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Recycle When You Remodel

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

DesPlaines, Ill. – The destruction of buildings in the United States annually generates 124,670,000 tons of debris, according to the Florida-based Deconstruction Institute. That waste would be comparable to a wall 4,993 miles long, 30 feet high and 30 feet thick, that could surround the entire coast of the continental United States .





Nov. 15, 2007, is America Recycles Day. The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) is celebrating the event this year as well, as their Green Remodeling Certification has just launched this fall.  NARI’s Green Remodeling program offers remodeling contractors across the country a unique opportunity to incorporate cost-saving and earth-sustaining green concepts into their clients’ homes.





 Why recycle during a remodel?

As the above figure suggests, when remodeling a home, there is often a large amount of construction waste.  This amounts to 136 million tons of waste annually, according to the EPA, which in turn makes up 20 percent of the waste in landfills.  Green remodeling focuses on reducing this waste during remodeling and reusing materials whenever possible, as 85 percent to 90 percent of materials thrown out can be recycled.  Recycling benefits the environment by conserving energy and natural resources, reducing air and water pollution, and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. Through the last, recycling helps reduce the effects of global warming.

Millions of Americans participate in America Recycles Day, pledging to increase their recycling habits at home and work and to buy products made with recycled materials, according to the National Recycling Coalition (NRC), a national nonprofit advocacy group with members across the country who deal with “all aspects of waste reduction, reuse and recycling in North America.”

“It’s always good to keep “green” in people’s peripheral vision,” said Chris Donatelli, CR, CKBR chair of the NARI’s Green Education Subcommittee,  He believes in maintaining the “mindset to recycle everything you can.”

Home improvement contractors can recycle a number of items at job sites, including lumber, sheetrock and metal, as well as cardboard, cans and bottles, Donatelli maintains.

Other recyclable remodeling products include plastic, glass, batteries, and some cabinets, doors, windows and roofs. Remodelers can also recycle most sinks and tubs.

Recyclable products from construction and demolition waste from job sites can include concrete, dirt and plant materials. Contractors can haul concrete to recycling plants, which ground it down into gravel or base rock for use in future building projects. Unpainted wood can be ground down and mixed in with existing soil to help it nourish plants and tree roots. Remodelers can also recycle pallets, fluorescent tubes, cardboard and paper packaging and architectural drawings.

The benefits of recycling include “diverting a ton of material from landfills,” Donatelli said. Recycling “helps people save money and make improvements.”

A remodeling project can generate between 70 and 115 pounds of waste per square foot, and between 85 percent and 90 percent of construction waste is recyclable, according to David Johnston and Kim Master’s Green Remodeling: Changing the World One Room at a Time. This creates a huge potential for the reuse and recycling of waste from remodeling.  

Demolishing vs. Remodeling

If demolished, a typical, 2,000 square foot house would create 10,000 cubic feet of debris, or 127 tons. Although the cost of disposal varies depending on location, an average of $25 per ton of waste would total $3,175 for demolition of a residence. However, if a house were remodeled instead of demolished, the owners would divert 80 percent of the waste that a demolition would incur, and would save about $2,540 in disposal costs. Deconstructing an average wood frame house of 2,000 square feet could produce 6,000 board feet of reusable lumber. Deconstruction is the “disassembling [of] buildings to generate a supply of materials suitable for reuse in other products,” according to Johnston and Master.

 If lumber is salvaged from older buildings and reused, it can provide affordable materials for remodeling or constructing new buildings. Approximately every 3 square feet of lumber saved from an older structure can become 1 square foot of a new residence. If deconstruction became the new residential demolition, contractors could use recovered wood to build 120,000 new affordable homes annually. This could save 33 mature trees, 10 acres of pine planted annually, which occupy the size of seven football fields.

 Recycling building materials also conserves energy. “Embodied energy” is the total amount of energy expended during the creation of a building and the products that comprise it, according to the Deconstruction Institute. The amount of embodied energy contained in an average, 2,000-square-foot home, is 892 million BTUs, the equivalent of 7,826 gallons of gasoline, enough embodied energy to drive an SUV 5.5 times around the earth.

 Extracting raw materials from the earth consumes more energy than converting many old building materials into new, and using recycled products instead of manufacturing new ones can decrease energy consumption for steel about 50 percent and for plastic more than 90 percent.  A 2,000-square-foot home contains about 4,700 pounds of steel and 770 pounds of recyclable plastics. If carefully deconstructed and recycled into new products, they can preserve 59 million BTUs of embodied energy, equal to about 513 gallons of gasoline.

 About 5 million tons of carbon equivalent are annually released into the atmosphere as methane gas. This is the result of burying about 33 million tons of wood from demolition and construction debris in landfills and anaerobic microorganisms decomposing the lumber. This is the equivalent of emissions from 3,736,000 passenger cars.

 Total greenhouse gas reduction from recycling the 5,174 pounds of steel and 1,830 pounds of plastic in an average single family home would be equal to the yearly absorption of carbon dioxide by 114 trees.

 For each ton of wood remodelers reuse, they avoid creating 60 pounds of greenhouse gases from the development of raw lumber into a usable form for building.

 “If a remodeling contractor seeks to develop knowledge and skill in the area of green remodeling, the NARI Green program will help realize those goals. This program thoroughly educates the contractor who desires to focus on environmentally friendly remodels,” Donatelli said.


NARI members represent a select group from the approximately 800,000 companies and individuals in the identifying themselves as professional remodelers. NARI is a professional association whose members voluntarily subscribe to a strict code of ethics.  Consumers may wish to search to find a qualified professional who is a member of NARI.

Consumers can also call the NARI National hotline at 800-611-NARI and request a free copy of NARI’s brochure, “How to Select a Remodeling Professional,” or visit and click on the homeowner’s guide for more information.

 About NARI: The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) is the only trade association dedicated solely to the remodeling industry.  With more than 7,500 member companies nationwide, the Association -- based in Des Plaines, Illinois — is “The Voice of the Remodeling Industry.”TM  For membership information, or to locate a local NARI chapter or a remodeling professional, visit NARI’s website at, or contact the national headquarters office at 800-611-NARI.



























































































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NARI members are committed to being professional, ethical and honest, and committed to high standards.







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