DIY Remodeling Construction Waste

by E. E. Kane

In one version of the American dream, Joe Handyman buys a house with five acres (more or less) desperately in need of repairs and remodeling. Joe and his wife cannot afford a home otherwise, but they qualify for a construction loan and start putting a lot of sweat equity into their dream. Because they are willing to work hard and they have the necessary skills, they are privileged to be among the ranks of American homeowners.

Then they hit a bump in the road: what will they do with everything they tear out of the house, and other items left behind by the former owners? Joe did not budget adequately for waste removal.

Joe is tempted to burn some of the construction waste and bury the rest. But as a handyman, he knows he could be penalized with a huge fine. He also knows his wife, Jane, would throw a huge fit at the prospect of turning their acreage into a landfill, and harming their own little environment. So together they agree to dispose of as much construction waste as they can, legally, before they resort to the container sitting in their driveway. Here is their plan:

  1. Check local classifieds for repairmen who want old electronics and appliances. Sell working appliances, or give to a friend in need. Take remaining appliances to the landfill and pay a small fee.
  2. Gather scrap metal and salvaged electrical wire and store until prices for copper and steel rise again. When prices are no longer rock bottom, sell scrap metal to a salvage yard.
  3. Reuse untreated wood (studs, shelving) removed during demolition in future remodeling and carpentry projects. Do not reuse wood with mold, rot, or lead-based paint.
  4. Save sawdust and wood shavings (from untreated new wood) for mulch. Save old carpeting for a weed barrier in the garden.
  5. Have leftover paint from former owners? If it's still good even though the lid is rusty, save for use in out-of-the-way places and the future doghouse.
  6. Contact Habitat for Humanity to see if they are interested in any of the carefully-salvaged items (cabinets and bathroom vanity) or leftover new materials.
  7. Sell anything of value that will not be used in the renovation or future projects: light fixtures, vintage hardware, antique furniture, mantelpiece, mirrors, intricate door trim or molding. Contact salvage companies who specialize in vintage materials, or sell through Internet auctions (eBay) or classifieds (
  8. Have a yard sale for the rest. Carefully removed ceramic tile, leftover plumbing materials, electric switch plates and outlet covers, miscellaneous screws, nuts and bolts, etc. Advertise in local papers with a special alert to handymen and contractors.
  9. Recycle glass, paper, and plastic when possible. is a helpful resource to locate recycling plants in your area.

Some landfills will not accept construction waste from anyone but a contractor, so do-it-yourselfers should always find out what permits they will need. If they cannot obtain a permit, they can hire a construction waste removal company, some of whom bend over backwards to ensure the good leftovers will be reused or recycled, and not just automatically sent to a landfill.

Emma and her husband, Evan, are in the middle of an extensive remodel, and are whittling away their own pile of construction waste.

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