Reduce, reuse, recycle, re-create and re-imagine

Special to The Times

Question: We're tearing down part of our 1940s home for an addition and gutting our kitchen for remodeling. I hate to see all these materials end up as trash. How can we recycle some of this?

Answer: The idea of a familiar and perhaps beloved structure being demolished and unceremoniously hauled to the trash heap is something the homeowners often dread.

In the Hollywood Hills, Derrick Drymon and Nancy Moscatiello felt that way about a vintage but dowdy house they bought and massively remodeled. To pay homage to the old house, their conservation-minded contractor salvaged some of the tight-grain framing lumber -- much better quality than what is used today -- and had baseboards milled for the new living room. He also fashioned custom handrails out of the recovered boards.

At another remodeled house I visited, a carpenter made a contemporary vanity out of salvaged framing lumber. It's also common practice to move old kitchen cabinets into the garage for use as storage and to make garden walkways out of broken-up concrete patios.

For a contractor's perspective, I asked Turko Semmes, president of Semmes & Co. Builders,, in Atascadero, Calif. Semmes makes a practice of channeling construction debris to recyclers rather than to the landfill.

Contractor's answer: This is an important issue, considering that construction and demolition materials make up nearly 22% of what goes into California landfills. Local trash-collection companies are under state mandate to reduce the percentage of construction waste, and many have on-site recycling stations specifically for such materials.

In my area of San Luis Obispo County, there is a private company, independent of the landfill, that guarantees that 80% of all construction materials brought in will be recycled. Its employees provide a roll-off container and do the separation and recycling themselves. The price is the same as a roll-off container from the landfill with no recycling.

In thinking about the use of building materials, it might be helpful to remember that the basic principles of recycling are reduce, reuse and recycle.

First, try to plan your remodel or new construction project using the least amount of resources possible. For instance, an architect who is wise about how houses are constructed, or who is working alongside an astute builder, can design the home in such a way as to minimize waste.

Then, try to remove and reuse everything you can before demolition. Commonly recycled and reused construction materials include old cabinets, functional windows, framing lumber, concrete and metals. Old drywall can be ground up and used for soil amendment on the site.

Before hiring a contractor or demolition crew, ask what the firm's attitude is on recycling. Does it make a regular practice of recycling? Does its price include this? Is the company willing to try and, if so, how?

Habitat for Humanity operates ReStores, where materials can be donated for resale, with revenues used to build low-cost housing. There are outlets in Santa Ana, Pasadena, Gardena, Riverside and other California cities. Go to to find out more.

For more information on recycling building materials or to find a construction debris recycler in your community, go to the California Integrated Waste Management Board website at

Submit remodeling questions to Kathy Price-Robinson at

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