Reducing Construction and Demolition Waste
> Design and construction techniques
> Low-waste materials
> Waste management plan
> On-site waste reduction
Durable, adaptable design
Resident recycling

Reduce Construction and Demolition Waste

Reducing construction and demolition (C & D) waste can open up several opportunities to cut costs and improve building quality. Plan carefully, starting in the design process, to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Include waste management goals in contract documents, and then put together a construction and demolition (C & D) waste management plan and post it on the job site. Consider including the following best practices:

Waste-reducing design and construction techniques

  • By designing buildings with efficient floor plans and with wall dimensions that match standard lumber sizes, architects can significantly reduce waste and cut materials and energy costs.
  • Construct with a framing plan that details material takeoffs. Along with a cut list for all framing and sheathing material, such a plan lets you reduce waste at the job site.
  • Advanced framing techniques let you maintain strength and improve performance while saving on materials and can save on labor costs as well.
    • Increasing spacing from 16" on center to 24" on center cuts framing materials costs by up to 30 percent, allows for more insulation, and reduces drywall cracking.
    • In-line framing." Align trusses, studs, and joists to bear directly onto each other. This transfers loads directly from roofs to foundations and reduces the need for double top plates and headers.
    • Methods like ladder-style or single stud intersections (between interior and exterior walls) use less material but maintain strength.
    • Size windows and doors to match stud spacing.
    • Put windows next to structural studs.

Low-waste materials

  • Finished materials. Choose materials that do not require on-site finishing.
  • Pre-cut or pre-assembled components can reduce lumber use by 25% and overall construction costs by 15% due to labor savings. These include pre-cut (I-joist) or pre-manufactured (truss) floor and roof framing, panelized wall framing and/or roof systems, or even modular construction for the whole building. Resource-efficient materials like engineered lumber and structural insulated panels (SIPs) perform better than the traditional alternatives. See the Materials page for details.
  • Recycled-content materials include plastic lumber for decking, latex paint (made from unused paint), concrete made with fly ash and recycled aggregate base, carpet, drywall, insulation, ceramic tile, pavement, roofing materials, and more. (See the Materials page for more detail).
  • Avoid toxic materials.
  • Consider a frost-protected shallow foundation (FPSF), where appropriate.

Waste management plan

Your waste management plan should inventory the projected waste streams, set goals for recycling and reuse, and detail procedures (or requirement for procedures) for materials handling, onsite management, and transportation. Compiling the plan will allow you to estimate the net cost or savings for separation and recycling.

  • Aim to divert 60-75 percent of construction and demolition debris. Then research the potential for recycling, reuse, or return to manufacturer to set goals and list local buyers and such manufacturer take-backs your RFPs. For example, if facilities are available, you can set a goal of 100 percent for asphalt and concrete.
  • Include: cardboard, paper, and packaging; clean dimensional wood and palette wood; beverage containers; land-clearing debris; bricks; concrete; concrete masonry units (CMUs); asphalt; metal from banding, stud trim, ductwork, piping, rebar, roofing, and other trim; drywall; carpeting and pad; paint; asphalt roofing shingles; rigid foam; glass; and plastic. Rely on existing guidelines or standards where applicable.
  • Distribute the plan to the whole team (developer, architect, job supervisor, subcontractor, and construction manager) and post it onsite. Schedule meetings to discuss progress and problems.

Construction site waste reduction

  • Post waste procedures and educate workers.
  • Deconstruction--disassembling existing buildings--improves on demolition by making materials available for reuse, isolating toxic materials, and reducing disposal costs. Salvaged materials are often valuable, so sort and store them onsite. You can also donate them to a non-profit, such as Community Forklift, and receive a tax deduction.
    • Salvaged lumber is cheaper by half and often higher quality than new lumber. Regrading of enough lumber for a 5000 square foot structure can be done in a single day for approximately $500.
    • Bricks and concrete from demolished paving and foundations can become foundation fill, walkway pavement, or landscape terracing.
  • Cut-piles facilitate reuse of wood, drywall, siding, pipe, and other scrap. Create a central, open, clean space to store sorted scrap, then make sure it stays dry.
  • Recycle unusable scrap. Set up bins onsite and bring in a grinder to reduce transportation costs. Contract with a recycler for wood, cardboard, metals, drywall, plastics, asphalt roofing shingles, concrete, block, packaging, etc.
  • Minimize generation of hazardous wastes like used motor oil, solvents, and paint. Develop procedures for separation, handling, and legal disposal.
  • Eliminate packaging that will only become your waste. Inquire about reduced packaging, recycled and/or recyclable packaging, and manufacturers or distributors who take back packaging.
  • Timely delivery and storage of appropriate amounts of materials will prevent theft and damage.

Design for the Long Haul, Reuse, and Recycling

Durable, high-performance design and construction result in a building that will last. Design that allows for new uses--retail on the ground floor, for example--makes the most of the building over the long-term. Adaptability, combined with good maintenance and quality, non-toxic materials, make that eventually renovation much easier and less wasteful.

Durability by design

  • Keeping water out requires a high quality building envelope and careful detailing to direct precipitation away. Best practices include:
    • Water-resistive barrier or drainage plane system behind exterior veneer/siding.
    • Foundation waterproofing.
    • Flashing around windows and doors, valleys, deck/house and roof/wall junctures, chimneys. Drip cap above windows and doors.
    • Roof overhangs and awnings or covered porches over exterior doors prevent water intrusion and protect joists, sills, and finishes.
    • Drip edge at eave and gable roof edges.
    • Ice flashing at roof edge.
    • Perimeter drain for all basement footings should slope to discharge to daylight, dry well, or sump pit.
    • Gutters and downspouts should divert water 5 feet from the foundation and adhere to the overall site drainage plan.
    • Slope backfill from foundation walls (at least 6 inches within 10 feet).
  • Keep termites out with a continuous, physical termite barrier along the foundation. Choose termite-resistant materials for walls, trusses, decks, etc
  • Durable materials like tile and steel framing for interior walls not only last longer and have lower maintenance requirements, but also improve on indoor air quality and ease of repair, respectively. Of note are siding options such as stucco, fiber cement, composite wood, stone, and brick (or brink veneer) last longer than wood and much safer and environmentally sound than vinyl.

Adaptability by design

  • Flexible spaces with open floor plans have many benefits (see above). To allow for reconfiguration or addition of units, add flexible/modular HVAC systems with intelligent controls.
  • Include features for residents with disabilities
  • Consider making ground floor units convertible to retail, daycare, or classrooms. Allow for extra electrical outlets, water hook-ups, and security and safety features.
  • Easy disassembly. Choose detailing and construction methods that facilitate future renovation or deconstruction and allow for reuse of materials.

Help Residents Recycle

Recycling not only saves landfill space and reduces demand for natural resources, but can also support local recycling businesses and make money for your development or its residents. Include recycling in building design to make bins just as convenient for residents as trash bins. Consult recycling centers and municipal solid waste authorities to determine which materials can be recycled and what type of system will work best. Consider setting up food waste composting areas near gardens. Of course, it always helps to clearly mark bins and to keep pests away.


C&D Recycling Tools for Contractor, Local Governments, and Processors

California Integrated Waste Management Board Construction and Demolition Materials page

Construction Waste Management Database , a searchable database of recycling companies

Save Thousands with Advanced Framing for Walls , a PATH case study (PDF available)

Deconstruction Institute

Policy Tools and Model Ordinances , Alameda County, CA. Includes model specification for C&D waste management, model Waste Management Plan, and model Construction and Demolition Debris Ordinance