Commentary: Controlling Job-Site Wastecomments (1) April 29th, 2009 in Blogs
by Jay C. Walter
The time is right to change the way we get rid of residential-construction debris, and it’s due to changes in commercial construction. Since 2000, the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification program’s focus on commercial and institutional construction has resulted in major improvements in waste management for large projects. Vendors and service providers have had to develop recycling programs to serve their commercial customers, opening the door to better waste disposal for homebuilders.
The financial, marketing, and regulatory pressures that have altered large-scale construction are affecting the residential sector. In Massachusetts, where I practice, the commonwealth is systematically closing landfills throughout the state. The combination of fewer places to dispose of construction debris and more alternatives for recycling and reuse represents real progress.
The shift from waste to raw material
What used to be called the dump is now the resource center. That’s good news, because it means what used to be trash now has value. The chart below shows the breakdown, by material, of the waste that a typical residential remodel generates. These numbers are based on National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) research on new home construction, modified for remodeling projects. The chart reveals some encouraging statistics. Chief among them is that 75% of construction waste is recyclable material.
Currently, recycling centers accept commingled loads, which combine different kinds of construction debris in one container and are separated at the resource center. But there are savings to be had if you separate recyclables at the job site. In the Boston area,for example, a load of drywall scraps or asphalt shingles costs about half of the commingled rate when recycled separately.
Yes, it takes more effort to separate debris into single-material loads. But once these handling practices are incorporated into site workflow, they become routine. For example, most contractors take the time to “stack” Dumpsters to fill them more efficiently. They see the economy of a densely packed container. Single-material loads take similar effort, yet yield savings in disposal fees.
The contractors I work with use downtime caused by bad weather or gaps in the work schedules of different trades to separate job-site waste. They also combine trips for supplies with visits to the resource center, so a trip to the lumberyard might start with dropping off a load of cardboard. Better yet, before it’s recycled, the cardboard might be used to protect finished floors and woodwork.
Reconsider the container
Instead of ordering the omnipresent 30-yard Dumpster that sits on the site for months, take advantage of smaller Dumpsters dedicated to a single material. Incidentally, a smaller short-term container helps to lessen the likelihood that homeowners and even their neighbors will toss in unwanted stuff. This approach also eliminates extra fees for extended container rentals and frees up the driveway for deliveries.
Many contractors I work with use small rolling carts dedicated to specific types of debris for recycling and a separate cart for the general sorts of waste in the “other” slice on the pie chart. This slice includes everything from plastic packaging to caulk tubes.
Contractors typically drive pickup trucks, but I know very few who like to use them for hauling. A good alternative might be a tilt-bed dump trailer. New trailers range from $5000 to $15,000 depending on size and dumping mechanisms. Search “dump trailer” on eBay to learn more about them.
Trailers can make tight sites more manageable. They are far more maneuverable than big stationary bins, and they can be placed underneath chutes to minimize material handling. Trailers can also be used to store recyclable or reusable materials while you gather the quantity needed to haul a full load.
Hauling those loads yourself offers savings of all sorts, from elimination of hauling fees to reduced tipping fees for separated recyclable materials.
Minimize material handling
Control of job-site waste can be more effective if you handle a material just once. One approach is to use mobile carts and containers. Instead of subcontractors piling up scraps in the middle of the floor, they can deposit them in a rollaway bin. The bin then can be wheeled to a chute or used to store debris until it can be hauled away, thereby avoiding the time and mess of moving around piles of debris.
A tilt-type 1-yard container on wheels, about the size of a commercial laundry hamper, is ideal for this duty. Pick a container that can be carried down a stairway so that its utility is not confined to a single floor. I know a contractor who keeps more than a dozen large plastic trash containers with twist-on dollies on his job sites. They can move heavy loads easily, and they nest together for compact storage when not in use. (Two good sources are USplastics.com or Globalindustrial.com.)
|"To minimize waste from the start of a new project, first photograph and make a list of all the fixtures and materials that have reuse potential."|
Recycle, renew, reuse
To minimize waste from the start of a new project, first photograph and make a list of all the fixtures and materials that have reuse potential. In a kitchen remodel, cabinets and countertops, plumbing fixtures, and appliances might get picked up by a building-materials resource center (BMRC). Because their needs are constantly changing, check with your local center as soon as possible and send photos of what’s available. An exchange network like this also offers a potential resource for the odd fixture or fitting that would otherwise be costly and hard to locate.
Often, BMRCs won’t take older appliances or plumbing fixtures that aren’t up to current efficiency standards. If these items are in good condition, post them on various online exchange networks. Craigslist, for example, has a “free” category under its “for sale” heading. Also, homeowners can reach out to neighbors, friends, relatives, or local charities to donate items.
Box small items, such as light fixtures and hardware, and set them aside to avoid damage or lost parts. (For free boxes, check Freecardboardboxes.com.) Also, scrutinize architectural elements to see if they can be salvaged instead of demolished. Often, homeowners just assume that doors, windows, wood floors, trim, and wall plaster should be removed. Many of these materials are made from old-growth wood and can’t be duplicated.
Before sending components to a resource store, consider reusing them. Old windows can be refurbished and made more energy efficient with storm sashes. If the windows need to be historically accurate, this solution can be more cost effective than custom-made replacements. Bathroom fixtures can also be restored.
It is not unusual simply to replace a wood floor when a wall is removed. But when the flooring runs parallel to the removed wall, a seamless patch is an excellent alternative to a whole new floor. Matching floorboards can often be found in closets.
How homeowners can help
Controlling job-site waste is everyone’s responsibility. Homeowners might have access to resource services that aren’t available to builders. For example, in Newton, Mass., where I practice, the city’s trash collectors pick up carpet if it is cut into 4-ft. widths. Homeowners can put the cut-up carpet out on the curb so that contractors can avoid filling Dumpsters with it.
Homeowners should call the department of public works or city hall to find out what municipal waste-disposal services are provided. Some pick up cardboard, carpet, appliances, and other materials at little or no cost. If a municipality offers curbside recycling service, the crew can use the bins to deposit daily recyclables from their lunches.
Also, contractors should check with homeowners to see if they are interested in scrap materials for projects or firewood. (I’ve been known to lay claim to wood lath, the best kindling in the world.) Just agree on the details, such as the condition of the material or how it is to be stored, to avoid misunderstandings later about who should cut it up or who stacks it.
|"Advanced framing techniques reduce the amount of material needed to build a structure’s frame and allow for more effective insulation details."|
Use building materials more efficiently
If you can reduce the volume of materials brought to the site, you will likely reduce waste. One way to lessen the amount of lumber scraps left over by framers is to use advanced framing techniques. Aligning load-bearing members from the rafters down to the foundation requires fewer studs, joists, and rafters, with no loss of structural integrity. These techniques reduce the amount of material needed to build a structure’s frame and allow for more effective insulation details to boot. You can learn more about this style of framing in Joseph Lstiburek’s article “The Future of Framing Is Here.”
Site waste also can be reduced by fabricating as many parts of the project as possible in a shop. Shop fabrication uses materials efficiently and ensures quality control. Look for opportunities for fabrication in closet components, trim, and millwork.
|"Insist that suppliers take back even minimal quantities of unused material."|
Many builders rely on their suppliers to calculate the amount of material required for construction (known as a material takeoff), while other builders do it themselves. In either case, it is important to minimize the overage for all building materials so that they do not go into the waste stream. Insist that suppliers take back even minimal quantities of unused material. This requirement serves as an incentive for suppliers to make careful material takeoffs, lessens the cost builders pay for materials, and reduces the waste stream.
Rethink buying habits
At new-construction home sites, NAHB studies show that 38% of construction waste is cardboard. This is entirely packaging, but at least it can be recycled. A large portion of the nonrecyclable materials generated on site also includes packaging: plastic wraps and vacuum packs.
If builders demand that manufacturers reduce packaging, the waste stream at job sites could diminish significantly. When you see unnecessary packaging, tell your supplier. Redundant packaging often appears in bulk orders consisting of small packages bound into a larger lot. In effect, you pay for wasteful packaging twice: once for delivery and once for disposal.
Buying products with high recycled content improves the market for materials that all builders generate. Concrete, asphalt shingles, wood, and gypsum are all recycled into new building products. The larger the market for products with recycled content, the larger the demand for recycled materials from job sites.
To avoid problems surrounding the disposal of solvents and other hazardous chemicals, be aware of the cleanup practices involved with paints, finishes, and sealants before purchasing them. Oil-based paints and sealants clean up with toxic solvents, but an ever-growing array of organically based products avoids the need for harsh chemicals and related waste on the job site. For example, one option is the AFM Safecoat (www.afmsafecoat.com) line of paints, stains, clear finishes, and sealers. These products are less toxic to apply, and they clean up without toxic solvents.
—Jay C. Walter is an architect with ENTASIS Architects PC, a residential practice in Newton, Mass. He is founder of Sustainable Waste Management Collaborative (www.thewasteman.com).
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