Used but Not Used Up: Reclaimed materials find their way into commercial, residential projects.

Author:Orr, Vanessa

There are a lot of reasons to build with reclaimed materials, from lower costs to decreased environmental impact to the fact that they can be used to truly customize a project. But before jumping on the reuse/recycle bandwagon, it's important to realize that this method comes with a number of challenges.

This is especially true on the design side of projects, where it is imperative to know exactly what materials will be used and that they will be available when needed. There are also risks that come with planning a project using materials that may not perform as well as new products would and that may not end up being well-suited for their planned purpose.

There is a lot more planning involved, both for the designer and the contractor," says Carel Nagata, senior architect/associate at Stantec, an engineering services company. "It's a lot easier to just order exactly what a project needs. When you're given a pile of reclaimed material, you have to determine whether it's enough material and how to patch it all together. You need a lot more time to plan, and that time is a cost that goes back to the owner."

That's not to say it isn't worth it, however.

"All of the cool things in my house are either reclaimed or salvaged," says Paula Bogdan, who along with her husband, Jeff, built a 3,000-square-foot home in Girdwood using roughly 25,000 pounds of reclaimed beams, among other items. "Flexibility is really important. You have to be open to new ideas."

Why Use Reclaimed Materials?

Generally when people consider using reclaimed materials, they do it for one of two reasons: they want to save money or they want to reduce their environmental impact.

"One of the biggest benefits is the huge cost savings; we sell most of our reclaimed building material for 50 percent or less than what it costs new, and projects also have reduced transportation costs because it doesn't require shipping materials from China or the Lower 48," explains Central Recycling Services (CRS) and Central Environmental Inc. (CEI) partner Shane Durand.

"While it's sometimes a challenge to have to design with what we have--for example, someone wants a 2*6, but I only have 2*8s--if the price is right, they make it work," he adds. "They adjust their plans based on the materials available."

Restore, part of Habitat for Humanity Anchorage, sees people buying these materials for the same reasons.

"Most of our reclaimed materials cost about half the price of new, if not lower," says Norman Beasley, general manager of the nonprofit thrift store, adding that those prices are based on what materials can be sold for on eBay and not full retail price.

"We're also seeing that people are becoming more conscious about what they buy," he continues. "I've personally always been a 'new' buyer, but now I realize that I can fix things up if I spend a little extra time. Before, when people were buying new, they weren't addressing the issue of how much waste one person can cause; now, we're seeing more conscious builds."

By making the decision to use reclaimed materials, individuals and businesses can have a positive impact on the environment.

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