Minimizing Waste in Demoltion

Any remodeling project is inherently more or less wasteful.  “Out with the old and in with the new” means that something is being tossed and new resources are being consumed.  From an ethical standpoint, I think remodeling is better than building new and even remodeling should always be justified by improving utility and energy efficiency to offset that waste.  From a design point of view, the new work should be not only more aesthetically pleasing but more multi-functional – future proofed as much as possible.

I apply these ideas to all the design work I do, and I’ve been trying to use the same principles during my physical remodeling here.

I couldn’t bring myself to keep the basement of the house intact – it was WAY too dated in its finishes, and too poorly laid out and insulated to be functional or comfortable.  Even in the areas where I might have chosen to leave some pieces intact, the nature of the way it was built was too inter-layered.  Every piece removed required totally removing something else.  In the end I had to completely strip the basement back to its block walls and wood joists.

To salve my conscience, I have worked to keep the resultant demo products out of the landfill.  At ever stage, I’ve tried to preserve materials intact so that they can be reused or donated:

Here’s a series of process shots (mostly featuring Roxie) showing the removed ceiling, then Doug using his trusty Sawzall to cut the casing from the door frame, me wielding a Wunderbar pry bar to pull off knotty pine siding and then the fully removed walls showing the (trash bag covered) toilet and shower enclosure.

  • The wood panelling (fake) from the bedroom area and the very thin plywood backing for it is neatly stacked against the stair wall – it may come in handy later in construction or at the very least it can provide a kneeling platform for the crawl space over the breeze way.
  • The dimensional lumber from the exterior wall furring and ceiling furring and from the interior walls removed is stacked in the unfinished part of the basement.  It will provide blocking and scrap for the rest of the construction.
  • I’ve saved the knotty pine siding that lined the lower half of the den.  The back side is devoid of horrid, fussy fluting, and may prove an acceptable finish material for some other part of the project.
  • I’m going to reuse both the existing tub and shower enclosure – not my favorite appliances but cheaper and more waste-lite than tossing them and buying new.
  • I pried off all the trim, pulled the cabinet doors, and cut out the door casings intact from the rough openings and donated the lot of it to the ReStore a few miles from my house.

Where a regular wrecking crew (focused on working as quickly as possible) might have parked a dumpster in the driveway and filled it with all the materials of the basement, the only actual WASTE coming out of the basement is about 5 weeks worth of city trash cans containing the drywall from the upper halves of the den area walls, some ratty tar paper and bags and bags of floor sweepings – sawdust, dirt and pulled nails.

Note: the City of Madison actually requires professional contractors to 70% of debris from new construction and the following items from any renovation projects valued at over $20,000: Clean Wood, Clean Drywall, Shingles, Corrugated Cardboard, and Metal.  

I could probably have recycled the drywall from this project myself but chose to keep life simply by letting it go in the weekly trash since it was in poor (damp) shape and there were only a few sheets used.

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