Below are excerpts, reprinted with permission, from the book
Unbuilding: Salvaging the Architectural Treasures of Unwanted Houses'
Written by my buddies from the Building Materials Reuse Association, Bob Falk & Brad Guy
This book is considered the "Bible of Deconstruction" by industry professionals. It's jammed packed with useful information for extracating your treasures from our "Demolition Digs". I suggest you buck up and buy the book. These links will get you there. Knowledge is power, baby!
Useful Tidbits For Your Edification!
- Tools for Unbuilding
- Electrical fixtures
- Heating, A/C, and other appliances
- Kitchen Cabinets Sizes
- Built in and Cabinet Removal
- Doors & Windows
Lighting is one of the easiest and quickest items to remove from a house, generally requiring only a ladder, a screwdriver, wirecutters, and pliers. Although newer lighting has some value, it is generally the vintage fixtures that are worth the most. There is a ready market for vintage lighting for historic and period home restoration projects. Of course, the style, age, uniqueness, and condition of the lighting greatly affect its value. Usually, the older the fixture, the better. Bronze or brass light fixtures are generally more desirable than ferrous metals, which were often painted.
As with any antique, lighting that has its original finish (and original glass shades) is the most desirable. Completeness is also important: missing glass, chains, or other decorative elements are difficult to match or track down. For example, a missing or damaged original glass shade on a four-light ceiling fixture reduces its value by at least half. Also, most iron or pot metal fixtures were decoratively painted. If ceiling paint was slopped on the fixture over the years (or worse yet, the whole fixture was painted), you'll find it difficult to remove the ceiling paint without removing the original decorative paint (if the paint is latex, soaking the disassembled fixture in hot water can soften the paint).
Painted bronze, brass, or copper lighting is more forgiving because the paint can be stripped and the fixture buffed to a nice finish. Take care when removing lighting that you keep fasteners, ceramic insulators, and other parts together with the fixture. A zip-closing plastic bag comes in handy here; fill it with the small parts and tape or tie it to the back of the fixture. Other vintage electrical items worth keeping include brass, bronze, and decorative switch plate and outlet covers.
While furnaces and hot-water heaters are not as exciting a find as an original stained-glass window, there is value in this equipment, depending on its age and condition. Generally, the newer the better. (Many Habitat for Humanity ReStores do not accept any equipment if it's older than 5 years.) Ideally, furnaces should be high efficiency and water heaters in excellent shape and less than a few years old.
Air-conditioning units and fans can be salvaged and reused, but value varies with local market demand. A whole-house unit will require disconnection by a heating and air-conditioning technician to ensure that no CFCs are released. Wood stoves and gas fireplaces require little work to disconnect but a strong back to move from the building. Keep an eye out for stainless-steel stovepipe. It is very expensive and worth saving when salvaging a wood stove. Old steam or hot-water radiators, if decorative, can be resold for historic restoration projects.
Modern kitchen cabinet sizes are standardized. Base cabinets are usually 24 in. deep and upper units 12 in. to 14 in. deep. Widths vary depending on the function of the cabinet but typically range from 9 in. to 48 in., in 3-in. increments. All else being equal, a kitchen ful of various-width cabinets is relatively easy to reinstall because of the flexibility for fitting the cabinets into a new space. Cataloging cabinets not only helps in inventory for resale but also helps a customer plan for reuse. For example, the data in the following list should provide all the information necessary for a buyer to plan a project:
- Oak cabinets (solid fronts, plywood boxes)
- 1 each, 32-in. lower, double door, 3 adjustable shelves, finished left side only
- 2 each, 18-in. upper, left-swing door, 2 fixed shelves
- 1 each, 36-in. lower, sink base, double door
In addition, a photo of the cabinets in place before removal can help a buyer visualize how they might work in a new project.
Doors, windows, and shutters
Doors themselves are easy to remove and, as with everything else, quality and condition are paramount. A painted hollow-core door is usually not worth much; but an original-finish, Victorian solid-oak entry door with beveled glass, dentil molding, and original hardware would be a real find. Interior solid-core doors with individual wood or glass panels (French doors) are very salable if they are standard width (32 in.) and height (80 in.). Exterior doors are typically 36 in. wide and heavier duty.
Reused doors are usually bought for one of two purposes: to rehang the door as a replacement in an existing opening or to hang a door and frame in a new rough opening. In our opinion, for any door that is vintage with matching finish on the door and casing (without paint), it's best to remove the finished frame of the door, keeping all the parts together so the door can be more easily refit in a new rough opening (more on this in chapter 6). Bundle together all the trim pieces and hardware (screws, pins, and other small parts can go in a zip-closing plastic bag) and keep them matched with the door. It's a good idea to number the trim pieces so the reinstaller knows how they fit back together. Write the number on the back of the piece.
Windows are usually a little more difficult to remove than doors because one side is on the exterior of the house and removal can require working at height. So, to remove them safely, you will need a ladder or work platform to access the exterior trim. Older single-paned windows, which inevitably will be painted with LBP, may not be worth saving, but unpainted true divided-light windows can have value for restoration or craft projects. Double-glazed windows are well worth saving, but you are less likely to find them unless you are taking down a new or recently renovated building.
Finished wood flooring
The floors we walk on vary widely in materials, quality, condition, and ease of removal. Hardwood flooring is almost always worth removing unless it's buckled or otherwise severely damaged. Oak is the most common species, though you may find birch, maple, walnut, and other hardwoods (maple was commonly used in school basketball courts, which occasionally come up for salvage). Softwood flooring such as Douglas fir and heart pine is desirable and common in some parts of the country. Wider flooring is always more desirable, though you're most likely to find 21/4-in. strip flooring. A big difference between the flooring you can salvage and new wood flooring is length. Salvaged flooring is often found in lengths over 12 ft. Try to find solid-wood flooring that length in a big-box store today!
Estimating the quantity of flooring is a simple matter of calculating the floor area, though you should expect a 10 percent to 15 percent loss. There are a few things to watch out for with wood floors. If the original floor was laid too loosely or if the individual boards have separated over time, the grooves of the flooring can get partially filled with varnish and grit, making it difficult to get tight joints when reinstalling. It can take some extra work to clean away years of dirt on the tongues and in the grooves to make the flooring reusable. During your inspection of the flooring, it is always a good idea to pull off a piece of the base trim to see how much of the flooring surface has been removed from previous sanding. If a floor has been sanded a couple of times, there may not be enough wood left for another sanding, which will be required when the salvaged flooring is reinstalled. There should be at least 1/8 in. left of the top tab of the groove side of the flooring. Because you can't see the tab unless you look at the end of the flooring board, try to find a place where it is visible, such as at a floor register. Care is required in removing any wood flooring because it tends to split along the tabs of the groove and along the tongue where it's nailed (more on this in chapter 6).
Although, as quoted below, WD-40© and duct tape come in handy on any deconstruction site, they aren't the only tools you'll need. Many of the same tools you find on a construction site come in handy when unbuilding, but because you are taking the structure apart, the emphasis is on tools that pry, pull, cut, and pound. Unlike a carpenter, you won't have to do much in the way of detailed measuring (except possibly at the lumber trim station), so squares, rules, scribes, and levels aren't commonly used tools. You could spend a small fortune on tools, but you don't need every tool in the hardware store to get started and you can begin a soft-stripping project with a modest investment. The best advice we can give is to use the correct tool for the job at hand.
We've put together a list of tools that we consider essential for deconstructing a house (see "What You Need" on p. 120). Obviously, there's no sense in buying every tool on the list if you plan on doing this only once. We've also found through experience that it makes more sense to purchase fewer high-quality tools than many low-quality tools. A higher-quality tool lasts longer, is typically more comfortable to operate and hold, and thus is safer. That said, you don't have to go overboard and spend $200 for a titanium framing hammer when a $25 model is just fine for pulling nails.
One only needs two tools in life: WD-40 to make things go, and duct tape to make them stop.
Corded or cordless?
In addition to hand tools, a range of corded and cordless power tools are available from a variety of manufacturers. In the last several years, both the variety and the power of cordless tools have increased dramatically. Powerful 36v cordless tools are now available, up from 9v only a few years ago. Also, battery life is getting longer, while charging times have shrunk dramatically.
Whether to use corded or cordless is a matter of personal choice, though we recommend you consider a heavy-duty cordless screwdriver or drill for removing cabinets, fixtures, and anything else that's screwed down. Cordless obviously avoids the need to drag extension cords around the job site, though even with cordless you cannot operate without power because of the need to charge the batteries regularly. (Always buy a cordless tool with an extra battery so one is charging while you are using the other.) Cordless tools are ideal when going up and down ladders or working in crawl spaces or other tight environments. They also work well on platforms, overhead lifts, and other awkward places where space is at a premium. And when you constantly move a tool from place to place, a cord would be a trip hazard. It's hard to survive without a cordless drill or screwdriver, though we prefer a corded circular saw, especially when we're doing a lot of lumber trimming.
Buying Cordless Tools
Most manufacturers offer combination kits with several cordless tools (for example, drill, circular saw, and reciprocating saw). These kits typically include only two batteries and a single charger. Although they are great for one person, you'll quickly end up with two dead batteries and at least 15 minutes to wait to recharge if more than one person uses tools from the kit at the same time, so it's a good idea to buy extra batteries and chargers. We also suggest that you buy different types of rechargeable tools from the same manufacturer (of the same voltage and charger type!) so that you will have plenty of interchangeable batteries and chargers.
There are a number of other tools you'll need to round out a basic tool set. A tape measure is always useful; we like to keep a 25-ft. length in our tool belt, but it's also nice to have a 100-ft. tape if you want to make longer measurements, say, of the exterior building dimensions for estimating material quantities. You'll need various types of pliers, including a regular pair for gripping all manner of items, insulated wire-cutting linesman pliers for cutting away the electrical wires you will inevitably run across, Channellock pliers for unloosening waste traps under sinks, and Vise-Grip pliers for pulling out broken-off nails and other hardware that the prybar can't grab. It's also nice to have a pair of pipe wrenches for removing iron gas line from furnaces, water heaters, and other plumbing fixtures.
High-intensity work lights can be helpful in rooms that don't have enough natural light. Also count on buying a couple of contractor-grade extension cords. A utility knife (box cutter) is a good tool for all around cutting. Don't forget a tool belt to carry your hand tools (and develop the habit of putting all your tools back in it).
We removed all the uppers first and then moved on to the lowers. The procedure is the same, though you will usually have to remove the toekick before you can separate the individual lowers. The most difficult cabinet to remove is typically the sink unit. You have to crawl under the sink and cut both the water supply and waste lines (remember there is dirty water in the trap!), as well as loosen or remove the clips that hold down the sink.
Depending on sink type, caulking may be the only thing holding it into place. In that case, cut through the caulking with a utility knife and the sink should pop up. To minimize the time you are on your back under the sink, remove the faucet after the sink has been pulled out. Again, use a plastic bag to keep all parts together for easier reinstallation.
Built-in cabinets can be difficult to remove. While the upper and lower kitchen cabinets in this house were installed with lag bolts and were easy enough to remove, a cabinet built into the wall between the kitchen and the dining room was more challenging. This painted cabinet, original to the house, had a passthrough to move food from the kitchen to the dining table.
It was questionable whether the resale value of the unit made it worth salvaging, but it needed to be removed and we decided to spend a little extra time to take it out of the wall carefully. Because the plaster finish was applied right up to its edge and we suspected the cabinet was nailed into the surrounding wall studs, we used a hammer to break out the plaster and gain access to the nails. We then used a reciprocating saw to cut the nails around the unit, freeing it.
pg 166. 168, 172&173- Doors & Windows
Windows and doors
We removed the windows and doors next, using a similar procedure for both. The house had a mixture of window types, including fixed glass, casement, double-hung, and sliding. Only a few windows were original; replacement windows were double-hung or aluminum single pane. The aluminum was recycled because the single-pane windows had little or no resale value.
Removing the window trim
The first step in removing a window is to shut and latch the window. This will prevent racking and damage to the unit as you are taking it out. The next step is to remove the trim. Here, we show the exterior trim being removed first, but the order is not critical (just be aware that you may need a ladder or other platform to access the exterior trim). Keep in mind that the goal is to remove each window as a unit so it can be prehung in a new opening.
Many times, you'll find that the exterior trim has been caulked to the siding. To prevent damage to the trim or the siding, use a utility knife to score around the trim before trying to pry it off. To remove trim, use a flat-bladed prybar. Start at one end of the trim and move progressively toward the other end, prying the trim up from the siding. It's not a good idea to start prying at the middle of the board because it takes more effort to pry and because the board can suddenly let go and slap you in the face. As the sequence of photos on the facing page shows, simply work your way around the window prying off the trim pieces as you go. Next, move to the inside and remove the trim in the same fashion.
Saving the trim
When removing the interior and exterior trim from a window (or door) you can make the reinstaller's life much easier if you save the trim for reuse. Because the trim fits the window exactly (assuming it was properly installed in the first place), reinstalling the same trim saves the purchase, measuring, cutting, and finishing of new trim. This is especially important for vintage windows and doors that still have their original varnish and an aged patina, which can be difficult and expensive to match with new trim.
Denail and then stack the trim from each window and door and shrinkwrap both for protection and to keep the matching pieces together in an individual package. Bundle the interior and exterior trim separately if there is any chance of intermixing the pieces and lay the shorter trim inside the package with the longer trim on the exterior. If you have vintage trim that is easily damaged, turn the outer face to the inside of the package to prevent damage to the good face during handling and transport.
Mark the package of trim to match the window or door that it came from. A simple ID system can be used—for example, "Interior trim, Window #5," "Exterior trim, Window #5." If you are packaging trim from an interior door, mark all pieces from one side of the door with an "A" and the other side with a "B" to avoid mixing the pieces. Don't forget to mark the corresponding window or door with the number. Also, don't put your ID (even if a sticker) on the outer face of the trim. The glue on adhesive stickers can pull off original varnish finishes, and the trim piece ID in indelible SharpieÆ ink doesn't look too appropriate on that varnished face when reinstalled.
Taking out the window
After removing the trim from the interior and exterior of the window, it's time to grab the reciprocating saw. A metal-cutting blade or embedded nail blade works best. Cut your way around the window through the nails holding the window in place. There should be no need to saw into the surrounding wood. Because the blade we had in the reciprocating saw at the time was only about 4 in. long, we had to cut from both the interior and the exterior to reach all the nails. A longer blade would have eliminated this step. Once freed, the window was pushed from the inside out, with a helper on hand to ensure safe removal.
This house had been remodeled and contained a few modern double-hung windows as well as the original windows. The procedure for removing these units is the same as for the fixed-glass unit, with the exception of windows with an extended sill. The extension of the sill is part of the window frame, and for this window
Removing a door
Taking out a door is much the same as taking out a window. As with a window, our aim was to cut out the door as a unit so that it could be prehung into a new opening. As shown in the photos on this page, first remove the trim from both sides of the door and then use a reciprocating saw to cut the nails holding the door in place. Before moving the unit, be sure to close and latch the door to keep it from racking out of shape. If the sill of the door is part of the door frame (usually the case for an exterior door), you might need to cut underneath the sill to free any fasteners securing it to the floor. Also, if the door has a key lock, keep the key with the lock—if you are lucky enough to find it.
In this house, we found a relatively new prehung pocket door in one of the rooms that was worth reselling. In this case, you want to remove not only the door but also the pocket framing into which the pocket door slides. The procedure for removal is the same as for a hinged door, though here the drywall had to be removed in the pocket area to access the fasteners holding the door in place. If you are taking out a vintage pocket door, it will probably be built in. You'll have to figure out how it is hung and possibly tear out lath and plaster in the pocket area to access the rail and rollers holding the door. Be sure to save the rail and any other hardware associated with the door.
Taking up the finished flooring
The finished floors and subfloors in this house were solid Douglas fir, in good condition and well worth salvaging. It is highly likely that you'll find Douglas fir in West Coast houses as this species is indigenous to the region and is common in homes built before the advent of plywood (which started to be widely used after World War II). In the Midwest and Eastern United States, hardwoods such as oak and maple are more common.
Except for the oldest homes in this country, where you can find solid-plank flooring, most homes have tongue-and-groove (T&G) flooring. The advantage of a T&G profile is that the interlocking joint keeps the individual planks flat while allowing the wood to shrink and swell with seasonal changes in humidity. The T&G configuration also requires a specific removal procedure to minimize damage to the flooring.
When Removing Flooring
- Always start from the tongue side.
- Pry close to the nail.
- Try to pry up and out to minimize damage.
For all tongue-and-groove flooring, the basic procedure is as follows:
- Determine which side of the room the tongue of the flooring points toward. If you can't see the ends of the flooring pieces, you may need to pry up a piece at either side of the room to determine the orientation.
- Start on that wall and remove the first piece of flooring; you should be working from the tongue side. You may have to sacrifice one or two rows of flooring to create some room to work with a prybar. Once enough room is created, you will want to work row by row toward the opposite side of the room.
- Start at the end of a board and gently pry the tongue side of the flooring up a bit. Work your way down the piece, prying as you go. Don't try to pry the board out in one go, unless the nails are quite loose. The key is to pry up and out, not straight upward, otherwise you will break off the bottom tab of the groove side. Try to pry as close to each nail as possible to minimize the risk of the tongue splitting away from the nail. If you encounter a really stubborn nail, try rocking the pry tool back and forth to loosen the grip of the nail. If that fails, you might have to get out the reciprocating saw to cut the nail.
Several tools can be used to pry flooring. The flat prybar works well, especially if you have two or more people to work on longer pieces. But because the flat prybar is a short tool, you must work bent over or on your knees, which can get tiresome in a hurry. A taller prybar allows you to stand and pry the flooring and can provide more leverage.
Some unbuilders fashion their own flooring bars with a flat blade and a 90-degree bend in the bar (see the photo on the facing page). Also, some of the specialty tools described in chapter 5 work well and may be a worthwhile purchase if you remove a lot of flooring.
To remove solid-wood tongue-and-groove flooring, always work from the tongue side and pry up and out. This will prevent splitting of the flooring and maxi-mize the yield of reusable material.