The Function of Reused Materials In LEED Certified Buildings

Mara Freeman's picture
Mara Freeman
Designer
July 31, 2018

Builders are placing an increasing importance on LEED certification in the past decade, and we’re seeing this trend increase. While LEED certification plays out over a huge range of factors, one of the most interesting aspects is the function of reused and recycled materials in new construction.

Green Building Design
Green Building Design
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No longer satisfied to just throw out old materials, progressive builders are placing an increasing importance on utilizing older materials in their new construction projects. 
 
From reclaimed wood, reused tires, recycled glass, to even more unique and traditionally obscure materials like paper or plastic, the availability and quality of recycled materials continues to improve over time.
 
Builders are placing an increasing importance on LEED certification in the past decade, and we’re seeing this trend increase. While LEED certification plays out over a huge range of factors, one of the most interesting aspects is the function of reused and recycled materials in new construction. 
 

Cost Savings & Other Benefits Of Post-Consumer Content

Green Building Design
 
David Thomas, founder of a green building design practice in Australia, thinks that the cost savings, health benefits, and reduction of carbon footprint makes a difference to the planet. 
 
He says that green design, healthy building systems and materials in particular, is applicable for “all levels of finish, and budget within the residential field.” It’s not just limited to reused materials, he says, but needs to be combined with the entire spectrum of green building practices. “Through the use of various systems,” Thomas says, “including solar, air exchange systems, worm farms and correct solar passive designs”, he thinks it is important to re-educate the public on the possibilities of sustainable living. “It is achievable and affordable for everyone, people just need to see the big picture, and perhaps compromise on some commercial luxuries to ensure the longevity of our wonderful environment,” he continues.
 
Darren Bilsborough, a legacy LEED accredited professional who was involved in the formation of the Green Building Council of Australia, is of the opinion that reused and recycled materials should be used more often in new construction. “Despite the technology advancements globally for both reducing energy consumption and associated greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to climate change,” he says, “any opportunity that is available for designers to make decisions that will further reduce both energy and resources consumption, in addition to a reduction in waste to landfill, should be vigorously pursued.”
 
There are, however, things to keep in mind when you’re reusing materials for building. “The only possible downside,” Darren says, “is misuse of the materials. In other words whatever choices made by designers do need to be appropriate for their intended purpose. If for example there is a structural requirement for any recycled material, their use should be certified or ratified by the appropriate authorities or engineering standards applicable to their use. 
 
Other issues to be mindful regarding their application include durability, unwanted contaminants that may be contained in the original materials and potential non-compliance with various performance standards that may be desirable for the project due to possible quality/performance issues.”
 

New Material Options For Design

recycled materials
One of the most unique benefits to architects is that reused materials offer a different take on surface and finish design, by utilizing unusual materials and providing a different aesthetic slant. Not relegated just to traditional steel, brick, concrete, and wood finishes means that architects can choose special reused materials like plastic, paper, rubber, or others.
 
Darren Bilsborough says that “plastics and paper recycled uses in the construction industry are uncommon but as more innovative products are developed their use should increase. Currently their use is limited both from the perspective of both product and knowledge  availability across the broader industry.”
 
Using these products and materials not only reduces landfill waste, but offers an environmental benefit in manufacturing since new raw materials are not required to be used in production. This reduces pollution in all forms, especially air pollution (from a reduction in chemical fumes) and water pollution (from manufacturing runoff). 
 
Reusing materials also reduces energy usage across the spectrum, from the typical energy used in the initial production of the raw materials, through finishing and distribution to the end point.
 

Reused Materials In LEED Certification

When undergoing the certification process for a LEED building, points are given for inclusion of reused materials, as those studying for their LEED accreditation will know. The US Green Building Council describes reused materials as post-consumer content, or waste that is “generated by households or by commercial, industrial and institutional facilities in their role as end-users of the product”. 
 
It’s clear that reusing materials can offer great results in the green building industry, and the popular consensus is forming around the many benefits of recycled and repurposed materials - both in cost savings and in green savings. It’s a crucial part of an efficient green building strategy, and ways in which LEED professionals can contribute to the industry.
 

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