Scavaging green building materials and promoting LEED construction methods

If the three little pigs were building their houses today, the smart one would recycle the used twigs and straw from his brothers' huffed-and-puffed-apart abodes to reuse in a sustainable, reclaimed brick structure. It's the basic idea behind building "green" with salvaged materials -- and it's no fairy tale.

An emerging trend in commercial and residential building, the concept is aimed at reducing waste, minimizing carbon footprints, lowering construction costs, and creating new jobs in demolition and deconstruction. Entrepreneur Nathan Benjamin, founder and principle of Kansas City, MO-based Planet Reuse, says that using salvaged building materials is also one way to earn coveted LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) points for environmentally conscious construction -- an element of the rating system that is often overlooked.

"Only 6% to 8% of LEED projects in the world have achieved their reused materials credits," Benjamin said in an interview with WalletPop, "and it's a shame." Still, Benjamin is quick to point out, "sustainability is an approach, not a scorecard."

On the other hand, he is very familiar with the roadblocks that discourage reuse. He and operations manager, Tim Bensman, report 300% growth last year in a business built on helping others navigate the hang-ups inherent with reclaimed materials.

What began as a Craigslist/eBay-style resource for builder's in 2008, PlanetReuse.com has evolved into something more akin to eHarmony or Match.com for construction materials. Do you have 2,000 square feet of track lighting to get rid of? 200 wooden doors? Meet Dave, a licensed contractor who needs track lighting and likes to play golf and Parcheesi on the weekends! Get the idea? Okay,maybe not the golf... "This is the kind of stuff," says Benjamin, "that you wouldn't even be able to donate anywhere...and it would wind up in the dumpster."

Similar to finding true love, timing and communication are vital when it comes to sourcing reclaimed materials, and that's where Benjamin and Bensman come in. "We are a conduit," said Benjamin, "we coordinate the details ... and help incorporate reclaimed materials into the [plans]." The trick is finding what you need, when you need it. "We're the ones in between who make sure the project goes off without a hitch." Ultimately, the mission of PlanetReuse is to make it easy for designers, builders and owners to use reclaimed materials and keep unnecesary waste out of landfills.

A former contractor with an architectural engineering degree, Benjamin said PlanetReuse contributes most successfully to a project if they are included from the beginning, "between the first phase of schematic design and the second phase of design development." A consultant position they do for free. "We help set up a summary of options," Benjamin explains, "I get people saying, you can reclaim that stuff?... they had no idea."

Although most people are familiar with using reclaimed wood, Benjamin says that just by walking through a building or space that's about to be demolished one can find many things worth saving from the landfill: bathroom partitions, toilets, tile, carpet, fixtures, doors, counter tops ... the list goes on. He points out utilizing reclaimed access flooring is, "a great way to save money." Call it "thinking outside the recycling bin." Most projects using reclaimed materials can expect to save 15% -- 20% "It's amazing how much cheaper something is if it's been sitting in someone's warehouse taking up space," notes Benjamin. "Everyone wants to save money."

Planet Reused helped facilitate a savings of 30% off the cost of materials used to rebuild the Greensburg School in Greensburg, KS that had been destroyed by a tornado. The project features cypress wood reclaimed from trees felled by Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. The Service Management Group in Kansas City, MO turned wood from the under structure of the Rockway Boardwalks in Brooklyn, NY into benches, trims and a trellis, while Johnny's Bar and Restaurant, also in Kansas City, MO utilized 10,000 square feet of oak flooring reclaimed from Kansas City's Union Station to create 38 table tops for one-third the cost of new materials. A residential playroom was built using "sinker" wood from Cypress trees that were submerged for more than a century in a Louisiana bayou. To avoid pollution caused by transporting materials, the team looks to source items close to the construction location.

If Planet Reuse can create a match, they will participate through the end of the project and take a brokering fee at the product-purchase phase. Benjamin admits, their concept is a new way to think about construction, but he hopes someday using reclaimed materials will be a construction industry standard.

The Web site continues to list free postings for salvage that is either "wanted" or "unwanted." Recent listings of available materials include reclaimed wall brick from a high school in Ohio, wood from a 19th century barn, and office doors, to name a few. Conversely, designers, contractors and property owners have posted requests for things such as: 30-40 used wooden milk crates in random sizes, 1200 sq. feet of heavily rusted corrugated roofing and older-model radiators in working condition.

"I can't let go of my Eagle Scout badge from my teenage years," says Benjamin. "It was the Boy Scouts founder who said, 'Try and leave this world a little better than you found it.' That guides everything I do."

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