The 'r's of renovation

G Magazine

We’ve become quite the champs at home recycling, but when it comes to recycling and reusing your actual home and other materials, where to start?


Credit: iStockphoto

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The habit of recycling at home is so ingrained that most of us do it without even thinking. But if you were about to demolish your home or start a major renovation would you think about the waste or would you leave it up to the builder? Forty percent of all waste generated in Australia is due to construction and demolition – of which the majority is residential. Eighty percent of this waste is recyclable, so it is crazy that nearly half of it ends up in landfill.

Designing out waste

The key to avoiding building waste is finding an architect and builder who are interested in using recycled materials and minimising waste.

“The issue for the builder is they have to warranty what they do – so they might be hesitant to use a window that might leak. So it’s about finding the right builder to work with. If the window is sound there is no reason to not work with it,” says Philip Alviano, Sustainable Building Advisor for the Master Builders Association of Victoria.

Preventing waste is best considered at the design phase or it is unlikely to happen. There are often opportunities to reuse waste from the demolition on site, such as incorporating old benchtops into a new kitchen, or using old bricks as paving. Building waste can be avoided by choosing prefabricated materials and reusing formwork. Specify that recycled materials are used in the new construction.

Have a waste plan

Some councils require a waste plan as part of the development application, but even if it’s not required, it’s worth asking your builder to produce one – and while recycling costs more than demolition, landfill prices are reducing the difference.

A waste plan lists surplus materials that will be created by the renovation work, such as bricks, excavation material, metals, timber, plasterboard and tiles. It notes their ultimate destination, whether it will be reused on-site, sent off-site for recycling or going to landfill. The plan also needs to specify whether multiple recycling bins will be used or if it will all go into one bin for off-site sorting, which is often the only option on small sites. “More skip companies now offer to separate the waste – it isn’t that expensive anymore, especially as landfill costs increase,” says Alviano.

While the waste removal company will sort and on-sell building materials such as timber, bricks and plasterboard, there may be individual items that are worth selling separately. Kitchen cabinets, old floorboards, benchtops, toilets, sinks, windows, doors and appliances that are still working can be sold on Salvage Bazaar (www.salvagebazaar.com.au), eBay, Gumtree or taken to a salvage yard. Heritage items such as fireplaces, leadlight windows and skirting boards are also in demand.

Prices vary and unless an item is rare or in exceptional condition don’t expect to get much for them.

Make sure you identify which items you want to sell and include that in your builder’s contract to avoid them being destroyed or damaged accidentally.

Green from the bottom up

Focus on using materials with recycled content for structural or cladding material because they make up the bulk of the materials in a new building. There is no need for the rustic look if that’s not your style - from concrete, to steel, plasterboard and timber, its possible to find top-quality recycled products that look as slick as new materials.

Cameron Rosen, who runs a sustainable building management consultancy, has recently built himself an 8-star home in Sydney using recycled materials. He used recycled steel by One Steel Reinforcing, recycled CSR plasterboard and recycled timber from Ironwood Australia for external cladding. For the slab, Rosen used Boral Envirocrete with 30 per cent recycled content, which he believes is the first time it had been used in a residential project.

“We used the Green Building Council of Australia rating tools and Good Environmental Choice to help make product decisions,” Rosen says.

“It’s not difficult to find products with recycled content, you just need to look.”.

Completing the fitout salvage style

Have a hunt around a heritage building centre or demolition yard and you’ll be amazed at the type of recycled materials you can use in your home. From windows, timber, carpet, bricks, fireplaces, to bathtubs and sinks – almost anything in a home is available secondhand usually at a fraction of the price. Bear in mind some things are one-off items – if you really love it you might want to buy it now and stockpile it for later.

Recycled timber has a depth of character that is hard to beat. At the top end of the market are stunning custom-made furniture, benchtops, floors and antique doors and you can also find stairs, windows, doors, decking and cladding. However, don’t expect it to be cheap – some old and rare timbers are more expensive than new timber, although can be worth it for durability, appearance and environmental impact.

For those who prefer carpet to timber floors, consider commercial grade wool carpets, usually recycled from office buildings and hotels, which are available in five grades. Recycled carpet underlay made from used clothes can be bought from the Smith Family.

For landscaping, look out for recycled fencing, pavers, rock, railway sleepers or even original sandstone convict bricks.

The finishing touches

Sick of flat pack but can’t afford anything better? The solution is secondhand. It doesn’t matter whether you prefer modern minimalism or French provincial, there’s secondhand furniture and furnishings to suit every taste.

“We purchased recycled furniture from the ’40s and ’50s,” Rosen says.

For inspiration check out websites such as Apartment Therapy (www.apartmenttherapy.com) or Design Sponge (www.designsponge.com), which are chock-full of examples of how to put these looks together.

While it helps to be handy if you want to deck out your house in secondhand furniture, it is not a prerequisite. There are services that will strip paint, reupholster a chair or even do a complete overhaul.

If that’s too much fuss, go straight to top of the line retro and antique stores that select the best pieces for you. It will cost a bit extra but you will have a charming and original piece of furniture with a tiny footprint.

Hunting out the perfect Eames chair might take a little time but it is worth the reward. Check out garage sales, charity shops, flea markets or antique shops, or put out a request on a recycle website (www.freecycle.org/group/AU/ or www.ozrecycle.com), which have growing memberships in most
Australian states.

Auction houses are an affordable source of lounge suites, dining tables, chairs, and even crockery, lamps and linen, mostly from deceased estates. Look for solid bones under shabby appearances – often a coat of paint or sanding and sealing is all that is needed.

With a little care it is possible to create a highly original, sustainable home for little cost, and at the same time keeping waste out of landfill.

For more info, try:

Business Recycling: www.businessrecycling.com.au
Lists businesses that will recycle construction and demolition waste.

Ecospecifier: www.ecospecifier.com.au
Eco-products and materials database listing over 6000 products.

Reno Kings: www.renos.com.au/bargains
Comprehensive listing of recycled building materials suppliers.

Salvage Bazaar: www.salvagebazaar.com.au
Online seller of building materials.

Good Environmental Choice: www.geca.org.au
Helpful and credible product information.

Green Building Council of Australia: www.gbca.org.au
Not-for-profit organisation working with industry.