Re-use -
A Solution
For Modern

Church Street
Lower Weedon


Issue 121 June 2000 Page 146
Extend Yourself
Don't just go down to the builder's yard when you want more living space, think of recycling, says Neville Griffiths
At the moment, shock horror I'm just about to take down an old barn. Before you haul me down the station on a charge of heinous crimes to heritage, I'll explain. A PL reader is involved in the costly task of restoring a watermill and has an unlisted, unsightly and unsafe 'add on' that's taken it on the chin from bad maintenance and flooding.

Without arguing about the rights and wrongs of demolition, I've taken the common sense solution by playing a positive role on both sides of the past and the present, and found someone who's looking for old materials to build an extension.

Now this seems to me the perfect solution to adding more living room to your period property. And I'd recommend it to anyone. But building with salvage carries its idiosyncrasies. Here are a couple of tips. Try to find what you want first, then build around it. Don't put in metric door linings, for example, then expect imperial doors to fall into place. And if you're looking for old, buy it when you see it, hopefully before the work has started. That way, you won't rushed by builders into buying a mistake.

Talking about builders brings on another tip. They are obviously a vital ingredient in this recipe, but don't be put off by insensitive tradesmen who can't understand what you're trying to achieve, just because they threw it away a few years ago. If they start with the words, 'Why don't you use new timber?', stop right there. If they say it's not possible to plumb in that old radiator, or everybody has wide joints between their tiles, or they're about to fix your polished fire surround through the face of the timber with Posidrive screws, recycle them! - I knew a bloke nicknamed 'Superplumber'. It was always. 'Oh that can't be done'. Then after you'd held your head in your hands, mumbling 'What will I do, whom can I turn to?' he would suddenly turn into Superplumber, and say 'I've thought of a way to do the job'. If I said it's beyond repair and the old-fashioned skills aren't around any more, Superplumber would be able to do the impossible. He just wanted to feel needed and praised. If you don't want to go through that rigmarole, tell them you've been told it isn't possible to do it - they'll soon prove you wrong by doing it. Job done!

But old skills are being revived. I believe that by reusing salvage, we're rescuing them as well. It encourages craftsmanship. Old materials on old properties will not only feel right, but they'll also blend in more easily because of their 'weight'. Many new materials are heavier. Putting more stress on a tired, old building could cause the roof to have a breakdown, and you to have a nervous one.

I sometimes hear that salvage is expensive now and it's cheaper to buy new, but what's the real cost and saving? One of the areas where, with a bit of ingenuity, you could save yourself a bit of money is to build a glass extension. Sets of stone windows from a church, iron brackets from old greenhouses, decorative ironwork from railway stations, it's there for the piecing together!

On my travels I've seen some rare extensions and one particularly sticks in my mind and makes me smile. A retired scrap dealer tried to sell me his add-on which housed his swimming pool. It was hilarious - made from corrugated sheets, aluminium windows, the diving board was an old scaffold board. There were old lawnmowers and engines all over the place. Even though he assured me it didn't leak. I strangely declined to purchase!

A more imaginative approach for the purist and the romantic