It Saves to Build on the Past


| January/February 1999

New housing takes a toll on Mother Nature. Building an average American home shaves some three acres of forest, and we build a million and a half each year. And when old buildings make way for new, demolition detritus clogs landfills with 8 million tons annually.

But "green building" activists are making it easier to remodel or build sustainably. Recycled materials-flooring made from salvaged old-growth beams, insulation from shredded newspapers, carpets from plastic milk jugs-are widely available from building stores and regional suppliers, says Steve Loken, founder of the Center for Resourceful Building Technology in Missoula, Montana.

Prices are competitive with conventional materials. If you want to save half the cost of basics like bricks, lumber, and windows, check out new businesses around the country that specialize in recycled building materials; materials are cheap because homeowners typically drop them off gratis to avoid paying rising fees at the local dump. Builders-including Uncle Sam-have discovered that the higher costs of taking apart rather than wrecking a building are often recovered in reusing or selling material. According to The Neighborhood Works (July/Aug. 1997), materials from deconstructed army barracks in Wisconsin were transformed into several houses and garages-and two churches.

To find a national index of sustainable building resources go to www.greenbuilder.com/sourcebook. For recycled wood prices, check out Big City Forest (718/731-3931 or bcforest@aol.com). The Center for Resourceful Building Technology (www.montana.com/CRBT or 406/549-7678) may also be helpful.