Ask a Contractor: How do we recycle demolition waste?

Tolldemo_3Question: We’re tearing down part of our 1940’s home to make room for an addition, and also gutting our kitchen for a major remodel. I hate to see all this end up as trash. How can we recycle some of this material?

Answer: From my experience interviewing remodeling homeowners, the dread of an older home being demolished and hauled unceremoniously to the trash heap is both practical and emotional.

Of course, nobody wants to unnecessarily top off the landfill. But one might feel tenderness toward the old house itself. Go ahead and laugh at my theory, but I think some remodels don’t go forward in order to avoid the ache of tearing down a familiar structure or part of a structure.

Dussouchaudvanity_2In the Hollywood Hills, Derrick Drymon and Nancy Moscatiello felt that way about a vintage but dowdy house they bought a few years ago and massively remodeled. In order to pay homage to the old house, their conservation-minded contractor, John Sofio, salvaged some of the tight-grain framing lumber (which is much better quality than framing lumber of today) and had gorgeous baseboards milled for the new living room. He also fashioned custom handrails out of the recovered boards.

At another remodeled house I visited, a carpenter made a contemporary vanity (pictured here) out of salvaged framing lumber. And it’s common practice to move the old kitchen cabinets into the garage for storage, and to make garden walkways out of a broken-up concrete patio.

For a contractor’s perspective, I asked Turko Semmes, president of Semmes & Co. Builders in Atascadero, who is known for channeling construction debris to recyclers rather than to the landfill. Turko said:

This is an important issue considering that construction and demolition materials make up nearly 22 percent of what goes into California landfills. Local trash collection companies are under state mandate to reduce the percentage of construction waste, and many of them have recycling stations on site specifically for such materials. Read on . . .

In my area of San Luis Obispo County, there is a private company, independent of the landfill, which guarantees that 80 percent of all construction materials brought to them will be recycled. They provide a roll off container and do the separation and recycling themselves. The price is the same as a roll off from the landfill with no recycling.

In thinking about the use of building materials, it might be helpful to remember that the basic principles of recycling are reduce (use less), reuse, and recycle. First, try to plan your remodel or new construction project using the least amount of resources possible. For instance, an architect who is wise about how houses are constructed, or who is working alongside an astute builder as the house is being designed, can design in such a way to minimize waste.

Then, try to remove and reuse everything you can before demolition. Commonly recycled and reused construction materials include old cabinets, functional windows, framing lumber, concrete and metals. Old drywall can be ground up and used for soil amendments on the site.

Before hiring a contractor or demolition crew, ask what their attitude is on recycling. Do they make a regular practice of recycling? Does their price include this? Are they willing to try and if so how?

Habitat for Humanity operates ReStores where building materials can be donated for resale, with revenues used to build low-cost housing. There are Restores in Santa Ana, Pasadena, Gardena, Riverside and other California cities.

You can get more information on this subject from the California Integrated Waste Management Board. By clicking on the link called C&D Debris Recyclers you can find a construction debris recycler in your area.