Construction and demolition (C&D) activities generate significant amounts of waste. It has been estimated by CalRecycle that C&D waste represents approximately 28 percent of the solid waste stream. Wood waste represents one component of C&D, estimated at approximately 25 percent. The portion of wood waste that can be reused as lumber is considerably less, but no accurate estimates are currently available.
There are several alternatives to disposal for wood waste that can be reused as lumber for both structural and ornamental applications. These alternatives can save money in avoided disposal fees and potentially generate income from the sale of salvageable materials.
Construction activities tend to generate wood scraps rather than whole lumber for reuse. The scraps lend themselves to reuse through the manufacture of particle board and strand board or are joined together through finger joints to produce larger dimensional wood that can be used in nonstructural applications. Whole lumber that is unused on a site is generally incorporated into the next job.
As a result, efforts at construction sites should be focused on developing techniques that minimize the generation of waste on site. These could include the use of prefabricated wall panels and trusses or designing structures around standard dimensional lumber. Use of these techniques minimizes the waste that is generated and expedites assembly of the structure. However, specifying this type of construction requires forethought in the planning stages and may limit design options.
Demolition operations tend to yield very little reusable lumber due to the practice of using heavy machinery to demolish structures. However, hand demolition or “deconstruction” significantly increases the amount of reusable lumber and architectural fixtures that can be salvaged for reuse. Hand demolition often involves higher labor costs to dismantle a structure. This higher cost can be offset by the increased income from salvaged material, decreased disposal costs, and decreased costs from avoided time and expense needed to bring heavy machinery to a job site.
Hand demolition has been documented as cost competitive with mechanized demolition. The “Whole House Recycling Project” in southeast Portland, Oregon documented the hand demolition of a home, which proved to be more cost competitive than using mechanized equipment. The base bid for the hand demolition was $5400 while the bids for the mechanized demolition ranged from $8000 to $10,000. The only drawback was that the duration of the demolition essentially doubled. The project yielded 4,748 board feet of lumber from the framing, siding, and flooring, or approximately 3.7 board feet recovered per square foot of structure.
Demolition of older or unique structures can yield valuable materials such as wooden fixtures, moldings, casings, sashes, framing, and timbers for reuse or remilling. These types of structures are more likely to contain structural components worthy of remilling, for both structural and ornamental applications, and fixtures of interest. Businesses that deal in architectural fixtures can be located in the telephone directory yellow pages under “salvage,” “demolition,” or “building materials–used, antique.”
Large timbers and dimensional lumber removed from demolition operations can be reused or recut for other construction projects. However, in many cases the lumber will need to be regraded by a certified grader if it is used for anything other than ornamental purposes. This, of course, can only be determined on a case-by-case basis and may limit reuse options.
There are services that are licensed to inspect and grade lumber at a job site. Several of the services are listed at the end of this fact sheet. If a contractor or individual plans on hiring a lumber grading service, it should be verified that the service is approved by the American Lumber Standards (ALS), which is the accrediting body for lumber graders.
When salvaging wood from a structure, exposed structural elements will often be painted for appearance and protection. If the structure was built before 1978, there is the potential that the paint contains lead. Most homes built before 1960 are likely to contain lead-based paint. Paints produced before 1960 contain higher concentrations of lead than paints produced in later years.
If the lumber is painted, it may not be accepted or may have to be tested for lead content at salvage, milling, reuse, or wood processing facilities. Inexpensive lead test kits can be obtained at many home improvement or hardware stores. Contact the facilities in your area to determine their requirements on accepting painted lumber and their testing criteria. If no other option is available other than disposal for painted lumber, be aware of the position the California Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) has taken regarding hazardous designation of lead-based paints. The DTSC has stated that demolition debris that is painted with lead based paint that is intact, may or may not be considered hazardous waste. In order for the entire item to be hazardous, the lead concentration in the paint and the painted item (i.e door, beam, etc.) must exceed hazardous levels. In most cases, the lead concentration from the intact paint alone will not exceed hazardous lead levels for both the item and the intact paint.
If the paint has been separated from the building material (e.g., chemically or physically removed) then the paint waste should be evaluated independently from the building material to determine if it is hazardous and to identify the proper management practice. For a more complete explanation of this policy, contact DTSC.
The following is a list of facilities that accept lumber for reuse or can recut large timbers:
New World Furniture
Located at Guadalupe Sanitary Landfill. Accepts redwood at a reduced tipping fee. Produces furniture with reclaimed redwood. May sell lumber for large jobs or on a contractual basis. No small jobs.
P.O. Box 20957
San Jose, CA 95160
Mt. Shasta, CA 96067
1500 W. Mott Rd.
596 Park Blvd.
Ukiah, CA 95482
Wesco Used Lumber
911 Ohio Ave.
Richmond, CA 94804
Into the Woods
300 North Water St.
Petaluma, CA 94952
The following services can be hired to grade or regrade lumber or may offer technical advice on grading:
Sacramento: (916) 722-2500
San Jose: (408) 241-2960
L.A.: (714) 962-9994
West Coast Lumber
P.O. Box 23145
Portland, OR 97281
Western Wood Products Association
Nonprofit organization that can be accessed for technical information and offers some limited testing services.
522 SW 5th Ave.
Portland, OR 97204-2122
In addition to the facilities listed in this fact sheet, there are numerous salvage operations and wood waste processors that accept lumber for either reuse or processing into mulch, chip board, and/or fuel. There are also various “wrecking” companies throughout the state that perform hand demolition. Refer to your local telephone directories for these companies. Contractors should also consider contacting their local government (city, county, municipality, etc.) for publications on lumber reuse and recycling. They will often list local operations.
Related CalRecycle Web Pages
To download or order publications, and to see a complete publications list, go to the CalRecycle Online Publications Catalog.