Reclaimed Building Materials Are The Answer To An Environmentalist’s Construction Dilemma

by Owner on August 6, 2012

You want to build a new eco-friendly home, or renovate. But then… you have to build a new home or renovate, which often times isn’t very environmentally friendly. One solution to this dilemma is the use of reclaimed building materials.

Why Worry?

The environmental impact of building a structure from raw materials, like virgin timber and mined stone and ore, is huge. The problem is not just in the depletion of natural resources, but also in the energy required to change the materials into their final product. These first and seconds steps in the life cycle of a building, the mining/extraction/harvesting stage and the manufacture stage, are where the most substantial environmental impact occurs.

However, as the world’s population increases, and buildings keep going up and coming down, it’s becoming more and more valid to also evaluate the demolition stage of a building. Most of the materials that end up as rubble simply get sent to the landfill. That is, unless they are reclaimed.

Utilizing salvaged, or reclaimed, materials helps solve both of these issues. There is no energy required, nor any emissions produced, in harvesting or composing the salvaged materials because they are already done. They don’t end up in a landfill, either… so it’s a win-win!

There are many materials that are easily salvaged for re-use in new structures.

Recycled Glass Tiles: Composed of 30% to 100% post-consumer glass, these tiles are beautiful and versatile for use in everything from back splashes to floors.

Steel Framing: Steel framing can be used in place of lumber, and almost always contains post-consumer materials. Heavier gauge framing contains more than lighter-weight gauge.

Wood: From heavy old barn beams, to beautiful mahogany banisters and mantles, wood materials recycle nicely into new construction. Often times they are made of virgin timbers that are hard and durable, and you can use them with a clean conscience because you’re not deforesting the planet- they’ve already been used.

Fly Ash: Fly ash is an industrial byproduct of coal-burning power plants. When used in concrete, it actually improves structural performance. Concrete can be made of up to one half fly ash.

Drywall, cellulose insulation, and fiberglass insulation almost always contain recycled glass or paper fibers.

Masonry: Brick and stone, either for outdoor or indoor use, is another commonly salvaged building material.

Cabinets and Fixtures: You need simply to go to your local thrift shop or reuse-it store to find treasure troves of door knobs, cabinets, light fixtures, and even crystal chandeliers.

There are a number of ways to go about finding salvageable building materials.

Do It Yourself

The cheapest, but most labor-intensive option is to hunt for it yourself. Look for buildings that are condemned (a matter of public record), that have large metal waste bins out front, or that simply look like they are being heavily remodeled or demolished. Contact the owner and ask if you may remove the parts you need. Most homeowners will either charge you a nominal fee, or let you take what you want and save themselves the waste removal fees.

You can also search scrap yards. Just be careful not to choose old appliances, like toilets, and outdated windows (unless they’re for your greenhouse). They will not be energy efficient.

Shop Around

Habitat for Humanity operates ReStore, their outlet for salvaged home goods. This is a double-good because you are helping the environment and contributing to an excellent social organization. There are other local non-profit and for-profits also operating such stores. Just look up “reclaimed building materials” in the phone book or on a local internet search to find what’s available near you.

Utilize Social Networking

Hop on Facebook or Twitter, send out an e-mail, or put a posting on Craigslist or Freecycle. It’s amazing what your friends and neighbors would be happy to give away or sell.

So, if you’re debating about moving forward with that construction project because you don’t want to contribute to deforestation or the greenhouse effect, you can go forward with a clear conscience. Hop on the reclaimed bandwagon, and get out your hammer and nails.

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