Reduce, Re-use, Recycle

January 26, 2010
The initial idea in rehabbing 1610 was to ‘unwrap the building’ by removing all the structural/decorative elements, replacing all the inefficient mechanicals, insulation and windows and re-wrapping the building with the salvaged structural/decorative elements.

  Unfortunately a lot of stuff simply could not be re-used- The building had layers upon layers of materials added over the years from all 3 faces of the building (walls, ceilings and floors). 

Old hard wood floors were covered first by sheets of linoleum, then square vinyl tiles, then carpeting.  The walls had plaster, wallpaper, then new sheets of drywall and wood paneling.  The ceiling had plaster ceilings covered by 8″ square ceiling tiles staple to the surface and then had a drop ceiling.  Even the front brick of the house had a faux brick covering:

Faux brick (including the 1610 address) over common brick


typical room treatment


What wasn’t saved was first offered to ‘the urban reclaim market’:

Now you see it

(moments later) now you don't


metal in the building

The metal in a pick-up truck and the guys who put it there


I looked into the possibility of recycling everything else- including 3’x5′ ceiling panels. Armstrong ceilings will take the stuff back and turn it back into new ceiling tiles- as long as its not wet or painted (much of mine was) and they only take it by the semi-truck load.  I found a place in the northern suburbs which acted as a consolidating point, but when I did the math -the carbon footprint of driving the few dozen panels I had up north outweighed the savings of recycling them.

The rest (again unfortunately) wound up in an RSI (Recycling Systems Incorporated) dumpster, where they continued to sort and salvage anything they could.

loaded dumpster


 The only good news about these extra materials added layer upon layer to the house- is that they did a reasonably good job of protecting the 100-year lumber, lath and floors- the subject of next week’s post.

Visit from the USGBC

January 23, 2010

10 members of the US Green Building Council (USGBC) – Chicago Chapter came by on Friday for a tour of the Greenest Garage and the single family home.  The group included architects, landscape designers, engineers, builders and realtors.  I think they had a good time.

The tour group on the top floor (future Kitchen, Dining and Living space)

The gang, with a shot looking west (towards the garage)


Meanwhile, ‘Casey’ the brick subcontractor and his team installed the lintels on the window sills.

Jasiek (Red coat), and Kazek (Casey) share a moment about green building


Staszek (Black Hat) and Lezek (not smoking for once!) with looks of pride at the near completion of their work


 All the brick (except for the new lintels) was either a) left existing b) reused from the site after walls were moved or windows created, or c) came from the Antique Brick company located in Chicago which sells salvaged brick from demolition on other projects.

The upper west facade


A few words about wood

January 21, 2010

Many builders (those focused on make-it-fast, make-it-cheap) begin a building project by first tearing down the old structure- with no regard to salvage- sending to landfills perfectly good materials that could be used again.

The grapple hook method (notice the furniture and drapes still in the room)


which turns perfectly good lumber to splinters


                 We are trying to responsible with the use of wood on project in 3 primary ways: 1) re-use nearly all  the 1880s lumber that was already part of the home.  2) when purchasing new lumber make sure it is FSC certified and 3) in general use less of it.

1) The original building was built sometime before 1886, when a two-by-four measured 2″ x 4″.  It dark and brown and weathered, but run it through the planer and its beautiful and still strong.  Technically if we were going to use the lumber for structural support we should have it tested for strength.  But, none of our partition walls are load bearing so we can skip that step- and I would bet that the old lumber would perform every bit as good as new lumber.  Using manual labor and techniques that are also outlined in the ‘bible of deconstruction’ Unbuilding by Bob Falk and Brad Guy we saved as much of the old growth lumber as possible.

two piles (one near one far) of old lumber

Old 2 x 8's ripped into 'new' 2 x 4s



 2) When new lumber is purchased we make sure to use FSC lumber (look under the greenest garage tab for more information about FSC):

a typical stamp (you can also find this on most paper products that are sustainably manufactured)

3) By changing the time-honored standard of placing studs at 16″ on-center, to 24″ on-center we can save 25% or more of the amount of material we use (whether its re-used or FSC).

a 24" OC wall

Mixing New (FCS Vertical) and Old (Old growth blocking)


                                                                                                                              If you are interested in purchasing old-growth salvaged lumber check out the Rebuilding Exchange.  It’s a great resource for purchasing small quantities of the stuff when you need it.

Part of the team

January 12, 2010

Gerhard (Architect), and Ted (General Contractor) at a recent site meeting brace for the cold. 

Gerard (left) is really not always so serious!


Part of the great fun of this project has been working with the team involved in bringing everything together.  Everyone learns from everyone else and we frequently debate and challenge each other on what sustainability really is! 

This is Woytek and me- you should recognize him from earlier posts: 

Two Birds of a feather


 Woytek speaks virtually , strike that, Woytek speaks no english. 

I speak zero polish. 

Every day we have a conversation. 

I don’t know how it started but every day, with complete animation Woytek tells me his opinion of the furniture I’m making in the wood shop.  I usually reply with thanks and ask him more about if he thinks its well-built.  Then he expounds further and I consider his response.  Then he leaves and I have no clue whether we were talking about the same thing. 

Somehow the other day though when he cut his hand, I was able to produce black electrical tape to wrap a wet bandage around his thumb, which apparently is EXACTLY what he was looking for. 

And so it goes. . . .

And a roof goes on. . .

January 4, 2010

the East face

For Christmas, the Greenest Garage in Chicago received a single family home with a roof on top!  After a pleasant early morning, the crew from ACT construction battled the elements to add the insulation and weather shield.  Success came late in the afternoon.

FSC Plywood Deck looking East

What will be a rarely viewed perspective of the Greenest Garage

Vladamir- fiddler on the roof


The latest look