Reducing waste when you renovate

Using recycled materials and consciously reducing waste when you renovate is a great way to protect the environment and make your money go the extra mile. We've compiled a handy guide to help you keep your construction waste in check and get the most out of your existing resources.

Reducing waste when renovating
ARTICLE Stephanie Matheson, PHOTOGRAPHY Ekologix

Waste from construction and renovation is a major contributor to our landfills, and minimising it is not only kinder to nature but is also a cost-saver. According to Homestar, a recent study calculated that building an average three-bedroom home generates six tonnes of construction waste, of which up to 85 per cent could be reduced, reused or recycled.

Flooring and foundations

Polished native timber floors are hard to beat for beauty and add real character to your home. Whether it is kauri, matai or rimu, if your home has been built with New Zealand native timber you should certainly consider reusing it within your own project, or have it sent to someone who can make use of it. Many companies now specialise on providing boards to match old floors and creating new flooring from recycled timber, such as Team Gabo in Auckland and Kersten Building in Hastings.
If you prefer a bit of softness underfoot, wool carpet is a renewable and sustainable option. You can also now recycle your old wool carpet at a cost of $75 per tonne plus GST – it’s usually $200 plus GST – with Cavalier Bremworth. They’ve recently launched a recycling scheme and are using old wool carpet to produce new carpet backing. The scheme is currently available in Auckland and is expected to go nationwide soon.
There is a company Textile Products who does offer carpet recycling if you wanted to replace it with them:
For your outdoor spaces, Ekologix offers an environmentally friendly bamboo decking system made from 90 per cent recycled materials. It looks and feels like wood, with the added bonus of being extremely durable and virtually maintenance free.
Where new concrete is needed for building foundations, a ‘green’ product that contains approximately 15 per cent recycled concrete can be used.


A number of roofing systems can be laid over existing roofs, including asphalt shingles for pitched roofs. This avoids filling the local landfill up with old materials and makes the job much easier and cleaner. The thermal efficiency of flat roofs can be greatly improved by installing a layer or two of rigid insulation, such as  ‘Polyiso’, followed by a new membrane system on top of the old roof (see Polyiso insulation panels contain 28 per cent recycled coloured plastic. It’s the most difficult type of plastic to recycle, so by keeping it out of landfills you’re really doing your bit for the environment.
Ecostar roof tiles are a great alternative to slate. They offer the same look and durability, but are manufactured using 80 per cent recycled materials, including rubber and polymers from recycled car bumpers, radiator hoses and door mouldings. They are also much lighter than slate, highly flexible and fully recyclable.
Steel is probably the most common roofing material used in New Zealand and can be recycled at the end of its life. Some older homes, especially bungalows, may still have imperial sized roofing, which differs from the new metric corrugated profiles. Where one or two sheets need to be replaced, new material can be used, but for larger areas second-hand material will be needed or the roof will need be replaced. See New Zealand Steel and Metal Craft Roofing for metal roofing options.


Keeping your home weathertight is a priority, so make sure your cladding is in good order. When you are repairing a timber-clad home, ensure that any new wood you use comes from one of New Zealand’s renewable plantation forests. Jenkin offers such sustainable cladding, made from pine. Old timber boards can be recycled or reused, and if yours is an old home chances are that native wood has been used.
When it comes to choosing a new material for a reclad, consider man-made products that incorporate recycled materials. Designed and manufactured in New Zealand, Nu-Wall is an extruded aluminium weatherboard system that uses approximately 50 per cent recycled aluminium. It comes powder coated, requires washing only to maintain it, and it is recyclable.


Old wool, glass or paper can greatly improve the heat retaining performance of your home. Glass fibre is one of the most common insulation materials and contains recycled glass. Loose-fill insulation for roofs is often made from paper. GreenChoice is one of these products and it contains 80 per cent recycled, macerated newsprint.
Recycled wool is both a sustainable and completely natural resource. All material used for Ecowool insulation is sourced from New Zealand’s wool product manufacturers. Ecowool is white when manufactured from new natural wool and grey when manufactured from recycled wool. Both types, along with any packaging, are fully recyclable. Typically, recycled Ecowool is available for around 60 per cent of the cost of new wool material. As with new wool, it must not be installed if the moisture content of timber framing exceeds 24 per cent.

Windows and joinery

Second-hand windows and doors can be sourced from salvage yards and recycling companies such as the Timber Recycling Company – or if you’re lucky from Trade Me. However, if you’re building an extension to your home you may have to comply with building regulations that require the installation of double-glazing. Check with your local council.
Rather than replacing single glazing, consider strengthening and improving the performance of existing windows. The Window Film Association of Australia and New Zealand provides a good overview of how different types of window film can help you do that. Solar films, for example, block out UV rays and help control the temperature in your home. Many of them are now energy rated.


BRANZ has some handy tips on working with waste materials. They recommend reusing whole bricks set with lime-based mortar in fences, landscaping and construction. Broken bricks and concrete can be crushed for use as a sub-base material to landscape over or as a base for footpaths and driveways. You may be able to do this yourself or use a concrete crushing specialist. Plasterboard can also be crushed as the gypsum makes a great soil and compost conditioner.
If any excavation work is taking place on your section, make sure you retain as much topsoil as possible so that existing nutrients remain on the site. Unwanted vegetation can be mulched or turned into chips for use as ground cover or compost. Before you remove plants, take samplings and earmark specimens for replanting.
Old railroad sleepers make a great feature in your landscaping – you can bid for them on Trade Me or order them through Warren Lumber. Consider installing a water tank during the renovation, This will provide free water for your garden – a truly economical and environmentally friendly way to utilise natural resources.

Upcycled interiors

The final touches of your renovation, or indeed any update of your décor, can greatly benefit from construction leftovers. Kiwi artist Fane Flaws shows us how it’s done – he spends many hours at demolition yards to source old timber for his iconic wall hangings, most famously his cut-out birds and swans.
Native floorboards or wooden window joinery can be turned into truly unique pieces of furniture. If you’re not keen to build your own, check out for beautiful pieces made entirely from scrap timber and old industrial metal. You can also get furniture custom made from recycled native timbers at The Craftshed in Katikati.
Recycled cabinets and bench tops can become the basis for a one-of-a-kind kitchen or bathroom. Browse your local antique stores and op shops for accessories – perhaps you can even source a classic freestanding bath. A bit of creativity with used materials and a good interior designer can help you bring it all together.

You might be interested in reading: Why Erin Reilly choose Refresh to renovate her home?

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This article featured on page 80 of Issue 008 of New Zealand Renovate Magazine. New Zealand's first and only magazine solely dedicated to home renovations.
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*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.

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