File this one under Things You Don’t Find During Traditional Demolition- bear with me:
By the time our bricks were fired in 1906, mechanization had made significant inroads in the brick industry. Throughout the mid-19th century, both American and English brickmakers cum inventors devised machines to hasten the brickmaking process, harnessing steam power to drive an ever-evolving array of fantastical contraptions like the one you see below.
The machines performed many of the duties once assigned to workers: rather than being hand-molded one or several at a time, machines could produce ribbons of clay that were then cut into dozens of bricks with a quick swoop of a mechanical arm. Other machines pressed clay neatly into molds and sent them along a conveyor belt towards drying racks.
While the relentless pursuit of efficiency and profit resulted in the mechanization of much of the work formerly done by humans, it by no means obviated the need for workers in the brickmaking industry. Around the turn of the century, brickmaking operations often relied on humans to move bricks along from one step in the process to the next; though bricks could be machine-molded or cut, workers often handled the bricks as they were sent to drying sheds and, ultimately, the kiln.
We see evidence of this all over the place in East Baltimore. Every so often, we come across a brick with clear fingerprints impressed upon the surface. It’s highly unlikely that our bricks were fully hand-molded when they were made during the first decade of the 20th century, but it’s certain that they were shepherded along the process by several sets of human hands. Our best guess is that the fingerprints landed on our bricks after they were molded but before they’d been fully dried, when a worker lugged them to a drying shed.
The giants of modern brick production rely on an almost human-less process, with robots and highly specialized machines guiding the brick along a fully automated sequence. There are machines that stamp textures into the surface of the brick, and other machines that spray on layers of dye to give bricks a “historic look”.
The fingerprinted bricks on our sites are constant reminders that in 1906, real people, real Baltimoreans, made these bricks. A year or so after they were made, real people laid these bricks. And now, more than 100 years later, real people are salvaging these bricks.
Things are winding down on Eager Street (stay tuned for more info on the latest block we’re deconstructing!) so we thought it’d be a nice time to go through some numbers. Fear not, arithmophobes, though the following numbers are staggering, no math is involved.
Number of houses deconstructed:
Number of bricks salvaged:
Number of square feet of flooring salvaged:
Number of board feet of lumber salvaged:
Number of nails pulled:
Landfill diversion rate:
Number of tons of salvaged material:
Number of jobs created for BALTIMORE residents:
All good numbers and all good news. The better news is that all of these numbers are going to increase with every project we take on: more houses, more bricks, more jobs, more of an impact in our beautiful, charming, working city.
The careful observer may have noticed that the wood we salvage from Eager Street is usually marked with numbers. What gives?
Deconstruction forces you to slow down; rather than sending a 6 ton ball of steel through the houses on Eager Street, we’ve been taking apart the buildings surgically. One of the advantages of our methodical approach is the ability to track every ounce of salvageable material that leaves each house.
We’re not the only ones interested in our yields. The City of Baltimore, our steadfast partner through this entire endeavor, set goals for us: for every house in salvageable condition (i.e. houses unaffected by fire, water damage, or collapse) we’ve been aiming to salvage 800 board feet of lumber, 400 square feet of flooring, and 3000 bricks.
Every day, intrepid City Building Inspector Bill (above, right) comes by to check on our progress. We bundle our items by house number, creating stacks of salvaged flooring and lumber that correspond to each address. Bill eyeballs our harvests, checks our math, and signs off on our daily reclamation totals.
For flooring, we generally measure in lineal feet and then convert to square feet for the final tally.
For lumber, we measure each joist individually, write the length on the cut side, and bundle them in stacks with their housemates.
As for the bricks: we’ll need 105,000 to hit our goal and our pallets are stacked with 520 of ’em. That’s 201pallets if you’re counting, and if you’re not counting, rest assured that Bill is.
You’re in luck. On Saturday, December 13, Baltimore Heritage, a nonprofit historic and architectural preservation organization, will be hosting a walking tour of the 2400 block of Eager Street. It may strike you as odd, dear reader(s), that a historic preservation group would be hosting a tour of a deconstruction site, but we promise that if you show up at 10 AM on the 13th, it’ll all make sense!
We’re thrilled to be involved with the tour and we hope you’ll turn out to see how deconstruction and historic preservation can be wielded in unison to intelligently manage distressed housing while preserving materials and memories.
Check out the full event details HERE!
In an earlier post, we employed a barrage of cringe-worthy puns to explain the role of the humble joist: along with its brethren, a joist offers support for ceilings, floors, and walls. It’s a pretty important piece of wood.
Now we’re going to walk through the process of salvaging them from Eager Street.
1. Remove all material resting atop and/or below the joist itself. This involves removing the flooring that is nailed into the top of the joist, and removing the plaster and lath that was originally fastened to the bottom of the joist to act as a ceiling. In the houses on Eager Street, the joists supporting the first floor had no plaster beneath them because the basements were originally made without ceilings. The basement “ceiling” was actually just the underside of the first floor flooring.
NOTE: When removing material from atop joists, make sure that you’re not removing anything that might be structural. For instance, it would be a mistake to remove a bearing wall on the first floor while weight was still resting on it. The rowhouses on Eager Street feature very simple framing, with joists running across the width of the house into pockets within the brick walls. The joists do not bear on anything within the interior of the house, so we’re free to expose them without fear.
2. Cut wires, pipes, ducts, and any other materials that might obstruct joists during removal. Joists do more than just hold up floors, ceilings, and walls- they often serve as perfect places to route utilities. You’d be surprised how much resistance a century old electrical wire can give; snip ’em before attempting to remove the joist.
3. Give yourself a clear view of the exposed joists and come up with a plan. The old saying goes, “measure twice, cut once.” With joist removal, we can tweak that to “if you cut joists from the wrong side of the building you’re going to get stuck in the basement with no way out, cut once.” We always make sure we have a game plan for cutting the wood, sending it out of the house to be processed, and sending ourselves out of the house once we’re done. In our houses, we start from the rear of the house and work our way towards the front door. Because the joists do offer some measure of support to walls, we generally leave a couple joists in place.
4. With spotters in place, make your cut at one end of the joist. We use a Sawzall to make a quick, clean cut. There are a few ways you can make your cut: cutting straight down won’t free the joist completely because it will rest on the chunk left in the wall. Starting close to the wall and cutting back towards the joist will allow the joist to rest right in place. Starting a few inches back towards the joist and cutting towards the wall will cause the cut side of the joist to fall straight down. No matter which way you cut, have spotters on hand to catch the joist as it becomes free.