Upside Down Under: There’s value in vacant buildings…

Apr 7, 2023
Written by: Marvin Baker

Last week’s article was about a unique recycling of wood from grain elevators. This week it’s closer to home, maybe even in your own back yard.


There are vacant buildings in all 53 counties in North Dakota. Just drive around sometime and see it for yourself. Some of those buildings are in such bad shape, it’s a wonder they still exist.


But they do and you have to wonder why more people aren’t recycling the lumber they could get out of those structures.
Just to give you an example, in 2009 my brothers and I tore down a condemned house that was sitting on property we purchased. The house had to go away so we could build a greenhouse in the same spot.
We basically spent that summer tearing down the two-story, 1927 structure. It seemed there was a roll-off dumpster sitting there the entire summer.


The good news is, we were able to recycle a lot of the wood from that old house that was an eyesore to the community of Carpio.


First of all there were laths from the walls. Mostly useless, you’d think. But as a gardener, I’ve used those old laths as row markers ever since. I’ve never run out and most likely won’t as long as I continue as a commercial gardener.
The front door was in good shape so that was saved. A picture window in the living room was dirty, but wasn’t cracked and we were able to get it out and later sell it.


We also used tongue and groove floor boards to build a floor in our garage that has now been used for 10 years and continues to look good. Had I poured concrete for that garage, it would have cost nearly five times as much. Any cost incurred came from deck screws, an occasional sheet of plywood and equipment.


But here’s the real prize. When we dug into that house to bring it down, we had no idea what was in store for us.
Most of the siding remained intact so we thought we’d salvage what we could. Some of the boards were quite fragile and cracked when we ripped them away from the structure. But, we were able to keep most of it and as it turned out, 100 percent of that siding is cedar.


Have you priced cedar lately? Because we’ve been organic and can’t use treated lumber, we’ve always used cedar. Not only did we save a boat load of money by collecting that cedar, it’s easily available for a variety of uses.
We salvaged 700 square feet of cedar siding, which translates into $7,350 worth of lumber. We paid $200 for the house and the property on back taxes.


As mentioned, we didn’t realize the siding had that sort of value. We just decided to tear the house down and recycle because that’s how we roll, not knowing the value we were extracting when we started.
So every county across the state most likely has these kinds of buildings. Houses, barns, garages, wood grain bins, chicken coops, you name it, it’s there.


And, of course, it’s up to the property owner to tear it down, burn it, or leave it standing until it collapses. There’s value in it. We found that out in the summer of 2009.


It should also be mentioned that good lumber can be salvaged from buildings in the worst condition. Go to a trade show sometime and see how people have repurposed trim from houses and barns. Barn-wood picture frames have become quite popular.


The downside is it’s a time consumer. It’s not something that can happen overnight. But, it would behoove any property owner to at least take a closer look and assess the value of the materials.

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