energy costs, and now it’s time for an immediate change to use recycled and salvaged material to make zero energy homes.  This is a practical goal, that’s sustainable not only for the people living in the new homes, but also for the generations to come.

OWS also has areas for making and displaying art, garbage collection and recycling, a food buffet, a drum circle/music group, a webcast, an info center for volunteers, as well spaces to access the internet and charge cell phones and battery powered devices.  With mattresses and sleeping bags spread throughout these areas, one had to be careful navigating between the people protesting and things and people on the ground, but despite the difference in peoples body language and stature, the feeling of unity was unmistakable- everyone united as one, fighting for a better, fairer, cleaner world.  For more check out Thomas Friedman’s Op-Ed piece in the New York Times.

Doing Things Differently

Green building is not mainstream. The systems and habits are not in place. Doing a green job is part construction part education part experimentation because once you start thinking off the grid there are very few reference points to guide you.

I had a plumber walk out of my job today before even giving a bid. He couldn’t get his head around some of the things I’m doing. His last words were, “I hope what you are doing works out, but it’s not the way I do it.”

It is definitely not business as usual. We have different ways of installing our pex tubing and they were at odds with what he knew. I believe our way is better and I’m betting on it. We’ll see.

I had to go through several carpenters before I found one who was willing to do things my way. They are used to reaching out and grabbing a perfectly clean and sized piece of wood for their work. They have no part in preparing the wood. It comes from the lumber yard and all they have to do is put it in the house like Lego. There is something to be said for the efficiency of this.

But on my job they have to pick through a nasty pile of salvaged ugly wood, pull the nails and wires off, rip it to size and only then can they get back to their job. It takes some getting used to and there is no end of grumbling about it.

But I point out to them that I can pay them to do that or pay the lumber yard to get clean wood. From that perspective they have no problem with me paying them instead and the grumbling lessens.

I don’t pay for the wood. I pay a little more for the labor. In terms of my costs it comes out to the same, maybe a little cheaper. But it is not purely a financial issue.

By salvaging the wood I lessen the impact on land fill. I also lessen the amount of wood being cut down. I also get much better quality wood, since the salvaged wood is old growth and miles better than the crap you buy today.

IT COSTS PRETTY MUCH THE SAME FOR ME TO DO THIS YET THE BENEFITS IN MY EYES ARE MUCH HIGHER. This for me is a revolutionary concept. Clearly from the initial resistance I get from industry professionals it is a change from the status quot.

Going from this scrap to wall:

Adding Solar gain and recyclables to Facade

Above: Facade with planter and recycled joists.

Originally the top facade of the building had a lot of rotted wood. And there was a great view. So in the heat of the summer I tore down the wall and planned on adding a wall of glass. It would have been magnificent.

But then as the cooler weather came I came to my senses and realized the large window was on the north side. To have it would be a huge heat drain on the house. I basically made a colossal mistake. This is green building 101.

So I took the windows I had already bought for the space and put them on the south side of the house. This creates a very powerful passive heating element as the sun pours into the house and heats it. Solar gain to the max.

Then I was faced with doing something with the gaping hole on the north side. Some of the old slate had been broken when we took down the wall so we had a problem. We didn’t have enough slate to built it back nor could we buy similar stuff. Do we take down the rest of the remaining slate and replace it or what? Taking it down is so not green.

So I decided to get a little artsy and use the slate we have for the lower part of the facade. For the upper part we are going to create siding out of salvaged wood joists. We are going to shape it in a “V” shape and at the base of the V we will put a large planter that will collect the water from the siding above it.

The planter will be made of two triangular sides attached to the facade to create a harmony of triangular shapes with the larger triangle formed by the siding.

Even though the planter box will be very well insulated and one of its three sides will be against a heated house we will use plants that don’t need sun or warmth since the cold winds can be harsh up there. Water probably won’t be an issue since we’ll use water retaining materials in the earth.

The planter will help insulate the north wall, provide greenery, allow us to recycle old joists and keep the existing slate. This is a great example of green building.

Pre Construction:
The truly green thing would have been to repair the damaged wood and leave the windows as they are in this picture. But in the heat of renovation we got these grand ideas to make a wall of glass. Being in an environment you love is green to but not at the expense of wasted energy when you can have just as nice windows but on the south side….

And so we tore the facade off:

But then we realized our mistake and tore the south wall down to put the already ordered windows there. The sun shines in wonderfully making a fantastic space and heating us up. In the summer this heat can be a problem so we plan on having good passive ventilation, blinds, and solar panels above the windows that will also act as awnings when the sun’s angle is high in the sky during the summer months. During the winter months the sun’s angle will be low enough to pass under the panels.
The south opening:

Wood Flooring courtesy of Corcoran

Only in USA are dumpsters so full of wonderful stuff. And you can’t get fancier than a Corcoran dumpster. There is one in front of the Corcoran condos on President St in Carroll Gardens. I had the good luck to check them out today and found 1000 sq.ft. of once used wide plank maple flooring!

The builder was there and he said they were installed six months ago in the summer. Probably because they weren’t acclimatized correctly they warped a little. But my carpenter says it’s nothing the correct nails and some sanding can’t fix.

So it looks like the green show house will have 100% salvaged flooring. We salvaged some oak from another reno a couple months ago.

The Costs of Recycling

Above Pic: “ugly” wood that I use for everything from studs to window frames.

Recycling is a great way to reuse materials and save money. It is important to keep in mind the extra costs of recycling.

If you get the materials for free, say from a salvage, that is a great starting point. It beats paying for it from a store.

But free or not you then have to have a use for it otherwise you need to pay to store it until the job is ready. This costs money.

Secondly, and this is often an issue with wood or metal studs, recycled material isn’t always clean. My carpenters have never felled a tree for wood. They are used to reaching their arm out and grabbing a perfectly cut clean piece of wood that fits exactly what they need. This is the consumer society we live in.

And I am always getting grief from my carpenters about this. I bring them ugly, nail ridden, odd sized wood and ask them to work with it. They don’t like it. It takes them precious time to clean the wood and size it for their needs.

In fact today one carpenter said he felt guilty because he was wasting so much of my time (=money) using the old wood instead of out of the box new wood.

But the important thing to understand is that it is still better. I would rather pay my carpenter the money instead of the store. Despite the obvious benefits of recycling etc, I’m still saving money.

I may pay the carpenter $20 extra but I save $15 because I didn’t pay for the wood. Even if I wasn’t saving any money at all I would still do it.

It makes too much sense not to do it. It means my carpenters need to slow down. It means my studs won’t be nice and clean looking. But it also means I’ve saved some trees, the wood is stronger than the crap they speed grow today, I’m lessened the landfill burden, and I might even save some money!

Soundproofing between floors

After some research we noticed that one of the most effective ways to reduce impact noise between floors was to put a recycled tyre product between the floor and sub floor. It creates a vibrating cushion that absorbs the impact, thus deadening the sound.

The only problem is that this product is costly. And costly is not green in the slightest.

So we went to the mechanic down the road. He was more than happy to give us some used tires. He has to pay to dispose of them into the landfill. We took the tires and cut them into little strips.

The strips were placed wherever a stud or support beam made contact with the floor above, creating a sound impact barrier between the two floors. Kids jumping, heavy boots and games of basketball should all become less audible from the neighbors above thanks to our technique.

Cutting the tires into strips.

Placing the tire under the joists.

The same tire pictured above but now we have put the support beam beneath it. The tire now acts as a sound barrier between the joists and the beam, breaking the vibration that would normally pass from the joist to the beam and the floor below.

Here is an example of the tire placed between the stud and the footer. It is better to place the tire between the stud and the header to stop sound coming from above. But in this case the stud was supporting the stairs so it didn’t matter.

Insulation Has Arrived!

Insulation from Eco Brooklyn Inc with Gennaro Brooks-Church

Insulation from Eco Brooklyn Inc with Gennaro Brooks-Church

Green Building is like life: it is all about energy. How you control it, who has it, where it is flowing, and where it isn’t flowing. You control the energy and you have a great house (possibly a great life too).

So obviously insulation plays a huge part ini green building. Green building typically insulates a lot more than normal building. We’d rather spend more up front and less later in utility bills. Utility bills are wasteful and in imperfection. Ideally we will get to the point that houses are built so well that you don’t have any utility bills.

In terms of insulation there are many choices. Of course fiberglass batts are out. They have a lot of embodied energy, most off gas formaldehyde and they don’t even insulate well.

Icenyne spray foam is touted as green and although it seals well it is so not green. That is the biggest scam in the green building industry. All spray foam is made from petro chemicals, even the so called soy based foam that has at most 30% soy and 70% petrolium. The main ingredient for all of them is isocyanate, which is only made by four multy billion dollar companies and it is basically oil.

The greenest insulation is cellulose. Recycled paper. Recycled is always the greenest way to go.

BUT all insulation, foam, fiberglass and cellulose only gets around an R4 per inch and in space starved Brooklyn I wanted more. I found a company that sells once used (READ RECYCLED) foam board called POLYISO. Read this to see how great it is. At only 1.5 inches thick it packs at least an R9 and is by far the best R value out there.

And because it is once used it has already off gassed any small amounts of VOC’s it might have had.

I need about 2000 square feet of it. I’m going to put 4 layers in the roof plus a radiant barrier to make a whopping R36 and this does not include the green roof on top. Insulating the roof is so important.

Then I’m going to put one layer in the external walls. With the one foot of brick that will be an R21.

I also have to put it around the border of the building on every floor between the joists to keep the radiant heat in my house.

I also need 1600 square feet of Extruded Polystyrine, which is waterproof, to put under the green roof and under the radiant heated concrete slab in the cellar.

So I need about 3600 square feet. I bought 12,500 square feet of insulation!!!! I couldn’t help it! I got a good deal and I really feel the greenest thing is for me to pay one big truck to bring the stuff to Brooklyn and redistribute it to others instead of everyone getting small trucks (which as it turns out isn’t cost effective anyway).

So bottom line: I have insulation for sale. Lots of it. CHEAP, at least half price. Be green and get some! Contact me for details.

unloading the insulation from the 53 foot 18 wheeler

unloading the insulation from the 53 foot 18 wheeler

making space

making space

starting to pack the insulation

starting to pack the insulation

getting full

getting full

taking over the yard

taking over the yard

Salvaged Wood

At the beginning of this job I had to buy my salvaged wood from Fine Lumber in Williamsburg. But now that the local job sites know about my project I get most of my wood from them.

Here you see a nice selection of old cut prime wood. That’s my daughter.

Fly Ash isn’t flying

On the 2nd street project we are doing a lot of underpinning and laying a concrete slab in the cellar. This requires a lot of concrete. Cement uses up a lot of energy to produce and creates a lot of CO2 Substituting up to 50% of the cement with fly ash is considered a more ecological idea.

Fly ash is an industrial byproduct from burning coal so to use it is to recycle and keep it from the landfill. You are substituting something that is costly to create (cement) with something that is there in abundance anyway. Very green.

Fly ash does have a lot of chemicals in it. But when mixed with cement they are held in the concrete and do not leach. In fact concrete with fly ash is much more waterproof than normal concrete mixed with only cement. i.e. the concrete does not mix with water well.

Concrete mixed with fly ash takes longer to cure. Because of this it is important to use a lot less water. But once cured it is considerably stronger than normal concrete.

The only problem is that I have not been able to buy fly ash in the NY area. Cement companies buy it in bulk and won’t sell a mere 1000 pounds of it. And because the underpinning has to be done in little parcels at a time it isn’t possible to bring out a truck to pour concrete. We have to mix the concrete by hand in little batches.

So alas the concrete slab and underpinning of 22 2nd street will not have fly ash in the concrete….

The Story Of Stuff – How we consume

Here are some great movies from the web site

Guess what percentage of the stuff that Americans buy is still around six months later?
1%!! The other 99% is already garbage according to the site.

These movies are useful for anyone in construction. What construction company doesn’t spend huge amounts of money on dumpsters to throw out the debris? How much of that stuff can be used for other jobs or to be put back in the job? Why is it being thrown out in the first place? These kinds of questions are rarely asked but should be.

Ch.1: Introduction

Ch.2: Extraction

Ch.3: Production

Ch.4: Distribution

Ch.5: Consumption

Ch.6: Disposal

Ch.7: Another Way

Building Green isn’t expensive and is cheaper in the long run

A huge myth about green building is that it costs more. That was true in the past but not now. Building green today is the most cost effective thing to do.

According to a study by Sheila Muto, author of the article “The Public Sector Spurs Green’ Building,” Special to, July 16, 2003, she found that in the past, the cost of developing green buildings was 5% to 10% higher than traditional construction costs. But not now.

Many suggest that the cost premium for producing green buildings has dropped to about 2% as planners, developers, contractors and others have become more familiar with green-building techniques and materials. Competition among the increasing number of green builders is also driving prices down. If there is no competition in your market, it is more likely that you may see a premium for green construction.

Eco Brooklyn is able to build green BELOW normal building prices by using salvaged and recycled materials – this creates a double win without sacrifice for anyone.

I got the stupid bricks

I love old bricks. They have great character. I got these from a job site. The contractor couldn’t believe I wanted to take them. He was actually insulted and called the whole thing “stupid”.

It took me ten minutes to do. The bricks will cover a 100 square foot patio at 22 2nd street. No landfil. No cost. No making new bricks. And the contractor didn’t have to pay to ship them off to the dump (bricks cost almost as much to throw out as to buy since the main cost is hauling the heavy bastards). Think about it! People are actually paying to throw things out! And others are paying to buy the very same thing! It is out of a comedy of errors. Mother Earth isn’t laughing.

The Hammer Test

I had a big argument with my architect because I wanted to use salvaged wood for part of the house and his mantra was:
“If it is fixing something old you can use it but if you are building something new you need to use new wood.”

Fixing some broken joists in a floor is ok to use old wood. Make a new floor and you have to use new wood.

This drives me crazy. Here is why.

Below are three types of wood. Two are salvaged and more than 100 years old. One is brand new fresh off the mountain. The department of buildings will let me use the new wood but not the old wood, presumably because the old wood is inferior.

I hit the back of the hammer into all three types of wood.

The first one I hit is real 8″x8″ old yellow pine beams. The hammer bounced off without leaving even a dent. It hurt my wrist and felt like I was hitting concrete. This beam costs less than the equivalent sized new wood. I bought it from the wood salvage place Fine Lumber. It is over 100 years old and has several hundred to go.

old yellow pine

old yellow pine

The second type of wood is salvaged real size 3″ x 8″ fir. It is also about 100 years old. The hammer made a dent but didn’t stick in. This wood was free but you can buy it at Fine lumber for about the same as the equivalent size new wood.

douglass fir

douglass fir

The third wood is a 2″ x 10″ new pine beam. This is what I ended up using because I didn’t want any issues with the DOB. My project is strange enough with all the green stuff I’m doing. I need to make sure it is all code. The hammer stuck in the wood completely. Compared to the other two woods it was like hitting sponge cake. Here it is. I pulled the hammer out to show the hole.

The moral of the story? When used ethically old wood is the way to go. It saves landfill, saves trees, is stronger, costs the same or less, obviously lasts a lot longer and doesn’t feel like spongecake.

Salvaged Wood Floors

I got some wood floors from a contractor friend. He is working for a customer who wants to get rid of perfectly good oak floors and replace them with cherry. God what a total waste! Waste of money, resources, forest etc. Waste helps keep the economy going…in a bad way.

Unfortunately I only got in touch with him after he had gutted two of the three floors. Two floors of perfectly good oak sits in a landfil somewhere.

I got one floor. Why this is good:

I help remove them – saves them money.
They don’t have to pay to put them in a dumpster.
I get $1200 of oak flooring for about $100.
The world is saved from cutting more trees.
Less landfill waste.

It is a total no brainer! And yet when I proposed it to them they were skeptical. Once it was done they couldn’t be happier. The only difference is a shift in the head. No other change is needed to make this happen.

salvaged oak flooring

salvaged oak flooring

Got some steel joists

I found a building company that was throwing out some perfectly good steel studs. The studs were just sitting behind a building so I asked if I could take them.

They were like, “Why?”
I was like, “Uh, to reuse them.”
The were like, “But they are used.”
“So? Are they damaged?”
“No but they are trash.”

And so on. Nice guys but they didn’t get what I was doing. They humored me a let me take them. There are so many good reasons to re-use good material but if you aren’t thinking in those terms it is a completely alien concept. If you don’t think about it you can even come up with a lot of good reasons not to reuse material. But with a little thought all the reasons come up short.

The best reason I like to poke holes in is the concept that reusing materials takes away jobs. Think about it. If everyone recycled all the millions of tonnes of good material that gets trashed each year that would be millions of tonnes that wouldn’t have to made next year. That would put people out of work.

And in a society where work is the main goal of living, to do something that puts people out of work is akin to being unpatriotic. Its all about “job stimulus”, increasing spending to revitalize the economy, keeping unemployment low, creating a brisk economy etc….

BUT! What about creating an economy where you needed less to live on, where you needed to work less for the same amount of buying power. Less work would mean more time watching the clouds with your children…

Here is how from my limited knowledge of macroeconomics:

If society reuses materials we spend less on new materials. This means more money in the consumers’ pockets. But, they say, if everyone does this then less will need to be produced which means less jobs (currently interpreted as bad). But, I say, the consumer does not need to work as much anymore anyway because now that they are reusing materials they aren’t spending as much.

Reusing materials creates a slower economy. Not slow in today’s definition, but slow in the pre-industrial definition where we produced and wasted less. The life cycle of a product lasted longer. In a slower economy the consumer gains because they still get stuff but just don’t have to work as hard to get it.

Who loses in a slower economy? The people who benefit from extreme consumption and waste: the Walmarts of the world, The McDonalds, inefficient car makers, weapons makers, legal drug makers, mass entertainment. All the companies whose business model is based on people consuming their product feverishly for the sake of consumption only.

These are people who buy a certain car for a million idiotic reasons, none the reasons being to fulfill the need to move from place A to place B efficiently.

Anyway. Here are the studs I got. The reasons for getting them are many but here are some:
I needed studs for my 22 2nd Street house.
They were free (saving me about $75).
They are spared from taking up landfill space.
Less pollution due to less production.
I can work $75 less in my life.

salvaged steel studs

salvaged steel studs

New Shipment of Salvaged wood

I have become friends with a contractor who is remodeling a house down the block. The owner is totally gutting the place. Unfortunately I didn’t hook up with them until they were half way done so didn’t get to salvage everything.

But we did salvage some good beams. They came out black but after some heavy rains they look nice and clean. They are a real 3″x8″ by 20′ and in great condition. There is enough for a floor measuring 20′ by 20′.

recycled lumber

recycled lumber