Construction and home renovations are notorious for the amount of waste they create. Think of how many times you’ve seen hulking construction dumpsters sitting in front of a house, brimming with wood scraps, drywall, old carpet, and all kinds of odds and ends that are almost guaranteed to end up in a landfill. They won’t be sorted or separated for recycling or compost — those dumpsters are nearly always upended in the nearest landfill Construction & Demolition area. Not only will this cost you a pretty penny, but that waste will negatively contribute to the ecology around the landfill, too.
So, what can you do? Lots! Depending on the type of renovation you’re looking at doing, there are many ways you can save money and be green. If you’re already used to reducing waste and being environmentally conscious, this is another excellent area to put your expertise to good use. If it’s something you want to get in the habit of, this is a great way to learn how to live more green overall.
If you’re planning for a larger renovation, do an online search for eco renovation companies in your area. This issue is coming to the forefront of homeowners’ minds, and as a result, contracting companies are adapting to their environmentally aware customers. They’ll be able to walk you through how they dispose of different materials from your reno, sustainable source products, or salvage from other job sites.
Most of us will remember hearing the phrase, “Reduce, reuse, recycle!” bandied around schools, workplaces, or on TV at some point in our lives. This was always a good practice to follow and still is during your home reno project. Here’s how you can apply that old-school mantra now.
Reduce the amount of waste upfront. It’s staggering when you get an inside look into the amount of waste that many contractors consider to be just the price of doing business.
Why is this? There are a few main reasons. Most contractors learned their trades when construction materials were significantly less expensive than now and waste from off-cuts and scraps was less of an issue. In addition, the environmental movement has been gaining momentum over the past couple of decades, but it wasn’t always a consideration. Finally, the blunt truth is that it’s just easier for contractors to order more material and not optimize every piece that they’re using. This isn’t to say that they all do this, but it is a common practice, which is why it’s good to interview your contractor before you agree to work with them to get an idea of what their procedures are in this regard.
This requires a bit more time investment on your part, but it will pay off in savings and help you keep needless scraps out of the landfill. Asking questions about how many board feet your builder will need and comparing that to what they’re ordering can be an excellent way to track this. While it’s mostly impossible to make sure that every piece of every board or pipe is used, you’ll be able to monitor if the level of waste is reasonable. For example, if you’re putting in a 10-foot long, non-load bearing interior wall with studs 16 inches apart and a 9-foot ceiling, that’s about 120 total feet of 2×4 that you’ll need. If your builder suggests that they need to order 20 10-foot long 2x4s, you know that they’re over-ordering and not planning to optimize their use to reduce waste at the site. You can then ask them to do that, to find another area to use that 80 feet of off-cut, or order pre-cut material that fits your space and won’t generate any waste. These options will depend on your budget, builder, and your project and space specifics. This simplified example gives you a place to start thinking about questions to ask and how to approach this — we’re not contractors!
Re-use existing materials instead of purchasing brand new ones. You’d be shocked at how much building material gets ripped out during a renovation just to be heaved into a dumpster and then replaced with the same thing, only new.
For example, if you’re taking walls out, you’ll have 2×4 studs that will likely be somewhere around 8 feet. While you won’t want to reuse these as studs again necessarily, they’re perfectly good for use in other areas, like back framing.
Insulation can be reused as well — just know that as it ages, the R-value (the level to which it insulates) will decrease.
Even drywall can be reused if you’re keen enough or are working with a contractor that’s willing to spend some time on it. That goes for most of the ‘Reuse’ category – you have to have that conversation with your builder ahead of time because they won’t all be willing to do this. It takes more time to reuse old material than it does to send it to the dumpster and use neatly stacked, equal-sized 2x4s, and some builders just won’t want to take the extra time, even if you’re willing to pay for it.
Reusing items isn’t just for your building materials, either! Your interior decor can be upcycled or repurposed with a bit of gumption and some online tutorials, and who knows, you might love the DIY life and get into it regularly.
Recycle home renovation scraps instead of sending them to the landfill. This is another area that takes some dedicated time from you or agreement from your builder that they’ll handle this for you.
Recycling needs to be sorted, and this is the area that takes work in renovation projects. If you pull out a wall, for example, you’ll need to be sure to sort metal by separating the nails out of the studs and the electrical boxes and cable from the wood and drywall. The same goes for vinyl flooring, old carpet, and anything else that ends up coming out.
Once the sorting part is done, you’ll need to know where to dispose of everything properly. This will vary based on your location and the rules in your area, but you likely won’t have more than two or three stops to make to ensure you’re recycling instead of throwing out your construction waste.
Having stated goals is super important in keeping on track. That goes for you and for someone you hire! It also applies to your day-to-day efforts to live greener, not just in your eco renovation project.
Here’s our list to get you started:
Minimize the demolition work.
Use salvaged building materials.
Plan for deconstruction — meaning you can easily remove building parts during the next renovation.
Using materials that reduce waste when moving house during installation or use (that minimize packaging, adhesives, finishes, etc.).
Reduce and recycle waste during construction.
Use prefabricated components and materials prepared in a factory (such as framing) to reduce off-cut waste on your site.
Use standardized components that fit the dimensions of your house to reduce off-cut waste on your site.
Use materials and products that are durable, low maintenance, recyclable or reusable.
If you plan ahead when you’re in the early stages, before you begin your eco renovation project, you’ll be able to think through what materials are coming out of each room and what you can use to build and redecorate to keep your materials environmentally responsible.
Painting – choose eco-friendly paints
Kitchen – reuse/repurpose kitchen cabinets or reclaimed wood, tips to save water, sell old appliances and fixtures
Bathroom – Pick water-wise fixtures, install energy-efficient equipment, eco-friendly materials
Living room – buy recycled furniture, upcycle your current furniture, save window hardware and screens, repurpose carpeting, etc.
Bedroom – salvage flooring, sell or donate doors
Remember that as you’re planning what you can do and what you need a contractor to do, there’s also a middle ground, and that’s your friendly neighborhood handyman. It’s a great option to call a handyperson to paint, assemble or disassemble furniture, or help with installations. These aren’t tasks a builder will do, but you can take some work off your plate using a handyperson!
This is your chance to make a significant impact on how much waste you produce — don’t let that stop with your eco renovation! Reducing daily waste is something that adds up quickly and makes a more significant impact than you might think, especially when that’s compounded over your lifestyle as a whole.
In fact, a great way to reduce waste is by using building products that are durable and last longer. A new wave of technologically improved building materials is coming to market that do just that. Check out this recent blog from professional contractor Bryan Baeumler, co-host of HGTV’s Renovation Island, who presents his take on what lies ahead for the coming year in home renovation. One of his key takeaways? Durability will be key to going green
It takes some planning and coordination, but with a bit of extra thought and effort, your home renovation can be a great refresh for your life without having harmful impacts on the environment. You don’t have to be a DIY master to reduce, reuse, and recycle!
A great way to start a greener lifestyle is taking some food gardening courses.