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Building in Charleston: Creative Ways to Repurpose Construction Waste


Blog_building-waste-charleston-sc.jpgBuilders are notorious for rejecting materials that might usefully be repurposed.  Whether these materials accumulate in the dumpster as a result of demolition, or as leftover waste of new materials acquired for the project, when you are up against a deadline, it’s hard to think about saving the planet.  Our construction crews are no different, and as a result, you can often find some useable scrap in the dumpsters at our jobsites. It’s a treasure trove in there, especially on a major refurbishment of a classic downtown home, or new build project. Most builders are more than happy for you to take repurpose construction waste from their dumpster, all you need to do is ask someone on the job site for permission.

First let us speak to the demolition.  It’s often necessary to strip out old timbers making space for the new. An otherwise good beam is of no use if 6 inches has rotted off each end and it will no longer span between walls.  I’ve seen these reused for mantle pieces, shelves or building artisan tables en masse.  It's important to note that they are often full of nails, so be careful in the stripping or expect your tools to lose an edge frequently. Additional things to consider when retrieving old building materials from the dumpster include careful handling of lead paint - cut it out or cover it over but do not sand it without precautions. You may want to spray old timbers with insecticide lest those bugs find new homes in yours!  Exterior shiplap and heart pine floor-board are also great for the hobbyist who enjoys an afternoon in the workshop. 

Framing generally does not yield much useful materials unless you are able to re-purpose 2"x4" or 2"x6" lumber. Cut out clean, knot-free sections and you have something to work with, but with limited opportunities for what can be reused.  Now, once the trim carpenters start then there is more to find that’s useful.  Wood flooring - white and red oak, heart pine or the more exotics - even decking material, especially hardwoods like Ipe and the old staple, Poplar trim, are the ones to go for.  Look for 1/2 or ¾ inch trim quality plywood, which is worth salvaging for shelves and carcass.  Anything that cannot be returned will generally be discarded.  Re-use treated wood for all outside projects but try not to put it on the fire pit or BBQ as it releases toxic fumes.

These photos show one example of what can be made from a dumpster.  This is mostly maple left over from our recent project of outfitting the Blind Tiger pub on Broad Street in downtown Charleston SC for our client, King Street Hospitality.   We saved 10 foot by 9 inch by ¾" planks of maple that we were unable to return to the mill.  Tools needed, at a minimum, include a contractor's saw, router, drill and palm sander plus the usual glue and clamps.  We copied an old English chest from 1668 for size then added our own interpretation.  Hinges were modified barn door hinges from Lowes and the catch was a reshaped gate latch.  Cost, in total, about $30 - value of seeing my wife’s face when I emerged from the workshop with her new present – priceless. 


NOTE: Here are a few of the other things we have built from scrap lumber in 2016 ...

  • Bathroom cabinets & key lockers (poplar trim and 3/4 ply, pine crown molding)
  • Blanket chests, toy blocks, matchbox holders , Pie safe (hard white maple)
  • Picture frames and wall art - heart pine, poplar, old shutters and 1/4" ply
  • BBQ frame, Porch Swing, Log Shed (Framing timber and treated fence posts)

... and some memorable evenings around the fire pit on Johns Island. 

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