Ethan Landis doesn't like to see good materials end up in the Dumpster. He knows that diverting material from the landfill, by reusing or recycling, saves natural resources. It saves him money to boot — less waste means fewer trips to the landfill and possibly a smaller Dumpster on site. And besides, he prides himself on the green remodeling work of his design/build company, Landis Construction, in Washington, D.C.
After a recent demolition, though, the remodeler found himself with huge steel girders and other scrap metal that he knew he had no use for. He called 20 different people to offer it for free, before he found someone willing to salvage it.
“This guy spent a lot of time cutting it up and loading it into two pickup trucks,” says Landis, “and then he probably spent $40 on gas driving back and forth, not to mention the cost of the wear and tear on his trucks. In the end, I don't think it was even worth his time. If I had to do it again, I wouldn't.”
David Bennick, who is on the board of the Building Materials Reuse Association (BMRA), www.buildingreuse.org, says that what Landis feels is typical. “I've talked to thousands of contractors — and these aren't tree-hugging environmentalists — and by far the majority of them say,‘I hate to see that stuff go to the landfill.'”
But they also haven't questioned throwing it away, Bennick says, because that's just what people do, unless landfill restrictions stop them. It's usually a question of time: Remodelers have to get old materials off a site fast, so they can put a house back together again.
The result? The EPA reports that in the U.S., construction and demolition waste amounts to roughly 164 million tons annually, of which 38% is renovation waste, and 53% is demolition debris.
REUSE, RECYCLE You can reuse or recycle almost everything on a remodel, with thoughtful planning and design up front, according to Carl Seville. He now runs Seville Consulting, but for 25 years he was vice president at SawHorse, a design/build and green construction company in Atlanta. Seville just finished a new showcase home for EarthCraft, a green renovation program based in Atlanta.
By scrutinizing the showcase-home project as a whole from the get-go, he was able to take advantage of more recycling opportunities. Says Seville, “Wood was donated for other structures; brick and stone were given to a renovation nearby; scrap wood was ground into mulch to protect the jobsite; concrete was hauled to serve as fill and erosion control, or ground up and recycled; a craftsperson came and took the window sashes; a contractor took the salvaged doors; cabinets were donated to a local nonprofit; and scrap tiles were ground into gravel.”
Other remodelers are finding that old flooring, decorative trim, and beams are in high demand across the country. On a recent remodel in Portland, for example, Green Hammer Construction reused much of the lumber removed during deconstruction for interior finishes, while the wood cabinets were all salvaged from another remodel up the street.