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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

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

7 Responses

  1. Preach on, brother. Where I live we are no longer required to separate our recycling, everything goes into one bin which is picked up by the same trucks that pick up trash. Do they have a way of separating the glass from the various plastics from the aluminum at the plant? Or does it all go into the landfill. It sure would be cheaper to dump it than sort it and sell it.

  2. i always loved the idea of the houses made of all that junk. my wish as a kid was to own a junk yard so i could cobble together stuff from parts. i didn't really realize that they made so much money from the stuff till i was buying parts and the guy said that his yard sell about 3 million a year. today i would not own a found house except maybe as a hunting hut. i mean think how much work it takes to mess with those fiddly bits. i would still like to be buddies with a junk dog.
    as for recycling i put metal on the curb and it always disappears before trash day. i put a metal roof on my house and everything was safe in my back yard for days. move the scrap 40' to between the sidewalk and the street and it would disappear during lunch.

  3. I work part time- on call for the maintenance/custodial crew at the local school district. The director of maintenance is a huge greenie. He's a smart guy, but he ain't got the wisdom to fill a thimble- believes in global warming. I could go on for hours about the damage done to those fifty year old plants from using "ecologically safe" products. Paint that won't stick to the wall, cleaners that don't clean. Disinfectants that don't. Strippers that save the penguins but do nothing more than turn old floor wax to glue.
    Bleach and ammonia are too dangerous for adults to use on the school grounds. Like I said-I could go on.


  4. Very interesting post. I was wondering, though, about the shocking remark about all trash, recycle-binned or not, going into the same landfill. I'm not informed about this — just Googled it, and came up with some sites saying that is a myth; this one, for example:

    I'd just like to know the truth. Maybe it's true in some places, not in others?

    PS Overlawyered's Walter Olson tweeted your link, which is how I found your blog.

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