Tag Archives: construction waste management

Reuse reflection

Right or wrong, I feel that I own bragging rights to the amount of reclaimed lumber we’ve used on our sustainable rehab.

In all, I estimate that I purchased about 5% at a regular home improvement store or lumber yard. Those were specialty items, such as cedar trim or treated lumber. The remaining 95% is all reclaimed, whether from our deconstruction process or purchased.

So – how did it work out – the handling of reused framing material? Well, I learned a few things along the way.

  • Always purchase the lumber at least 6 inches longer that what you really need. It is pretty common to have split or perforated ends that you need to cut off. Even if the ends are sound, they may need to be squared off.
  • Working with reclaimed lumber involves a lot of cutting, as the note above implies. It is safe to assume that most pieces require a cut at both ends. Contrast that with new lumber that may not require any cutting at all, such as a pallet of 8 foot studs for an 8 foot wall.
  • Reclaimed lumber is usually carefully de-nailed. Still, it is advisable to watch out for remaining nails, screws and staples. You hit one of those with the circular saw, and you will need to run to get a new saw blade.
  • Pay attention to the lumber dimensions. Take studs for instance. Today they measure 1 ½ by 3 ½ inches. Reclaimed studs from older buildings are typically bigger. I have found true 2 by 4 inch old growth, as well as 1 ¾ by 3 ¾ and 1 5/8 by 3 5/8 inch studs. It’s a good idea to match material dimensions.


  • I always check to see if the material is bent or warped. That is for salvaged materials as well as for new studs.

Some of the older studs are good quality, hard wood with dense growth rings. The disadvantage, if you will, is that they are also heavier to haul around. Some of the material is so hard that it is difficult to sink a framing nail or even a screw without pre-drilling. I think sturdy is the word that I am looking for…

I think it is fair to say that it takes more time to handle and prepare reclaimed lumber. But it doesn’t outweigh the fact that this is material that otherwise would have been destined for the landfill, and you can purchase it for cheap!


Where did all the concrete go?

I hope you enjoyed the last post about the basement floor removal. We had fun swinging the sledge hammer busting that concrete floor. It ended up to be a lot of concrete!


What did we do with it – other than throwing it in the back of my truck?


While researching Construction Waste Management (CWM) options, I compiled a list of various recyclers. I found my go-to places for deconstruction debris (WasteBox, Inc.), scrap metals and clean wood debris (which is turned into wood chips).

A few weeks back, when I was getting masonry supplies for the parapet repair at the Illinois Brick Company on California, just north of I-55, I noticed their neighbor across the street, Lindahl Brothers, Inc. They have a huge pile of old concrete in their yard, which was the give-away that they run a concrete recycling facility.

Mine and any other concrete received is crushed, sorted and sieved, turning it into aggregate that can be re-used in construction. Eventually I will need some aggregate for the new basement slab. If I get my materials here, I may end up re-using the very concrete that we removed.


As prices for scrap metal fluctuate, so does the cost for recycling concrete. If nobody is buying the aggregate, the concrete pile gets bigger and the cost for dropping off concrete for recycling goes up. If the aggregate ‘flies of the shelves’, you may even be offered a buck to deliver your concrete for recycling.

I was very happy to get charged as little as $15 per truckload. It made the whole operation rather affordable.


From jungle to scrap yard

The radical clear cut through our utility jungle made me feel really good – maybe because of the radical and liberating nature of the work. The clear cut left us with a big and very heavy pile of truncated pipes and fittings, now merely reminiscent of the formerly impressive utility jungle.


As part of the overall construction waste management (CWM), all cast iron, ferrous and nonferrous piping, as well as wiring was separated and is destined for the scrap yard.


We repurposed our pickup truck for the day to haul the ferrous (and not so ferrous) harvest to the scrap yard for its final milling?


A nice side benefit of this ferrous management work: It generated enough income to pay for two tanks of gas for the truck.


Insulation – which material cuts it?

If you have followed the previous posts about the insulation conflicts and moisture management issues, you may ask why not go simple – skip insulation altogether and just have brick wall exposed on the inside. A very tempting thought, isn’t it? It would look pretty good and we could avoid all these problems.

But we also would create a big problem. A three wythe (or 12”) thick brick wall may have a R-4 value. The air film on the wall would give me another R-1, totaling R-5. That is if the brick is dry. If it is wet, these values will drop. A decent window may have a better R-value than the brick wall! We need good insulation, if we want to have a decent shot at our zero-energy goals.

There is quite a variety of materials to pick from, starting with the very common fiberglass batts, the more expensive rigid foam boards, or materials with high recycled content such as blown-in cellulose or recycled cotton batts.

Understanding the limitations and opportunities that come with our masonry shell, and having distilled two key principles, the choice actually narrows to just one material: blown-in foam insulation.

“A low[…] risk approach to interior masonry retrofits that has been used for several years involves spraying an airtight insulating foam directly to the back of the existing masonry [shell].”

Reference: Building Science Digest 114 (Interior Insulation Retrofits of Load-Bearing Masonry Walls in Cold Climates)

Also known as spray polyurethane foam (or in short: spray foam), it would eliminate air gaps and air leakage if applied across the entire interior shell, including the roof. Basically, it would give us an airtight building envelope and act as a moisture barrier (or vapor retarder) helping with the control of incidental rain penetration.

A Building Science publication (Building Science Digest 114) explains spray foam rationales and choice in detail and is worth while reading.

Because spray foam is semi-permeable (a vapor retarder but not a vapor barrier), it will allow moisture in the masonry shell to diffuse to the outside and in. I have to make sure that the perm rate of the entire interior wall assembly is greater than 1 – and we are all set!

There are two kinds of spray polyurethane foams out there:

Closed Cell

As the name suggests, each little cell (or bubble) encloses an air pocket, forming a monolithic airtight layer at an R-value of around 6.5 per inch. Most closed cell spray foams have a density of about 2 pounds per cubic foot (pcf) and have a low diffusion or perm rate (around 1 to 2 at 1 inch thickness).

Open Cell

This foam is much lighter at a density of 0.5 pcf and forms more of a web structure. It is still considered airtight if applied at a depth of several inches. The R-value for open cell products hovers around 3.5 per inch. Water vapor can diffuse freely through the material.

The one disadvantage of spray polyurethane foam that is often mentioned is cost. And yes, it is much more expensive than your typical fiberglass batts – closed cell more so than open cell, because it requires more material. Plus, it needs to be installed by a trained professional.

  • 6” of fiberglass batts (around R-19): $0.30 to $0.60 per square foot (material only)
  • 6”of open cell spray foam (around R-21): around $2.50 per square foot (material and labor)
  • 6”of closed cell spray foam (around R-39): $5.00 to $6.00 per square foot (material and labor)

We would pay more – and that is fine – because we will get more. With spray foam, we don’t have to worry about air leakage, condensation and potential mold problems, or diminished R-values. Instead, we get the airtight building envelope we need, and lasting R-values. If we would try to accomplish the same results with cheaper insulation materials, we probably would, in the end, pay as much.

A drawback that I still debate is that spray polyurethane foam is a petroleum based product. The good news is that most spray foams are now VOC (volatile organic compounds) free, using water as their blowing agent. Some products are marketed as green because of some soy based oil content. That overall content is, however, relatively small, plus I am not sure if I would accept soybean farming as a sustainable practice.

Another unanswered question that keeps me pondering has to do with the end-of-life use. There is no known recycling option or second use for this material. If the spray foam ever gets torn out, it is likely to end up in a landfill. The only conciliation I have is that it should serve and maintain its performance for several generations.

More info on spray foam:

What is:

Air barrier

Moisture barrier: See references below to vapor barrier and retarder.

Vapor barrier and vapor retarder

Additional resource: Consumer’s Guide to Vapor Barriers at the U.S. Department of Energy


What to do with the carpet?

We got around removing all the old carpet from the building (see also 08/11/2009 post). Some of it was pretty icky – and I am diplomatic here. Take the second floor for instance. Some kind of pet must have lived there. Whenever we walked upstairs, even on moderate warm days, we were greeted by a stinging and unpleasant smell. The carpet had to go!

But what are we going to do with it? Just throwing it into the Dumpster did not seem right. Reusing it was out of the question – or was it?

I recalled a discussion with my friend Bill Wilson from Midwest Permaculture. It was about alternative methods of weed treatment, and how you can use old cardboard to smoother and suffocate weeds. We have a lot of weeds in the yard. I don’t have cardboard, but I have the old carpet!

covering the weeds with the old carpet

The rest is history. I cut the carpet into fitting pieces and rolled it out in the yard, covering the weeds up.


Now remember, I am a landscape architect, and this is what my front yard currently looks like. I see a lot of raised eyebrows, head scratching and the expression “what on earth…” amongst my friends. Our neighbors are more relaxed and eager to ask what the carpet is all about.


It doesn’t take many words. I just need to roll back a corner and they immediately understand what I am up to. Resource efficiency is part of their daily lives. I am just happy that I got one more use out of the old carpet, before it goes to waste at the end of this season.