Construction Waste Management

One way to make maximize resources and minimize the cost of construction materials is to dispose of these materials as efficiently as possible — or not at all. Try these tips for starters.

Use those blocks. A carpentry rule of thumb is that anything 24 inches or under is trash, but This Old House’s Tom Silva shrinks that. “We use blocks 16 inches or better to pack out door and window framing. Nailing trim is easier. It saves lots of trips to the dumpster,” said Silva.

Employ advanced framing techniques. These are designed to reduce the lumber used and waste generated in wood framing. Hate advanced framing? Adopt elements of it, such as ladder blocking for wall transitions instead of assemblies requiring multiple full-length studs.

Build “on-module.” Size projects in the 4-foot matrix to enable dimensional lumber and sheet goods like OSB to be installed with minimal cutting and waste.

Order factory-cut. When there’s an engineered solution, like I-joists, order them factory cut to exact or near exact size.

Buy pre-cut materials when feasible. Think foam-core panels and floor trusses.

Hold tailgate talks. Use these meetings, focused on a single issue, to remind crew about waste management basics — for instance, that loading a box well minimizes how often it is emptied and replaced. Ask them to dismantle or crush cabinets so they’re not cubes of empty space.

Ride herd on subcontractors. For example, builders can ensure subcontractors load materials the most efficient way — not the most expedient way — to use fewer containers.

Work with suppliers. Builders can stipulate in purchasing agreements that suppliers must prevent excess materials and packaging from arriving at the construction site. Form a return or buy-back agreement for construction waste or demolition debris.

Reuse packaging. Many building materials come in weather resistant wraps. They make ideal — and free — tarps for protecting materials that are minimally able to withstand jobsite storage conditions like damp areas or snow.

Research recycling. On commercial demo jobs, recycling just makes sense. For smaller projects, talk with local recyclers in advance to find out what you can recycle (such as metals, cardboard, wood, shingles, bricks) at what expense.

Donate. Doing well is doing your job efficiently; doing good is going the extra mile to donate dismantled cabinets, kitchen appliances, surplus wood and the like to an organization such as Habitat for Humanity that will put them to good use.


Mark Clement