Thursday, September 3, 2009

Using Salvage as Building Material

Salvage n “the rescue of any property from destruction or waste.”

I am so inspired by Dan Phillips, who was featured in the New York Times yesterday. See the slideshow of his projects.

This spotlight is very timely, with the recent death of Dennis K "D.K." Ruth, the co-founder of the Rural Studio. Both shared a vision of creating affordable structures through creative use and re-use of material.

It is exciting to use salvaged materials in projects. Obviously, Phoenix Commotion uses such materials boldly. His roof of scrap frame samples and the Rural Studio's walls of carpet scraps proudly proclaim their origin.

We have had to the opportunity to use salvaged materials in different ways. We worked with a young couple on San Juan Island to obtain an owner-builder permit for a Straw Bale House. Straw bale, a by-product of agriculture, as been used for many years to create super-insulated homes. We will report more in the future on the construction of the Straw Bale House. The use of the salvaged straw bales and the ability of the owner to act as their own contractor will keep the project affordable.

Salvaged materials can also be used with finesse, so that they blend in with new materials seamlessly. For the San Juan Channel House, salvaged plumbing fixtures, wood flooring, and landscape features were used. The degree of salvage varied: some items were purchased from Craigslist (usually left over material), some landscape features were found on the site, and concrete pavers used for landscaping were bound for the dump after a mistake on a commercial project, with some matching new pavers added.

These materials were used in such a way that no one could distinguish between salvaged items and items manufactured exclusively for the project. Considering that, according to many sources, about 90% of solid waste comes from manufacturing and the remaining 10% from consumer waste. Using salvaged items in building helps on both ends: the most evident, keeping waste out of the landfill, but also preventing manufacture of new items in the first place, which creates the most waste. Extra effort is required of the owner and contractor to seek out such materials, but the financial and environmental benefits are many.

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