Re-use of materials

Re-use of Salvaged Materials

One of the most common misconceptions which we come across in refurbishment work is that materials which are demolished during the construction process can be easily re-purposed and re-used resulting in cost savings.

Unfortunately the reality is almost always quite different for a number of reasons including:

1 – Building and particularly domestic building was and still is labour intensive. The labour cost of demolishing and removing a free standing block wall is probably about a 1/4 of the cost of carefully de-constructing and salvaging the materials from that same wall. This cost can far outweigh the cost of the new materials

2 – Most buildings are not made to be taken apart very easily. During the salvage process materials will be lost through breakage. You may only be able to reclaim 60% – 80% of the available materials and these salvaged materials may not be compatible with their new equivalents that are needed to supplement the shortfall in terms of size, shape, quality and colour.

3 – The re-use of the materials must be appropriate. As a rule the use of salvaged materials for structural purposes should be avoided. A grading process should be developed to assess the quality of materials being salvaged.

Bearing the above in mind we will look now at two examples of how we have met this challenge successfully in recent domestic projects.

At the refurbishment of an old stone farmhouse in North County Dublin the removal of the internal walls was required as part of the overall design concept. Not only did this yield a significant amount of floor area internally (almost 15sqm) it also provided us with a large amount of bricks. Through careful detailing, the external walls of the new extension were designed to re-use the salvaged bricks as a rain screen and was limited to a single storey height thus overcoming the any concerns about their integrity in re-use. No two bricks were the same size or shape so it was difficult to use absolutes in the detailed design. Instead we came up with an overall plan for coursing and then established a set of rules to deal with the variations in the salvaged materials. The skill of the contractor in working in this unusual way is apparent in the end result:

At another domestic refurbishment project, this time in a South Dublin Suburb, we were tasked with salvaging and re-using a timber floor which itself had been salvaged from an old church. While the original re-use involved removing the pitch pine boards from a suspended timber Structure and fixing on to another suspended timber structure the construction approach in this project meant we could not consider the boards for re-use as flooring again. Through the course of a number of conversations with the Client and our friends in Wabi Sabi we came up with the idea of re-using the boards to clad the new kitchen using the salvaged boards. Although we had to abandon the original idea of a Sho Sugi Ban (charred) finish, we emulated the effect using natural oil stains which subtly highlighted the grain in the boards while giving them a new lease of life and a modern aesthetic.


The slavish re-use of a salvaged material is not always appropriate either technically or aesthetically. In many instances it may be more costly than its modern alternative. However a reclaimed material used in a new way or in a modern form will attest to the evolving history of the place recognising what has gone before as well as celebrating the current intervention. When detailed with consideration and crafted with skill, the salvaged material brings with it a dignity that it has acquired over its lifetime and can add an almost instant character to a project.

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