Low-Cost and Reusable Building Construction Materials That Boost the Bottom Line

By: Dan Taylor on September 10, 2019

There isn’t much separating a profit and a loss for a construction project—it’s not uncommon for projects to see a profit margin of just 3%.

Construction managers just want to save money. That’s why they are always focused on schedules and budgets; why they’re always looking for technology that will give them the edge; and why they get construction software that will make them more efficient.

Low-cost and reusable/recyclable building construction materials are another option for slashing costs—and they have the added benefit of being green and sustainable in most cases.

According to a recent SA survey, 21.7% would have reservations about buying or renting a home built with green construction practices due to worries about costs. But in reality, green materials can be cheaper.

Construction managers should settle on a low-cost reusable material option that best fits them. We’ll take you through the two phases of identifying that material and then launching a pilot program to implement it.

Phase 1: Identify a low-cost, reusable or recycled material

The first thing you’re going to want to do is identify some type of low-cost, recyclable or reusable material that would make the most sense for your business. The right material will depend on the type of project you’re working on as well as your goals and needs as a company, so think hard about it and consult with any other interested stakeholders in your company.

Here are a few options:

Low-cost materials

Composite materials. Composites are simply materials that are made by combining two or more different materials into one to make something that is cheaper and sometimes even stronger and lighter. Composites are best for replacing expensive materials like timber, steel and concrete.

Prefabricated panels. Prefabrication has been a major trend in the construction industry lately because it saves a lot of money on labor. Prefabrication doesn’t replace a material per se, it’s just a more efficient way of using materials.

Shipping containers. The containers used to carry goods across the ocean are extremely solid, and they’ve become popular for construction projects in recent years. Use these instead of concrete, brick, or other more expensive materials you might use for the structure of a building.

Corrugated iron. This incredibly cheap material has a black, sleek look that is very trendy in construction right now. It’s also very lightweight, making it inexpensive to transport. It is used in place of more expensive roofing materials like tile, or in place of aluminum siding.

Brick. This classic construction material is relatively inexpensive, although it can be labor intensive and is therefore often more expensive than concrete. However, combining this option with robots could cut costs, allowing you to use it as an alternative to concrete.

Recycled/reusable materials

Drywall. Drywall can sometimes be contaminated with other materials, rendering it unusable, but if you can find some leftover off-cuts lying around the job site, reusing it will save you money. As long as the drywall is in good enough condition, you could use it for any construction project that involves drywall.

Wood. Wood left over from construction or demolition sites is often still good, so instead of throwing it on the trash heap, consider reusing it as flooring, or even as furniture material. Again, as long as the wood is in good enough condition, but if not, it could be ground down to be used in composites.

Plastic. Plastic is all around us, and construction sites are no different. This versatile material is often found in packaging or piping. There are lots of opportunities to recycle it, such as by reusing it as packaging, using it in landscaping, making new drainage pipes with it, or for ducts and flooring.

Aggregate. Recycling aggregate—a compacted mass of fragments or particles—rather than sending it to the landfill has a good deal of potential for saving money. You can use it for road base, in cement concrete or as backfill material.


Aggregate is a good example of recycled or reusable construction materials (Source)

Glass. A lot of glass gets wasted on a construction site because it breaks so easily, but even broken glass is reusable. It can be used in the manufacture of bricks, within aggregate or even as decorate material. Be careful with this, however, as glass recovery can be expensive and glass can easily be contaminated.

Insulation. There’s lots of recycling potential for insulation, either by simply reusing off-cuts, or by reclaiming insulation by removing contaminants like nails. However, you should keep in mind that insulation material is already inexpensive and it is easily contaminated.

Other possibilities. Leftover steel can be used for reinforcing structures, while old concrete can be broken up and recycled in pavement. Untreated timber can be turned to mulch.

Phase 2: Launch a pilot program to incorporate the material

Now that you’ve decided which material you want to start incorporating into the job site, it’s time to launch a pilot program. Pilot programs are good because they allow you to carefully test out one material in a limited way to see how it performs and what problems may arise, rather than introducing a whole lot of change at once.

A good pilot program for low-cost or sustainable materials might look like this:

Step 1: Set goals

Set some clear, actionable goals right at the outset. Ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish. In this case, you probably have an idea of how much you’re hoping the material saves you in order for it to be worthwhile, so set a dollar figure you believe is the minimum for you to consider expanding the material to the rest of the project.

Step 2: Set a timeline

You’ll need a clear timeline, so figure out when you plan to start introducing the material into your construction project and when you will shut it down and process the data. A period of three months would be a solid period, because most construction managers examine their finances in depth every quarter, so this would give you a good idea of how a material impacts you during one of these periods.

Step 3: Determine who will be involved

If there are other stakeholders who have an interest in how much these materials will save on the bottom line, or who may be responsible for implementing it, you need to figure that out at the outset. You may need to communicate to your client that you plan on introducing this material in the project, for example, or you need one of your workers to monitor the pilot program for you because you’ll be too busy.

Step 4: Measure data throughout the project

You will need to monitor the performance of the project so you can properly evaluate it later. Use construction management software with strong custom reporting features to track relevant data such as how much you’re spending on these materials versus other materials, how much you could save if you expanded the program to the rest of your project, and other important data.

Step 5: Have a meeting at the end of the program

Get together with your stakeholders at the end of the pilot program period and examine your performance. Compare how it performed with the goal that you set at the start, and talk through any surprises along the way.

Step 6: Make a decision

Now it’s time to ask the important questions.

  • Did it all go smoothly? If so, perhaps it’s time to expand the pilot to the whole project and to future projects, and make this material a permanent part of your business.

  • Did you fail to make your goal, but think it could have gone better with some adjustments? Perhaps there is a way to make it work, you just need to take some lessons learned and try it again for three months.

  • Does it just not make sense for you? It’s perfectly reasonable to find out at the end of a pilot program that it’s not going to work. But you may have learned something during the program that would suggest that another type of material may work better, so that may be worth exploring.

Get started with your pilot program tomorrow

There’s no need to wait to explore the possibility of saving your construction project money. Take a few quick action steps at the site tomorrow to get started.

  • Ask a member of your crew who is most knowledgeable about the materials you use or the most senior member of your staff about what low-cost or reusable/recyclable materials listed above might make the most sense for you to try on your construction project.

  • Brainstorm some goals for cost-savings you’d like to see and a basic structure for how you could introduce the material into your project in a gradual fashion.

  • Create a schedule of when you will begin the pilot program and start making preparations.