Straightforward techniques using everyday materials were behind the building of Victoria’s first construction waste free home, the project manager behind the development said.

Burbank Health Safety and Environment Manager Frank Perconte said the idea behind the Tierra 2000 home at Lend Lease’s Atherstone Estate in the outer Melbourne suburb of Melton South revolved not around building something overly expensive or futuristic but rather demonstrating how waste could be eliminated using conventional materials and methods to deliver a product suitable for today’s marketplace.

The project, which Burbank delivered in conjunction with RMIT, Sustainability Victoria and the Housing Industry Association (HIA), saw 99 per cent of construction waste diverted from landfill in what is believed to be Victoria’s first ‘zero waste’ home.

Perconte said the team wanted to challenge current waste management practices by reducing waste in each phase of the project from design through to completion and believed that with sensible planning, waste could in the first instance be avoided, with any residual material diverted from landfill.

“We believe we can as an industry build a no-waste home,” Perconte said, referring to advanced techniques such as prefabrication, which was used for the metal roofing but was not a big area of focus in this project. “With current technology we can almost build a Meccano set type home where it’s all prefabricated and then delivered to site.”

“But we said ‘you know what, as an industry, we are not ready for that. If we do something that’s too far left field, it’s not going to benefit industry today’. What we said was, ‘let’s have a look at what the current building practice is and what the materials are that we are using. So that way, we can have a short term gain, rather than a futuristic approach.’”

Perconte said the team first constructed a base line home to understand what types of waste were likely to occur and their causal factors. From this, waste sources were mapped and separated into ‘streams’ – individual categories or sets of processes from which waste would occur and could be measured and managed.

Sand was one example. Spills on driveways and other areas of the site were avoided by having sand delivered in the same bulk ‘jumbo’ bags used for removing waste materials such as timber and metal from the site.

For the delivery of appliances, an efficient recycling opportunity was realised by having plumbers and electricians take the cardboard boxes in which these were delivered back to the supplier’s premises (and put into a recycling box) with them on the return trip, thereby avoiding having the cardboard put in a cage and having it get mixed in with other materials.

Choice of materials was also crucial. With their consistent colour and texture right through, concrete bricks, for example, avoided the waste associated with clay bricks which are prone to distortion and cracking during manufacturing. The use of concrete bricks meant bricks which became chipped could simply be turned so that the chipped side would face inward rather than be discarded.

There were also strategies to re-use materials. Having half-bricks cut by saw allowed for excess halves to be used in sills and eliminated cutting errors which typically result in bricks being thrown away. Reuse of bracing timber for things such as noggins, meanwhile, eliminated the need for manufacturers to supply extra wood.

Finally, valuable lessons were learned from challenges which cropped up. A delivery of a few more than the 9,000 bricks ordered had to be refused, with Perconte’s team wanting to avoid excess material completely notwithstanding understandable supplier inclinations to allow for spares.

Perconte says he hopes the team’s work demonstrated the impact practical strategies available right now can make.

He says RMIT’s independent auditing and verification of outcomes has added to project credibility, while HIA’s involvement will help spread the sharing of lessons learned.

“Right from the beginning of concept we said ‘here, look let’s challenge what we do as an industry – let’s put that challenge out there and test the current practices,’” Perconte said. “We were excited about what could be done and how it could be done better.”

“And I think one of the best ways in which we can then encourage other builders to come aboard is they can see what’s happening. If we can be a catalyst to share that, I think that’s where you are going to create change.”