Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Rainwater Harvesting

Rainwater harvesting is simply a process of collecting, storing, and later using precipitation. There are many different ways to succeed in rain capture and different uses for your captured water.

Rain capture can be as simple as hooking a drum barrel to your house gutters and using the water for your garden or as complex as burying a tank in your yard to use gray water in your whole house.

Connecting barrels to your house rain gutters is a very quick and simple process and the benefits can be astonishing depending on how many barrels you have. Here's an example of a "pretty" version of a single barrel. The gutter connects at the top of the barrel through a cut slot, and the water is usually filtered through a screen (for leaves and twigs and things). Typically, you also want to have an angled runoff pipe. This will allow the excess water from alot of rain to slowly leak from the barrel so that the water does not back up into your gutter. You also will need to install a spigot to connect a hose to fill a watering can.

If you typically receive a lot of rain and one barrel will not be enough for your area, you can make a series of connected barrels. Instead of having a excess runoff pipe in the first barrel, your runoff pipe connects directly to the second barrel - and if needed in runoff pipe from the second barrels can connect directly to the third and so on as long as your last barrel has a regular runoff pipe still. Then each of your barrels gets its own spigot.

Here's how it would look to connect multiple barrels.
The benefits can be overwhelming from rain capture. Unless you have a well on your property and only pay for the electric for the pump - you probably pay for incoming city water, and then you pay for that water a second time in your sewer water fee. What a financial waste!

Here's the kicker - most of that water waste is from toilets, laundry, filling swimming pools, washing your car, and watering your garden and flowers. Water that you can harvest from your impervious surfaces can be used for these purposes!

This is what a tank might look like when using the water for these purposes. This system would cost you around $1500
Here's an example of an entire system in place. The pipes are a little harder to see, but if you look hard, you can follow them throughout the entire system.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Obtaining Recycled Glass

I was recently asked where someone might be able to find glass to be reused. And well, I'd love to ask this question in its many subcategories as finding glass to reuse greatly depends on what you are reusing it for. First, let me say - glass is infinitely recyclable to make new glass products as long as no contaminants are present.

To relate to a recent post about cold frames, glass in the form of windows old or new can be found at many very accessible locations.

  • Go to the reuse store at landfills, your local salvage shop, Habitat for Humanity's ReStore. They have almost every building material then is reusable.
  • The first place to check is the dump. Many dumps sort incoming building materials and sell them for reuse or have "swap shops" where you can just take them. They can do this because it's less they have to transport to the actual landfill. Now, understand that the windows you find at the dump will very rarely and almost never be in perfect condition. No one throws away new windows, but they are perfect to sit outside in the sun and insulated your all season garden.
  • The next best place to look is yard sales! Many people replace their own windows, especially if they are only doing a few and don't know what to do with their old windows. Also, sometimes the wrong size windows are purchased and not able to be returned to the store because of damage caused by trying to install them and taking them back down or missing parts. Usually people will then try to sell them on their own.
  • Referring to my post on the Scrap House: you can find windows by speaking with the site manager or a building owner for a skyscraper in your nearest city. When building sky scrapers, architects usually buy 5% extra glass in case of breakage (31 story building = up to 200 extra windows)
  • Post a want on Freecycle for old or used never know what people have stashed in their garages!
If you are looking for glass for crafting project like making mosaics, you will have to tap somewhat different resources.
  • Freecycle is one of the best places to look. Post a want for colorful glass - you will probably want to ask for chipped or broken china, empty wine bottle, marbles, tile, broken or small mirrors, sea glass, etc.
  • Mirror/Glass/Tile stores. Ask if you can have their broken glass/tile scraps, provide them with a plastic bin you would like filled and when or how often you will pick it up. Most stores will be okay with this as they most likely pay to haul their trash.

Still have questions? Leave a comment and I'll gladly update this post with an answer.

Friday, May 1, 2009


Hi everyone! As you may have heard, the semester, my final semester has come to an end- but this blog will not. This blog does not have a shelf life and will therefore be continuing - expanding - evolving.

Over the next few days or weeks maybe I will be revamping this blog into a more broad spectrum of REpurposing!

I plan on focusing on the various possibilities and methods of repurposing items including sections on:
Household interior items
Household outdoor repurposing projects
Craft/just4fun repurposing projects.

I will also be including links to websites I find helpful with instructions and/or pictures of projects or ideas. Also of completed projects I have found online that are of interest to me and hopefully you also. I will also include information, and pictures on projects I have completed or am working on.

I also plan to open the blog to advertising for companies that allow for donations of reusable building materials and/or sell used building materials. I haven't forgotten about those who create to sell handmade items, yet strictly adhere to being repurposers- you're advertisement are also welcome! If you are interested in advertising-please email me for pricing info.

I hope that you will continue to follow this blog and grow with us as we continue our journey.

I welcome your ideas, your suggestions and your feedback.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Earth Day Tweet up Game

Welcome Earth Day 2009!!!

Game: ( #greenphilly #contest )

Hosted by @Envirosavvy @SustainableHous

Time: The game will take place on Earth Day 2009 (4/22) from 2pm-8pm Eastern Standard Time. A Winner will be announce between 9:30pm-11:30pm.

Rules: The #greenphily #contest will take place completely on Twitter, if you haven't joined twitter yet, you should.

This will be a point based game, and therefore ALL POSTS for the game must include the TWO hashtags #greenphilly AND #contest .

1 pt - tweet your entry into the contest (EXAMPLE: I'm in! #greenphilly #contest )
1 pt - Earthday related tweet (EXAMPLE: I love Earthday because so many trees get planted! #greenphilly #contest )
1 pt - for each photo of an Earth Day 2009 event in progress; include caption of location for fun~
5 pts - share your EarthDay blog post link (EXAMPLE: "Post Title" "Link" #greenphilly #contest )
10 pts - re-tweet about the #greenphilly #contest between 2-8pm EST

You can post as many photos as you want.
The blog post must be from your own blog.
You can only retweet the contest between 2-8; and not more than once per hour!!

PRIZE: Although I originally planned having 2 prizes, one has had a little mishap and has been replaced! So, I'm sorry for any confusion regarding the prizes of the game, but here they are:

The first prize winner of the game (most points) will receive a tote bag made from 100% repurposed by me 16lb cat food bag.

It is very versatile; it can be used for many various activities - including gardening. Because it is completely plastic, you can simply hose it out and let it sit to dry to wash it.

You can see below that it holds 2 beach towels comfortably; and it has a small pocket inside goods for holding seeds, gloves, cell, anything small.

The runner up by point count will receive this lot of garden seeds. It includes pumpkins, carrots, cucumbers, head lettuce, and Marigold flowers seeds grown and packaged right each on the east coast of the US!

Good luck, and start racking up those points!
I will announce the winner between 9:30-11:30pm 4/22 (depending how long it takes to count points!!)

PS- DON'T FORGET: Every tweet must have 2 hashtag: #greenphilly AND #contest .. Tweets without both will not be counted!!!

UPDATE 8:15pm: Elliot wins!! Tote bag to take to critical mas at the Temple University Bell Tower this Friday 4/24

Cold Frames

Cold frames at Temple University Ambler Campus,
Ambler, Pennsylvania, U.S.
More Photos of these cold frames available here.

What is a Cold frame?

A shelter make specifically for plants in cold weather. It consists of four walls to trap heat and shelter plants, made of any sturdy material — plywood, concrete, even bales of hay and a transparent lid that admits light, typically an old window works perfectly as a lid, but Plexiglas or plastic sheeting tacked to a frame also works just as well.

But why use a cold frame for plants you ask?
Well, it's a great way to start plants earlier in the season (before the last frost of spring) and also a great way to acclimate your seedlings begun indoors to outdoor conditions.
A cold frame can extend you growing season by up to a month! In some climates, you can even grow straight through the winter!

Setting up a cold frame
According to Rodale's All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening the best site to locate a cold frame is a south-facing, sunny spot with good drainage and some protection from the wind. Western facing Ideally, the site should get full sun from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. The glass lid should have at least a 10 percent angle for added sunlight exposure.

Cold frames can be permanent features in your garden where in the summer you can vent by opening the lid, of temporary structures you can put away when you're not using them. It will depend on the style you choose .

Before you set up a cold frame in a permanent spot, dig out the top 3 or 4 inches of soil inside the frame and replace it with a layer of coarse gravel; Then replace 6 inches of topsoil back ontop of the gravel - this is help with drainage! Mixing compost, processed manure, peat moss or other forms of organic humus with your existing soil to create a good fertile soil.

You can grow cold frame plants in pots, flats or right in the soil. Example: if you're growing just one type of plant, like salad greens, plant right in the soil.

Care Tips
Each cold frame will have specific requirements when it comes to the amount of care it needs.
Consider it you're own little experiment.

The watering requirements will vary from day to day and season to season. Generally, during the winter season the cold frame will only need to be watered once a week. Or you can let Mother Nature do the job by opening the top of your cold frame on a rainy day

If the soil is prepared properly, there should be little or no need for feeding (fertilizer) during the winter. The exception may be leaf crops, like lettuce, spinach and chard. A light feeding of an organic type 'Vegetable Garden' fertilizer two or three weeks after planting would be beneficial.

*Beware of slugs! The warmth will attract them and you will need to take appropriate actions to control them

Keys to using a cold frame successfully
You have to pay attention to the temperature!! The trick involved is keeping it COOL rather than warm.
Typically you want the temperature in your cold frame to stay BELOW 75 degree Fahrenheit if you're growing summer plants; and BELOW 60 degrees F for plants that normally grow in spring and fall.

A good rule of thumb is to prop the lid open 6inches when outdoor temperatures are above 40 degrees; when the outdoor temps clear 50 degrees F, remove the lid completely.

You can also purchased automatic venting systems from gardening catalogs. A crawlspace vent can something also work this way and can be purchased at any home improvement store.

On very, very frigid nights, a bit extra insulation may be required; Most heat escapes through the glass, so pile insulation on top. You can use old blankets, straw, newspaper or whatever is handy. And although snow insulates well too, you will want to brush heavy snow off the glass so it doesn't break!

Check out this video featuring many different designs of cold frames. Some are very easily assembled and good for small yards (if you live in a city). Others are large and good for big yards, but still easily put together and movable! At night you want to replace the lid to restore the warm environment for the night.

Information obtained from Organic Gardening and Ed Hume Seeds .

Sunday, April 12, 2009

This is a short video I found on tips on selecting green building materials like concrete, reusing wood floors and glass.

Fu Tung Cheng explains Concrete counter top sustainability and conservation of materials.

Materials: Glass from dump, wood from Treasure Island where navy tore out old building, gym floor from local junior high school to reuse in house.

Counter tops: good design is sustainable! Good designs last a lifetime- aren't changed or updated as often ---less material in landfill!

Counter top Materials: harvesting/quarrying local materials: aggregates, sands and combining = regionally made material: cement
Carbon footprint: low, very local - 100 miles radius

Granite: quarried in Italy; Hauled to China to be finished, Boat to our coast and trucked to local people install and process
Carbon footprint: Large -1000s of mile

Here are some other examples of concrete cement countertops:

Partners' Blog

Have you visited these blogs recently??

John's Capzle - or scroll all the way to the bottom of my blog for a sneak peak!!
Lots of interesting international sustainable housing techniques and examples!!

Tyler's Blog - Current and recent sustainable housing projects.
Also includes natural sustainable housing techniques such as Hemp cement for building

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Earth Day Tweet Up!!!

What are you doing for the Earth on Earth Day this year. April 22nd is quickly approaching us, and I know I'm planning something big!

Join us between 8pm-12am EST on April 22nd for our Tweet Up on Twitter ( @sustainablehous ) and to discuss Earth Day around the world!! We want to know everyone's stories. What did you do for the Earth? What did you experience other people doing for the Earth? Share pictures, stories, music, and LOVE for the Earth!

You can join Twitter here.

You can RSVP here:

See you there!!!

Hopefully, the Earth will also be happy with our events on Earth Day..otherwise.............

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Scrap House

It's everyone's dream, well maybe mine and a select other few's dream... A house built not just of recycled materials, but strictly of salvaged, repurposed, recycled materials!!

Featured on National Geographic a few nights ago, there it was: The Scrap House

Mission: In San Fransisco, the goal was to create an up to code, safe and stylish house out of nothing but trash in just 4 weeks in time for UN World environment Day; on San Fransisco's Civic Center Plaza.

Players: the architect, the salvager, the structural engineer, the building inspector.

Thesis: We live in an age of construction and demo 24 million new homes are built each year in the US; tear 200,000 to the ground creating an endless cycle of 100billion lbs of trash including building materials and appliance. Is it possible to make a new house out of this trash??

Rules: NO new materials except for screws and nails.

Here is just a few of the materials they recycled into this house: scrap metal, old street signs, traffic lights, sheet metal scraps, old shower doors, some computer keyboards, scrap metal studs, old fire hoses

1st problem: No full length 2x4 at dump
Solution: Find of left of metal studs from an industrial construction job.
TIP: Small pieces of scrap metal stud can be jointed together safely unlike wood studs!!

2nd problem: No plywood!!
Solution: 40 year old Masonite found!
Made from wood fibers, but weaker, not ideal wall material but stronger enough to keep walls from twisting

3rd problem: weather proofing material for exterior
Solution: Shingling with small piece of durable materials: smaller than a door, larger than a license plate. Using: shower doors; old street signs; sheet metal scraps
TIP: Overlap of at least 6in protects against leakage
TIP: Galvanized steel can last 50-70 years without rusting=VERY DURABLE

4th problem: Framing
Solution: 10,000lbs of structural steel from a warehouse demolition
TIP: Withstands up to 7 on Richter Scale; Recycled steel doesn't result in a lower quality material, unlike paper or glass (High demand) TIP: In US, 75% discarded steel is recycled; Cars recycled at a rate of 25 cars/minute TIP: Each year steel recycling safe enough energy to power 1/5 of all homes in America

5th problem: Need glass for giant floor to ceiling window walls (~150 pieces of various size glass)
Solution: double pain scrap glass find at dump = savings of nearly $100,000
TIP: When building sky scrapers architects usually buy 5% extra glass in case of breakage. (31 story building = up to 200 extra windows)

6th problem: Interior design
Solution: Use everyday items in a new, random orientation!
Patches of scrap leather to make patterned floor. Hang keyboards on walls as tiles; turn doors into a wall. Wall insulation out of phone books (blown paper is better than fiberglass)
TIP: An R rating measures how well an insulation works Formula: (Temp. difference X Area X Time)/heat loss [R rating of fiberglass=3.14 per inch; r rating of blown paper=3.7 per inch]

7th problem: Stairs
Solution: Built offsite from a salvaged cut tree. Handrail from scraps of leftover steel

8th problem: wall coverings
Solution: Old fire houses, conveyors belts, miss matched wood trim

9th problem: Light fixtures
Solution: traffic light glass chandelier; Lamp collage

Other trash to treasures: wooden bed headboard, dishes, bathtub, sink, cabinets, counters

How amazing 100% junk, 100% brand new house! Can you imagine if everyone used at least 1 recycled item from the dump, keeping all that potentially useful, reusable material out of our landfills!!

I'm willing to do this, are you??

You can watch the full episode here on Hulu:

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

World-Wide Eco-house Map

My group just received an invitation from @naturalhomes on twitter to add to this great world wide eco-house map. It's interactive! Zoom in to a country/state/city/neighborhood to see natural homes all around the world.

Natural Homes website can be found here they have many interesting items on their site.

Please come back to this post occasionally as I will update here when we add to the map!!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What's Your Proudest Repurposed Object?


What a fantastic picture!! I found it here at Apartment Therapy San Francisco. "Repurposed Truck Spring Kitchen Stools." A.T. originally spotted this in the July 2008 issue of House Beautiful.

Here's House Beautiful's Interview with the owners:

"There's a nice balance between fresh white paint and battered wood, so nothing feels too pristine. And I like the improvised quality. What were those stools originally?

Giant springs, literally taken off a truck. I saw them at a salvage yard and thought they would look great by the island, which is made from an old falling-down fence on the property. We recycled the beat-up wood instead of throwing it away. Most people would probably not have done such a big island in a small room, but I knew it was going to be the social hub of the house. Besides, I like large, substantial pieces. They make a small space feel more solid and important. "

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Make a Birdhouse!

Here is a simple way to make a birdhouse out of that one last 6" piece of plywood you weren't sure what to do with or maybe a piece you purchased from a recycling store at a landfill or even one you salvage from Home Depot's dumpster!

The above design will leave you with a scrap of roughly 2"x20" (a great size for a stake if you grow tomatoes!!)

Here is another design:
This design leaves you with 10 3/4" x 5 1/2" (Small table top perhaps??)

I made one of my own....well I made two, What can I say? The red roof one was fun, the "landing post" I like to call a paint brush handle! ..Nothing goes to waste in this house.

I also put to extra pieces on the inside of the roof to hold it in place while in use, but is easily removed for cleaning, which is essential!

On the other hand, if you have a piece of wood that is half this size, simple remeasure the drawn design shown and you'll be attracting a different type of bird! Use your imagination, you could even use that old license plate from 3 cars ago you've had sitting around and you were about to throw out AS THE ROOF!!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Salvage, Sell, Reuse

Today I did a simple search on google for "salvaging building materials" .

The first link that popped up on the list was for "Second Use" a "community business" that has been reclaiming building materials since 1994 and is based out of Seattle, Washington.

Their mission includes:
  • Divert reusable building materials from the landfill
  • Preserve components of our architectural heritage
  • Provide affordable building materials to the public
  • Offer living wage jobs to our staff
Their website offers a great explanation of the benefits of salvaging materials such as:
"Six trains, each over a mile long, leave Seattle every week bound for distant landfills. At least a quarter of this waste is a result of building construction and demolition."

Also, there are some great before and after deconstruction pictures along with stories from their customers. Here a great example of a home deconstruction that Second Use performed with Grayhawk Construction in order to provide maintenance access to a nearby salmon creek.

For those customers for do not wish to keep the deconstruction materials, Second Use also has a retail store in which they publicly sell items. Their inventory currently ranges from appliances to windows, including plumbing, flooring, hardware, doors, lumber and masonry.

These items are staying out of the landfills and are now available to those doing renovations at a lower cost!!

Second Use also features on their website links to many other building materials exchanges and recycling opportunities, and salvage yards.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Building Material Re-use and EJ

I recently came across the website for the Building Materials Reuse Association (BMRA) which is a non-profit educational organization that works to facilitate building deconstruction instead of demolition and also the reuse and recycling of building materials which have become available through the process of deconstruction. The currently operate in both Canada and the United States. The BMRA works to bring companies and organizations together to share information and overcome barriers to building material reuse and recycling.

The company's goals are ones that are shared by many in the environmental field:
  • Reduce the consumption of new resources
  • Avoid landfill waste and pollution
  • Create value-added markets and increase cost-effectiveness
  • Expand job opportunities and workforce development skills
By implementing these goals, they hope to "increase the opportunities for the recovery and reuse of building materials in an environmentally sound and financially sustainable way." This accomplishment could benefit not only the construction field but also: our economy (by providing jobs and more affordable building materials), protect our communities from environmental injustice (see below), and reduce the consumption of non-renewable and/or virgin materials.

Participants of the Central and Eastern European Workshop on Environmental Justice (EJ) (Budapest, December 2003) (CEPL) defined environmental justice (and injustice) in the following way:

"Environmental Justice:
A condition of environmental justice exists when environmental risks and hazards and investments and benefits are equally distributed with a lack of discrimination, whether direct or indirect, at any jurisdictional level; and when access to environmental investments, benefits, and natural resources are equally distributed; and when access to information, participation in decision making, and access to justice in environment-related matters are enjoyed by all."
"Environmental Injustice:
An environmental injustice exists when members of disadvantaged, ethnic, minority or other groups suffer disproportionately at the local, regional (sub-national), or national levels from environmental risks or hazards, and/or suffer disproportionately from violations of fundamental human rights as a result of environmental factors, and/or denied access to environmental investments, benefits, and/or natural resources, and/or are denied access to information; and/or participation in decision making; and/or access to justice in environment-related matters."
Environmental Injustice exists all over the world from Asia to the US. You probably drive past a community that is fighting this injustice everyday, or maybe you live in one of these communities. One of the battles that deconstruction will fight will be environmental justice.

Through the process of deconstruction and reuse of these recycled materials, we are also severely depleting the amount of materials that are being thrown into landfills. During demolition, hazard and non-hazardous potentially reusable materials are all collapsed into 1 pile. These hazardous materials sometimes fail to be separately prior to entering the landfill and can contaminate the land and/or emit toxic fumes into the air and atmosphere near homes. This type of pollution is completely avoidable! By deconstructing a house in a manageable and systematic method, not only are the wood, metal and other fixtures able to be reused but we are preventing this pollution and indirect harm of communities.

There are many other companies like the Building Materials Reuse Association out there trying to promote a healthy environment, green jobs, and the reduction of consumption...all you have to do is a simple search for "Building Material Recycling".

Center for Environmental Policy and Law (CEPL)

The Building Materials Reuse Association (BMRA)

Monday, March 2, 2009

I saw this cartoon by Noel Ford and thought it was a great breakdown of the average home's household trash.

Please a take a minute and examine it.
Now, try to imagine where your home would fall if you analyzed your trash..

How did you compare?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Which of my building materials are recyclable?

Simple Answer - almost All of them

Through the deconstruction process, all materials can be reused or at least repurposed - keeping them away from the landfill. From lumber to pipes to appliances, tiles, plumbing and flooring, it can all be used again.

If you don't want to reuse it for its original purpose, you can repurpose it into something new. Such as: pieces of plywood into a toybox or birdhouse; Kitchen cabinets into a coffee table, or toybox/storage box; turn a drawer into a unique planter.... The possibilities left only to your imagination. Handles can be reused on other household projects or as decoration.

Many organizations, like Habitat for Humanity for example, will take unwanted, good condition for second use items off your hands as well. Habitat sells some of these items in their retail stores as funding; but also uses the items locally to build low-income affordable housing.

As for those materials foolishly thrown away, many waste management companies employ demolition recyclers, etc. to sift the real trash from the reusable. This saves space in the landfill which will slow the growing number of landfills.

So, be careful what you throw out...One person's trash really is another one's treasure.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Recycled Houses: Texas

There is a great need for low-income affordable housing between $20-50,000. In Texas, Brigid's Homesteading is helping people at a small scale build these houses out of recycled and salvaged material. 85% of the material used in these homes were on their way to the landfill or salvaged from local shops dumpsters.

The catch is, the home-owner has to "swing a hammer". A contractor volunteers a helping hand along with a small number of unskilled laborers.

Those who have had the chance to build their own homes through this organization are now using their acquired skills are now helping others build their own homes. So far 8 families's have built their homes using this initiative's help.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Hi there.

In this blog you will find my senior project at Temple University.

I will be discussing salvage material use in renovation and construction of housing. This will cover ways to obtain and/or donate materials worthy of a second life, and methods of repurposing smaller materials into home decorations.

I will also be including links to articles and websites relating to salvaging and repurposing materials, including brief how-to's on small projects, and the benefits of reusing materials as a way to keep them out of landfills.

Also, you will be able to check out my partners' blogs as we collaboratively focus on the less familiar side of sustainable housing techniques. On their blogs you will find international sustainability techniques as well as an exploration of existing low impact sustainable housing projects.

Our goal is to draw your attention to these methods and hopefully get you interested in an effective and helpful way.

Please feel welcome to leave comment and suggestions.