Green Building Blocks: Reducing Construction Waste

The Building Blocks of Green: Lowering Water Usage

Building green is all about reductions: reducing energy use, energy costs, and reducing resources. Not everyone can build or renovate a home that is 100% green; the reality of staying within budget is too often a barrier to going "all-in." The Green Home Source Building Blocks of Green were created to help homeowners make the best decisions in order to get a maximum amount of green for the amount of money and effort spent. All of the Building Blocks are important, but some more so than others.

As we work our way toward the top of the Building Block wall, we're making a stop at the construction process. Green home design and construction often looks at the finished home product, and how well it performs from an environmental standpoint. But the construction process itself is often very wasteful, and is an area where better practices can lead to reductions in resource usage.

Here we'll look at some of the ways to reduce home construction waste and make the process more sustainable, then look at where this Block fits in the Building Blocks Wall. If you're restricted by budgetary or other constraints, there are other Building Blocks to address first.

Home Construction Waste: Unsustainability at the Front End

A homes' environmental impact starts as soon as ground is broken and construction begins. Large amounts of construction wastes have always been considered an unavoidable part of building, but just as homeowners have started recycling their cans and newspapers, the home construction industry is slowly waking up to the problem of waste.

A study by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) estimates that 8,000 pounds of waste is created during construction of a 2,000 square foot home. Most of this waste comes in the form of excess wood and drywall as well as cardboard and plastic packaging materials. That's an enormous amount of waste that took an enormous amount of energy and resources to create that ends up sitting worthlessly in landfills.

Most of this wasted material is either unnecessary to begin with, or material that can be salvaged for reuse or recycled into new products. By streamlining the design and construction process, much of this waste can be avoided.

Advantages of Construction Waste Reduction

There are several advantages to cutting down on construction waste. First, reduction in waste reduces construction costs. Builders often overestimate the amount of materials needed for construction (especially wood and drywall) in order to ensure they have plenty of material to complete the job. By doing some homework and pre-planning, the builder can get a much more realistic estimate of materials needed. Less material = less waste = money saved.

Waste reduction allows waste materials to be used for other projects or recycled into new products, reducing natural resource and energy usage.

Cutting home construction waste drastically reduces landfill waste. According to the EPA, construction waste accounts for 40% of total U.S. solid waste.

Planning for Waste Reduction

The Building Blocks of Green: Reducing Construction Waste
Upfront planning is crucial for cutting down on construction waste. Communicate your desire to cut waste with your home designer,builder and contractors. If they know that waste reduction is important to you, it will become a focus for them as well.

Plan for waste reduction from the very beginning; as mentioned, ordering only the materials needed automatically leads to less waste. Using standard measurements as much as possible helps as well.

Consult with material suppliers to reduce packaging, and look for suppliers that have a buy-back policy to take back unused materials.

Look for materials that are "finished" before delivery to the building site. By finishing products in a controlled manufacturing environment rather that on-site almost always creates much less waste.

Seek out recycling and salvage centers to take any remaining waste ahead of time. There are other organizations and charities such as Habitat for Humanity that will take reused materials for use in other building projects.

Advertise your construction waste! Let neighbors and others know about materials you have left over, and create a construction site giveaway where people can take materials they may need for their own projects.

Much of the construction waste currently being thrown out can be reused or recycled. The following materials can easily be salvaged or recycled:

Asphalt, concrete, masonry, metals, clean wood, plastics, insulation materials, un-tempered glass, door/window assemblies, carpet/carpet pad, ceiling tiles, plumbing and lighting fixtures, cardboard, appliances, brush and trees

When dealing with any construction waste material, it's important to remember that any materials that contain toxic materials such as lead-based paints are disposed of properly, and not simply thrown into a landfill.

Reducing Construction Waste: How Important is it for a Green Home?

Having gone over some of the benefits of reducing home construction waste, where does the concept fit in our Building Blocks of Green wall?

Cutting down on the amount of waste that comes from the building or renovation of a home is part of making a home more sustainable, and is worth planning for, but is a relatively small part of a homes' long-term environmental footprint.

If you have limitations such as budgetary or other constraints, some of our bigger Blocks should be higher on your list of priorities. The production and transport of building materials, and associated waste, counts for only about 6% of a homes' energy use over its entire lifetime. Focusing on the larger Building Blocks will lead to larger amounts of energy savings over time.

While contributing a small amount to a homes' overall energy use, reducing construction waste can also increase the cost of construction. The time it takes to carefully separate out materials for salvage or recycling rather than simply throwing them into a dumpster adds to labor costs, another consideration when choosing which Building Blocks to use.

There are many, many ways to make a home greener; the goal should be to make the home as green as possible given your individual situation. Green home building is not a contest; there are no winners or losers. A home that includes any or the concepts of our Building Blocks of Green is a huge step on the road to a more sustainable, livable future for all.

To return to the main Building Blocks of Green page, click HERE.

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