Buy Versus Reuse Building Materials

Reusing old home features like doors can give your home character

When building a home, will you use new or old materials? Americans are consumers so building a house means piles of new materials — lumber, gravel, cement, drywall but not anymore. The green movement is challenging architects, builders and homeowners to reuse materials for new construction, renovations and remodeling.

Traditionally only easy to remove cabinets, doors and windows plus expensive or rare materials like brick and dimension stone have been re-claimed before old houses are undergo demolition. Deconstruction now looks at the viability of disassembling and reusing almost all building materials.

Homeowners think about their home in terms of it’s size, the number of rooms and whether there’s an open or traditional layout. Very few of us consider the type of materials that go into a new home, with the exception of siding and flooring — we focus more on the color of the roofing shingles, the kitchen cabinets and counter tops, the paint, etc.

A home is constructed of 1,000s of pieces of lumber, siding, shingles, insulation, drywall, nails, wiring, pipes and more. As we get more educated on what makes a home green, we’re learning to focus on reusing materials but that means learning more about the materials that go into a house.

This article is the third in a series on deconstruction and green building:

Non-Structural Materials to Reuse

Cabinets, doors and windows are often recycled but deconstruction goes much farther. Reclaiming these non-structural home components are step one but you don’t want to stop there. Think through a demolition project and what typically end up in dumpsters like fencing and driveway asphalt. The only real filter that needs to be applied to materials — they must be non-hazardous and uncontaminated in order to be reused.

  • Appliances can be reused or recycled. Up to 98% of a refrigerator’s parts can be recycled producing more than  120 pounds of recyclable steel.
  • Doors and windows have been recycled for years through architectural salvage businesses. My handyman business goes there for parts and there are wonderful items like this arched door from Nor’East Architectural Antiques.
  • Finish materials like fireplace mantles, wainscoting, stair parts and crown molding can be salvaged and reused. While mostly wood, don’t forget old tin ceilings and lighting fixtures.
  • Kitchen and bathrooms have cabinets, counter tops, sinks and fixtures that can all be reused so before you add them to the dumpster, donate or sell them through a local organization or online.
  • Flooring is frequently recycled, and especially the wider hardwood boards no longer available. Floor boards must be de-nailed during deconstruction.

Structural Building Materials We Can Reuse

Building materials when recycled reduce the strain on local landfills. For every 3 square feet of deconstruction, enough lumber can be salvaged to build one square foot of new construction. Here are photos of a renovation project where the original home was gutted leaving much of the structure in place. From left to right, you can see old sub-floor boards, the garage slab, both new and old floor joists in the garage, and the basement which shows new and old foundation and slab butted up to each other.

When renovating a home you should try to reuse as much as you can

While it’s great to reuse materials on the same job site, it’s possible to deconstruct a house and recycle materials by selling materials to local salvage companies or donating to non-profits like Habitat for Humanity.

  • Wood framing or dimensional lumber (finished/planed and cut to standardized width and depth) can be de-nailed and reused to frame out a new building.
  • Siding (wood shingles, clapboard, stucco and vinyl) can be reused or recycled.
  • Brick and stone can be reused although it will require removing the mortar.
  • Concrete maybe reused in the foundation of a new home or crushed to and reused as an aggregate in new Portland cement concrete, combined with virgin aggregate. More often it will be used as a sub-base layer.
  • Recycling of drywall is growing although more focus is on reducing drywall waste from new construction which generates 64% of waste, followed by demolition at 14%, manufacturing 12% and renovation 10%. Contaminants that must be addressed when recycling drywall include nails/screws, tape, joint compount which may contain asbestos and lead paint.

An interesting tip found while doing research for this article, was to leave drywall scraps in the interior walls of houses during new construction. Exterior walls hold insulation but inside walls are empty so why not store construction debris there to avoid the cost of transporting and disposing of the drywall.

  • Other materials that can be recycled include copper piping, plumbing lines, electrical and roofing materials.
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