Ask the Expert: How to keep a jobsite clean and green

| by Teena Hammond
Ask the Expert: How to keep a jobsite clean and green

Keeping a building site clean makes any construction project more environmentally friendly, as well as saving time and money. ProudGreenHome turned to its Approved Contributing Experts, also known as ACE's, to ask them for their tips on how to maintain a clean homebuilding site.

Gary Kadlec, owner of Kleendeck

You only get one chance to make a first impression. While this is a familiar and seemingly obvious statement, think of the times you have walked into a store, dental office or restaurant, and the sights, sounds and smells you first notice are less than positive.

All home buyer prospects walk through beautiful model homes, but remember that either before or afterward, as they narrow their home builder options, almost all will visit homes under construction.

Probably 95 percent know little or nothing about construction, relying on building inspectors to make sure homes meet minimum framing, plumbing, HVAC and electrical standards. But they will make quality judgments about the builders based on what they do understand, and for most people "cleanliness equals quality."

Most of the filth is dirt, mud, drywall compound, spray foam insulation, adhesive and other contaminants caked on and embedded in the subfloors and dust, drywall and wood scraps in HVAC ductwork.

Prospects looking for their dream home, making a decision on the largest investment of their lives, do care what remains under their beautiful new floors and in their ductwork. Covering the floor and cold air vents and protecting the subfloors goes that extra step for a builder that can make all the difference turning a prospect into a buyer.

People signing a contract to build a new home should insist on it. They know ultimately they pay for everything and want it done right. Plus, builders will save on cleanup, and flooring contractors can get right to work rather than spend time on site prep that the builder and buyer have to pay for and also enjoy reduced risks of callbacks.

And HVAC contractors won't have to schedule and charge for a return to clean out the ductwork. Cleaner jobsites means better indoor air quality, healthier homes and reduced strain on HVAC equipment, too. A clean jobsite just makes sense ... and saves money.

Farah Ahmad, fifth-year architecture student at City College of New York

With my experience building a solar-powered home for the Solar Decathlon 2011, I can't stress enough the importance of maintaining a clean building site. You will save yourself a migraine, and become more time, energy and cost efficient by following a few simple protocols.

Maintaining a regular schedule to pick up debris and separating the materials based on type are key. Trash builds up, as a result of machinery use or excessive supply of material. Moreover, safe disposal of garbage is key because waste may be toxic and may contaminate the earth or water supply, and create air pollution. Any debris found in the actual home may also delay the construction schedule. For instance, painting or finishing a hard surface will require a clean, smooth surface.

Another key example: engineering systems plus debris are a bad combination. Pipes, wires, and all the other ins and outs of the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems need immaculate spaces within which to function. No one wants to deal with dust filtering through such extensive equipment.

Appropriate storage of equipment and material also saves time, energy and money. Since supplies can easily become misplaced, it is important to allocate a storage location for them. Delaying the construction because that 2-inch-by-4-inch piece of wood was accidentally thrown out or stored elsewhere is not efficient.

Keeping the construction site clear of obstacles will eliminate work injuries on site. Tripping and falling are common accidents on the jobsite, and keeping pathways clear around the site will alleviate such problems.

Moreover, equipment should be cleaned since leftover chemicals or residue could damage it, and it will be safer and ready for workers to handle the next day.

There's an old adage that we like to also associate in architecture school: "Measure twice, cut once." If you apply this same saying to the methods in which you clean your site, you won't have to utilize your energy trying to do what could have already been.

Heather Ferrier Laminack, marketing manager for Ferrier Custom Homes


On our new home construction sites, we are recycling or reusing 80 percent of the construction waste, all of which is diverted from landfills. But as we've learned, it takes a good measure of proactiveness and thoroughness to realize this diversion from typical job sites. Here are a few tips that we've learned along the way:

  • Educate everyone involved. Contractors are used to one huge dumpster for everything, and by asking them to slow down and sort their waste, it requires a certain level of attentiveness that requires dedication from everyone that steps onto the jobsite. So first and foremost, you have to create buy-in from everyone that may generate waste during the course of the job. Explain your recycling/reuse/waste procedures before a trade's scope of work begins and make sure everyone's on the same page as to what is expected.
  • Clearly mark recycling and trash bins. Having clear signage is key to effectively maintaining a clean, sorted building site.
  • Provide ample bins across your building site. The closer the bins are to where the work is being performed, the more likely the recyclables/waste will wind up in them.
  • Make sure recycling and trash bins are emptied on a regular basis. Nothing junks up a site faster than overflowing bins. Maintaining your bins will also save you time in the long run from picking up overflowing materials that have scattered across your site (and often into the neighbor's yard!).
  • Remember the neighbors. When building, first impressions are often made by the way your site is maintained. Do everything you can to prevent debris from finding its way into neighboring houses. A good proactive measure is before construction/remodeling begins, knock the doors of the neighbors and give them the heads up on what is about to take place, and give them your contact number in case any issues arise. This act will go a long way, trust me.

Luis Imery, principal of The Imery Group

Our goal when we embark into any new construction project, especially when building a new home, is to first reduce the amount of materials that gets delivered to the job site. Basically, we try to have on hand what we will actually use. Then, we have a plan on how to maximize the use of such materials.

For example, we have found that a great way to substantially reduce the amount of lumber used for framing is to go with panelized construction. Wall panels are assembled off-site according to a framing and cut plan where all the lumber is cut per plan, and leftovers can be used for blockings, bracing, etc. Then panels get delivered to the job site, and you just put the pieces together.

In addition to this, it is a good idea to have a waste management plan posted on the jobsite and discuss it with each trade that rolls into the jobsite. The waste management plan can be as simple as the following example:

Waste management plan:

  • Plastic bottles and metal cans need to go into the designated 50 gallon recycling container (blue trash can) for proper disposal at a recycling center.
  • Domestic refuse needs to be placed in 50 gallon trash can (black trash can) and not into the dumpster.
  • 30 cubic yard commingle container is onsite for the purpose of recycling up to 75 percent of its content. Only leftover construction materials can be dumped for proper separation and recycling.
  • Leftover drywall will go into a separate dumpster. The goal is to recycle 100 percent of the waste
  • Cardboard and packing content needs to be flattened out and stacked in a pile for proper disposal at recycling center.
  • Burning of any kind is strictly forbidden.
  • Prior to end of working day the site needs to be cleaned up and look neat.
  • Disposal of any damaged equipment or tools is forbidden.

Any land disturbance of any kind needs to immediately be restored with mulch.

Job site recycling goals:

  • Divert 75 percent of wood
  • Divert 75 percent of cardboard
  • Divert 75 percent of drywall
  • Divert 75 percent of plastic

Of course without enforcement and setting an example it will be impossible to reduce waste. We try to encourage recycling and waste reduction by designating a specific area in the jobsite for this purpose. Again, it can be as simple as the picture shown.

Implementing a waste management and recycling strategy not only makes sense to the environment, but your clients or prospect buyers will be blown away on how neat and clean the jobsite looks

Ted Clifton, principal of Zero-Energy Plans LLC, and CVH Inc.

I was young once; I worked hard, I achieved a lot, and I had risen to a position of some responsibility within my company. I was in charge of anything having to do with carpentry, in a company devoted to road construction. I worked often at logging camps and other remote sites, and the spring of 1979 found me in Coffman Cove, Alaska.

My project involved re-building the cookhouse; constructing new cabinets on-site, adding a new covered walkway, and site-constructing trusses to re-roof the building. All of this work required a lot of cutting, planing and sanding, which in turn produced a lot of sawdust.

To me, today's sawdust was no different from tomorrow's; it could just pile up until the job was complete. I had been given a corner of the heavy equipment shop to work in, but the mechanics seemed quite unhappy with me and my sawdust. They asked me to clean up after myself; I didn't. They begged and beseeched me; I still didn't clean up my mess. I kept putting them off, explaining that I would just be making more sawdust the next day, and that I would be done and gone in a very short time.

One evening, upon returning from my work at the cookhouse, I found my bed completely filled with sawdust! It was on the sheets, between the sheets, in the pillowcase, everywhere! There would be no sleeping until I cleaned up the horrendous mess.

I returned to the cookhouse to get my shop-vac, where I found most of the crew laughing at me. The master mechanic was not laughing, he was deadly serious. With a shotgun (yes, really!) pointed at my head, he explained to me the hazards of sawdust in a heavy equipment shop. The acid in the hemlock dust was extremely corrosive, and as it blew around the building, it would settle on anything and everything, especially anything coated with oil. This included delicate engine parts that were being painstakingly rebuilt. Failure of these parts could cost thousands of dollars in equipment damage, and could even result in injury or death to an operator or driver.

I took this lesson to heart, and the next morning I moved my cutting outside under a tarp. I would only bring the tools back inside when they had been cleaned up and the dust blown away. Amazingly, in addition to having happy mechanics, my own allergies became less troublesome. By spending a few minutes each hour on clean-up, I actually improved my production!

Several years later, when I formed my own home building company, I understood inherently that the custom home we were building was not just our jobsite, it was somebody's house. To the owner, if we left a mess at the end of the day, we were disrespecting their house. What kind of animals would leave orange peels and spilled food on the floor of someone's house? I did not want my crew (or my sub-contractors) to be seen in that way. If we wanted respect, we had to respect our client's property.

We all know that nosy neighbors will visit our jobsites at night. How clean we leave the jobsite can have an effect not only on their safety (which can be a legal and insurance issue), it can also have an effect on how willing they would be to have us work on their house. We have had several customers tell us that our clean jobsites were one of the reasons they selected us as their contractor.

To sum it up, the benefits of keeping a clean jobsite are:

  1. Better, safer working environment for higher production, and fewer workplace injuries;
  2. Cleaner air to breathe for workers and visitors to the site, less health problems;
  3. The respect of your clients, workers, sub-contractors, and other visitors to your site;
  4. Improved profitability for your company, and improved indoor air quality for your customer.

We have employed a number of systems over the years to reduce the amount of sawdust in the home; these include doing most cutting outside, or when cutting must be done inside, restricting it to one room that can be isolated from the others with a plastic barrier. Regular sorting of scrap materials keep them out of the way, and also make them more likely to get re-used in the construction, instead of wasted in the dumpster.

We also employ systems to reduce or eliminate the use of any toxic materials. This is as much for our own workers' comfort and production rates as it is for our customer, but the benefits are mutually appreciated. Moving lots of air through the work area between coats of paint, or after drywall is taped and textured helps keep moisture-related problems to a minimum.

We leave the jobsite clean each day when we leave, and this gives us added authority to insist that our sub-contractors leave it as clean as they found it when they are done with their own work. Those who refuse are not invited back. We post our recycle plan on the wall, and contractually require our sub-contractors to adhere to it. We provide both food-waste trash cans, and recycle trash cans on each of our building sites, clearly marked.

We also invite our customers to participate in the cleanup with us, which gives them more hands-on ownership of the job, and helps keep costs down. Our customers are usually quite happy to have this opportunity, because they know that they are the ultimate beneficiaries of a cleaner, safer, healthier home.

Melissa Rappaport Schifman, founder and principal of Green Intention LLC

Many people dread the thought of remodeling their home because of the mess it creates. Trying to keep it clean can be hard, but here are some tips to consider:

  • Choose a subcontractor that specifically lists end-of-day cleanup as part of the job, or add it to the proposal and make sure they know that's important to you.
  • Put plastic wrap or some sort of covering (taped) over all air returns and supplies in the rooms where work is performed. This helps ensure sawdust and other particles do not get into the air duct system — you don't want to be breathing that stuff in later on.
  • Put floor mats down and cover the carpet with plastic (taped down) to protect the carpet not only from construction dust, but also from absorbing any harmful paint or sealant odors.
  • Do a pre-occupancy flush for at least 24 hours to air out the house, running the air and all fans on the highest setting. If it's nice enough outside (and secure), all doors should be open as well. This ensures you don't move into a stinky home. That new smell is not good for our lungs.
  • Make sure the cleaning supplies used are non-toxic.
  • Choose a waste company/dumpster that recycles. This may not make any difference in how clean the site is, but it makes a difference in how much material is sent to the landfill — and that is a green benefit!

Tom Smith, director of operations and marketing for Anua

Ways to keep a building site clean while constructing or remodeling a home:

  • Have a plan of where all construction materials will be stored during the building process.
  • Have designated refuse and reuse piles, separate items that can be recycled.
  • Clean the work site at the end of every day and ensure all tools are replaced in the tool box.
  • Clear the refuse pile weekly.


  • Less waste of raw materials, less expense, less material in the landfill.
  • Reduce the chance of injuries.
  • Reduce cost of lost tools.
  • Reduce downtime from having to locate and relocate materials.

Topics: Building Green, Going Green

Companies: Kleendeck, LLC, Anua

Teena Hammond
Teena Hammond has published more than 2,000 articles in People and W magazines, Women's Wear Daily, and in dozens of newspapers and books. She also wrote a home improvement, remodeling and decor column that ran in Gannett newspapers nationwide. She's interested in all things green and would love to hear from you with your story ideas.

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