Second Use Building Materials: Types, Applications and Limitations

Reclaimed building materials
  • Author: Ivy Smith
  • Posted On: February 1, 2023
  • Updated On: February 1, 2023

When buildings are demolished or subjected to structural or non-structural renovations, some materials or building components are dispensed away in landfills, never to be reused again. However, in recent times, people have started identifying these wastes as more than just a crap.

Second use building materials (also called “secondary building materials”) are extracted from the disposed building wastes and are effectively utilized in construction works. For instance, when a new house is to be constructed by demolishing the old one, certain parts of the building such as doors, windows, large fence boulders, etc. can be removed and utilized for the construction of another building.

These materials of secondary use are salvaged or reclaimed from existing structures and are then reused in new construction projects. The use of second use materials can have environmental benefits, as it reduces the need to extract new materials and can also add character and history to new structures.

In certain parts of the world like the United States, the public willingly transports or delivers these waste materials or building parts to the warehouses that recycle them. If not so, the people who work at these “drop offs” themselves harvest these materials from houses or pick them up from job sites.

These second use materials can also help the less-privileged community build their houses at a lower cost and save substantial money out of it.

This technique of diverting reusable materials from the landfills is not just environment-friendly but it also helps people get an affordable renovation for their houses or buildings.

Reuse vs Recycle


Before we get into the details of where can we find these secondary materials and how can they be reclaimed, it is important to know that second-use materials can be obtained both by reusing and recycling processes. So, what is the difference between the two?

When we use the term “reuse” it refers to the products or building components that have not yet been a part of waste, are in a good condition and therefore, can be used again for the same purpose they were initially manufactured and installed without going through any processing.

Essentially, every item in a building that is in a newer condition can be removed prior to dismantling the structure and the item can be utilized again somewhere else. Hence, for reusage, there is no hard-and-fast rule as to which materials can be reused and which cannot be.

However, to be specific, floor tiles, carpets, wooden doors, etc. can be reused if they are in a good condition.


On the other hand, the term “recycle” signifies that the products or building components are waste materials and are recovered by processing to make different secondary materials that can enter the utility pipeline and the economy again.

What can Second Use Building Materials Include?

Every part of a structure or building that can be removed and reused is counted as second-hand material for the construction or renovation of any other building.

These materials may include building components like reclaimed wood and metal, salvaged bricks, and other reusable building materials. The list of a few materials is given as follow;

  • Windows
  • Doors
  • Furniture
  • Wooden planks
  • Wooden Cabinets
  • Kitchen and bathroom utilities
  • Crushed concrete aggregates
  • Roof tiles

Reclaimed bricks

It is important to note that the reused building materials have to qualify certain quality standards and based on this, they may be subjected to recovery operations, too. These include improvements by controlling, cleaning and repairing the products or components.

Types of Second Use Building Materials

Second use building materials entail a variety of types and can be reclaimed from different sites to be used again in construction projects. A few examples of such materials are given below.

Reclaimed Wood

Reclaimed wood

Wood and wooden products can be reclaimed from structures that are to be dismantled. These may include old growth timber, barn wood, and other types of wood that are in a good condition.

The use of reclaimed wooden products such as doors, cabinets, drawers, etc. can also add a touch of historical connection to where it is used again.

Salvaged Bricks

Salvaged bricks

Bricks can also be reclaimed from old building and reused again, either by crushing them into aggregates and using them for road works, or as solid bricks that can be reused for other structures such as wall, chimneys, exterior cladding, etc.

Reclaimed Roofing Materials

Roofing materials such as tiles, slate, clay or metal roofing can be reclaimed from old property or building and reused.

Reclaimed Metal

Reclaimed metal products

Metal products such as old roofing, siding, and structural elements like beams and trusses can also be reclaimed from structures and reused.

If the structure that is to be dismantled is a steel frame structure, the structural elements such as beams and columns can easily be disconnected and reused again in another frame or composite construction work.

Given this, steel structures prove to be advantageous in the long run and can effectively be utilized in any other structure if previous one is to be evacuated from the site.

Reclaimed Stone

Building materials like old pavers, cobblestones, and architectural elements like fireplace mantels can also be reused since they have a very long service life. Some side stones or curbs are made from hard rocks that are very durable and therefore, they can be utilized again.

Reclaimed Glass

Reclaimed glass materials can include things like old windows, skylights, and doors that can be repurposed and reused in new construction projects.

The use of second use materials can also have environmental benefits. This is because they reduce the need to extract or obtain new building materials and can also add character and history to new structures.

Applications of Second Use Building Materials

The applications of second use building materials are mostly prominent in residential and commercial construction projects. Some of these applications are detailed below.

  • Salvaged bricks can be used for walls, exterior claddings, chimneys, etc. and can also be crushed to form aggregates for road construction works.
  • For flooring, paneling and architectural detailing, reclaimed wood and wooden products can be used.
  • Reclaimed metal products (structural and non-structural) often have a longer service life if protected from the attack of corrosion. They can be used for connection purposes and roofing works.
  • Stones can also be reused to form pavements or for other architectural purposes such as improving the aesthetic features of your garden.
  • Second use materials can also be used in landscaping and site improvement projects, such as using reclaimed pavers for patios and walkways.

Where Will You Find Second Use Building Materials?

Yard for reclaimed materials

Yard for reclaimed materials

If you are up for a renovation project for your building at an affordable cost, you must search for second use building materials. In this regard, you must be well-aware as to where exactly you will find the right materials to get your work done.

Following are some of the places where you will find second use building materials.

  • If you see a building that is about to get demolished, you may directly contact the owner of that building for reclaiming or extracting materials for your utilization. Some people willingly want to get rid of the old utilities in their houses, so you may contact them for reusing the building items if they are present in a good condition.
  • In recent times, the sale of second use building materials has become a business and specialized companies have launched their startups for collecting and storing such materials. Therefore, if you want to make a choice between reclaimed materials, you may directly visit salvage yards or architectural salvage stores that have a variety of products such as windows, doors, tiles, woodwork and more in storage for their customers.
  • You may also find second use building material on online stores and this becomes very handy if you want to see the entire stock with the prices offered. Websites such as eBay, Facebook Marketplace can help you with these products.
  • There are some demolition companies that have large quantities of reclaimed materials and they make them open for clients to purchase. Materials such as bricks, lumber, roofing materials can be obtained in bulk quantities in you directly contact these companies that specialize in this work.
  • Recycled products that can be used for construction works can be obtained from your community’s recycling centers or waste management facilities. Although, these centers do not focus on material usage in terms of construction projects, but oftentimes, you will find building materials from them, too.
  • Some non-profit organizations also sell new and gently-used building materials, appliances, and home goods to the public at a lower and affordable price.

Prior to planning to buy second use materials, you must first check their availability in your area. This depends on your location and therefore, multiple sources should be check first in addition to the quality of the materials.

How do we Process Second Use Building Materials?

Processed wood

The processing of second use building materials for their reusage depends on the material type and its present condition. The following guidelines may be used as a reference for some of the reclaimed building materials that are intended to be processed for further usage.

  • Reclaimed wood and wood-based products must be cleaned, sanded to remove surface irregularities, and further treated to remove any dirt, dust or pests. Its sides may also be planed and jointed to remove rough edges and obtain a smooth finish before using it for flooring or paneling work.
  • Reclaimed stones must be cleaned, inspected to remove any broken pieces and sorted based on their relative particle sizes. The stones may also be cut and shaped to the required size for pavers, cobblestones or any other architectural purpose.
  • Salvaged bricks may be cleaned, sorted, and inspected to remove any damaged or broken bricks. They may also be repointed to repair any cracks or gaps in the mortar.
  • Reclaimed metal may be cleaned, sanded, and painted again to remove any rust or corrosion and make it more suitable for use as roofing, siding, or structural elements. However, if the material is corroded to a great extent, it is preferable to discard it rather than reusing it for structural works.
  • Reclaimed glass is also subjected to cleaning and inspection to remove any cracking or damage.
  • Reclaimed roofing materials such as slate are inspected and cleaned before using them again.

Apart from the above-mentioned processes, second use materials may also require some additional testing or certifications to ensure that they comply with current building codes and safety standards.

Some reclaimed materials may also require specific treatments or preservation methods to maintain their integrity and in this regard, an expert advice must be sought.

Warehouse for processed metal products

Warehouse for processed metal products

Limitations of Second Use Building Materials

Despite the massive attention they have garnered over the recent years, the use of secondary or second use building materials is not a viable option in all types of construction and renovation works.

There are several limitations to using second use building materials in construction projects and a few of them are described herewith.

  • Second use building materials might have limited availability and are sometimes difficult to find. Even if you locate a company that sells these material, you might end up with material shortage for your construction or renovation project.
  • The quality of these materials and their performance makes their use less efficient in certain types of construction work and therefore, a deliberate effort on part of the client is required to make such a decision.
  • In case of using reclaimed materials, you may end up with an increased labor cost and more preparation to make them suitable for your project.
  • Second use building materials may show unpredictable performance characteristics and they might not perform the same intended function once used.
  • Some of the reclaimed building materials may not show compliance with the building codes in practice. This at times, might necessitate additional testing to verify their performance and mechanical properties before using them in construction works.
  • Some reclaimed building materials may have defects that are hard to get away with and this might limit their reusage. For instance, reclaimed wood may have insect or fungal infestations that are hard to detect or if detected, hard to remove.
  • With second use building materials, you will generally have limited options to customize your structure’s interior or exterior look, color, size, shape or other design options.
  • Sometimes reclaimed materials owing to their scarcity may become more expensive than new materials.
  • The condition and predicted performance of second use materials may not always be known parameters and therefore, quality control when using such materials for a construction project becomes difficult.
  • You might end up discovering the right second use material for your construction or renovation project but if the transportation cost of such materials is a huge amount, this is not a win-win situation for you. This is because fetching second use materials will increase your overall cost and also the carbon footprint.

Advantages of Second Use Building Materials

The main aim of reusing old materials is to recycle and sell them at affordable prices. However, doing so also has other advantages as discussed herewith.

  • The approach of reusing building materials is environment-friendly. This is because if these building parts or materials are not reused, they are simply dispensed away in landfill, thereby coercing the natural environment. Therefore, this helps make a utilization of the construction and demolition waste (C&DW) and is an effective waste management approach. In addition, the practice of reusing existing materials can also help lower the carbon footprint of a building by reducing the energy required to produce new materials.
  • Second use materials can be obtained at an affordable cost and you can end up with huge savings on material sourcing.
  • Some old buildings are a part of cultural heritage and their architecture is hard to replicate. If such historical structures are to be demolished, some materials can be reclaimed to add historical touch to any other structure.
  • Some reclaimed materials may have better quality and durability than many contemporary building materials. This is because by the time they were made, the regular practices of manufacturing them were different and with times these practices kept changing. It is therefore, probable that if you come across reclaimed old growth timber or reclaimed bricks, their quality might even be better than their newer versions.
  • Some building materials are no longer available for construction projects. However, through the use of reclaimed materials, you may get certain types of resources that are out from the markets now.
  • The use of second use building materials is in compliance with green building standards such as Green Star, LEED, etc.

Disadvantages of Second Use Building Materials

By now you might be thinking about relying entirely on second use materials for your next project, however, it is important to look at the flip side of the picture. Given this, the use of these reclaimed materials should be done with some proper deliberation into the intended project.

Second use building materials also have many disadvantages and we will walk you through most of them one by one.

  • The availability of second use building materials is haphazard and limited. Firstly, they are difficult to find in the quantity required for a construction project and even if you do get an ample quantity to tick off your project, within the reclaimed materials, you will see many variants.
  • These materials may be damaged or in a bad condition implying that their further usage will only have detrimental effects on the structure.
  • With second use building materials, you might end up with increased labor cost to make such materials suitable for your construction or renovation work.
  • The performance of these materials is unpredictable and this might lead to unexpected damages or other issues.
  • Using these materials often restricts the options available for customizing or designing a structure on your own.
  • Some of these materials are not compliant with the prevailing building codes of practice and using them necessitates further testing.
  • Some reclaimed materials may have defects that are hard to get away with.

This means that despite the use of second use building materials being a cost-effective and environment-friendly option, it is advisable to consider the availability, quality and compliance of the reclaimed materials with the building codes in practice for any type of construction project.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How costly can second use building materials be?

The cost of second use building materials is not fixed and varies depending upon a number of factors as given below;

  • The cost of reclaimed materials depends on the type of material you want to buy. For instance, reclaimed wood or brick may be more expensive than reclaimed metal or glass.
  • The condition and quality of the material will also govern its cost. Reclaimed materials that are in a good condition may be more expensive than the ones that require some additional work to restore or improve their quality.
  • The source of obtaining second use materials also decides its cost. Materials reclaimed from salvage yards or architectural salvage stores may be more expensive than those obtained from a demolition company or online marketplace.
  • The demand for certain materials or types of materials may vary depending on the location, time and the specific project and all these factors contribute to deciding the price of the material.
  • The greater the quantity of a specific material you need, the more you can negotiate the price.
  • The transportation cost, depending upon the location and conveyance method, is also an important factor in governing the overall cost.

Therefore, generically speaking, second use building materials can truly be an affordable option only once you weigh all the influencing factors and pros and cons of doing so.

In some cases, where the benefits of using reclaimed materials outweigh the cons, you must consider using them for your construction, renovation or building work. On the other hand, if the disadvantages of using them are more, you must consider other options and materials for your project.

What is the difference between reused building materials and recycled building materials?

Reused building materials and recycled building materials are similar in terms of both being already used materials and are intended to be used again. However, there is a subtle difference between the two.

When we say the materials are reused, it means they are removed from the former location but because they are in good condition, they can simply be reinstalled anywhere else in building or renovation works. For instance, reclaimed wood flooring can be removed from an old house and used again in a new house or any other building. No processing is required in this case.

On the other hand, recycled materials are also ones that have been used but now they cannot be further utilized in their present state without any processing. Therefore, these materials undergo processing to make them suitable for use in a new application. For instance, old glass bottles can be crushed and crumbled to be used as glass aggregate in concrete.

Some materials, such as metal roof removed from a building, may be both reused and recycled. It can be reused for any other building or recycled if it is damaged or cannot be used in the same condition again.

Both types of materials (reused and recycled) have environmental benefits, but recycled materials also have an added benefit of reducing the need to extract and process new raw materials.


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Author: Ivy Smith

Ivy is a professional civil engineer and also provides her consultancy at ConstructionHow from the technical aspect. Her expertise entails home improvements and real estate. But the primary strength pins down to the construction sector. She began her career with a property management company cultivating more than 20 construction and real estate projects. She also contributes as a contractor to local and international commercial and domestic individuals.