Thursday, August 06, 2009

Architectural salvage, a cautionary tale.

We love old stuff around here. Part of it is our interest in reduce/reuse/recycle, but more honestly, we just like old stuff. Something about the history embedded in collected bits of the past makes them feel special. We also love shopping for them at Seattle's trio of great architectural salvage stores:
1. Second Use (South Park)
2. EarthWise (SODO)
3. Restore (Ballard)

We can spend an entire day wandering around and looking at all the treasures they have saved from the dustbin. In fact, for our recent wedding anniversary, that is exactly what we did. Three salvage stores, lunch at Paseo, groceries from the Pike Place Market, and an amazing steak dinner. Perfect!

So when we started planning for our raised bed garden in the little strip next to the garage it was natural to say "lets see what we can get at Second Use" if only because it is right around the corner (almost) and we don't need much of an excuse to go there. We found that they had a huge assortment of glazed terracotta facade tiles from an old apartment building. These had been around for awhile, and had slowly been coming down in price until they were $2.00 each. They were just what we were looking for and, at that price, were cheaper then anything new. It took about 4 trips (in the CRV) to load and move the 40 or so tiles we needed, but as soon as we got them home Rae got to work cleaning and moving them into place.

She spent most of two days working on them.
Just when they were all in place, and we were about to start sifting in the dirt, she said "there is nothing we should be worried about in using these, right?".
Once asked, it occurred to me that they might have a lead based glaze. A quick trip to the hardware store for a lead test kit and several repeated tests later revealed the sad truth. At least some of the tiles tested strongly for lead. I am still not sure if the results are based upon the glaze (since some did and some didn't). My other theory is that many years of exposure to lead carrying auto exhaust had befouled them. Either way, we were not going to grow tomatoes in them.

Rae was sad, really sad. So I scooted off to the friendly local lumber yard (Alki Lumber, GREAT place!) and bought enough cedar to rebuild the beds. Rae carted all the tiles away, and we quickly screwed together replacements.

Not nearly as pretty, but at least the veggies won't poison us.
The lesson here is obvious, be careful! Oh, yeah, and think ahead.
When I called to let them know about the lead, the good folks at Second Use offered to take back the blocks. We kept them because we really like the way they look. We will eventually figure out what to do with them, but for now they are exiled to the front yard where they line the fence and collect weeds.