Using permaculture ethics & design principles to transform an old energy guzzling bungalow into a showcase of sustainable design. It's about energy cycling, building community, self-reliance,creatively using & reusing materials... all without spending heaps of money.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Deconstruction, not demolition

Principle 3: Obtain a yield and
Principle 4: Apply self regulation and accept feedback

Deconstruction is a great way to 'Obtain a yield' from an old building. There's a great article written about 'Deconstruction VS Demolition (or how to take a house apart gently)' which goes into quite a bit of detail about why it's a good idea. Not only are you doing the responsible thing by reducing waste going into landfill, but you are collecting materials that you can reuse in the contruction phase. Another thing to consider here, is that you need to deal with the materials that you have on site anyway, it costs money, time and effort to remove them, so why not try to use them?


Trim, skirting boards, and other salvaged material from the removal of the interior lining put aside after denailing.


Hardwood boards and assorted trim salvaged and stacked - it looks better when they are in neat piles.


It's very important to 'Apply self regulation and accept feedback' here as some older building material can be quite hazardous. Fibro, or 'Asbestos cement sheeting' was very commonly used in Australia up until the late 1980's. Breathing in the fibres after the material has been disturbed, particularly when drilling or sawing, can have some serious health effects. Dust particles can embed in the lungs causing lung scarring (asbestosis), lung cancer and /or cancer of the lining of the chest cavity (mesothelioma). The only way to really know if cement sheeting contains asbestos or not is to have it tested in a laboratory.

I suspected that the cement sheeting used in the kitchen in the house did not contain asbestos. I observed that there had been a renovation on the kitchen after termite activity, which I thought was done less than 20 years ago. The sheeting has 'Hardiflex AB' stamped onto the back of it, but 'James Hardie', the manufacturers of the product could not tell me whether the material contained asbestos or not, and I could not find out by alternative methods. I sent a small portion off to a laboratory for testing. I decided that it was worth the cost (A$55) because if I was to treat the material as asbestos, which is what you do if you are not sure, then removing and disposing of the material can be very time consuming and quite expensive. It turned out the the product was asbestos free!

Kitchen during deconstruction, sink and benches and ceiling removed.


Wall lining, stacked for reuse. Masonite, a glue-free particle board, and fibre cement sheeting.


I do have other cement sheet material on site that I suspect does have asbestos in it, i.e., it was probably manufactured before the late 80's, and the material is more dense and brittle. I will treat this material as such and dispose of it properly. It is always best to err on the side of caution when you are not sure. Use protective equipment as needed - gloves, glasses, hats, ear muffs.

Removing the floorboards without breaking them is pretty tricky. Peter (the architect / builder) suggested that I get a 'floorboard puller' to remove them. A friend of ours has one, so I borrowed it for the job. A central board needs to be removed before you can start with the puller. My mate suggested that you saw one down the middle and remove it. As I didn't have power on site, or a power saw at the time I decided that I would try to remove it by hand (without damaging it). It ended up in many pieces with many splinters. Best to take good advice if you can get it.

The puller works by levering out the boards, two at a time. It has two swinging arms at the end that move as you lean back on it, distributing the pressure. It's a slow process, but if you take your time you can remove the boards without damaging the tongue and groove which makes them far more useful.


Removing baltic pine floorboards using a 'floorboard puller'.



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