Monday, February 15, 2010
Building A House With Found Materials
I can't recall who sent me this link. Self-identify in the comments if you like.
It's a testament to the extant groupthink that these are called "recycled" materials. Doesn't look it to me.
Recycling generally picks up raw materials in finished but discarded forms and turns it back into new finished materials. It's a colossal waste of time and energy in almost all its forms. I've done more recycling than forty-five Ed Begleys, so I'll clue you in on a little secret: after you sort through your trash like a raccoon and put it on the curb to try to resurrect Bambi's mom through clean living, it all gets thrown in a landfill when you're not looking. It's a kabuki theater, not a real process.
Lots of stuff is worth recycling. It's very simple: if someone will pay you to take it, or at the very least defray the cost of disposal with the value of the material, it's worth recycling. Almost all metals fall into this category, for instance. No fair cheating with government funds.
The house here is not recycled. It is made from found materials. That's different. To take that which others are not interested in and make it useful is an interesting and challenging thing. But others only think many things are useless because they have no imagination. They conversely value worthless things because of a kind of groupthink -- the kind of groupthink that unironicly touts $28 per square foot backsplash tile as: "Green." The general public will go along with any scheme to require uneconomic recycling, while simultaneously passing five hundred laws that make building a house like the one in the pictures illegal. It's a form of intellectual delirium tremens.
Useful things should not be discarded. Everyone focuses on the discarding part. Maybe we should concentrate on the useful part, instead.
Every home and garden show pretty much proselytizes 24/7 that everything they're doing is "green," whatever the hell that means. But I guarantee every thing they are installing today will be ripped out inside of a decade, usually much faster, because it's faddish. They go to great lengths to trumpet their use of recycled glass backsplashes, for instance, as if we're going to run out of sand to make glass anytime soon. In two years, they'll be wandering into people's kitchens with a camera and looking horrified to find all the stuff they recommended to homeowners, and telling them to rip it out. They call it "updating." It's all waste.
Try to build a house that others would hesitate to demolish or "update." Now try doing it cheaply. I've repaired many, many houses that are pushing three hundred years old, and they were all made with found materials, more or less. No matter how crazy the "We're running out of everything" crowd gets, a tree is, and always will be, a found material -- even if you mill it into a rectangular shape and sell it as a 2 x4. There will never be a three hundred year old house that was built with vinyl siding and bamboo laminate flooring, never mind recycled vinyl siding and bamboo laminate flooring. And the only rare commodity in this world is useful imagination.
(Update: I've answered some questions about this essay here: Sippican The Rag Man