Northwest Building Salvage Network (NBSN) is a coalition of architectural salvage, deconstruction and used building materials companies (both for-profit and not-for-profit) currently serving the Puget Sound region of Washington State. NBSN works with contractors, homeowners, and policymakers in order to better achieve the following goals:
- increase diversion of reusable building materials from waste stream
- preserve local heritage and architectural history
- involve the public with education and outreach
- contribute to a model of industry standard business practices
- impact public policy as it affects the reuse industry
- collectively pursue underdeveloped markets
Increase diversion of reusable materials from waste stream
In 2002, approximately 6 million tons of waste from Washington state was disposed of in landfills. Of this amount, approximately one-third was construction and demolition (C&D) debris. (Based on “Solid Waste in Washington State – Twelfth Annual Status Report"). With many landfills nearing capacity, this level of C&D waste is not sustainable in the long term.
In many cases 60-90% of a building's materials are reusable or recyclable, yet the amount of reusable and recyclable material that is actually diverted on most jobsites is much lower. Typically a smaller fraction of materials is reusable, but there are equalizing benefits to reusing materials, not the least of which is embodied energy. Reuse of building materials preserves embodied energy (the energy invested to extract raw materials and manufacture the original product). A door is reused as a door; a cabinet is re-installed as a cabinet. Lumber may be reused as lumber, or may be up-cycled into a higher grade material such as trim or furniture stock.
NBSN members focus on the reuse of building materials by salvaging materials during the demolition process or collecting from jobsites. Salvaged materials are then sold to the public at reuse outlet stores, preserving the embodied energy of these materials.
When materials cannot be salvaged they can often be recycled. Recycling of materials involves reprocessing materials into a new product. Concrete gets ground up into aggregate for new concrete; steel re-bar gets melted down into new steel products; wood gets ground up for fuel or particleboard. This reprocessing takes additional energy, and some of the original embodied energy of the product is lost.
Thus, while a much smaller fraction of a building's weight is reusable than is recyclable, the added savings in embodied energy and avoided greenhouse gases make the ecological impact of reuse of comparable value to recycling. To put it in perspective, the total reuse from a 2000 square foot home, including 10 vinyl windows, 10 wood doors, 1 bathtub, 2 sinks, 10 cabinets, 6000 board feet of lumber gives about 100,000 MJ of embodied energy savings, or enough to power a 60 watt light bulb for 50 years!
Preserve local heritage and architectural history
In addition to saving embodied energy, re-use also can preserve the history of an item. An old cabinet from a school, or a stained glass window from a house – each of these carries an interesting and valuable story, which only grows with time.
The development boom in the Puget Sound has caused many local landmarks to be torn down, depleting our local heritage. Some organizations, such as Historical Seattle, are working to preserve this architectural history. When that's not possible the re-use industry helps keep materials from these buildings in use and out of the landfills.
NBSN members have come together on a number of projects, pursuing a vision of where salvage businesses work together in innovative ways to preserve local heritage and architectural history. Some joint projects in the Seattle area include the Camlin Hotel, The Seattle Opera House, First Christian Church and Cleveland High School.
Involve the public with education and outreach
NBSN members have worked to provide outreach and education for the community to better understand the impact of, and strategies for, re-use. Members recently put on a joint how-to workshop series on re-using particular types of building materials and have developed information sheets on re-use for customers. We have worked as a team with local officials interested in reducing waste.
NBSN members partner not only with landmark owners but local contractors to provide education on the salvage process. They make the case that salvaging reusable building materials is not only the right thing to do in terms of preservation and saving of energy, but can also a financially preferable alternative. This website also serves as an outlet for educational materials, providing resources and links to help interested individuals learn more about building materials re-use.
Contribute to a model of industry standard business practices
In the fairly young building materials reuse industry, startup businesses have taken a variety of approaches to their work. NBSN believes that it is time for work standards to be at a higher level of consistency. NBSN has fostered discussions and joint projects among the various reuse businesses and promoted common understandings of best practices in salvage and reuse. Safety and professionalism are important topics of focus. NBSN encourages participation in national organizations such as the Building Materials Reuse Association to promote more development of industry-wide standards.
Impact public policy as it affects the re-use industry
Laws, regulations and policies of our government agencies have a huge influence on the economy of reuse. NBSN members are working with local and state government to create a regulatory framework that encourages more recycling and reuse of building materials.
NBSN members recently helped shape legislation related to recycling and reuse in Washington state - HR1817/SB5788 "Improving Recycling". Currently we are working with Seattle's Department of Planning and Development on creative ways to motivate recycling and reuse on demolitions and remodels.
Collectively pursue underdeveloped markets
In pursuit of greater waste diversion, NBSN is working on strategies to pursue underdeveloped markets for materials that are clearly reusable, but so far have proven uneconomical to recover for reuse. Deconstruction and other hybrid methods of demolition are being examined as approaches for salvaging a greater quantity of lumber and other lower value materials from a structure.