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Waste &
The Built Environment

In construction, waste is inevitable. However, the amount of waste currently being generated is needlessly high, causing regional waste levels and construction costs to be higher than ever. The design phase is crucial in reducing the amount of waste generated in a construction project, and there are multiple avenues that can be taken to achieve this. From building size and dimensions to material selection and construction methods, we can use thoughtful design techniques to help eliminate waste and reduce the cost of your project. 


Size, Dimensions, and Layout

Generally speaking, the amount of waste that is generated from a construction project is a direct result of the building's size. As estimators we are taught to calculate how much material we need based on the plans, and then add a specified percentage for waste. So needless to say, if the building is smaller the required material and the estimated waste will be smaller. This of course also means you are ordering less material and spending less money. When designing our dream home we all have ideas for what types of spaces we need for all of the activities we would like to be able to do in our house, and with some effective spatial planning we can still achieve that while using less space, creating less waste, and spending less money. 

Regardless of the size of home, laying out dimensions with purpose can go a long way. Building materials will generally come in standard sizes, and no matter how much you are going to cut off of each piece you still have to buy the whole thing. So why not design the size of the building to match the size of the materials you will build it with? This will allow for faster, more efficient construction with less material to buy and less to throw out. 

Materials & Construction Methods

Material selection and construction methods can be some of the most impactful areas where our design decisions can help control the amount of waste headed for landfills. Starting with specifying efficient and effective building methods, such as advanced framing techniques, can immediately reduce the amount of material you will need to complete your project. Additionally, prefabrication processes can be utilized to not only cut down on waste, but also reduce build time and cost. 

Depending on building circumstances, material selection can be one of the biggest factors in determining the cost of your project. In the case of infill construction (replacing an existing house with a new one), deconstructing (and not demolishing) the existing structure and reusing / repurposing its materials could mean significant reductions in waste, and even more significant cost savings. Beyond that, materials with high recycled content can be selected to indirectly reduce waste at the construction phase, and recyclable materials can be chosen to help reduce waste at the building's end of life. We can also reduce waste by selecting materials based on their inherent efficiencies to ensure that we are not using more than we need. For example, using materials with higher strength to mass ratios for support beams can allow for up to four times less material to be used while still meeting the same structural requirements. 

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