Green Home – Dealing with Construction Waste
Building A GREEN HOME involves not only careful design of the house — making it energy-efficient, resource-efficient, and healthy but also the process of building it. One of the issues to consider when planning your green home is what to do with the construction waste that will be generated. This article takes a look at strategies to minimize and properly manage construction waste on the job site. Such strategies will enable you to haul less waste off to the landfill, which not only helps the environment, but saves money as well. The 3 “R”s of waste management — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle — apply very well to construction waste and will serve as the organizing principle for this article.
REDUCING JOB-SITE WASTE
Many of the strategies to reduce construction waste should be addressed primarily during house design.
Design Strategies for Reducing Job-Site Waste
Minimize house size. In general, the smaller the house, the less waste will be generated during construction. Minimizing house size also reduces resource use for materials and energy use by the finished house.
Design the house dimensions on 2-foot or 4-foot modules. If the length and width of house walls are standard dimensions, there will be far less cutoff waste of framing lumber, panel sheathing, drywall, and so forth. These materials will be used more efficiently, and less waste will be generated.
Design the house with standard ceiling heights. Wood and steel studs are sold in standard lengths, and panel products, such as drywall and sheathing, are sold in standard widths and lengths. If wall heights match these standard dimensions, there will be less waste, and construction may be more rapid as well, since less cutting is required.
Use resource-efficient construction details and building systems. Advanced framing, two-stud corners (with drywall clips), engineered headers above windows, and structural insulated panels are examples of construction details and building systems that can reduce the amount of material used in construction — and the amount of waste generated.
Buy Building Materials with Minimal Packaging
Packaging waste — cardboard, pressboard, paper, and plastic — can account for a very significant percentage of the total job-site waste generated when building a house. Look for products, or ask your contractor to look for products, that have minimal packaging, and try to buy from manufacturers that will take back the product packaging. Don’t buy nails and drywall screws in plastic throwaway blister packs, for example, if they can be purchased in bulk. If minimally packaged materials aren’t available at your building supply center, ask for them. Consider e-mailing manufacturers. Just a few people complaining about over-packaged materials can make a big difference.
Buy Building Materials Made from Recycled Waste
When you buy building materials made from recycled polyethylene or cardboard or newspaper, you’re boosting demand for recycling. The greater the demand for recycled materials, the more successful municipal or private recycling programs will be, and the easier it will become to recycle waste. This cyclical system builds on itself. So, when you buy wall sheathing made out of recycled cardboard, you’re indirectly making it easier to recycle cardboard on your job site.
REUSING JOB-SITE WASTE
The second part of the “3 Rs” waste management mantra is to reuse materials that would otherwise be thrown away. When remodeling your house, consider what products can be salvaged for reuse. If you can’t use the medicine cabinet that’s being removed, donate it to a local nonprofit housing agency, or sell it at a tag sale, or just put it out by the street with a sign saying, “Free.” (You’ll be amazed at what people will take!)
During construction, keep a pile of shorter lumber cut-offs; they can be used for blocking or headers above windows. The same strategy may work for drywall, although if specialized drywall subcontractors are brought in to hang the drywall, they may work so quickly that segregating usable scraps isn’t practical.
RECYCLING JOB-SITE WASTE
Despite your best efforts, and the best efforts of your contractor, to produce less waste and reuse as much of it as possible, it is inevitable that construction waste will be generated in building a new house. This is where recycling comes in — the last of the “3 Rs.”
A responsible builder should develop a waste management plan addressing the recycling of job-site waste. If he or she doesn’t seem inclined to develop such a plan, offer to help. The waste management plan should identify types of job-site waste that are expected to be generated, where such materials can be recycled, and how to segregate (if needed) and store them on the site to facilitate easy recycling. Your local municipal waste management agency can be a big help in researching these options. Many such offices publish directories of places that accept recyclable materials.
In some areas, separation of construction waste isn’t actually needed. Large construction companies may rely on waste disposal services, where the recyclable materials are separated at a central materials recovery facility (MRF). But in most situations, job-site separation of waste will make the most sense.
When taking recyclable materials to recycling facilities, try to combine trips so as to reduce fuel use and environmental impacts of driving. One large load is more efficient than several smaller loads.
PROPER DISPOSAL OF WASTES THAT CANNOT BE RECYCLED
Some scrap materials — such as wood treated with chemical preservatives, painted products, and some composite products made from more than one material — won’t be accepted by any recycling facility. Be sure your contractor disposes of these materials properly. Construction waste should never be burned on-site because of the risk that plastics, treated wood scraps, paints, and other potentially hazardous materials may end up in the burn pile. Uncontrolled burning of waste in open piles or barrels results in significant release of air pollutants, including such toxins as dioxin.
Clean, unpainted lumber scraps can be saved as kindling for use in wood stoves, fireplaces, or masonry heaters. The best disposal option for preservative-treated wood is landfilling. This is especially true with older CCA-treated wood (which is no longer used in most residential construction). Even though municipal incinerators fitted with state-of-the-art pollution-control equipment do a good job at controlling air emissions, the heavy metals in CCA-treated wood will end up in the incinerator ash, which will then have to be landfilled. These heavy metals are highly leachable from the ash and can pollute groundwater if the landfill liner fails.
Depending on how good a job you and your contractor do with the 3 “R”s of waste management — Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle — remarkably little waste may be left over for disposal. A builder in Seattle has succeeded in reducing the total waste from an average house he builds down to a single trash barrel. Not only does this make the builder feel proud for helping the environment, but it also saves hundreds of dollars that are normally spent disposing of the wastes produced in building a new house.