Reclaimed Material in Tiny Houses

or Two rights can make a wrong

Sometimes, two rights do make a wrong! Recycled, reused or repurposed building materials can conflict with other environmental and health concerns. For instance, many green buildings are extremely energy-efficient, in part because of new synthetic materials that provide greater insulation and strength than traditional materials. The reuse of old materials can reduce stress on the environment, but at what cost? Is it better to reuse old, drafty lead-tinted windows or simply make or buy new ones? Wooden beams may retain their structural integrity, but what if they are contaminated with lead paint? In the world of reclaimed lumber, beams and timbers are called “black gold” because of the price to purchase and then recondition them. Recycled or repurposed building materials must be closely examined before they can be used in new construction projects.old red barn

If you are planning a tiny house project, using reclaimed building materials can help you save money while adding a touch of nostalgia to your work. When looking for reused building materials, it is important to know what size lumber or fixtures you need. Examine the wood carefully to see if it has rotten places or signs of termite damage. You may also want to know if the secondhand building materials you are considering contain lead or asbestos, because these elements can be dangerous and costly to remove. While the EPA discourages the use of these materials for building, they are not ruled unusable if they have a sealant placed over them to prevent dust or particles from flaking off.   However, while the EPA may not be specific on the use or sale, state laws may. For example there is a state statue in Wisconsin, against selling building materials with lead on them.

The rules are a lot tougher on the contractor and “builder” and once again, it is wise to check out the rules and statues in your particular state. For example, building one tiny house, you may not consider yourself a builder, but your state may. If, your intent is to build one and live in it, then resell and build another one, Minnesota considers you a builder and you need to be licensed as such.

You may want to start your search for reclaimed building materials at a salvage lumberyard. Here, you may be able to browse through stacks of vintage building materials in order to find a specific item. Since the inventory at such lumberyards changes on a day-to-day basis, you may not find exactly what you are looking for on your first visit. Having a written plan and material list for your building project will help you know what recycled building materials you may be able to use, and give you guidance in determining the size of different items.

After you find reclaimed building materials that you are interested in, the next step is to make sure they are usable. Look each piece over carefully, and check to see if there are rotten places in any of the wood. It can also be a good idea to look for insect damage to avoid carrying home termites or other bugs.

Knowing where the reclaimed building materials originated can help you determine whether these building materials may contain lead paint or asbestos. Many dealers identify such items by placing a label on them warning consumers about these hazardous materials. Lead paint and asbestos were widely used before 1980, so materials from homes built before that time could contain them, even if they are not specifically identified.

Salvaged wood has characterSome vintage building supplies may need a great deal of work before they can be used in your tiny house project. This is especially true of baseboards and molding. If you chose an item that needs repair work, you need to decide if you will do this yourself or if you will hire a professional. A professional needs a clean room specifically for working with these products. In the event that you need to hire someone, this could make the end cost much higher than you anticipated. Knowing how much it could cost to refurbish certain items can help you make an accurate calculation so you will be able to buy recycled building materials while staying within your budget.

Below is a handy index for use to help you determine if the reclaimed material is wise to use.

Reclaimed Material Index

 Item

 

 What to reuse

 What to recycle

 What to dispose

 Environmental & Health Concerns

 Wood (lumber, flooring, etc)  Timbers, large dimension lumber, plywood, flooring, moldings, lumber longer than 4′  Unpainted and untreated wood unfit for reuse  Painted, pressure-treated and rotting wood  Painted wood may contain lead or contaminates, especially prior to 1980
 Windows  Windows in good condition (for single pane consider adding a storm window)  Metal frames and screens, unpainted and untreated wood  Glass, unusable painted items and wood in disrepair  Lead paint, asbestos in older window glazing compound, energy inefficiency
 Cabinets  Good used cabinets (consider re-facing or reusing in your home/workshop/garage  Remove and recycle hardware, unpainted and unfinished wood  Painted or finished wood Lead paint, formaldehyde in particle board or interior grade plywood
 Plumbing Products  Sinks, tubs, faucets  Metal pipes, toilets and inefficient plumbing fixtures (porcelain or metal), faucets with lead content  PVC and other plastic pipes, toilet seats(not accepted at recycling centers)  Drinking water; lead content in faucets, solder, and old galvanized pipe
 Plaster and Gypsum Wallboard  Repair cracks, or cover with textured paint, install new wallboard over old or skim coat  Wood lathe if clean can be reused/recycled, unpainted wallboard  Painted plaster or wallboard  Nuisance dust, lead paint on walls, possible asbestos in older wallboard
 Electrical Products  Only if in good working order or rewired  Metal fixtures, conduit  Ceramic and plastic parts  Frayed wires, possible asbestos insulation
 Roofing Materials  Retain sheathing, if in good condition, terra cota slate times, metal roofing  Metal materials, contractors generally have outlets for recycling asphalt roofing materials, untreated cedar shingles  Treated cedar shingles  Possible asbestos content
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