Scott Foley practices green building, although not quite in the same sense as we’re hearing that term used nowadays. Sure, when he builds using post-frame, SIPs, and stick-building techniques, he values energy efficiency, and his jobsite waste management practices are certainly environmentally friendly. But to Foley, the “green” in green building signifies something any builder can relate to.
Foley’s company, Ultimate Construction of Cottage Grove (Wis.), employs an exemplary jobsite waste management program that pays off in a number of different ways. Keeping and re-sizing lumber reduces waste and future material costs. Hauling and storing other wood products gives Foley fuel for a cost-effective wood-burning furnace that heats his shop and a farmhouse. Recycling excess steel generates extra cash.
Intangibly, paying such close attention to responsible waste management gives Foley a nice marketing boost in the environmentally-conscious Madison area — he’s a green builder in the commonly-accepted sense of the term.
Taste for waste
According to a report from research architect Tom Napier of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in 1998 the EPA estimated that 136 million tons of building-related waste is generated in the U.S. annually, which is 25 to 40 percent of the national solid waste stream. A 2003 update shows an increase to 164 million tons annually, of which 9 percent is construction waste, 38 percent is renovation waste, and 53 percent is demolition debris. The number of construction waste or demolition debris landfills is declining, which means fewer disposal options, greater hauling distances, and increased fuel consumption and vehicle emissions. EPA estimates that only 20 percent of this waste is being recycled.
Rural builders work on a variety of jobsites, and waste materials and costs can vary widely. But builders across all disciplines can learn from one example of why responsible waste management makes sense. Take residential construction.
NAHB’s estimates on typical waste for construction of a 2,000-square foot home are staggering: 2,000 pounds of drywall, 1,600 pounds of solid sawn wood, 1,400 pounds of engineered wood, 1,000 pounds of masonry, and 600 pounds of cardboard. That’s a lot of materials that are paid for and never used. Peter Yost of NAHB’s Research Center breaks waste management for home building into four categories.
Cost: An NAHB survey reported that a typical builder pays $511 per house for construction waste disposal. Costs rise as old landfills close and new ones become more difficult to site and more costly to design and operate.
Efficiency: If materials are wasted on your jobsite, you pay twice — once at purchase, and again when the usable material is hauled off for disposal.
Liability: As a generator of potentially hazardous materials — solvents, adhesives, caulks — you must protect yourself from potential liability resulting from the unauthorized or illegal disposal of hazardous wastes.
Marketing: As you begin managing your construction waste, take credit for being a good corporate neighbor and protecting resources. Let the buying public know that as you build, you are striving to protect the natural environment.
Putting dumpsters on a jobsite and paying a service to take waste away at the end of a job didn’t add up to Foley. “I buy the product, then pay to get rid of it?” he says. “It didn’t make sense. That’s where the true profit is, in the waste. With costs rising, everybody’s looking for every penny, and that waste is money.”
The true costs of waste really hit Foley when confronted with rising costs everywhere else on his balance sheet. “I was sitting down with my CPA, trying to hit a percentage, and trying to figure out where to find it,” he says. “So we looked at the next big wasted dollar — waste.”
Previously, Foley would have a dumpster or two onsite. For average projects, the cost would be around $1,000, or $1,500 for three dumpsters. By altering his procedures, Foley is down to $35 a ton, most of which is recycled or reused. “I have to pay labor to truck it and move it, but I don’t have a dumpster onsite,” he says. “It keeps jobsites clean.”
Instead of dumpsters, Foley made two steel crates that measure 6 feet high, 10 feet long, and 4 feet wide. The crates can be transported on a trailer or Foley’s dump truck. One crate holds plywood, the other rough lumber. That lumber is brought back to the Ultimate Construction shop, where Foley and an employee go through the pile and cut them into common sizes for use in future projects.
The other way wood waste is used productively is as fuel for a wood-burning furnace. The system, which Foley says cost $12,000, warms Ultimate’s shop floor with radiant heating, and heats a nearby farmhouse. In addition to using leftover construction materials, Foley’s crew feeds the furnace with debris created by site clearing and demolition work, like old wood barn panels or tree stumps.
The HeatMaster furnace, which Foley bought from Packerland Heating, can accommodate wood pieces up to 5 feet long and 20 inches in diameter, but Foley tries to keep pieces to about 3 feet. He uses a custom-made splitter that fits on his Bobcat. The furnace is filled twice a day, and at the end of the year a 55-gallon drum of ash is full.
“Considering I’m heating 12,000 square feet of buildings, my payback is going to be four to five years, which I think is a heck of a return,” Foley says. “There are pumps to maintain, and a blower, so it is some work and you’ve got to be willing to put some effort into it. But I always have a guy at my shop, and the guys know they’ve got to take a couple minutes and load the stove.”
Beyond wood, Ultimate also recycles the steel used on its jobsite, from building panels to steel banding.
A primary reason this waste exists at all is inefficiencies between builders and their suppliers. Many guides to jobsite waste management stress the need for accurate estimating and extensive work with manufacturers to provide building products that are a precise fit. “It’s great to say that, but it’s difficult when you’re stick building,” says Foley, who says his post-frame projects also generate considerable waste. “If you use (structural insulated) panels on everything, the manufacturer precuts everything, so the waste factor is minute.”
Obviously, it is important for Foley’s subs to buy into his waste management practices. Consistency in this area helps things run smoothly. “I don’t flip around on subs,” he says. “I use the same heating guy, he’s bringing me back his tin cutoff. My roofers, electricians, plumbers, they’re the same way.”
It hasn’t always been easy bringing these guys around, Foley says. “The mentality of people nowadays is not like it used to be,” he says. “The way society’s gone, the attitude is, ‘Hurry up, get it done.’ Nobody gives anybody any time any more.”
Ultimate’s customers seem to appreciate the progressive handling of jobsite waste, a side bonus being a tidy work area. Some have even taken note of Foley’s wood-burning furnace and inquired about adding one to their properties. “But you can’t do this in the city, it’s got to be a country thing,” he says. “Some areas are starting to crack down on outside stoves and the smoke they produce.”
Other customers will no doubt latch onto the technology, just as other builders will surely find ways to minimize jobsite waste and make the unavoidable waste work for them. Intelligent jobsite waste management may put more green in builders’ pockets while they are in business, but will also help keep the world green for future generations.
“I’m going to have grandkids one day,” says Foley. “We can’t just keep creating landfills.”