Lately, a client asked if we can help her design and build a new home using recycled building materials. She wanted a home that has a positive environmental impact. She wanted to salvage materials from a deconstructed home to lower construction costs.
We told her that she’s right and we can help her with her vision.
Upcycling building materials became more prevalent in Australia in the past few years. There are hundreds of people who have done it, and more people have considered doing it.
Using recycled building materials in your new home is the boldest decision that you can make. When done right, you’ll end up with a place that’s full of character. It will also give a deeper meaning to your project.
In this blog, we will answer all the questions about this eco-friendly initiative. You will learn how to use pre-loved treasures in your new home project.
Q: Why should I recycle building materials?
A: When you upcycle several materials from a carefully demolished house or building, these things happen:
- You cut the costs of procuring new building materials.
- You reduce the negative environmental impacts of building. You help reduce the carbon footprint from manufacturing and transporting new products.
- You slash the total cost of construction. You can reallocate the money you saved to other living requirements.
- You help lessen construction wastes which take a huge space in our landfills.
- You dramatically lower the landfill fees that you (or another person) needs to pay. It’s $42 per tonne to $102 per tonne now.
The next time you have a chance to find and reclaim building materials, do it! Check out your city’s Craigslist for reclaimed materials that are on sale. Some property owners enlist salvaged items with an architectural value.
These are the common items that people reclaim from old structures:
- Dimensional Lumber (timber frames, boards, planks, etc.)
- Solid timber flooring
- Kitchen Cabinets
- Light Fixtures
- Marble tiles or slabs
- Stone tiles or slabs (used indoor or outdoor)
Make sure that you’re buying an item that’s removed from the structure before the demolition. It’s reclaimed, but it needs to be in good condition.
Q: Is the building process different from building an ordinary home?
A: Yes. Creating a new home using recycled building materials has a different procedure.
In the regular building process, you draw a plan, get a building permit, and appoint a builder. The procurement of materials happens afterwards.
Here, you organise the materials in advance. You collect all the reclaimed building materials and store them somewhere. Then, you hire an architect to document the project. He/she must inform the builders about the construction materials they’re going to use. The builders need to get a clear understanding of the design. This is to avoid confusion about where the upcycled materials will go.
Q: What if I’m sourcing my materials on a later date?
A: The priority for every project is to obtain a building permit. You don’t want to get fined because of illegal building works. Unfortunately, it’s a challenge to plan if you don’t know what you’re working with. But, we have a solution.
We recommend drawing up a plan with enough information to get a permit. Ensure that all notations on the drawings are in their most basic description.
For example, label the walls as “timber” on paper, but use recycled timber that’s sourced on a later date.
If you want a brick wall, show its placement. Say it’s brick — no more, no less.
Placing the windows are the tricky part. You and your architect don’t know the exact shape and measurement of the windows that you will use yet. So, draw the windows in the desired location on paper, but leave some room for changes.
Once approved, you can start sourcing the materials from various places. Go to buildings and houses in line for demolition. Search for available items on Craigslist. Or, approach a renovating friend or neighbour to check on their pre-loved items.
Q: How do we engage the builders?
A: Most people who use recycled building materials build organically. That means the house’s appearance develop as you source the materials.
If this is you, then it’s hard to work with a builder.
We recommend negotiating with them while ensuring fairness for both parties. You can offer them a fixed fee. This way, you how much to pay the builder and all you have to do is provide all the building materials.
Or, they can provide you with a tailored service where you have the flexibility to change and add materials as they become available.
Q: What are the chances of experiencing delays?
A: It depends. Delays occur when you haven’t bought a particular building material yet. It stops the work. But, you can avoid it when you try to provide the builder with the material in advance of each stage of the process.
It also helps when you don’t have an immediate deadline for your project. This way, the delays are bearable. You have more time to find the recycled building materials as well.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the luxury of time. If your project is time-bound, consider replacing rare items with readily available ones. Substitute only in times of need.
Q: Where can I store the materials I’m about to use for the project?
A: Keep them in a vacant space that’s protected from the harsh elements. Don’t put them in a place where they’ll deteriorate fast. Be extra careful when storing items made of wood. You don’t want them deformed or rotten.
Q: What’s your most important tip when building using recycled materials?
A: The building process might be different, but the way of construction is the same. It begins with a strong and stable foundation. Then, build the frame that will give the house its form. These two are the skeletons of your home — both must be structurally sound. Then, wrap it up and decorate the interiors in any way you like.
By that, we encourage the use of high-quality materials for the frame and foundation. Spend time looking for the best reclaimed wood or steel for your house. Then, build the frame. As this happens, source the materials for the building envelope. Look for the timber, brick, stone, doors, windows, and roofing materials that you need. Send these materials back to your site. Once the builders cover and enclose the frame, seek for your interior design pieces. Be one step ahead of the builder.
Q: How can I achieve a cohesive interior design?
A: Using recycled building materials, there’s no preconceived idea of your home’s final look. You’re free to use the interesting items you find along the way. But, you must stick with a coherent design. If not, you will end up with a garden-variety space. It’s confusing.
To achieve a cohesive design, link materials through colour and material. Stick with a beautiful colour palette. You can also follow a theme when decorating around the house.
Other design tips for unified home design:
- Bring recycled building materials used on the exterior design inside the house. (e.g. when you use brick cladding, create a brick wall inside)
- Repurpose the building materials. Flip them so it becomes more stylish furniture that fits your space. Give them a new life. (e.g. use a few solid floorboards to create a shelf or a side table)
- Repaint a piece of furniture so it matches the rest of the interiors.
- Engage an architect or a building designer.
- Designing out waste in high-residential buildings: Analysis of precasting methods and traditional construction by Baldwin, A, Poon, C.S, Shen, L.Y, Austin, S, & Wong, I
- Environmental analysis of a building with reused building materials by the International Journal of Low Energy and Sustainable Buildings
- Construction and Demolition Waste Guide by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population, and Communities.
- Quantifying the waste reduction potential of using prefabrication in building construction in Hong Kong by L Jaillon, C.S Poon, & Y.H Chiang
- Framing Lumber from building removal: How Do We best Utilize this Untapped structural resource? by Robert Falk, Steven Kramer, and James Evans