The familiar adage “waste not, want not,” lies at the heart of a homebuilding industry trend, which places an emphasis on reclaiming material, fixtures and other components utilized in residential construction, and applying those materials when renovating or remodeling a house or reconstructing on the same lot.
According to an article on ArchitectureWeek.com, nearly half of the energy consumed in the U.S. is attributable in some way to the construction, use, maintenance and disposal of houses. In 1996, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that 250,000 houses a year are torn down across the country, representing more than 1 billion board-feet of lumber or about 3 percent of America’s annual softwood timber harvest.
Estimates vary, depending on the builder or developer doing the estimating, but somewhere around 60 percent to 80 percent of the materials in a house — from bricks, siding and electrical fixtures to concrete, roofing and window frames — can either be recycled, reclaimed or repurposed...
Recycling houses is one aspect of a general movement within the industry, which is approaching the point where green building techniques and incorporating environmentally friendlier materials are considered standard operating procedure. The extent to which a house can be “recycled” depends on what a builder-developer is trying to achieve based on the homeowner’s desired outcome.
“As far as adaptive reuse of the house, when we have a client who says they want to tear down a house and build a new one, the first thing we do is look at what’s there and determine whether we can use the footprint,” said Matt Hoots, CEO of SawHorse Inc.
“We ask questions, such as, ‘Can we use the landscaping? How is the foundation dug into the hill? Is there part of the foundation that we can add to?’ ” Hoots said.
From an energy usage perspective, renovating is much greener than tearing a house down, reusing as many parts as possible, and building a new green house on top of it.
“We have the resources and the technology these days to take an existing house and bring it up to current energy code and also make it more energy efficient,” Hoots said.
In renovating a house in Lake Clare, an intown neighborhood between Atlanta and Decatur, the SawHorse crew was able to utilize almost 75 percent of the existing siding by pulling off the original siding, insulating the house, and reinstalling the salvaged material.
“We preserved the look of the house while giving it a freshly renovated look and a new paint job,” said Hoots.
For his son’s school, Hoots constructed a playhouse out of decking material obtained from a client whose deck had collapsed. The playhouse was donated to a charity, which auctioned off the building for a tidy sum.
“Recycling can mean a lot of different things,” Hoots said.