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sourcing local building materials

Top 3 Tips for How to Source Local Building Materials

By Tobias RobertsRise Writer
May 23, 2018

When your great grandfather built his family home, the chances are that the wood needed for the home came from within a couple of hundred feet of where the house is. Your ancestor might have even cut an old-growth oak tree down by himself and hand sawed the tree into the boards and planks needed to shelter his family. Today the vast majority of homes are built with lumber and other materials sourced from around the world. The opening of the world with economic globalization allows us to purchase tropical Indonesian teakwood for our hardwood floors. We can even buy rare Central American Cocobolo wood for our cabinets. However, the ecological cost of shipping those weighty materials worldwide certainly comes with a sizeable carbon footprint.

Sourcing building materials for a home renovation project from within a 100-mile radius of your home will not only substantially reduce the carbon emissions associated with the renovation project but will also support your local economy. Here is how you can obtain affordable and high-quality building materials to restore, redecorate, and recondition your home.

1. Plan ahead

First, in the process of building or remodeling a home, it is beneficial to make plans. A legendary (though true) story of the New College at Oxford dining hall in England sheds light on the importance of planning for the sustainable sourcing of building materials. Several decades ago, someone at the college noticed that the massive oak beams over the dining hall infested with beetles. The administrators were worried about where they would find beams of that caliber to restore the roof. They called in the college forester who told them that 400 years ago, there was a grove of oaks planted with the express purpose of replacing the oak beams. They knew the beams would eventually become insect-infested and rot away. 

We may not be able to think 400 years ahead for every home renovation project. Nor do we have the time and patience to wait that long. The underlying ethic is noteworthy. If you notice that the fence around your backyard is starting to rot or look a bit shabby, why not plant some willow trees or cedar trees along the fence line? The trees will eventually help transition into a living fence or hedge that requires little to no construction materials. Techny arborvitae also makes a beautiful natural fence. 

Similarly, you can also partner with local farmers and foresters whom you know to be committed to an ethic of sustained care for the land. Let them know that you plan a home renovation project in the coming years and “reserve” individual trees that can then be harvested and milled locally. Letting them know will allow the local farmer or forester to replant ahead of time to maintain their forest in optimum ecological conditions.

2. Find salvaged and reclaimed building materials

Salvaged or reclaimed building materials might not necessarily be local in their origin. However, instead of sending entirely usable construction materials to the landfill, reusing those materials in your renovation project is not only essential for sustainability but can also add a vintage and rustic look to your home. On a national scale, over 135 million tons of construction and demolition waste generates each year, and the average building demolition yields 155 pounds of waste per square foot. You may not be able to utilize rotted plywood and broken window frames, fine woods, reusable bricks, and other useful and high-quality materials common in home demolitions. (Particularly in older homes built before the era of plywood and 2x4s.) Most construction and demolition companies will be more than happy to let you take away some of the materials that they otherwise have to pay to ship off to the landfill. 

If you don’t have a friend who works in the local construction business, consider searching for reusable construction materials, such as NextDoor, Craigslist, or other Facebook groups. Contacting local building contractors and companies is also an easy way to alert people to know of your interest in gathering salvaged building materials. 

Companies like the Reuse Network also work with individual homeowners and construction companies to help them develop a waste diversion goal. It is either for LEED certification documentation or to comply with state and local government waste diversion mandates. If this company works in your area, you might be able to find a good source of reusable construction materials.

3. Use the Internet

You may know a farmer, forester, stone quarry worker, or others who can source raw materials from your region. With that said, the internet is a helpful tool to discover local workers in your area. 

Woodfinder.com is one helpful website that allows you to search for sources of lumber, veneer, wood specialties, and sawmill services by merely inputting your zip code. Sometimes, a simple Google search doesn’t bring up other local businesses that provide raw materials for home renovation projects. You might consider searching for job listing sites. For example, Indeed.com allows you to search for “stone quarry jobs” by city, state, or region. Even if employed outside the stone quarry industry, you should find companies operating nearby to connect with to find local materials. 

Though the Classified Ads pages of local newspapers have seen better days, online classified services are abundant. Websites like Craigslist, Oodle, Backpage, and Locanto are just a few of the classified sites on the internet where you can easily search for a wide range of local building materials.

Final Words

Sourcing local building materials will significantly lower carbon emissions associated with any home renovation project. At the same time, however, as more and more homeowners begin to prefer local suppliers, this can lead to the development of sustainable supply chains that support local economic development. Staying in the local economy will lead to a more significant percentage of monetary value. It could also create more jobs for the land use occupations of farming and forestry and employment in the manufacturing sector.

Healthier homes, a more resilient building supply chain, a stronger local economy, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions certainly seem like a good incentive to make an effort to find local suppliers for your home renovation 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: 2021-07-10T03:23:20+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.