Reclaimed Materials Driving Green Movement

According to Construction Dive, a notable website covering news and analyses of importance to the construction industry, the trade in used architectural and structural materials is a driving force behind the green-building movement. Companies, such as Pioneer Millworks in Farmington, N.Y., are increasingly using reclaimed wood, brick, stone and other materials to build and remodel beautiful and environmentally friendly commercial structures like the one pictured above. And these projects are have won awards for sustainability, design and service.

Building owners are now striving for authenticity and are using the process of deconstruction to keep a wide array of materials out of landfills, including fixtures, windows and items of value. Deconstruction is the sustainable sister to demolition. Demolition, however, treats the old materials as waste. Deconstruction crews, on the other hand, make an effort to keep materials intact so that they can be used again.

In many instances, deconstruction firms are hired to salvage materials for use in a replacement project, but in others, the materials are sold or donated to nonprofit organizations, such as the Rebuilding Exchange or the Lifecycle Building Center. In yet other scenarios, manufacturers are putting notes and contact information on their materials so that they can be notified before owners dispose of them in future remodels or rebuilds.

Furnishings and finishes make up a large part of this market because they are in plain view, and this provides a ready connection to the past owners. For example, old flooring can be converted into furniture, and industrial fixtures may become new works of art.

A big challenge in deconstruction, however, is to find materials that will meet local, state and federal building codes. Materials containing lead or asbestos generally cannot be rehabbed efficiently, and some materials are simply too worn to provide sufficient structural integrity. This happens commonly with wood while older steel tends to be stronger than its newly manufactured counterpart.

Today, steel is made just to meet building codes, but in the past, it was less expensive, allowing builders to use much more than was necessary. Steel is also easy to reclaim because it is usually stamped by the manufacturer, and if not, it can be x-rayed or otherwise inspected to verify its strength.

With other materials, the inspection process may not be so simple. Wood and masonry are rarely marked like steel is, so it is difficult to tell what standards they meet, necessitating builders to convince inspectors of their integrity. Wood often has to be professionally regraded, but this job is now being left to the supplier.

One barrier to using reclaimed materials is the expense. Reclaimed brick, for example, is much more expensive than new bricks with identical appearance and specifications. However, building owners are starting to overlook the price differential in order to achieve sustainability marks, such as LEED certification.

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