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Evaluating the environmental impact of building material recovery and reuse

Photo of Flooring made of old-growth Douglas-fir salvaged from deconstructed military barracks. Steve Schmieding, Forest ServiceFlooring made of old-growth Douglas-fir salvaged from deconstructed military barracks. Steve Schmieding, Forest ServiceSnapshot : Within the green building and sustainable construction fields, there is a growing movement to recover and reuse building materials in lieu of demolition and landfill disposal. Reuse has several benefits including reducing carbon footprint, conserving resources, extending landfill life, and minimizing pollution. Building professionals are interested in mitigating the environmental impact of the buildings they create. However, they lack data to quantify the environmental impacts of the building materials they specify and that project's contribution to global climate change.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Bergman, Richard, PhD 
Research Station : Forest Products Laboratory (FPL)
Year : 2011
Highlight ID : 281


The green building and sustainable construction movement is growing, and building professionals (including architects, material specifiers, contractors and end users) are increasingly interested in working to reduce environmental impacts from the buildings they create or live in. Reusing recovered building materials from deconstruction or demolition sites is becoming a preferred practice for green building professionals. Therefore, tools for quantifying energy and green house gas emission for reusing recovered wood materials are necessary for not only building professionals but environmental policy makers, as well. The objective of this study was to use life cycle analysis to quantify the impact of wood product reuse on green house gas emissions and primary energy usage. Incorporating existing and developed life cycle inventory (LCI) data, the environmental consequences of reusing the two salvaged wood products-framing lumber and solid strip wood flooring-relative to their virgin wood counterparts were evaluated. Virgin LCI data were already available due to previous work by the Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials. Cumulative cradle-to-gate energy and emission data for the two recovered wood building materials were generated from SimaPro modeling. Significantly lower energy and Global Warming Potentials were found for recovered wood building materials than their virgin counterparts.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Athena Sustainable Materials Institute, Ottawa, Ontario, CanadaConstruction Engineering Research Laboratory, US Army Corps of Engineers ERDC, Champaign, IL

Program Areas