While the Industry Sets Its Sights on New-material Health and Transparency, the Most Significant Impact for Sustainable Design May Be Right under Its Nose. Here’s Why Material Reuse Deserves Another Look.

material reuse

In the design and construction industry, there’s been a lot of buzz around health and transparency as it relates to building materials, furniture and finishes. To be sure, the inclusion of Health Product Declarations (HPDs) into the LEED v4 rating system signals another
wave in sustainable market transformation, as we reported in our November-December 2014 issue’s “Trend Alert”.

Several years ago, CallisonRTKL completed the renovation of the historic Puck Building, which was built in 1885 in New York’s SoHo neighborhood and features extensive reuse of building materials. The Recreational Equipment Inc. store contains many materials associated with the Puck Building’s past as a printing facility.

Several years ago, CallisonRTKL completed the renovation of the historic Puck Building, which was built in 1885 in New York’s SoHo neighborhood and features extensive reuse of building materials. The Recreational Equipment Inc. store contains many materials associated with the Puck Building’s past as a printing facility.

But while manufacturers forge ahead into the uncharted waters of new material health and specifiers jump onboard, what’s left in their wake? Answer: the potential for tremendous existing material waste. With more than 25 percent of existing buildings facing replacement by 2030, according to Environmental Building News (EBN), the amount of potentially discarded materials that will wind up in landfills is staggering.

Although the conversation about the relationship between new materials and human health is a vitally important one to engage in, ignoring the potential impact of reusing and repurposing existing building products, furniture, and finishes is shortsighted at best and negligent at worst. Consider the following statistics:

  • Nearly 30 percent of all material consumption originates from building construction and nearly the same percentage of waste in U.S. landfills comes from construction demolition and debris, according to the 2010 report, “Design for Reuse Primer”, by Public Architecture, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in San Francisco that engages architecture firms, nonprofits and manufacturers to commit to design for the public good.
  • Building reuse almost always yields fewer environmental impacts than new construction, and savings from reuse are between 4 and 46 percent over new construction when comparing buildings with the same energy performance level, according to Seattle-based Preservation Green Lab’s 2011 study,“The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse”. (Preservation Green Lab advances research that explores the value older buildings bring to their communities and pioneers policy solutions that make it easier to reuse and green older and historic buildings.)
  • According to Larry Strain, author of the EBN article, “Building Materials and the Time Value of Carbon”, we can reduce embodied emissions by around 30 percent by selecting existing materials and technology, by using lower-carbon materials, and by employing more-efficient design and construction processes.

Additionally, LEED v4 rewards project teams that opt to reuse buildings and repurpose materials rather than specify new ones (as sustainable as they may be). Specifically, the Materials Reuse credit offers two to four possible points toward LEED certification for the reuse or salvaging of building materials from off-site or onsite, including structural elements (floors, roof decking); enclosure materials (skin, framing); and permanently installed interior elements, such as walls, doors, floor coverings and ceiling systems.

The new store melds REI’s rugged outdoor aesthetic with the storied building, featuring unique aspects, such as 30 stone printing tables from the early 1900s.

The new store melds REI’s rugged outdoor aesthetic with the storied building, featuring unique aspects, such as 30 stone printing tables from the early 1900s.

For building professionals who are considering renovations to their facilities, there’s nothing inherently more sustainable than extending the life of the existing materials. Here’s what they need to consider when planning for materials’ repurposing and reuse:

Extending the Life of Products

One of the challenges with reusing materials is that most building products and furnishings have not been designed for disassembly and reuse until very recently.

“The way the building space and the materials themselves are intentionally designed from an industrial design perspective, people aren’t always thinking about the entire life cycle of the product. Intentionally thinking about how those products are made and will be disassembled [is important],” explains Holley Henderson, LEED Fellow and founder of H2 Ecodesign, Atlanta.

PHOTOS: ©CallisonRTKL Inc. unless otherwise noted

About the Author

Robert Nieminen

Robert Nieminen is a freelance writer; the former editor of Interiors & Sources magazine; and retrofit’s editor at large, specializing in interiors. Under his direction, Interiors & Sources was the recipient of several publishing awards, as well as a pioneer of sustainability reporting.

Be the first to comment on "While the Industry Sets Its Sights on New-material Health and Transparency, the Most Significant Impact for Sustainable Design May Be Right under Its Nose. Here’s Why Material Reuse Deserves Another Look."

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


*