Seeking Salvaged Building Materials? PlanetReuse Can Help

PlanetReuse helped source the flooring and ramps used in the Audible.com headquarters. Photo: PlanetReuse

PlanetReuse helped source the flooring and ramps used in the Audible.com headquarters. Photo: PlanetReuse

After spending a decade working on projects to design and build LEED-certified projects, Nathan Benjamin saw a major flaw in the supply chain. He noticed that, while builders sought to create “green” environments, they were sending tons of disposed materials to the landfill and replacing them with new items.

“Sourcing used materials for LEED projects was difficult, and therefore was not accessible to most design professionals,” explains the LEED-accredited architectural engineer. “We also knew that job site superintendents were looking for an alternative to the Dumpster for their demolition and construction waste.”

Those two simple but profound observations led Benjamin to create PlanetReuse, a sort of Match.com for people who are looking for materials for building projects. Connecting used or discarded materials with contractors, builders and architects has created a new life for the materials while keeping tons of building products out of landfills. Many of the materials found on the PlanetReuse site come directly from reuse salvagers and deconstruction companies, Benjamin says — and are companies most people have never heard of.

“They are out there salvaging materials every day,” he says. “Our job is to match up their great stuff with the folks that are looking for things you can’t find in a box store.”

That may include everything from bowling alley lanes and church steeples to reclaimed materials from a 120-year-old farm house. The constantly changing inventory includes materials from commercial and residential projects, and is used in more ways than Benjamin originally envisioned.

“We are blown away by the creativity and ingenuity that people display when using reused and reclaimed materials,” he says. “We see, on a daily basis, the ability of homeowners and commercial builders alike to take materials that were headed for the landfill and turn them into something truly incredible.”

Their blog and Pinterest pages are filled with examples of creative reuse and serve as inspiration for others to explore their creativity when it comes to reusing materials.

Next page: Challenges for PlanetReuse

How Do Shingles Become Roads?

Photo: Shutterstock

Recycled shingles have the potential to contribute to 125,000 miles of paved highway each year. Photo: Shutterstock

The EPA estimates that up to 10 million tons of shingle tear-off waste is generated in the U.S. every year.

Formerly, all of this material was landfilled — making it a sizable portion of the construction and demolition waste stream — but new technologies and innovative recycling programs are diverting shingle waste from landfills and transforming it into new asphalt roads.

Think a few shingles won’t make a difference? Think again. Back in 2009, Owens Corning Roofing and Asphalt set up a first-of-its-kind shingle recycling program, and the company recently celebrated a landmark milestone of 1 million tons of shingles recycled since the program’s inception.

Shingle debris from one average home can help pave 200 feet of a two-lane highway. To put that in perspective, recycled shingles have the potential to contribute to 125,000 miles of paved highway each year — more than half the distance to the moon, according to the National Asphalt Paving Association.

But how exactly does it all work? It can be baffling to figure out how the roof above your head becomes the streets beneath your feet. To get some insight into the process, Earth911 sat down with Jason Haus, CEO of Dem-Con and board member of the Construction & Demolition Recycling Association (CDRA), for an insider’s look at how it all happens.

Next page: How Are Shingles Recycled?

The House that an Industrious Couple with $500 Built

Nick Olson and Lilah Horowitz built a cabin in West Virginia out of repurposed windows and found objects. Photo: Nick Olson

Nick Olson and Lilah Horwitz built a cabin in West Virginia out of repurposed windows and found objects. Photo: Nick Olson

When Nick Olson and Lilah Horwitz decided to build a new home, they didn’t meet with architects and designers; instead, they visited antique shops and estate sales — or just looked around the area for discarded items. And over a period of a few months, the couple didn’t just watch their dream house take shape; they built it with their own hands.

The home, which they created for a total of about $500 on a piece of property in West Virginia owned by Olson’s family, is made entirely of repurposed windows and salvaged materials. Although it doesn’t have electricity or running water, it has everything the couple needs to watch the breathtaking West Virginia sunsets they so love.

They found their first window in Pennsylvania at the site of an abandoned barn just two days before they moved to West Virginia to begin their project.

“So that kind of started it for us and we collected them on the way,” Olson says.

Olson, a photographer who uses an antiquated technique called the wet plate collodion process to create his work, and Horwitz, a clothing designer who hand-sews everything she designs, left their jobs in Wisconsin to build their home. They refer to themselves as “makers” rather than “artists,” and the painstaking hands-on approach they apply to their artistry is the same technique they used to build their home. They decided to create one wall made completely of windows, stopping at antique sales and even foraging through abandoned properties to complete their design.

“Each [window] has a bit of a story to it,” Olson says.  “As an artist, I’ve learned over time that if you have an idea, you can find a way to make it.”

Watch a short documentary on how the glass cabin was built.

Contest Inspires Creatives to Put Old Items to Good (re)Use

Jane Freund's tea bowls, which are made from clay, found china and shards of glass, were one of the entries in the Reuse Inspiration contest.  Photo: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Jane Freund’s tea bowls, which are made from clay, found china and shards of glass, were one of the entries in the Reuse Inspiration contest. Photo: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

As executive director of Construction Junction, a company that promotes the reuse of building materials, Mike Gable likes inspiring people to push their creative boundaries. So, he started a contest inviting locals to show just how creative they can get with discarded materials.

Gable’s Reuse Inspiration Contest, now in its third year, pits contestants against each other in using reclaimed items for home-renovation and art projects. By working with the real estate editor at the local paper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, to promote the contest, Reuse Inspiration has taken off.

Take a look at how the contest got its start, and see some of the amazing ways Pittsburgh residents are transforming everything from lawn mower blades to troughs from an old barn into high-end furniture and home décor.

Next page: Tickets to Beer-Tasting Event Drums Up Entries

Nike Builds Concept Store from Trash

Nike's concept store in Shanghai was built completely out of trash and recylced materials by Miniwiz Sustainable Development. Photo: Miniwiz Sustainable Development

Nike’s concept store in Shanghai was built completely out of trash and recycled materials by Miniwiz Sustainable Development. Photo: Miniwiz Sustainable Development

When sports and athletic apparel retail giant Nike opened its concept store in China earlier this year, it took the idea of recycling to a whole new level. The Shanghai store, which was designed by the Taiwan-based architectural firm Miniwiz Sustainable Development, is called the Nike X158 Hyper Nature — and it’s made completely out of trash.

With no virgin materials to be found, the building has gained acclaim for its forward-thinking approach to construction. In addition to using all recycled materials, the construction was done without the use of any glue — which means the materials used to build the facility can all be re-recycled down the line.

Among the items used to construct the modern, urban building are:

  • More than 50,000 used CDs and DVDs
  • More than 5,000 drink cans
  • 2,000 post-consumer recycled water bottles, which were used to make nearly 7,000 feet of tension cables

In addition, the ceiling — which is made of the recycled compact discs and DVDs — is reinforced with a natural organic material called Rice Husk Si02.

Since forming in 2006, Miniwiz has built its reputation as a leader in creating such forward-thinking models of sustainability. Its products include PolliBricks, a wall system made completely of recycled PET bottles, and Natrilon, a fiber made from 100 percent recycled PET.

The company also makes iPhone cases, called Re-Cases, out of 100 percent trash products, and also designed the EcoARK, a nine-story building in Taipei, Taiwan, made from more than 1.5 million plastic bottles. The builiding features natural ventilation, solar power and even an exterior waterfall.

College Students Compete to Create Best Solar-Powered Home

Phil Horton of the Arizona State University and University of New Mexico team gave a tour of the SHADE house at the Solar Decathlon 2013 held at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif. Photo: Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Phil Horton of the Arizona State University and University of New Mexico team gives a tour of the SHADE house at the Solar Decathlon 2013, held at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif. Photo: Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

They may not sprint, throw a javelin or pole vault, but an accomplished group of students is showing that they’re decathletes ready to go the distance — in the sport of creating solar-powered homes, that is.

They’re currently in the midst of the 2013 Solar Decathlon, organized by the U.S. Department of Energy biennially since 2002. The competition challenges teams from colleges across the U.S. — and a few from abroad — to design and build a solar-powered home that’s affordable, energy efficient, marketable and attractive.

The 20 entries this year include features like edible walls, a walkway that heats your home, digital art, siding that converts smog to nitric acid and even movable units to create a private backyard. Like a traditional decathlon, there are 10 contests that make up the Solar Decathlon — the houses are judged on everything from architecture and market appeal to affordability and how well the designs accommodate the pleasures of living, such as sharing meals with friends and family, watching movies in a home theater and surfing the Web. In other words, it’s about style and substance — who can create the most innovative overall package.

Next page: Preparing for the competition

Boy Scout Camp Emerges as a Model of Sustainability

Toilets and showers at the Summit Bechtel Reserve promote the theme of sustainability, with low-flow water fixtures. Gray water from the showers is used to flush toilets and urinals. Photo: Gary Hartley

Toilets and showers at the Summit Bechtel Reserve promote the theme of sustainability, with low-flow water fixtures. Gray water from the showers is used to flush toilets and urinals. Photo: Gary Hartley

When the Boy Scouts of America decided to build its latest high-adventure base camp, the organization set out to create something that went beyond simply providing a permanent home for its National Scout Jamboree. And when their search team selected a 10,600-acre piece of property in Mount Hope, W.Va., they knew that they had an unprecedented opportunity to create a model for sustainability and environmental stewardship.

The Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve, which opened just in time to host its first Jamboree in July 2013, provides an impressive example of balancing modern convenience and technology with a commitment to preserving the land.

At the time the Scouting organization found the land, it was badly in need of nurturing. Over the years, it had been strip-mined and depleted of its natural reserves of coal and timber before being all but abandoned. But its location adjacent to the New River Gorge National River, a 70,000-acre site that’s popular for whitewater rafting, mountain biking, rock-climbing and other tourism activities, made it a natural fit for the Boy Scouts’ camp.

Starting from Scratch

The property was selected in 2009 after a search that included reviewing more than 80 sites in 28 states. The BSA wanted the new facility to embody sustainability both in an economic sense and an environmental one. The Summit infused the struggling West Virginia economy with an estimated $50 million in construction wages and will continue to generate about $25 million annually in local income.

“We wanted to begin a new era of sustainability,” explains Jack Furst, who spearheaded the search for the property. “This project was about getting back to the universal basics that our organization was founded on. It’s about sustainability on a green level, on a financial level and on a physical level.”

While the site’s primary role is to host the Jamboree — Scouting’s biggest event and one that attracted some 50,000 Scouts and volunteers to the Summit this summer — it also serves as a high-adventure camp where Scouts can participate in outdoor programs and work toward merit badges. Although it is designed with Scouts in mind, non-Scouting visitors can get a taste of the adventure camp and enjoy activities like rock-climbing, zip-lining, rappelling, BMX riding, skateboarding, mountain biking and ropes challenge courses. The 60-acre Goodrich Lake offers water-based activities such as paddleboarding and kayaking — a calmer alternative to the river’s whitewater rafting and other rigorous water sports.

During a Jamboree, the Summit becomes the third largest city in West Virginia, so finding a way to make the camp eco-friendly was crucial. The first objective was to create a site that would be a “net zero energy” environment, which means it will produce as much energy as it uses.

Developers also used passive design strategies to help buildings stay cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter just through their shape, location and the direction the building faces. The passive design features include deep porches, which keep the hot sun out of the building in the summer, and wind-powered roof monitors that remove hot air from the building.

Buildings were designed to take advantage of natural daylight, further allowing them to reduce energy consumption. The installation of geothermal wells allows the Summit to access the free, clean energy in the ground to heat and cool buildings.

The Summit uses as little water as possible, and reuses that water whenever it can. Water used for the shower becomes gray water that is then used to flush toilets and urinals. Low-flow fixtures slash water consumption in half, while hydration stations allow visitors to refill containers rather than adding more plastic bottles to the landfill.

To further support the environment, wetlands bordering the lakes actively treat runoff from roads and campsites, and wastewater is passively treated in lagoons, then used to drip-irrigate the local forest.

Next page: Sustainability Treehouse

Infographic: Recycling Shingles

Ever wondered what becomes of shingles when they’re no longer serving their purpose on rooftops? Many are used in asphalt to pave roads — which is a much better alternative than being sent to a landfill.

Learn more about how the process works and what you can do to make sure your shingles are recycled in this infographic from Hometown Roofing Contractors:

Photo: Hometown Roofing Contractors

Photo: Hometown Roofing Contractors

Homepage photo: Flickr/AtomBoy200

Green Health Care Design Is Affordable

The first hospital in the world to receive the LEED Platinum Certification, Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas has six interior gardens representing different ecosystems in which sister facilities are located. Photo: Dell  Children's Medical Center of Central Texas

The first hospital in the world to receive the LEED Platinum Certification, Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas has six interior gardens representing different ecosystems in which sister facilities are located. Photo: Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas

It’s OK, health care, take a chance on going green. A study five years ago and a follow-up done just to be sure have confirmed that there’s a minimal cost, if any, to give health care facilities greener designs.

Results of the first study, “Demystifying First-Cost Green Building Premiums in Healthcare,” conducted in 2008, showed that the capital cost premium for green health care design was 2.4 percent. A lot of questions among health care institutions were circling at the time about green design and its costs. Authors of the study believed the results would put the cost concerns to rest. “We thought the findings would help to be a myth-buster,” co-author Gail Vittori told Healthcare Design.

But the data wasn’t enough. Concern over cost premiums persisted. The topic was revisited in a new study that used a new set of hospital projects, all completed between 2010 and 2012. And all were Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certified for new construction by the U.S. Green Building Council.

What were the results? The averages were similar, with only a little variation. But health care institutions remain skittish about embracing green design. Authors of the study say they think it’s because the idea of being green is still new to health care, an industry with a risk-averse nature.

For more information, see the article in Healthcare Design.

Would You Live in a Converted Schoolhouse?

A dilapidated gym, dressing room and staff area of an old school building were reclaimed and converted into a home that includes this patio. Photo: Zecc Architecten

A dilapidated gym, dressing room and staff area of an old school building were reclaimed and converted into a home that includes this patio. Photo: Zecc Architecten

This gorgeous home conversion in Utrecht, Netherlands, may make you think twice about unused public spaces. Once the gymnasium of an abandoned school building, this posh private residence was sustainably crafted to exemplify the bright, modern and minimal aesthetic that’s characteristic of Dutch design. Click through for a look inside.