Recycling building materials after a demolition

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Trees are cut down, bricks are fired, metal is smelted; all to produce the building materials that go into a house. When a house is demolished, what happens to all this? By default, it all goes into landfill, never to be used again. It’s a terrible waste.

In keeping with our green principles, we tried to recycle or reuse our building materials where possible. But let me tell you, it isn’t easy! This is how we fared in Sydney:

  • Metal: Sims Metal will pickup old metal (corrugated roof sheets, pipes, etc) for free, and the matal is recycled. For some reason they didn’t take everything, but this was still the easiest stuff to get rid of.
  • Interior fittings: before the demolition started, we stripped out all the interior fittings worth keeping. Some of these were put on eBay (such as the dishwasher), but most went to a new home via Freecycle. (More on this in a separate post.)
  • Floorboards: our beautiful hardwood floorboards were bought by a local lumber yard for $800, and these will end up in a new home. Plan for half a day of backbreaking work to get the floorboards out. (They also gave us $200 for a pile of old hardwood, plus some doors and windows.)
  • Wood: we kept some of the better beams for use during building, but most ended up in the skip. In theory, wood can be chipped and used sold as garden mulch, but we couldn’t find a way of doing this on our scale. (Taking stuff in a trailer just doesn’t work when demolishing a house.)
  • Treated pine: considered industrial waste, the only option is landfill.
  • Kitchen: a tragedy, straight into the skip. Kitchens are very cheaply constructed, with mixed materials that don’t last well. Too poor condition to sell or give away.
  • Intact bricks: kept, to be recycled back into the building. Be warned though: probably only worth doing if lime mortar was used, rather than concrete. There’s also a lot of manual labour to clean 3,000 bricks by hand.
  • Broken bricks: plan on 10-30% of the bricks getting broken during demolition (old bricks are very weak). Luckily these can be recycled via Botany Building Recyclers (ask them for a recommendation on a skip company to pick up the bricks). Cheaper than a disposing of normal waste, and the bricks are ground down to form road base.

In all, three skips of waste left the building site. Better than it could’ve been, but not up to Michael Mobb’s standards.

The reality is that new materials are cheap, and labour is expensive. For most people, it’s simpleynot worth the time and money to recycle materials, easier just to start afresh with new stuff. No doubt this will change in time when resources get more scarce, but at least some practical steps can be taken now despite the challenges…

Any tips on recycling options we missed?


3 thoughts on “Recycling building materials after a demolition

    Skweekah said:
    July 28, 2011 at 9:54 am

    This post is appropriate for me, considering that we recently removed 5 cubic meters of concrete from our front yard and have a lot more to do. Will do our best to recycle/reuse as much as we can.

    Darren (Green Change) said:
    August 4, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    A couple other ideas, that may or may not be applicable:

    It very much depends upon your house and and whether you can use them, but kitchen cupboards can be removed carefully and reassembled as garage/basement/shed cupboards.

    If the old kitchen is in good nick, sometimes you can find someone to remove it and use it as a new kitchen – I once disassembled a beautiful Tassie oak kitchen and reassembled it in my newly-purchased dilapidated house.

    A kitchen sink can be put on a simple timber frame and used as a garden sink, for rinsing vegetables before bringing them inside. I have set one up as my “chicken processing station”.

    Untreated wood can be kept as firewood, if you have a slow-combustion heater – or given away to people who have one. It’s also useful around the yard to make simple shelters, seats, chook sheds, garden frames, etc.

    You did a really great job of keeping stuff out of landfill!

    Gene K. said:
    August 15, 2011 at 12:28 am

    Great points about how to save and conserve when it comes to materials. Any business or personal builder could benefit from these tips. I work with the McGraw Hill Sweets Network, who offers a large selection of links to construction supplies.

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