There are so many easy ways to increase the environmental friendliness of your home, many being cheap or even free, that going green has become pretty simple. Changing bulbs as they burn out to more efficient, longer lasting LED bulbs. Lowering your thermostat by 3 degrees in the winter or raising it in the summer. Lowering the temperature of your hot water heater by a few degrees. Swapping out your shower head for one that uses less gallons per minute (GPM). If you incorporate one of these things a week for an entire year, you will save money and your home will be so much greener.
But what if you work in construction? What if you spend your work days tearing apart houses and throwing away a majority of them? How do you stay green while you’re creating that much waste?
A small amount of resourcefulness goes a long way when you’re trying to stay green in the world of construction and remodeling. There are more ways than most people realize to keep your waste down on a typical remodeling project. Most fixtures in the house can be reused, most waste can be recycled and a lot of new material can actually be reused or reclaimed. With a small amount of research, you can start Green Remodeling.
First, when I am starting a remodeling project, I go through the scope of the project and identify anything that is going to be removed from the house, but is still in good shape. Good working doors, windows, toilets, tubs, light fixtures, kitchen cabinets, even hardwood flooring can be donated. You can donate materials to Habitat for Humanity to be used in houses being built for low income residents. There are reuse stores that take used building materials and resell them for use in building projects. The best part about these services is that most of them will come pick up the donated material for free. A current remodeling project I have going right now had a decent set of french doors going outside that weren’t going to be needed any more. I called a Seattle company called Second Use and they came and picked them up.
If you want to try to get some money yourself instead of donating the items to a second use store, you can just sell some of the reusable materials yourself. Doors and windows are commonly sought after being sold on sites like Craigslist. You can sell most of your plumbing fixtures as well as used appliances that are still in good shape. You can get a few bucks back to use toward the remodel project by selling a few pieces of used building material and keep your construction project green at the same time. One of my current remodeling projects involves raising a roof and turning an attic into living space. The owner has purchased all of the windows for the project either from craigslist or from the Second Use store. He even bought a couple of extra used windows to replace a couple of old inefficient windows on the first floor.
When working in green remodeling, reusing as much as possible is definitely going to be your best option. Recycling and donating are great options to keep material out of the landfill, but not getting rid of it at all is the greenest option. Don’t go overboard with the demo phase of the project. If you aren’t sure it needs to come out, wait until you are sure. That way, you don’t need to waste that material if it ends up not needing to be demoed. Also, the framing material that gets demoed can usually be reused and if the lumber doesn’t meet code for framing, it can still be used as blocking and save you a lot of needed materials. Some friends of mine had the windows in their house replaced with more energy efficient windows. They then used the old aluminum windows to build a greenhouse in their backyard for their gardening purposes. Win win!
Most building projects that don’t fall into the category of green remodeling just throw everything into a dumpster and send it to the landfill. Even more environmentally conscious builders don’t know that most building materials are recyclable. When I start a remodeling project, I make myself a list of what is going to be removed from the site and I make sure it is going to the appropriate disposal location. These are the common materials that I take to their own individual recycling facilities.
- Dirt & Rock
- Concrete, Brick & Asphalt
- Wood (untreated & unpainted)
- Sheetrock (clean, new construction)
- Asphalt Roofing Shingles
Most municipalities have their own guidelines for what is allowed to go into the landfill and what must be recycled. Bigger cities are generally stricter with recycling requirements, but recycling is a better option no matter where you live. In Seattle, you can go to What Do I Do With and it will direct you to the places that will take your construction material. It’s a great website that is very easy to use.
Research you’re city’s options and call your local waste management companies to find out what the best options for recycling construction material is in your area.