Adaptive reuse has become an increasingly important principle for me in recent years. And one of the most ambitious (yet most critical) objectives for the icehouse rehabilitation project is repurposing surplus building materials and existing architectural salvage from previous projects; upcycling decking debris and other deconstruction byproducts from sixteen years of remodels and rehabs; and miscellaneous materials reclaimed from Rosslyn’s buildings, fields, and forests (such as a carriage barn full of cured ash, elm, and other lumber that was harvested, milled, and dried on-site.)
Hroth is continuing to experiment with the garapa decking we salvaged from our summer 2022 deck rebuild. I’m hoping to repurpose this honey toned Brazilian hardwood as paneling in the icehouse bathroom. Hroth has planed these boards down to 5/8” and the lumber is beginning to look really good. Maybe 1/2” will be perfect?
In addition to milling off the grooved edges (originally used for securing hidden fasteners to deck substructure) and planing the boards down, the next step will be choosing a suitable joint between boards. I’ll share updates as we continue to explore upcycling the old garapa decking.
What the Heck is Upcycling?
Nowadays we throw around words like upcycling, recycling, repurposing, adaptive reuse, etc. without stopping to ensure that we all understand what these words even mean. Upcycle That, a (@upcyclethat), a website launched in 2012 to showcase upcycling ideas and inspiration, offers this clear and concise way to think of upcycling.
Upcycling is taking something that’s considered waste and repurposing it. The upcycled item often becomes more functional or beautiful than what it previously was. That’s why it’s called upcycling, because the value of the item is increased! (Source: Upcycle That)
Junk, debris, byproducts, and leftovers reimagined and transformed into valuable new items. That’s upcycling.
If this sounds a little bit like recycling, let’s turn to the Upcycle That team again for help clarifying the difference between upcycling and recycling.
Recycling and Upcycling have different processes. In the recycling process, items are broken down to be reused. Paper is shredded and turned into pulp, plastic is shredded and melted into pellets, glass is smashed and melted to be recast. This downcycling is an essential step in the recycling process, but it does degrade the value of the materials.
Upcycling is a creative process where waste is looked at as a resource. Materials are reused in a clever new way, giving them a second life and function. Think of a pallet coffee table. Upcycling transforms the pallet into a lovely piece of furniture. (Source: Upcycle That)
I would add to the downside of degrading the source materials another frequent cost of recycling: energy consumption. Not only can the act of recycling gradually diminish the quality of the paper, glass, plastic, etc., but the process(es) by which the down cycling takes place almost always consumes energy. By sidestepping the down cycle-step in recycling, upcycling reduces the need for energy consumption.
Energy Use to Upcycle Garapa
As a quick followup to this last question of energy consumption during the downcycling vs. upcycling processes, I should note that transforming our old garapa decking into a finish material for the icehouse bathhouse is not without its own energy inputs. As you can see in the video above, these boards are being passed through a wood planer and they’ve already had their sides trimmed on a table saw. So, electricity has been an inevitable input in order to transform what on another project might have been considered demolition debris into what on our icehouse project will become beautiful bathroom paneling.
What do you think?