Green your home with reclaimed and recycled building materials

| by Gary Wollenhaupt
Green your home with reclaimed and recycled building materials

Incorporating reclaimed and recycled materials into your home building project can help reduce its environmental impact and in many cases save money. It’s also a way to give your home a unique appeal – where else might you see 150-year-old barn timber in the floor?

Reclaimed and recycled materials keep waste out of the landfills, and reduce the resources necessary to manufacture new products. What’s the difference?

Reclaimed materials are those re-used in a form close to their original state. One example is barn timbers milled into tongue-and-groove flooring. It’s essentially still the original wood, reshaped for a new use.

Recycled materials undergo additional processing, and may be unrecognizable in the new form. For instance, plastic bottles that are ground up, melted and mixed into new carpeting are considered to be recycled.

PlanetReuse is a service that connects reclaimed products with builders who want to incorporate unique, sustainable materials into a project. Using reclaimed and recycled materials has direct environmental benefits, said Nathan Benjamin, principal and founder of PlanetReuse.

“It’s the best way to not harvest virgin materials; it’s a way for material to have another life cycle,” Benjamin said. “There’s no reason some materials, especially the old lumber, should go to landfills or get burned when it's better quality materials than you can buy currently.”

If a project will seek accreditation by one of the environmental rating systems, using reclaimed and recycled materials can help you score some points. For instance the LEED Residential certification from the U.S. Green Building Council awards points for recycled and other sustainable materials.

Reclaiming may be a simple as using materials from a demolished building in a new structure. For instance, architects at the FergusGarber Group in San Francisco reused concrete roof tiles from a home on the site that was being torn down to make way for the new project. Many rare architectural features, such as doors and wood trim, can be salvaged and reused.

Here’s a look at several products in major home categories that offer reclaimed and recycled options for the green home:


People most of think of reclaimed wood from old barns and homes for floors. Burly beams of oak, American chestnut, heartpine, and other species can be transformed into one-of-a-kind flooring with weathering and signs of use over the decades. However, reclaimed wood isn’t always the least expensive option upfront, but it all depends on how you look at it.

“There are misperceptions that everything reclaimed is more expensive, but think about the fact that it’s already been a floor or a beam of wood it’s already been produced and grew years ago,” Benjamin said. “Now we’re just using it again, and compare that to the environmental cost to harvest new material.”

For another option, Renick Millworks in Renick, W.Va., uses reclaimed wood in an engineered flooring product that bonds old wood to a substrate from renewable products. It’s the best of both worlds in an environmentally friendly package.

Carpeting has gone green with many manufacturers offering products with a high level of recycled content. For instance, Shaw launched its ClearTouch BCF PET line made from recycled soft drink and water bottles. Each year Shaw uses materials made from billions of recycled bottles that are kept out of landfills. Shaw also produces carpet made from recycled carpet, ensuring a cradle-to-cradle life cycle for many of its products.


Recycled products also show up in home siding. For instance, CertainTeed fiber cement siding is made using a combination of recycled fly ash, Portland cement, wood fiber and specialty additives.  The formula creates an environmentally friendly, lighter-weight, lower-density product with authentic-looking grains and textures. It has a high fire-resistance rating, is impervious to wood-boring insects, resists damaging effects of salt spray and UV rays, will not rot and outperforms wood siding.

Recycled paper and sustainable bamboo form the basis of EcoClad for exterior siding. It’s composed of fiber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council that’s a blend of bamboo and post-consumer recycled paper. It’s bound together with a water-based resin formula that’s VOC and benzene free.


Modern recycled products often mimic the appearance of traditional building materials while offering much greater performance. For example, Enviroshake is a synthetic roofing product that replicates the size and appearance of a natural cedar shingle. In fact, this engineered product lightens to a grey color, matching the antique look of a conventional cedar roof.

Enviroshake is made with 95-percent reclaimed products, including post-industrial plastics, recycled rubber elastomers and cellulose fibers. Engineered products like Enviroshake offer a sustainable alternative to other, less environmentally conscious roofing shingles, such as real cedar wood, slate and fossil-fuel derived asphalt.

Similarly, DECRA Roofing Systems offers stone-coated steel roofing systems that emulate the look of a hand-split wood shake. The Metal Construction Association notes that most metal roofs have 25 to 95 percent recycled content. Metal roofing is typically installed over existing roofing materials, eliminating the need to remove and dispose of the old roof. Life expectancy of a metal roof is longer than traditional materials, reducing the need for replacement.

Metal roofs also have been tested to improve energy efficiency of a home through improved heat reflectance.

Whether you’re building a new green home or upgrading your current residence, look for reclaimed and recycled products to lessen the environmental impact and give your home a style all its own.

(Photo courtesy of Aged Woods)

Topics: Certification / LEED, Remodeling, Sustainable Products

Gary Wollenhaupt

Gary Wollenhaupt is an experienced writer and editor, with a background as a daily newspaper reporter as well as corporate and agency public relations and marketing. He is constantly looking for affordable green upgrades to make to his home in eastern Kentucky.

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