Surprising lessons learned by REX Project homeowner

‘House Recycling’ Epilog: As the family moves into their new home – one that incorporates all of the old house which previously stood on the site – find out what discoveries they made as they wrapped up the project …

Last November, a run-down old house stood on the property where Quimby’s “REX Project” recycled house now stands.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
When we first met Shannon Quimby, on November 28, 2007, we thought the idea behind this perky recycling expert’s project of completely recycling an old, run-down house into a new home – without dumping a lot of waste into the landfill – was laudable, but impractical.

Just before she and her crew started dismantling – not wrecking – the Westmoreland house at SE 21st Avenue at S.E. Rex Street, she told us, “I’m determined to show that, with some ingenuity, reclaiming an old home can be practical, fun, and save money.”

At the end of the project, during the first week of August, Quimby and her family moved into their new home. Quimby took a few minutes, amid unpacked boxes and misplaced furniture, to tell us what she’d learned in the process.

Quimby recycled beer and wine bottles into this unique lighting fixture.

Lessons learned
“Over the past eight months of the ‘Reuse Everything eXperiment’ – the REX Project – I learned that one can recycle and reuse pretty much everything from a very old house into a new one,” Quimby began.

“I knew that doors, windows, and flooring could be recycled. But I had no idea what could be done with old roofing shingles; they now foot my deck. I learned that the core of sheet rock – gypsum – could be used as an amenity in my yard’s soil.”

Quimby said instead of Dumpsters, there were four big recycling bins at the job site: One for metal, one for paper, one for plastic, and one for cardboard. At the end of every week every one of them was filled to overflowing.

“No one has ever done this before; I did research, asked questions, and learned every day,” Quimby said “It was my goal to recycle as much as I could, and I’ve met my goal.”

Not all of the waste from the project could be recycled or reused, however. “What really blew me away was that one whole pickup truck load of trash consisted of food containers, brought to the site by all of the subcontractors,” exclaimed Quimby. “But it is amazing to think that all the waste from deconstructing one home, and building another, was limited to 2½ pickup trucks worth.”

Hidden trash source: packaging
Another surprising source of refuse, Quimby mentioned, was packaging. “Everything from basic building materials to lighting fixtures come in packaging. Fortunately there are many places to recycle Styrofoam – it was coming out of our ears! From the foundation forms, to our new kitchen appliances, they were all packed in Styrofoam.”

But, by carefully sorting the packaging materials, Quimby met her goal of keeping waste from filling a landfill. “Wouldn’t it be great if recycling became a ‘standard building practice’?”

Being ‘green’ saves greenbacks
We asked if these “green” building practices actually saved her any money.

“Right now we are looking at saving $40,000 by recycling much of the old house in to our new one,” replied Quimby. “Much of the saving comes from reusing materials.”

She pointed to her kitchen’s butcher-block-style counter; it was made from leftover framing materials from the old and new house. “We reused the old house’s foundation to pave our patio – that saved $150 in material, and trucking costs.”

This new entertainment center was constructed from a “patchwork quilt” of leftover building materials. Quimby pours nails removed from the old house into the top, to be covered with glass, serving as a conversation piece for years to come.

Incorporating leftovers
As the family worked on interior design and decoration, Quimby said she’s facing challenges finding ways to incorporate “a lot of oddball and ugly” leftover materials into the new house.

“I had fun with the old wine and beer bottles we found in the humongous laurel hedge – we’ve turned them into our dining room’s chandelier. Hiding the wiring cans is part of the bi-fold door from the old house.”

Quimby pointed with pride to the new downstairs entertainment center. “It’s a ‘patchwork quilt’ made from leftover framing, flooring, and decking. All of the remaining nails from the old house will be poured into this, and be topped by a sheet of glass.”

House open for October 4 tour
In addition to settling into the new home, Quimby said she’s writing two books about her project. You may see the project turning up as a special on Home & Gardens TV Network.

If you want see it for yourself, she says they’ll be part of the neighborhood’s “Tour of Remodeled Homes” on October 4. “I hope to see everyone from the neighborhood all coming over to check out the ‘REX Project’.”

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© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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