The COVID-19 pandemic has been blamed for a lot of supply issues in the construction industry, but there is a systemic underlying issue that is being ignored. As the world population grows and emerging markets modernize, the world’s natural resources, which provide the raw materials for products in the construction supply chain, are going to be harder to find and cost more. In the United States, the throw it away mentality, which is not shared by most of the world, will adversely affect the country’s ability to provide safe, clean, affordable housing for all.
The culture of the American construction industry discourages the repurposing of construction materials and every day, millions of dollars of good building materials are thrown into dumpsters to pack the nation’s landfills. This discouragement of repurposing begins with builders who make decisions based on time rather than cost. Removing an old door, window, or other items from a remodel project to repurpose takes a little more time and care while throwing them into a dumpster takes no thought. There is no financial incentive for builders to help others and it will take some form of tax credit for most builders to consider repurposing over time.
Government codes and local building departments discourage repurposing especially in Florida as product approvals are required on all exterior shell products. Take for example, a thick, mahogany custom door that was removed from an older home. The door could not be legally installed on a new home without some form of engineering or testing approval even though a heavy, mahogany door would probably withstand any major hurricane. Building officials and code enforcers do not like materials used on jobsites that are not perfectly clear with documentation, and most builders or remodelers do not have the will to fight with government bureaucrats over the viability of a repurposed item.
The American construction supply chain has independent dealers, large mass-retailing box stores, and online technologies to move new materials. The repurposed building material marketplace is a disjointed collection of salvage dealers spread across the country that lack the technology to move mass quantities. Most are cash related businesses that have a “here it is, come get it” mentality with little true marketing efforts. In other words, it is difficult to find good, repurposed building supplies and harder to purchase them given the lack of delivery and logistics.
In America, especially during times of great financial stress and angst, citizens would repurpose most products until they were completely worn, and wasting products was simply unacceptable. Today, if you stopped by most American construction jobsites, you would see long-lengths of lumber cut-offs, half sheets of siding and drywall, and all types of reusable pieces and parts for construction. The waste issue on most jobsites is horrific, and most estimate that every project in America has 5 to 10 percent of actual waste which could mean an extra project for free if there was no waste. A lot of this waste on the jobsite is attributed to lack of time and the indifference of subcontractors. It is not uncommon to see the owner of projects rummaging through dumpsters pulling out materials that can be reused. The person who pays for the material usually wastes the least.
The construction industry is starting to get motivated to repurpose materials and cut waste on construction jobsites due to the higher costs and much longer lead times of the pandemic marketplace. The affects beyond the affordability housing market are having everyone in the supply chain consider ways to reduce costs and speed up jobs. Cutting waste and repurposing materials may be two quick solutions to finishing jobs faster and cheaper.
Don Magruder is the CEO of Ro-Mac Lumber & Supply, Inc., and he is also the host of the “Around the House” Show which can be seen at AroundtheHouse.TV.