In the United States, building or construction waste accounts for almost one third of all landfill space.
This is problematic for a variety of reasons:
- landfills fill up much more quickly
- much of the construction waste could actually be reused
- by not reusing the material, new material must be produced and used
This building waste issue relates to new construction and also to renovation. SO let us address renovation first. Many of the materials you might take out of your home in a renovation can be recycled or reused, and can often produce income and/or a tax deduction for you, in addition to keeping the materials out of the landfill.
Many homes in Amarillo still have old aluminum single pane windows and many are getting replaced. Please visit the recycling part of this site to see where you can take those old aluminum window frames and get back $$$.
Many people are replacing their 1980s kitchen or bathroom cabinets with new models. Often those cabinets are just out of style but still very serviceable, especially for people who have older models or are enlarging their kitchens, or building a workshop. You can take those cabinets (or even call for a pick up) to one of the two Habitat Restores in Amarillo, and get a slip for a tax deduction. Folks can shop there and get bargains on used materials. The proceeds from the sales at the Stores then go toward building additional Habitat houses. This is certainly a win/win/win for all parties involved.
The Restores also take furniture, light fixtures, plumbing fixtures, windows, doors and other building materials.
Now – how about new construction. First, take a look at our section on building sustainably. Second, think about everything before you put it in your dumpster. (Note, also that building materials cannot be put into the Amarillo City trash pick up dumpsters !!) Are you aware that drywall makes an excellent ground/garden amendment ?? I generally put it out in the rain and then walk around on it when soft, then spread it around my new yard or garden area. 2×4 scraps, if not large enough to go to the Habitat Restore, can be used for firewood. Think carefully whenever you order materials, and take unused materials back to the store. Require your builder to separate materials into recyclables and reusables.
What is the best building site to choose ?? In most cases renovating an existing home is much more sustainable than building a new home, especially one built on virgin prairie or farmland. Keeping our cities viable is most important, rather than contributing to suburban sprawl, which draws the vitality out of our downtown areas and city centers.
Suburban sprawl on large lots also contributes to fragmentation of communities, as people drive to their home, push their garage door openers and pull inside without ever having to talk to their neighbors. The wonderful city neighborhoods with porch fronts are gone. In many communities people do not even know their neighbors’ names.
Building sustainably on smaller lots in pedestrian friendly neighborhoods helps thwart social fragmentation. People can share their lives and help each other and watch out for their older neighbors. When people know their neighbors, they know if someone is around a house and should not be there, they know who is who and can watch out. Grandparents can care for the younger generation.
OK, so you have decided to build a new house. What can you do that is more sustainable ??
First, think about what size house you need. (Note the word need rather than want.) In the 1940s and 1950s large families were raised in homes of 1000-1300 sq ft. Now, even young couples want homes that have 3-4 bedrooms and 2-3 car garages and family rooms. This requires an excess of building materials, and also costs you lots of money in real estate taxes, and in heating and cooling your home, and in cleaning your home and in insuring your home. Hopefully, the economic downturn of the last year or so has shown people that all those expenses are an excess. Just think if your monthly expenses went down by $200 or $400 or $600. How much freedom would that give you in your life ?? How much more secure would you feel ?? How much more could you save for your future ??
Think about your current house – when was the last time you went into the spare bedroom, or the basement or the formal living room or formal dining room ?? Are you paying for spaces that you rarely use ?? What about those great cathedral ceilings many people have ?? Do you feel a little uncomfortable in that room ?? Are you aware how much harder it is to heat and cool that room ??
Most new subdivisions orient houses based on the easiest street pattern and without regard to wind and sun access. In this area, you do not want your largest areas of glass to face west, as those rooms will heat up terribly in the summer, and cause you to be very uncomfortable or to use excessive air conditioning. South living areas, with proper overhangs to keep the hot summer sun out, will be great in the summer, as the winds will cool you, and in the summer the winter sun will passively heat your home. Garages are best located on the west and north to keep those Blue Northers from cooling your home in the winter. Giving your driveway a southern exposure will keep the ice and snow from piling up and make it melt sooner. A properly designed and printed house will mean less use or no use of central air conditioning and lower winter heating bills.
How about building materials ?? Evaluation of building materials is based on two considerations. One is life cycle costing and the other is embodied energy. For example – a 20 year shingle may cost a lot less than a metal roof. But, if a shingle roof costs $6000 and lasts 20 years, its cost is $300 a year. If a metal roof costs $12000 and lasts 60 years, its cost is only $200 a year, plus the metal roof will hold up better in a hail storm. Additional considerations are that the shingle roof is actually a petroleum product, the metal roof could have some recycled content, and would be recyclable at the end of its lifetime.
How about vinyl windows ?? Vinyl actually puts an incredible amount of toxins into the air during its production. (Check out the movie Blue Vinyl.) It also has higher expansion and contraction than other materials. While vinyl windows can indeed help on energy costs, the high embodied energy cost of the vinyl window should exclude it from any consideration as sustainable or green. In addition, when a piece of vinyl is put into a landfill, that piece of vinyl will stay in its same form for 1000 years.