Can we renovate with less waste? I sure hope so!

I don’t consider myself to be a hard-core environmentalist, but like many aspiring early retirees, I do like the idea of living more efficiently. This means reducing waste wherever possible, especially if it’s really not too inconvenient, and one activity in my life that could produce a lot of waste is the upcoming renovation…

Sheds in the back yard of the new house. I'm convinced that the big bad wolf could huff and puff and blow them down, so I should be able to dismantle them in no time. But what do I do with the materials once everything is pulled apart?

Sheds in the back yard of the new house. I’m convinced that the big bad wolf could huff and puff and blow them down, so I should be able to dismantle them in no time. But what do I do with the materials once everything is pulled apart?

We’re about to embark on a renovation/extension of our little old red brick house (circa 1953) close to the centre of our city, and this project will mean the modification/replacement/restoration of just about every component of the house, both inside and out. The extent of this renovation/extension means that there could be a ludicrous amount of waste if we don’t have a decent plan. Fortunately we’ve put a bit of thought into it, and are hoping to reduce waste in a number of ways.

1. Scrap metal – corrugated tin

In the back yard is an old complex of garages that appear to have been tacked on over the years using a standard of construction that a five year old would be capable of. As a result, it looks as if the sheds could blow over in the next storm (actually, some of the sheets of corrugated tin on the roof blew off about 12 months ago), and it therefore shouldn’t be too much trouble to knock them over.

As the roof of these sheds (and the carport beside the house) is made of corrugated tin, it will all be recyclable as scrap metal, so off to the metal recyclers it will go.

I don’t think that it would fetch much of a price for this amount of rusted old tin, but even if I got only $20 for it, at least I don’t have to pay to get rid of it. Plus it gets recycled so that it can be melted down and used to make something else.

2. Selling the old windows from the shed and the back rooms of the house – on eBay or Gumtree

The shed has a couple of old timber windows in it, and the rear rooms in the house (bedroom 3 and the laundry) also have some old timber-framed windows that have the old glass louvres in them. While these windows are the older style that many people are drawn to, the louvre system in them means that they would be disgraceful from an energy-efficiency point of view, so we’ll be happy to be rid of them.

Even though these windows are appallingly energy-inefficient compared to just about any alternatives, quick searches on Gumtree and eBay would indicate that there is actually a market for them, so we might as well sell them rather than dismantle them and take them to the rubbish dump. That way someone might even pay us to take them off our hands. And if they use them in another project (even if it isn’t too energy-efficient), at least we’re not adding them to landfill.

3. Selling the old terracotta roof tiles

The old house has terracotta roof tiles, which are not only hard to match up, they also aren’t conducive to the front verandah (with a very shallow pitch due to space constraints) and the rear entertaining area (with its vaulted ceiling and narrow roof cavity). The alternative is of course colourbond steel roofing, which is more secure, gives a more water-tight finish (that’s less susceptible to tiles blowing off in the wind as happened to our current house), and that’s what we’re going to go with.

This means that I’ll have to pull the tiles off and get rid of them, and while I could simply let them all fall off and smash in the trailer / skip bin on the ground, I’m considering saving them to sell online.I don’t expect them to actually sell for much, but some money is better than none. Given that they’re hard to match, someone might be looking for tiles just like them, so if they help someone else out then that would be brilliant.

4. Reusing bricks

We’ll need to pull the whole back wall of the house down so that we can attach the extension, and this means that a decent amount of bricks will come down at the same time. Rather than throwing those bricks away, we’ll clean them up and reuse them, specifically for brickwork that will be added at the front of the house, including the low wall on the new verandah and the front of the new garage attached to the side of the house. That way all of the brickwork from the front of the house will match perfectly, and while we have found an excellent match for the other new bricks that we will need, none of them will be visible from a vantage point where someone could compare against the old bricks so it will be very unlikely that anyone will notice any difference.

In addition to the reused house bricks and the new house bricks referred to above, the property also has some head-high brick walls used to separate the back yard into a smaller courtyard area and a larger grassed space behind it. This probably isn’t something that I would have chosen to do, but I’m thankful for the bricks all the same as they’ll make an excellent material from which to build various paths in the backyard. We’re therefore planning to clean up these bricks, and once the extension is complete we’ll use them to make various footpaths in the front and rear yards.

5. Recycling concrete for road base

My father is in the transport industry, carting various materials in his trucking business. One of the materials that he carts (and collects) is recycled concrete, with a huge pile of the stuff accumulating on one of his properties. Now most people would see these piles of concrete and wonder what the hell he is doing with it all, but those people probably don’t realise that crushed concrete is an excellent material to use as road base. Dad certainly doesn’t need anywhere near as much road base as he could make with all of his crushed concrete, which is why he’s planning to sell it for a hefty sum.

Our new house has an old concrete driveway and also a concrete floor in the ratty old sheds I referred to earlier, and once we have it all ripped up (with the help of my father’s excavator), we’ll use one of Dad’s trucks to cart it out to his huge pile of recycled concrete. It sure beats paying $100+/tonne to get rid of it at the rubbish tip!

6. Selling old copper pipe

Copper fetches a pretty decent price nowadays, which is why the copper from overhead tram lines is sometimes stolen in Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city. Copper has never been cheap, but the whole commodities boom of the mid-2000s onwards saw the prices go through the roof, and while they may have tapered off in more recent times, copper is still one of the more expensive metals that is still needed for common things (unlike gold and silver).

Because our house has a decent amount of copper in it for its apallingly inefficient gravity-fed hot water service, I suspect that I’ll get a reasonable sum for that pipework if I sell it to metal recyclers. I’m also planning on using PEX for much of the internal plumbing work, most of which needs to be relocated anyway, so I might as well rip out the old copper and cash it in.

7. Reusing old timber, either in the renovation itself, or simply as firewood

These doors are relics from the art deco era, but they're not really a style that we actually like for the house. Maybe someone will buy them though. Any takers?

These doors are relics from the art deco era, but they’re not really a style that we actually like for the house. Maybe someone will buy them though. Any takers?

Because of the old house’s slightly strange internal layout, we are knocking a hallway right through the middle of it to lead to the extension, which will also involve installing a fancy archway with corbels, a chandelier and feature doors with glass leadlight panelling at the end to give it a more grand feel as soon as you walk in.

All of this styling will be in keeping with the original house design (which is a bit like restrained art deco, with none of the really hard-core art deco features that look a bit too odd nowadays), but to get it like that we’ll produce quite a bit of waste timber materials. And this is in addition to the timber framing that will come from the shonky sheds out the back that the big bad wolf could probably blow over if he huffed and puffed enough.

Some of the waste timber will be useful to use in framing up new walls for the revised layout, but a lot of it won’t be useful for anything but firewood, so that’s what I’m planning to use it for.

The house, like most others from the era, was built with an original art deco brick feature fireplace that doesn’t look too bad with its timber mantle, but a previous owner decided to install one of those horrible briquette heaters in the original fireplace. I’m planning on getting rid of the briquette heater and restoring it to a fireplace, which we can then use on cold winter nights when we want the warmth from a real wood fire that the ducted gas heating won’t be able to provide. This  will of course require firewood, which I’m planning to obtain from economical sources (like cutting it from fallen trees on my parents’ property), and I might as well burn the waste timber from the build as well.

8. Selling some sort of fancy doors that we just don’t want

As part of its art deco era design, the people who built the house probably thought that the front door and matching internal sliding doors that they had installed were pretty fancy, what with their frosted glass and stained timber combination in a typical arrangement from the era. While I don’t mind them so much, they’re not really a design that we are wanting for the house, so we’ll try to sell them on as a set.

Not everything can be reused or recycled, but we’ll try to keep the non-recyclables to a minimum

So that’s most of the waste that we’re going to try to avoid sending off to landfill, but there will unfortunately still be plenty that makes its way to our local rubbish tip, simply because we don’t really have any viable alternatives. Even so, we’ll try to maximise the amount that goes into the recylcing section (e.g. cardboard packaging that so many things seem to come in nowadays), and in the case of the half-dead lemon tree it will head off to the green waste section of the rubbish tip so that it can be broken down with all of the other green waste rather than taking thousands of years to decompose like all of the plastic crap that seems to be the lifeblood of consumerism nowadays.

We certainly appreciate that renovation/construction projects generate a whole lot of waste that’s obviously not great for the environment, but we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to take a very run down house from another era and make it into a practical home for the next 50+ years. And while there’ll be plenty of waste to come out of it, I’d hope that it produces a lot less than building a new home out in the suburbs and burning endless amounts of fuel for a ridiculous commute, as seems to be the popular thing nowadays.

I’ll keep you posted with how the whole plan for reducing waste goes – I’ve got eight rubbish tip vouchers that will allow me to dispose of a lot of the waste for free, and I’m hopeful that I don’t need many more trips to the tip than that!


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