The Benefits of Using Recycled Building Materials

Learn about the benefits of using recycled building materials including the positive environmental impact, the money saved, and the joy of salvaging rare buildling supplies.

| February/March 1998

What do aluminum cans, newspapers, tires, books, warehouses, barns and houses have in common? Believe it or not, they can all be recycled.

More and more commonly, used building materials are being sold in warehouses all across the country. They are being salvaged from old buildings that would have been demolished, but are instead being "deconstructed."

In deconstruction, the building has to be surveyed to determine what can be salvaged and what can't before any dismantling work can be done. Crew members look for visible defects and more subtle signs of wear and tear, as well as how difficult a certain material is to remove. The entire process is both labor intensive and time consuming and is something like building the structure in the first place, only backwards.

According to Leslie Kerkland, director of The Loading Dock, a clearinghouse for reusable building materials, "We go into building that would otherwise be bulldozed or burned down, and we salvage what we want to sell in our warehouse and what we know our customers want. It's mainly doors, sinks, toilets, lumber, flooring."

Deconstruction has been slow to catch on because contractors are doubtful of its time and cost effectiveness. It becomes more attractive when you take into account the savings in disposal costs and the resale value of the building materials. Even greater, though, are the environmental benefits of salvaging and deconstruction: improved air quality from not having to burn waste materials, less landfill use, and reduction of solid waste. Some of the lumber recovered from deconstructed buildings has even been classified as vintage or priceless. Old growth timbers, architectural trimmings, and antique doorknobs can all be found at used building materials yards.

In Santa Rosa, Calif., a company called Beyond Waste has deconstructed and salvaged materials from many buildings, including thousands of board feet of old growth lumber. "The lumber recovered from some of these buildings is lumber you can't find anymore. When we take down a building piece by piece, we're actually preserving old growth forests," says Pavitra Crimmel, one of Beyond Waste's partners.

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