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how to reduce home construction waste

How to Reduce New Home Construction Waste

By Laura Bourland Rise Writer
Oct 30, 2020

Did you know the construction industry is one of the highest producers of waste, amounting to over 569 tons of C&D waste dumped into US landfills in 2017 alone?

Building a new, environmentally friendly home with sustainable materials is a smart choice. But, we must look at the whole picture to reduce on-site waste from start to finish. 


Sustainable Demolition of Old Structures

Waste produced when tearing down old construction amounts to over 90% of all construction waste. Before settling on the complete demolition of existing structures at your site, consider what might be repurposed. Here are some tips to get you thinking.

Incorporate Stable Structures

Complete a thorough inspection of existing buildings to determine whether any part of it may be useable. Stone and brick fireplaces may be kept intact and integrated into your new construction plan, and, if you’re lucky, you might even be able to save arches, doorways, or even whole rooms. 

Rescue Usable Materials 

A soft tear down dramatically reduces waste by safely removing recyclable materials like glass, stone, wood, fixtures, tile, etc. Materials can be repurposed in your new home, sold, or donated for other projects. Donations may even be tax-deductible. 

Sort Recyclables

As you tear down old structures, sort recyclable materials for easier cleanup. You can sort wood, glass, stone, and metal into separate piles for easier pick-up and drop off. Sort materials based on what you’ll be able to use in your new home construction or other projects and those you’ll donate.

stone wall
Photo courtesy of Seeds

Planning Your New Home Construction

Building a new, sustainable home is an incredibly exciting venture, but do yourself a favor and take a step back for a moment.

Before you run out to buy materials or drive a single nail into your new structure, you must have a well-thought-out plan. By creating a detailed blueprint, project plan, and list of all materials needed, you’ll avoid overbuying and buying things you won’t even need, thus proactively reducing construction waste.

And while we’d all like to think our new construction home will last forever, we can’t predict the future. A new job might take you out of state, a natural disaster could cause damage, or you might want to move somewhere else someday. Experts recommend building new construction with disassembly in mind, making it easier to deconstruct the house, and either move it elsewhere or repurpose your high-quality materials for another project. 

How to Plan for Easy Disassembly:

  1. Draw Up Plans. Take the extra time to draw out your dream home before construction begins. Open-span structural systems are much easier to deconstruct than more intricate designs. 
  2. Favor Standard Sizing. Plans that choose standard-sized materials (lumber, especially) reduce waste associated with cutting materials to size and are easier to deconstruct and repurpose. 
  3. Choose Your Fasteners Wisely. Homes built with nails, screws, and bolts are easy to take apart and move or recycle. Avoid glues, sealants, laminates, and adhesives that are more difficult to deconstruct and may prevent the recycling of viable materials.
Master Builders house plans
Photo courtesy of Master Builders

Starting New Construction Strong

Now that you have a solid plan in place to not only build but also deconstruct your new sustainable home, it’s time to prepare the site for building by organizing your materials.

Marcelle Guilbeau Interior Design wood wall
Photo Courtesy of Marcelle Guilbeau Interior Design

Sustainably Sourcing Construction Materials

Before you start purchasing, look around for materials that can be repurposed or recycled in your new house. Old wooden doors from demolition may only need a little refinishing to be revived for interior doors. Or, they can be cut for shelving. Reclaimed stone may be just the right touch for a front walkway or unique mantle. 

Beautiful, reclaimed materials can also be found at your local recycling center, Freecycle.org, and thrift stores like Habitat for Humanity ReStores, Salvation Army, and Goodwill.

Once you’ve recovered as many materials as you can, it’s time to hit the store. We recommend buying high quality, long-lasting materials that won’t need replacing and can be repurposed if or when your home is ever deconstructed. Most home building projects require a significant amount of materials. Talk to the shop owner to negotiate bulk pricing, buyback of excess materials, and returnable packaging and containers. Take your plans along with you to avoid overbuying and impulse buying. 

Trash metal
Photo courtesy of Master Builders

Organize the Construction Site

An organized and systematic building site will help decrease waste and move things along quicker. 

Sort Recyclables on Site

Inevitably there will always be some amount of waste associated with new construction. Arrange a recycling system with barrels or containers to systematically separate all waste streams - wood, metal, stone, drywall, etc. You might also create a pile of excess you’ll keep for future building projects. 

Protect Materials

Nothing is worse than sourcing beautiful reclaimed wood only to have it destroyed before it’s integrated into your new house. Make sure you have a plan to protect your building supplies from rain, wind, traffic, etc. A temporary shed or covering is hugely beneficial for projects planned to span more than a few days.

Work in Small Batches

When mixing concrete or any other material with a short set time, it’s best to mix in small batches. Mix just what you need for the stage you’re at to avoid throwing away excess. You can always mix more if needed.

Create a Test Pile

Keep more substantial wood scraps in a separate pile for testing cuts, machinery, style, paint, etc. to avoid wasting whole boards. 

Consolidate Used Materials

As you reach the bottom of paint cans and boxes of screws, combine excess with full containers. That extra ¼ cup of stain might not seem like a lot to you now, but as you move through several cans, that excess will add up.

wood chiper
Photo courtesy of Mother Earth News

Cleaning Up a Completed Building Project

As your new home takes form and you reach the end of the project, be sure to take the proper steps to clean up and sustainably dispose of excess materials. 

Arrange Buybacks

Many shops will buyback unused materials kept in new condition. If you reach the end of your project and still have materials left over, head to the store, and negotiate a buyback.

Schedule Pick Ups and Drop Offs

Arrange for pick up and drop off of materials for donation or disposal. Having everything pre-sorted will move this step along quickly. Remember, donations may be tax-deductible!

Chip Wood

Scrap brush, trees, and branches that you cut to make way for your new house can be chipped into mulch for your garden and flower beds. Wood chippers can be rented for the day to repurpose waste into usable material.

Maine By Design
Photo Credit: Maine By Design

Smart and Sustainable Home Building

Wood waste accounts for one-third of all construction waste, and cardboard adds up to 10-12% of total waste. Be a smart and responsible homeowner by planning for the reduction of construction and demolition (C&D) waste throughout your new home building project.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2020-10-30T15:24:03+0000
Laura Bourland

Article by:

Laura Bourland

Laura grew up in the California suburbs, far removed from environmentalism, but nature always has a way. She uprooted her life in 2015, moving to the countryside of Washington to live a more sustainable and simple life on 12 acres. She and her fiancee are learning on the job as they attempt everything from gardening and natural pest control to eco-friendly building and home improvement.