Home Construction’s Dirty Secret: 8,000 lbs of Waste Per 2,000 Square Foot House
How carelessness on the job site leads to overflowing landfills, with tips on how to reduce construction waste
If you feel like you are doing your part for the environment by taking your box of recycling to the curb, consider how much went to waste in the construction of your house. According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) study, an estimated 8,000 lbs of waste is created from the construction of a 2,000 square foot home. The majority of the 8,000 is wood, cardboard, and drywall. Almost all of that waste ends up in landfills. More than one green builder I’ve met first looked into green building after growing increasingly disgusted at the tons of debris carried away on a construction site. Much of the debris was either unnecessary material or material that could be salvaged or recycled. The problem can be solved by streamlining the material coming into the construction site and better managing how the waste is separated and where it ends up.
A focus on waste reduction comes with three major benefits:
- A focus on waste reduction brings down the price of construction: Too often builders overestimate their need of a material and order an excess to make sure they have enough. This occurs most often with wood and drywall. With a little bit of pre-planning, the builder can order what he or she needs and save money in the process. Some manufacturers have a buyback option for unused material.
- Waste reduction provides material for future projects: Many construction materials can be reused or recycled. See a list below for construction materials that can find their way to new projects.
- It greatly reduces the amount of waste going into landfills: The EPA has estimated that waste from construction accounts for up to 40% of the nation’s solid waste.
Plan for waste reduction from the beginning, ordering only the materials needed.
Consider materials for more than one use.
Work with suppliers to limit packaging. If you need multiples of a material that comes individually packaged, try to arrange special packaging.
Seek out suppliers that have a buy-back policy.
Keep to standard measurements as much as possible.
The more “finished” a material is before its delivered, the better. Finishing something on-site creates waste.
Identify local recycling and salvage centers as well as organizations like Habitat for Humanity, who will take reusable material. These companies may provide “wood only” or “metal only” dumpsters for recycling.
Communicate to your workforce the new focus on waste reduction. One specific is to keep all scrap pieces of material in case a small piece is needed later in the project.
If you are tearing down an existing house, consider a construction site give-away section where neighbors can take away old appliances or fixtures.
Use a wood chipper to turn branches and trees into mulch.
The following materials can be recycled or salvaged:
- asphalt pavement
- gravel and aggregate products
- masonry scrap and rubble
- clean wood
- insulation materials
- un-tempered glass
- door and window assemblies
- carpet and carpet pad
- ceiling tiles
- plumbing fixtures and equipment
- lighting fixtures and electrical components
- brush and trees
Organizations like Habitat for Humanity will accept:
- many of the materials listed above if in good condition
- unused building material including sheets of drywall
- clean rugs
Remember that materials that have been contaminated with toxic chemicals or wood with lead based paint should be disposed of properly.
For an excellent analysis of waste management, try the Whole Building Design Guide.
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