All my friends know that I'm nuts, so they all take it in stride when I tell them about my plans for building green. While there are lots of cool green methods that are becoming popular among those with lots of space to spread out or few neighbors to have to look at it. However, for those of us who have neighbors to consider or, like me, have wacky ideas about building a brand new 100 year old Victorian, there are some more traditional building methods available that have green written all over it.
As Americans, one of the biggest insults we make to our environment is our wastefulness. The lumber used to build houses prior to 1940-ish was typically harvested from old growth forests and while we would never stand for that nowadays, the wood is better quality than you can find anywhere in any developed country.
From my own readings I've learned that a typical old growth 2X8 will have about the same structural qualities, such as span and sway, as a modern 2X10 (and
it doesn't fall apart when wet like the OSB floor joists used in most new homes). When calculating building costs, that 2 in. less can really add up to lots of savings in exterior siding and stair runs for 2-story houses not to mention the peace of mind that you'll get knowing that you just kept a ton of good product out of the landfill and didn't cut down a bunch of trees to boot.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of old houses that get demolished every day in this country. That translates to a lot of amazingly superior lumber and windows as well and beautifully timeless trim and other architectural accents being used to build and beautify our nation's landfills.
Most contractors hired to do the job are getting paid for building the new structure not getting rid of the old one so if someone were to ask permission to salvage the reusable materials they'll likely consider it one less thing to deal with and lower disposal costs. Often, contractors are held up by bureaucratic paperwork anyway so having someone tinker around on the property dismantling the doomed structure isn't going to hold them back from meeting deadlines any more than the city planning or commissioner's office will. All you need to do is ask.
If you decide to embark on this large scale DIY endeavor, you'll need to bring a lot of cordless tools including a reciprocating saw (a.k.a. "saws-all"), circular saw, & drill and lots of batteries. You must plan on the power already being disconnected so either make friends with the neighbors fast or bring a generator for large jobs. The property owner or contractor may agree to let you have everything you drag out for free in exchange for you disposing of the rest of it too, so be prepared to rent a roll off dumpster if appropriate.
Whatever arrangements are made, salvaging used materials from old buildings is a great way to save money and the environment. Just remember to be courteous, be safe, and of course do it yourself! That's what we DIYers live for!