Tag Archives: salvaging

Limestone unlimited

I was about to enter salvaging heaven!

The porch tear down only generated a limited amount of salvaged lumber, and we recycled the concrete foundation. The old limestone foundation, however, was something I have been salivating over for a while.

There was not a stone to be wasted here! This is priceless garden material. But we first had to disassemble it stone by stone.

Well, the excitement about the limestone was a little muted once we started with the demolition. The material was a lower quality than that of the building foundation. A lot of the larger stones separated along the sediment lines into smaller, thinner slabs. This was particularly prevalent at the location of the old downspout where the hydrostatic pressure had built up.

We found the biggest and best quality stones in the two corners. It was at times a challenge to lift them out of the pit. All of the salvaged stones, large and small, are now waiting for their new garden assignment.


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Back porch tear down

I had scheduled the removal of that eyesore that was attached to the back of our building – our old back porch – back in late March. We had to wait for the snow to clear but finally proceeded with the cosmetic surgery.

The surgeon’s tools of choice: Crow bars, sawzall, large scrapers and sledge hammers.


It got interesting from the get go!

The first job was to separate the porch roof from the main roof. The crew cut through the existing roofing and began to scrape it off.


We knew the porch was in bad shape and not safe. But I now got to see what “not safe” meant, as the decking along the porch edge was partially rotten. That’s the kind of skylight you don’t want!

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Looking at the cross section of the roofing threw me back to the deconstruction days of our deep energy retrofit, when I felt like I was conducting an archaeological dig, peeling back the construction layer by layer.

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We have an impressive 2 ½ inches of very old, pretty old, not so old, and newer roofing on our building. One layer after another. Can you imaging the weight of this? If I assume 90 pound roll roofing at ?” per layer, we have a least 18 pounds of roofing per square foot. That is about ¾ the weight of an extensive green roof!


One and a half days, and our eyesore was gone, including the clean up.

Why is it so much fun to watch this planned destruction? It was fun watching it while it was in process, and I still have a blast revisiting the time lapse. Or even just this little video of the west wall coming down.

Waste reduction?

I spent some time walking through the old porch, looking for items that could be salvaged, reused, repurposed, recycled or otherwise diverted from the landfill. Because pretty much everything was painted, the majority of the porch was in a non-recyclable state. I managed to pull out a handfull of items, such as a door and some two by fours, along with a number of floor joists and some nice posts. I’ll either find a use for them or see if I can find a taker, despite the paint on the lumber.

The one thing that surprised me is that our contractor fit the whole porch into two trailers, with which he hauled it off site. I would have ordered a big dumpster, and it would only have been half full.

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Basement kitchen bragging

Oh yes! I will once again invoke my bragging rights and tell you how much of a cheapskate I really am…

The big secret: You don’t need to buy new. If you schedule it right (by leaving yourself enough time to go scavenging) you can save a lot of money and resources by turning to the salvage and reuse market. You can begin to reshape your own footprint.

Take the wall and island cabinets. The former was a steal we found on Craigslist, while the latter was purchased at the ReBuilding Exchange. Ok, the island cabinets needed some work (cladding on the back and side). But I took care of that with our salvaged old growth lumber.


While I am on the subject of salvaged old growth lumber: It also provided us the material  for the open counter top base to the left and right of the stove.

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The stove was a Craigslist purchase, whereas the dishwasher came from the ReBuilding Exchange.


As you have recently read, the solid surface counter top was a purchase from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. The heavy duty, cast iron sink with white enamel also came from the ReBuilding Exchange, while the backsplash stone tiles were a salvage item from our 1st floor kitchen installation. They were also bought from the ReStore.


Some items are more difficult to purchase from the salvage and reuse market than others. This can be due to scheduling constraints (i.e. I need that thing now!), or availability. Here is a list of the items that we had to purchased new:

The items we were able to source from the salvage and reuse market are:

We spent an estimated $1,880 on materials for the basement kitchen! If I add the miscellaneous hardware items, we may have spent as much as $2,200.

That is our kind of price tag and our kind of kitchen!

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Open counter top base fabrication

L-shaped kitchens are nice, but I find U-shaped ones to be even more functional. And the basement kitchen space has U-shape written all over it. One could sort of detect the beginnings of it when we moved into the garden unit.


We had two functional plywood counter top spaces. But to complete the U-shape, we need counter tops left and right of the stove. And this is where it gets unconventional, due to my favorite topic: moisture management.

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Maximizing air flow

I did not want to use base cabinets left and right of the stove. I am concerned that they would restrict air flow across our exposed limestone foundation wall. If so, that section of the foundation wall may have a difficulty drying out. And that in turn increased the potential for indoor air quality (IAQ) issues and mold.

Instead, I had planned for an open counter top base and wire shelves, thus maximizing the potential air movement across the foundation wall. That means I have to test my carpentry skills and fabricate an open base, which is nothing more than a table without the table top. Well, there is the awkward angle shape on the ends…

Resource efficiency

“Cradle to cradle” comes to mind. Years ago, when we deconstructed the basement, I saved all the old growth lumber because I had been told it is good material for furniture making. Now I can clean up those studs, de-nail them, and mill them into the needed shape. The de-nailing part is somewhat tedious, because it has to be done very diligently, or it will dull our saw blades during milling.


Building the base

Drew found a simple table base template online that suggested to use a combination of wooden dowels and screws. We cut and fabricated the legs and horizontal connectors and used a cardboard template to make sure the base was assembled correctly and at the right angles.

We had a little difficulty getting started, but ended up cranking out two bases in no time. They turned out to be a surprisingly sturdy construction. Next step: taking them into the basement kitchen to see if they fit.

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Back to the basement

When we moved into the garden unit in early 2011, we did so in a hurry. I managed to get the kitchen functional with a stove, a sink and a few kitchen cabinets.


But I didn’t get to install a counter top or a back splash. Instead I put down ¾” plywood to tide us over.


In order to rent the garden apartment, the plywood must go. And timing was on my side. Someone had dropped off two crates of solid surface counter top sheets at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Addison. Most of them had hideous colors or patterns, but I found a few sheets that were rather nice and would nicely fit into the garden unit.


This made me rather happy as it did not only fit our budget, but also our philosophy of relying on salvaged, reused or repurposed materials. Plus, the solid surface counter top is relatively easy to cut, fit and work with. I could fabricate the solid surface material myself, unlike the limestone we used for the 1st floor kitchen.

With the material on hand, it was time to put the finishing touches on the kitchen. Our first step was to remove the sink base and extend the cement board upwards to accommodate a tiled back splash, similar to what we have on the 1st floor kitchen.

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Before we got to play with the new counter top, I had to think about layout and test my furniture making skills. More on that in the next post.

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Salvaging graystone treasures

Don’t let the blog post title fool you! I am still thinking and talking about our yard and vacant lot.

We have a yard, but you can’t call it a garden – yet. So what do we use it for? In the early days, during the deconstruction process, we staged the dumpsters in the yard.


Some yard space was repurposed into a material storage depot – which brings me to the graystone treasures.

We lost two vacant graystone buildings on our block in a massive fire during Thanksgiving night 2010. We didn’t live in our building at the time. But I stopped at the house to take care of a couple of tasks the day after Thanksgiving and was shocked by sight of two burned out building shells.

The good news is that no one was hurt and the nearest occupied building was evacuated and saved.

The burned out building shells were declared dangerous and emergency demolition started within one and a half days. With the demo crew came a team of brick salvagers. Rather than having the Chicago common brick dumped into a landfill, the salvagers pick the bricks out of the piles, clean the mortar off and stack them onto pallets. That is the kind of brick I can then buy for masonry repairs.

What nobody was interested in, to my surprise, was all the graystone from the building facade. It didn’t matter whether they were window sills, steps, plain graystone, carved graystone, columns, or ornaments.

The demo crew was happy to let me pick out those pieces. Less weight for them to haul off, and with that less tipping fees.

One of the buildings had beautiful carved front porch columns that, despite being knocked over, remained intact.

But boy, were those suckers heavy! At first, Cathy and I attempted to wrestle them with a dolly. Needless to say that we decided otherwise before either of us or the dolly got crushed.

I decided to replace the dolly with the truck and recruit as many strong help hands as we could reasonably fit around the big columns. Even with the amount of muscle, it was still a daunting task. To move the columns, we had to set them upright and swivel them inch by inch towards the truck.

Two columns and a sill was all the truck could take in one load. Each column must have weighed about 800 pounds.

Back in the yard, sliding the monsters off the truck and laying them down was a little easier than loading them.

We plan on using some of the pieces on the house, like the steps and some of the facade stone. Other pieces will probably become part of the garden, like those big columns. I am just happy that I was able to score those treasures, and safely transport them into our “material storage depot.”

The big question is – for how long will it remain a material storage depot?

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From wish list to reality

Deconstruction (or rückbau)

Rebuilding the parapet


Pondering the pocket doors

The good old pocket doors – they have been weighing on my mind a lot and for a long time.

While we were deconstructing the 1st floor, we were delighted to find that our building once had pocket doors. The framing for the pocket doors was still in place, but the pocket doors themselves were gone (to our great disappointment).


Finding antique salvaged pocket doors is an expensive proposition. But good fortune sometimes comes with time. And after checking Craigslist for about a year, we found an affordable pair of pocket doors we liked. A down side to the doors: they were painted and needed stripping.


With the pocket doors in our possession, I now could adjust the framing to fit the new doors. Along with it, I built a rail system that matched the original rolling mechanism of the doors.


So far so good. But another down side of the pocket doors was that they were a notch too short. I refrained from lowering the height of the doorway to fit the new doors, because there was a pleasant consistency in the doorway height throughout the unit. Altering that didn’t seem right.


I have been tiptoeing around adjusting the doors, i.e. adding an extension to the top and bottom to make them fit, mainly because it seemed an intimidating task that if not done right could ruin the set.

But there is no longer any avoiding it, and our friend Drew insisted that it would all work out just fine.

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Pondering the pantry

We got the 1st floor ready enough just in time to throw a Christmas party. Cathy prepared a fabulous ham which delighted our guests.

One thing we noticed right away was that our cooking and food supplies were rather disorganized – because I had not yet finished the pantry. Needless to say, the pantry made it to the top of the priority list in a heart beat.

What has become the pantry was once the staircase into the basement. I reframed the floor structure, effectively closing up the staircase, installed floor tile and got everything painted. But we still needed shelves.


A couple of year ago I read on the Rebuilding Exchange blog how someone used salvaged hardwood flooring to build pantry shelves. I thought that was a very cool idea, so I went to the Rebuilding Exchange and got myself some short oak and douglas fir floor board scraps.

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The scraps were easily converted into three 15 inch deep shelves, which I mounted on the track and brackets system at the back wall.


I also purchased some longer oak and douglas fir boards at the Rebuilding Exchange.

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These pieces were repurposed into long, four inch narrow shelves.

The advantage of using the salvaged flooring was that they came already with a floor finish on one side. I just touched it up with some fine sandpaper, sanded down the bottom of the boards and that was it.


I mounted the shelves along the side walls of the pantry.

The idea for these shelves came from our friend Drew. While I was contemplating how to install salvaged 12 inch deep wire shelves and make it spatially work, Drew floated the idea of the narrow, four inch wide shelves for single line shelving of canned and packaged goods.

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It didn’t take much convincing. The narrow shelves don’t protrude beyond the door opening and make maneuvering through the pantry easy, while maximizing the storage capacity.

At the end, I gathered all cut-offs and leftover scraps and put them together into a counter top for the cabinet at the back wall.


I have to say that the narrow shelves are a hit! Everything on them is visually accessible the moment you step into the pantry. And because items are organized in a single file, you don’t have things in the back that get forgotten.


Thank you Drew!

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The race downstairs

I am racing downstairs, from the 2nd floor to the 1st floor, with the intend to get to the needed finishing touches.

Moving into the 1st floor has been within our grasp – for months! Except that I regularly got distracted with work on the 2nd floor. Enough of that. We have plans to celebrate Christmas day with friends on the 1st floor. I better bust a move to meet that deadline!

We have laid some of the ground work. Take the finishing touches to the kitchen, the range hood and addition of ornamental tiles. We finished the front door to the 1st floor unit and installed our slender closet doors. We made significant process with the paint removal and refinishing of the remaining door.


The same applies to the beautiful and tall baseboards. I have looked at them leaning against the wall for long enough and rather have them installed.

Cathy was able to carefully salvage most of the baseboards during the deconstruction. Having the original baseboards in all major rooms, where they are visible, was important to us. But we were short by a few pieces.

We solved the problem by using baseboards that once were in closets to fill those gaps. The closets, we decided, can receive other salvaged trim we purchase on the reuse market.

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Adding a touch with tiles

If you read the recent posts about the kitchen backsplash installation, you may have noticed that we left a gap at the stove location. That gap was reserved for something different – a special kind of backsplash tile.


During one of our many excursions hunting for salvaged materials, I came across a handful of beautifully painted Mexican style tiles. At the time I didn’t know where I could use them, but I bought them anyway, certain that there would be just the right place for them.


The backsplash behind the stove has become that place. Another place that tells a story about frugality and the charm that some salvaged materials have to offer.

Why did I wait this long to do the installation? I needed to wait until the range hood was installed. The bottom edge of the hood was the starting point along which I lined up the tiles.

I often observed and admired artful ornaments, such as hand painted plate hung above the stove. In this case, Cathy and I decided that the whole backsplash behind the stove could become artful with these unique tiles.


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