Benefits of Repurposing Natural Materials During a Home Build

There are eco-conscious, economic and aesthetic reasons to repurpose natural materials from your new build. Happily, they usually intersect.

Building a new home can be constructive and destructive at the same time. Trees have to be cut down. Boulders have to be moved. Earth has to be excavated. And if you’re building a second home or a vacation home in a remote area, you might feel a twinge of guilt about the environmental impact your new build will have.

But there are ways to repurpose the natural materials your new build disturbs, and plenty of green motives for doing so — and by “green,” we mean ecological and cost-saving!

“As humans have done for thousands of years, one way we can minimize our footprint is to use or repurpose local materials found on-site,” says Ward Young Architecture and Planning architect Aren Saltiel. “This can lower costs, reduce waste and cut down on climate change-causing emissions associated with the transportation of materials.”

When it comes to repurposing materials on new builds — especially in natural settings — saving money, reducing waste and lowering your carbon footprint all go hand-in-hand. Here are five benefits of repurposing natural materials during a home build.

Repurposing Reduces Waste

First and foremost, repurposing natural materials from your building site reduces construction waste that needs to be disposed of. It also means your new home has a smaller carbon footprint.

If you build your log cabin from trees felled on your plot of land, trees aren’t cut down elsewhere. If the stone found on-site goes into your stone fireplace, it doesn’t have to be quarried elsewhere and transported.

Repurposing Lowers Material Costs

This one’s easy: If you have materials on hand, you don’t have to buy them. While timber costs vary depending on your location, what type of lumber you need and how far it needs to be transported, lumber is a major expense for even the simplest dwelling.

Save money by renting a portable sawmill (although you should probably pay a pro to operate it) and milling your lumber on-site. “Other ways to lower material costs include building walls from rammed earth, or using excavated boulders for retaining walls or landscaping,” says Saltiel.

Repurposing Lowers Transport Costs

Delivering materials to your building site is another cost that’s often overlooked and underestimated. The farther your site is from the supply source, the more it costs for delivery.

Add in complicating factors like unpaved, muddy, rutty or seasonally closed roads, and you may have deliveries that are not only costly but difficult to execute — and time is money. So why truck in a load of boulders that might get stuck on your muddy forest road when you can just use the ones on your site?

There’s another transport cost to consider as well. If you don’t repurpose your building site’s leftover earth, timber and stone, you’ll have to pay the contractor to remove it all.

Repurposing Is Aesthetically Pleasing

We can think of few things more dazzling and aesthetically pleasing than seeing natural materials incorporated in a home’s design or décor, especially a home in a natural setting.

Admiring your beautiful stone wall or fireplace, enjoying a meal at the kitchen table you made from reclaimed wood, or knowing those felled trees went into a structure that will last for decades, offers a new level of new homeowner satisfaction.

Repurposed Materials Are Long-Lasting

Those rocks have been on your property for millions of years. If they’ve lasted this long, they’re going to last for the life of your new home. The trees on and around your property adapted to that climate, evolving to resist temperature variations, storms and insect damage. Even the dirt you move from your building site is the right kind for the location.

These examples illustrate the wisdom of repurposing the natural materials you find on-site — they were made to be there. So what better materials to create a beautiful, environmentally conscious, long-lasting home or cabin?

Elizabeth Heath
Elizabeth Heath is a travel, lifestyle and home improvement writer based in rural Umbria, Italy. Her work appears in The Washington Post, Travel + Leisure, Reader's Digest, TripSavvy and many other publications, and she is the author of several guidebooks. Liz's husband is a stonemason and together, they are passionate about the great outdoors, endless home improvement projects, their tween daughter and their dogs. She covers a variety of topics for Family Handyman and is always ready to test out a new pizza oven or fire pit.