Reclaiming Metal Building Materials

December 2, 2014


As doubts about usefulness and marketability subside, the popularity of reclaimed building materials is finally gaining traction. Nationally known projects from nonprofits like Reclaim Detroit and others have helped give the process of salvaging materials from constructions sites and old homes a good name. Good enough, in fact, to launch the practice into the limelight.

Though many reclamation projects tend to focus on wood — especially reclaimed wood flooring — there is also a growing demand for reclaimed metal building materials. Metals from building and construction sites in particular are excellent candidates for reuse and can have significant advantages over traditional sources. In fact, these materials are examples of urban mining at its finest.

Benefits of reclaiming metal building materials

Overall, the reclamation process has a number of benefits. One of the main advantages is the effect on the environment. According to the EPA, the world’s citizens have consumed more in the last 50 years than ever before in history — a practice that has had an extremely detrimental and destructive effect on the environment. Lessening environmental impact includes ascertaining where a product comes from, how much energy it will use and the effect it will have on the environment once its use has concluded.

To that end, reclaiming building materials makes environmental sense. Many of the large metal materials used in construction and home-building projects can take up significant space when discarded in landfills. Reclaiming this material, however, reduces landfill congestion.

Additionally, and perhaps most appealing to the everyday consumer, the savings involved in reclaiming metal building materials in comparison to purchasing new materials can be remarkable. For homebuilding on a budget, reclaimed metal offers a unique alternative to more expensive resources. Even for those who are not counting costs, reclaimed materials can offer a way to add charm and style to a modern building project.

In fact, it could be that the esthetic appeal of reclaimed metal building materials is its main driving force. Both home builders and developers alike are striving for new and useful ways to make projects more socially responsible and are drawn to reclaimed materials for the sustainable value they bring.

Common uses of reclaimed metal building materials

Speaking of home building, the common uses of reclaimed metal building materials are also good to know. Obviously, homebuilding and remodeling are the two standout uses, but there are others as well.

Artisans incorporate reclaimed metals into modern design schemes and structural works. Also, restaurants and municipalities may commission works made from reclaimed metal building material to add character and to emphasize modern sustainability practices.

Government regulation

Even more interesting is the fact that more local governments are beginning to incorporate rules and regulations concerning reclaimed building material including metals. Such practices could lead to an even greater increase in the practice of reclaiming metal building material.

Currently, the EPA is making a case for reclaimed metal building materials as well as a wide range of others materials than can be reclaimed from industrial building projects such as wood, concrete and more. The EPA Sustainable Materials Management effort is described as a systems approach to encouraging businesses, universities and governments to reuse materials throughout their life cycles.

The SMM system begins with a life cycle assessment to determine the environmental impact of materials to be used and concludes with either recycling or reclamation for reuse. The program aims to enable builders and consumers to conserve materials and reduce environmental impacts as well as lower costs for increased sustainability in light of increasing consumption in the U.S.

Sources of reclaimed metal building material

Where does metal building material typically come from? The traditional source has always been scrap metal yards found in cities and counties both large and small throughout the U.S., but there are other sources as well.

Construction sites, of course, may have a large supply of leftover metals at project sites. Perhaps one of the biggest and most well-known sources of reclaimed metal building material, currently, however, is nonprofit organizations that specialize in collecting and selling reclaimed materials.

These organizations, located across the country, collect leftover building materials from a range of projects and accept donations from individuals as well. The materials are most often offered for resale at a fraction of the original costs, but they may also be used as part of new building projects such as housing for the homeless or special artisan crafting.

One such program has gained widespread popularity due to its success in Detroit. Detroit had to be one of the hardest-hit areas of the country following the recession. This left the city with a number of economic shortfalls as well as a dilapidated and abandoned housing infrastructure. The founders of the Reclaim Detroit, however, saw the crisis as an opportunity to rearrange dire circumstance into a positive assets for struggling communities.

Today, Detroit’s reclamation efforts have become a model for similar program across the country. It’s a growing trend we’re likely to see more of in the future.

The future of reclaiming building materials

The future of reclaiming metal building materials seems to lie in a combination of nonprofit interaction and government regulation.

As more and more governments garner the attention of developers by attaching reclamation requirements to permits, developers are beginning to innovate around the reclamation process. In other words, the mandates are forcing developers to think sustainably about the design of their projects as well as the post-construction process. This means more reclaimed metal is placed on the market.

Nonprofits enable the reclaimed metal building material market by providing a platform of gathering and selling that makes the materials accessible to consumers — with significant cost savings as incentive. Those who do not need to be as cost conscious receive the added benefit of adding esthetic value to their building projects.

Reclaiming metal building materials: A trend on the rise

The green sustainability movement has birthed a renewed interest in reducing costs and environmental impact by reclaiming metal building materials in a number of unique and beneficial ways. Look to see more of the practice of reclaiming metal building materials as consumers and builders discover increasingly new and unique ways to use it their advantage.