Seville Consulting
Big50 1998 with SawHorse

According to the National Association of Home Builders Research Center, residential demolition and remodeling account for over 50 million tons of debris going to landfills every year. Landfills are a limited resource, as is the fuel required to transport materials to them. Anything saved from a job and reused or recycled reduces the energy and resources required to produce the new product that it replaces.

Companies that recycle and identify themselves as green remodelers have the advantage of differentiation from their competition, which is valuable in any market and critical in these challenging times. Recycling can save money and provide tax benefits for you and your clients and can strengthen the reputation of your remodeling company.

Recycling is not complicated, but there is a learning curve. Challenges include tight jobsites, client objections to storing waste on the job, and finding places to take recyclables. With the proper planning and effort, you can redirect half or more of your waste from landfills through recycling and reuse.

Among materials you can salvage and reuse from jobsites are cabinets, lumber, trim, plumbing, and lighting. Even broken concrete slabs can be rebuilt into attractive retaining walls and walkways.

Off-site reuse can include milling valuable old lumber into new trim and flooring, and selling or donating old brick, cabinets, doors, and plumbing fixtures. Nonprofits will provide receipts for homeowner tax deductions.

On-site recycling typically involves hiring grinding companies to pulverize wood, drywall, brick, tile, and other materials that can be reused as mulch, soil amendments, and gravel. Those same materials can be hauled off-site to be ground, as can scrap concrete, which is ground into gravel. You can also have drink containers, cardboard, appliances, carpet, and scrap metal hauled to recycling yards. In some cases, the scrap value of these products offsets the cost of hauling them, saving dump fees. Certain high-value products, such as aluminum and copper, can be sold at a profit.

Information on recycling is available from green building programs including the NAHB Green Building Program , LEED for Homes , and many local groups. The PATH (Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing) and the NAHB Research Center sites include several studies on jobsite recycling.

Every remodeler can recycle at least some jobsite waste. Pick a job to start on, make a plan, set goals for recycling, and evaluate your results. Do as much as you can each time, and improve on every job. Recycling can very quickly become your new, improved standard, allowing you to reduce your costs, improve your reputation, and do something good for the environment.

Anthony Wilder Design/Build
Cabin John, Md.Big50 1998

First, get the buy-in of clients and team members. Deconstructing and reusing building materials does make the demo phase take longer, but most people understand the benefit of sending as little as possible to the landfill. It is rare for our clients to not want to reuse or recycle. Often, they'll arrange for their old appliances or cabinets to be given to friends or housekeepers.

We also work closely with our trade partners (plumbers, floor installers, etc.) in identifying cost-effective ways to deconstruct and recycle. Their help can double, triple, or quadruple the sets of eyes looking for items that can be reused or recycled.

In all of our projects, we separate out all materials that can be taken to the appropriate recycling centers. Our Dumpster service, Contractors Disposal Services, helps make this happen.

In large projects, we work closely with a wonderful organization in Baltimore called Second Chance . They spend about two weeks deconstructing and taking as many salvageable items and systems out of the house as possible, such as roof shingles, wood flooring, wiring, piping, lighting fixtures, plumbing fixtures, windows, and cabinets. The homeowner also gets a very nice tax rebate from anything that is donated to Second Chance.

In a recent bungalow expansion, the client loved the look of the old, ornate cast iron radiators and didn't want to have to use more modern-looking radiators. But the addition required additional radiators as well. Our plumbing contractor helped us find a larger old radiator from another home he was working on (that client wanted a more modern look). We had a very tight timeline in which to coordinate, but we measured, calculated for the proper heat output, and were able to incorporate radiators from both homes into the bungalow. Our client was thrilled that the design of the two radiator styles worked so well.

During the demo phase of that project, we also carefully saved all the heart pine floor boards from the affected parts of the house. We needed additional flooring for the extra space we created, so we worked with our flooring company to find matching recycled heart pine flooring.

Landis Construction
Washington, D.C.
Big50 2005

A number of realities hinder the potential of capturing building materials for donation and reuse (scroll down for details from our experience).

One possibility may be to hire a deconstruction company, which will carefully remove anything as small as a kitchen or "unbuild"anything as large as an entire house. Or, here are my recommendations for setting up your own deconstruction program:

Use the following resources to identify local outlets that accept salvaged and surplus building materials in your area:

Contact local outlets to learn what materials they accept, whether they pick up donated materials or require them to be dropped off, what their pick-up lead times are, whether they pay for certain items, and whether they give tax credit receipts for donated items.

As early in the process as possible, identify any materials — especially those that are of value — that are slated for removal. Talk with the homeowner about how to dispose of the products: does he or she want to sell some items or want to donate them for a tax credit? If the homeowner doesn't care what happens, ask him or her to give disposition rights over to the company.

Take pictures of these items and send the pictures to the receiving organization, so they can indicate whether they want what you have.

Label these "acceptable"items prior to deconstruction/demolition, and make sure the team performing the work understands what to save, how to remove them, and how to keep the items in the best possible condition.

If the accepting organization can pick up the items, try to anticipate when the project's permit will be approved, and give the organization plenty of lead time. Identify areas of the property where the items can be temporarily stored until the pick-up team arrives. Confirm pick-up dates as soon as your permit is in hand and your decon/demo team is under way. And obtain documentation for any tax credit or monetary compensation received for the donation.

Our Findings

Reuse operations won't take anything and everything, and rightly so. Advanced planning is needed to identify the materials that are slated for removal, to photo document them, to send the pictures to the prospective reuse operations, to mark these items, and to discuss the marking system and careful removal procedures with those who will be removing them.

Bear in mind that it can be difficult to accurately predict when a permit will be issued and a project will get the green light. This makes it hard to schedule pick-ups on specific dates, especially since many reuse operations have long lead times. It is critical to plan for materials to be stored on site for some period of time.

Many reuse operations run on shoe-string budgets and often don't have vehicles available for pick-ups. Even if they do have vehicles, they may have a shortage of insurable drivers, with those drivers wearing many other hats besides doing pick-ups.

At this point, storage becomes the issue. Even if a job has space in a garage or another part of the house that is not being worked on or lived in, the patience of homeowners or neighbors can quickly wear thin.

Also remember the unwritten rule of construction that crew members get dibs on any materials that might appear to be headed for the Dumpster. If you're serious about reusing and recycling materials, you must explicitly inform all employees and subcontractors that jobsite materials are no longer available for their taking. They may feel that an important perk of the job has been revoked. So be prepared to discuss this!

DC-area sources or brokers for salvaged and surplus building materials:

DeConstruction Services
8929 Colesbury Place, Fairfax VA 22031

The Brass Knob Architectural Antiques
2311 18th St. NW, Washington DC 20009

The Brass Knob Backdoors Warehouse
57 N St. NW, Washington DC 20001

Community Forklift
4671 Tanglewood Dr., Edmonston MD 20781

Frederick Non-Profit Building Supply
105 E South St., Frederick MD 21701

The Loading Dock
2 N Kresson St., Baltimore MD 21224

Mt. Rainier Antiques, Thrift, & Salvage
3815 34th St, Mt. Rainier MD 20712
301.779.1740 #5 (voice mail)

The Newel Post
7600 Jefferson Ave., Landover MD 20785

Habitat for Humanity Restore, Arundel, Md.
8101 Fort Smallwood Rd., Curtis Bay MD 21226

Second Chance
1645 Warner St., Baltimore MD 21230

Vintage Lumber
1 Council Dr., Woodsboro MD 21798

Habitat for Humanity Restore, Manassas, Va.
9506 Center St., Manassas VA 20110