- Published: 21 February 2009 21 February 2009
If anyone’s looking for material to literally last centuries, stone’s the answer. So why bury it in a landfill?
For people with an appreciation for old stone – along with plenty of space to store it – salvaging the material from homes, commercial structures and even bridge abutments is more than a pastime. It’s a business.
While it’s often at least as expensive as utilizing newly quarried material, old stone holds plenty of appeal for these specialized salvage companies. It’s a matter of appreciating for the workmanship in the material, or matching stone found in other places, or simply wanting something a little out of the ordinary.
EYE FOR HISTORY
Few people in Cincinnati appreciate the old stone of that Ohio River city as much as Jason Reinhold, owner of Land and Stone Inc. Although his specialty is landscaping, he says simply working with stone helped him recognize the value of what was done in the past.
“The time it takes to cut or face it, well, it’s pretty labor-intensive,” he says. “When I saw buildings getting knocked down that had the same stone we’re quarrying today, and that are cut the same way – except it was all done by hand – I knew it was worth saving.”
Although he’ll keep an eye out for just about any structure with stone walls or a stone foundation that’s scheduled to be demolished, Reinhold’s pride and joy is the final two buildings of an industrial complex built around 1890 to manufacture trolley cars.
“They were sizeable; I’d say half the size of a football field, and each solid stone,” he says of the structures. “Because there was no electricity in them, they had giant windows. The window lintels are sandstone, and some of them are 90” long, 15” thick and 18” deep.”
Reinhold estimates he salvaged about 200 of the lintels alone, and they’re now becoming fireplace mantles and benches.
“They have a lot of nice chisel marks on them from when they used to bush hammer the stones,” he says. “They’d beat them down as flat as a brick.”
Reinhold isn’t the only one to appreciate bygone craftsmanship, however. On the Lake Erie side of Ohio, Alan Klammer and his Fairport Harbor, Ohio-based The Stone Salvage Co. are busy saving stone from houses, barns and bridge abutments for much the same reason.
“When you tear down these old buildings, there’s a lot of hand craftsmanship you can see in the stone,” Klammer says. “Even though it’s kind of crude, it’s something that was clearly made by hand and there’s a skill involved that no longer exists.”
The name of Tom Bergin’s business – Historic Stone Co. – leaves no doubt as to its ties to the past. However, neither Bergin nor his partner had any relationship with the stone industry until they started the business six years ago. Bergin’s also involved in a family food operation, and his partner is a firefighter.
The two men started the St. Paul, Minn.-based operation after meeting at a demolition site where both were seeking to salvage stone for home-restoration projects.
“We try to specialize in stone that’s no longer available or being quarried in our neck of the woods,” Bergin says. “We have a lot of brownstone that came out of the Lake Superior area. We do local limestones, and we specialize in quarried stone that’s not now available.”
Because of their interest in the historic and restoration, the company also carries salvaged brick and cobblestones.
Salvage is only part of the game for Santa Barbara, Calif.-based StoneYard Building Materials, although Mike Harrington and his partners certainly don’t object to getting their hands on an old building and saving the stone for reuse.
For instance, the company’s Website features a home of Santa Maria limestone originally built in 1956 that they’ve salvaged and put on pallets for resale.
“When that home was built, the stone cost $16 a ton,” Harrington explains. “Now, the pits aren’t quite as high a quality, but the same stone retails for about $2,100 a ton. It’s one of the most expensive stones out there for doing wall veneer work.”
However, the StoneYard’s real specialty is Santa Barbara sandstone, and they salvage what they can of it.
“We just recognized the product here in town,” he says. “We were seeing it on a lot of old buildings and we were seeing there was a lot of value there that was going to dumps. Not wanting to let that happen, we try to negotiate the rights to take it away.”
The partners also extend their salvage work beyond cut stone, though. Because the material is unique to the Santa Barbara area, they go on construction sites and negotiate the rights to the sandstone that’s excavated, then take it back to the StoneYard and turn it into usable products.
In many cases, that involves giving it the same look as the stone they’ve salvaged.
“The older stuff is really appreciated,” says Harrington. “It’s generally the model for what’s being done new. Like the real durable stonework that’s in Europe, that stuff is still neat today and it’s the model for what people want. We try to reproduce it in our yard, and we’re doing orders like that all the time.”
What the buyers of salvaged stone look for varies by market and by what’s available. Still, it’s hugely popular both for landscaping and for veneers. And, the StoneYard certainly isn’t the only one doing a little cutting to give people what they want.
Historic Stone’s Bergin says his customers are a mix of folks who want historic accuracy and others who are just looking for something unique.
“Some want to match their home’s original stone,” he says. “Say that you have a cracked lintel or sill and you want to match the color. Others are just looking for something different than they’d get at Home Depot.”
Particularly when the stone is being used for restoration, Historic Stone will have pieces sawn to size to create perfect replicas.
“Probably about half our work is restoration and the other half is with landscaping, Bergin adds. “Some of the old limestone makes great edging, and a lot of it goes into unique gardens.”
Along with his landscape work, Land and Stone’s Reinhold says the stone he salvages sees a lot of residential use, and not just in benches and fireplace mantles.
“We’re doing veneers,” he says. “We do house veneers, fireplaces indoors, walls outside, pretty much anything you want to do with it.”
He says some of his material can even be sawn to a 2” veneer if necessary, although a lot of what he uses is 4”-6”.
“With the two big buildings I salvaged, you can still face it,” Reinhold says of the stone. “It doesn’t dry rot. You can shape it. We’ve done some round fountains out of it where we’re cutting it into round radiuses with square faces.”
The Stone Salvage Co.’s Klammer says he tries to stay away from cutting his salvaged stone, although he will split it if need be.
“We’re using it a lot for veneers,” he says. “People want the look. I’ve also sold pieces for hearths and fireplace surrounds. A lot of it goes for landscape retaining walls.”
While there is a demand for the old stone, both indoors and out, there are a few drawbacks with getting into stone salvage as a business. Perhaps the biggest is simply convincing the owners of old buildings and the contractors they’ve hired to demolish them that the stone still has value.
“A lot of times they’re hard to deal with,” says Reinhold. “They’d rather pay to bury it in a dump and truck it there and pay the trucking than give it to you.”
“Sometimes it takes awhile,” agrees the StoneYard’s Harrington. “Guys don’t know who you are and they don’t want you to come on their site. When you start showing them dollars they get more interested. Sometimes it can take more than a year to get somebody to see the light.”
Even finding projects that might offer salvageable stone isn’t always easy. Bergin says he’s found it takes a combination of things to keep Historic Stone in projects to salvage.
“We’re out looking for them, and then people we’ve done stuff with know we’re out thee and they call when they hear of projects,” he says. “You get a network going after you’ve been doing this a few years.”
Because he focuses on bridge abutments, Klammer’s found the Internet to be a great source of information.
“Highway contractors use the Internet to bid work, and you can pull prints off it,” he explains. “I look for jobs where they list an existing structure. When it’s an old stone foundation that has to be removed, I contact the contractor. Old railroad maps also show abandoned rights-of-way, and in some cases there are still stone bridges and crisscrosses available there.”
While Bergin is testament to the fact that home renovators see the value of such stone, Reinhold says convincing people to use salvaged stone on larger projects is definitely a hard sell, too.
He relates his experience trying to convince the University of Cincinnati to utilize stone salvaged from an old chapel for an addition to one of its buildings erected with the same limestone during the same time frame – the 1870s. He says he couldn’t even convince them to use it as a veneer on the foundation.
“This probably came from a quarry about five miles from the site, and it would be a perfect match,” he says. “However, the architects like to go the path of least resistance and just get it done from new materials.”
There are also the issues of trucking and storage. Reinhold, for instance, says he’s spent $15,000 on a single weekend just hauling stone, and storage can take acres.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have a few spots where I can store the stuff where I can bring in 50 semi-loads and dump it,” he says. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to do some projects.”
“In certain circumstances, if there’s somebody nearby, I’ll store it on their land because it’s so expensive to transport,” says the Stone Salvage Co.’s Klammer. “Every situation is different.”
Still, despite the obstacles, these men believe there’s going to be a growing market for salvaged stone in the years to come. Bergin, for instance, has investigated using rail to ship particularly desirable finds.
“We’ve looked at some projects away from the Twin Cities, and we think they can be done,” he says. “If there was a brick or cobblestone road of size, it could be worth freighting to get it into markets that need it.”
Perhaps because he’s in California and his business includes salvaging rock that’s been excavated from construction sites, but StoneYard’s Harrington sees stone as an attractive product for environmentally-conscious buyers.
“I used to build homes, too, and a lot of the products we used created landfill waste,” he says. “One of the nice things about stone is you’re not going to see it go to the landfill very often. It’s never going to turn into a dumpster product.”
Of course, these days the company is utilizing just as much of its stone as it can. Even the smaller cobbles of Santa Barbara sandstone are sold for landscape projects, and the StoneYard recently added a tumbler.
“We take what would normally be the cuttings or the waste from the quarrying operations and our other jobs, put them in the tumbler and give it a spin,” Harrington concludes. “Out pops this material that people are using for making walls and creek beds. It’s a new product line that would otherwise have gone to the landfill.”
This article first appeared in the December 2005 print edition of Stone Business. ©2005 Western Business Media Inc.