Most of us know that “building green” means constructing homes that use energy and water resources more efficiently while impacting the environment less. Probably fewer of us are aware of the significant part recycling wood construction waste can play in reducing environmental impact from home construction. Across the United States, construction waste from home building makes up a significant part—as much as 17 percent—of materials sent to landfills every year.
In Blacksburg, VA, researchers from the Southern Research Station (SRS) Forest Products Conservation Team have worked on wood lifecycle analysis and recycling technologies for over two decades. As part of this effort, they’ve developed techniques to recover, repair and recycle wooden pallets as well as treated wood from demolished outdoor decks.
In 2007, Green Valley Builders, a Blacksburg company known for its sustainable practices, began work on Mt. Tabor Meadows, a green neighborhood featuring EarthCraft House–certified homes. EarthCraft House is a regional residential certification program that rewards energy- and resource-efficient homes and recycling activities while discouraging landfilling of waste. When it came time to set up a system to recycle wood waste, the company naturally contacted SRS team leader Phil Araman.
Araman and SRS forestry technician Matt Winn teamed up with Virginia Tech’s Dan Hindman and his students to set up a wood waste system at each house. “First we collected, separated, weighed, and measured the wood waste at each house,” said Araman.” We quantified each type of waste—oriented strand board (OSB), treated lumber, and spruce/pine/fir—by volume, then looked at options for recycling and reusing each type.”
The research team took waste from the regular two-by-fours (spruce/pine/fir) to the county transfer station where it was ground into mulch. They processed the remaining wood—OSB, plywood, and treated wood—into shelving, stair treads and risers, and other building materials. They donated most of the recycled shelving to the local Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, which sold the materials to help build safe, affordable housing for low-income people.
So far,Green Valley Builders have finished 15 houses in Mt. Tabor Meadows, with the wood waste completely reused or recycled at the SRS research laboratory or the local landfill recovery facility. The project, now in its third year, has already provided detailed information about how much construction waste is generated in building a “green” home, along with recycling options for the wood waste.
“We found that building a 2000-square-foot home generates 1500 to 3700 pounds of solid-sawn wood and another 1000 to 1800 pounds of engineered wood products,” said Araman. “We’re talking about at least two tons of material that would ordinarily go to a landfill, which is terrifically wasteful and environmentally harmful.”
The project not only provides important information for an increasingly green home construction industry but also a “living laboratory” for students—graduate, undergraduate, and high school—to learn about environmental building practices and the very tangible benefits they provide to us all.