Ways of Recycling and Reusing Construction Materials

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Building from the Ground Up

A house constructed from natural materials such as wood, straw and earth can be further complimented with the reuse of building materials.

These materials are available from recycling specialists, who normally have the items on display cleaned up, and ready to fit.

The most popular components are windows and doors, so it is best to request these well in advance of the fitting dates to give the recycling specialist time to source them.

There are very few building construction materials which cannot be reused. However, you never should reuse recycled gas and electric appliances. Recycled sanitary ware such as toilets and shower units complete with hoses and shower heads, should be purchased new as it is much safer and more hygienic to purchase new units.

When the buildings are being demolished, the recycling specialist is usually notified and he will extract the items he can recycle. He will probably take the furniture as well, so you may be lucky to pick up some items in this category as well. Such items may include wooden tables and chairs, but again, avoid any soft furnishings; it is best to get these at auctions.

This may be an opportune moment to warn about buying from auctions. Always have in your mind the highest price you are willing to pay for the items and stick to this. My wife and I attend auctions, mainly for wood furniture, tools and garden items, but the amount of times we have got carried away and overbid for items are numerous. Still, I console myself by remembering we are saving the environment by not buying new.

This article is a continuation of my previous articles, where I have described the use of natural materials and building methods.

I have based the article on recycled building materials suitable for use in a rammed earth dwelling. I shall begin by listing the materials suitable and the things to look out for when selecting them.

Windows and Doors

Front and back doors should be double glazed; windows should also be double glazed and matching if possible. Inside doors can consist of wood of any description.

Points to take into account when purchasing recycled windows and doors:

  1. Be sure to check with your local planning department regarding max/min window heights and opening sizes for child safety and fire escape requirements.
  2. Look out for condensation between the panes of glass, in a double glazed unit, any mist in the gap means a window is not working properly and will need attention.
  3. Make sure that all the correct surrounding frames are with the external doors and windows.
  4. Check wooden items for woodworm and dry rot.

Roof Tiles

The rammed earth building walls are pretty strong and will take a light tiled roof such as wood shingles, however, there are a number of building recycling specialists who are advertising reusable clay peg tiles and ridges. These offer both aesthetic and weatherproof properties for about the same price as wood shingles made from reclaimed wood which will need weatherproofing

Points to take into account when purchasing recycled peg roofing tiles:

  1. Check with a building architect that walls will withstand weight of roof trusses plus peg tiles weights (70kg/m2).
  2. Discard any cracked tiles.
  3. Suitable for roof pitches of 35 – 40 degrees.
  4. Coverage is 60 peg tiles/m2.


Roof Construction Materials: Floorboards and Joists

These include roof trusses, sarking boards, rafters and beams originally made from trees larger in girth than today’s trees. It will have had the time to cure and will have fewer knots and will not be warped or twisted. Green new wood can be supplied mostly straight from sawmills and contain a high water moisture content.

Recycled floorboards and joists have similar properties.

Points to take into account when purchasing recycled roofing components, floorboards and joists:

  1. Bring a copy of the architects’ required sizes of trusses and joists and give this to the recycle specialist. He will know right away if he has the required sizes in stock, or where you can get them.
  2. Always look out for mold, woodworm and rot.
  3. Always order more sarking and floor boards than is required, as you are bound to have missed some blemishes such as bowing or small cracks when selecting the boards.
  4. Some roof beams are suitable for exposure through the ceiling and this opportunity to show your old wood beams should not be missed out on during construction, with the same applying to floorboards, especially if these are going to be sanded back to original wood.

Central Heating Components

These include copper hot water cylinders (tanks), plastic cold water tanks, pumps, thermostats, copper piping and radiators.

Points to take into account when purchasing recycled central heating components:

  1. Check with your plumber for the type of hot water cylinder he needs. There are two types, an indirect cylinder which contains internal copper coils and a direct cylinder which has no internal coils. Also check that the cylinder has an immersion heater fitted as these can be successfully reused. Also check the size of the water circulating pump required as these can also be reused if they have been stored under cover.
  2. Radiators tend to get silted and corrode internally, there is no way of checking for this, just make sure that there are no visible rust streaks on the outside. Don’t worry about scratches as the radiators can be repainted with specialist paints, but reject any radiators with dents or deep scores. Also, select the ones that have a thermostatically control valve (TCV) fitted to one end and ask the plumber to give you a list of radiator and copper pipe sizes he requires.
  3. Try to get fairly long and straight lengths of copper pipe which can be reused with lengths joined together, but avoid any badly damaged sections with acute bends, these pieces will have to be cut out wasted.

Bathroom Items

These consist primarily of sinks, baths, taps, and shower enclosures, all which should be in plentiful supply in modern or antique designs.

Points to take into account when purchasing recycled bathroom items:

  1. Get a list of sizes of the different items from your plumber.
  2. Choose the items carefully, selecting ceramic items of the same design and color, including the shower enclosure base, which should be preferably concrete and will have to match the size of the enclosure.
  3. Examine each item carefully, looking out for any cracks. Bear in mind to get the plumber to change the tap washers on the recycled hot and cold bath and sink taps.
  4. As I said in the introduction, it is unhygienic to use recycled toilets, but if you discover a modern dual flush cistern, grab it. It can be fitted to your new toilet and save an abundance of water (see my article on dual flushing cisterns)

Kitchen Items

These include the sink, countertops and cupboards, all of which are in abundant supply in a large variety of colors as well as plain, wood finishes.

Points to take into account when purchasing recycled kitchen items:

  1. Recycled stainless steel sinks are at present more popular to the acrylic composites types which can scratch and stain more easily, so there should be plenty to choose from.
  2. If you don’t see a set of kitchen units that suit you, just buy a set anyway and you can buy replacement doors which are cheap and easily fitted.
  3. Kitchen countertops are easily damaged on removal, so carefully examine the selection before buying. I have seen countertops in very good condition advertised with a stainless steel sink and taps still fitted, so do shop around.

Rainwater Guttering and Downpipes

Modern guttering and downpipes are manufactured from Upvc or composite plastic of different colors, but there are still cast iron ones to be found in buildings in recycling specialists’ yards.

Points to take into account when purchasing recycled guttering and downpipes items:

  1. Get a list of sizes required from the architect. In keeping with your rammed earth building, try to source cast iron guttering and downpipes, they will look so much better, although will be more difficult to fix to the rammed earth walls. Do not be tempted to buy replicate cast items.
  2. When selecting recycled plastic guttering and down pipes, be sure to purchase ones of the same size and color.
  3. Look out for any drain traps and serrated covers-you will need about six of these.

A Constructive Conclusion

Recycling and reusing construction materials can add another environmental accreditation to a dwelling constructed from natural green building materials.

There are numerous recycling companies world-wide which are engaged not only in a lucrative business, but also providing an environmental service in salvaging reusable materials from old buildings which are being demolished.

The recyclable materials can be used in conjunction with the use of green natural materials used in the construction of the already environmentally friendly dwellings.

These materials include windows and doors, roofing components, plumbing, kitchen and bathroom elements and rainwater guttering.

You can save a lot of money by purchasing recyclable, reusable construction materials, but also mitigate global warming by not purchasing new materials which produce embedded CO2 during manufacturing.