Reclaimed construction materials

Why reclaim?

Construction materials account for:
• 420 million tonnes of material consumption (7 tonnes per person)
• 20% of the UK’s total ecological footprint
• 19% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions
• 30% of all UK road freight

use of energy

The embodied environmental impacts of these incredible quantities of material are generated during:
• extraction of raw materials
• processing and manufacture
• transportation

Direct substitution of reclaimed materials for new in any construction or building work will radically reduce the environmental impact of that particular item. It removes the need to extract more raw materials and it largely removes the need for processing and manufacture. Transportation impacts are usually reduced too as reclaimed materials tend to be sourced locally (although not always).


BRE life cycle analyses comparing new with reclaimed:

Here are some examples where using reclaimed in place of new (even in place of new steel with a 40% recycled content) has reduced the environmental impact by up to 96%.



New and reclaimed studwork

new and reclaimed studwork


New and reclaimed steel

new and reclaimed steel



Using reclaimed materials


Potential for reclaimed

Waste from construction and demolition produces a massive, virtually untapped, sustainable resource. Salvo estimate that only 1% of building materials are currently from reclaimed sources. Whereas some 5-10% of the building materials demand could potentially be met from reclaimed. (Salvo, A Reclamation Protocol, 1995).

Diverting and re-using salvaged materials from the waste stream maintains them as a high grade resource instead of down grading them by crushing or chipping.


Project Clause for Reclaimed Materials

Reclaimed materials shall make up at least 5% of the total project materials by value.
This shall be measured by recording the value of all construction materials used on the project.


Definition of reclaimed materials

Reclaimed materials are considered to be any materials that have been used before either in buildings, temporary works or other uses and are re-used as construction materials without reprocessing. Reclaimed materials may be adapted and cut to size, cleaned up and refinished but they fundamentally are being re-used in their original form.



Examples of reclaimed and recycled materials


Reclaimed Recycled
Re-used timber sections or floorboards Panel products with chipped recycled timber
Bricks cleaned up and re-used Crushed concrete or bricks for hardcore
Steel sections shot-blasted and refabricated Steel with a proportion of recycled content
Re-used glass panels or windows Crushed glass recycled as sand or cement replacement



Definition of recycled materials

Recycled materials are considered to be any materials that have been taken from the waste stream and reprocessed and re-manufactured to form part of a new product.



General guidance notes for use of reclaimed materials

1. Early discussions with reclaimed materials dealers and salvage experts will help to identify materials that are easily available at the right quality and quantity.

2. Reclaimed materials are usually obtained from different suppliers to new building products. Buyers will often need to set up relationships with new suppliers in the salvage trade.

3. Early design information helps in the sourcing of reclaimed materials. Lead times for ordering materials often need to be longer than for new off-the-shelf materials.

4. It can be helpful to identify one or more demolition projects near to the construction project, whose phasing is a little ahead of the construction programme. Reclaimed materials can then be selected and extracted from the demolition project as required. (It can be difficult to plan phasing as site delays are common and timings change.)

5. Storage space either on site, nearby or else at the demolition site can be extremely helpful in matching up phasing.

6. Material specifications for the project need to be flexible enough to allow for the variations in reclaimed materials. Specifications should outline the essential performance properties required of a material but not over define the details.

7. It can be helpful to agree on a sample of the reclaimed material such as a brick or a length of board. This sample can be used to show clearly the quality that is expected in order to meet the design requirements. Sometimes a selection of samples will be needed to show a range of colours or states of wear that are acceptable.

8. Any material is available reclaimed at a price but it may be helpful for specifiers to know that basic modern salvage direct from demolition is often cheap, free or may even come with a dowry, while older antique or reclaimed materials from salvage yards and stockholders, in large quantities, may be more, or much more, costly.

Text © 2005 Nicole Lazarus - Bioregional Communities



Further information

• ‘SALVO’ - reclaimed building material dealers (






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