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Business & Education >>  Construction >>  Managing Waste >>  Deconstruction

Residential demolition activities produce an estimated 70 - 115 pounds per square foot. The disposal costs for these projects reflect these higher waste levels when compared to new construction. Although, some materials can be salvaged or recycled using a phased approach, (recycling concrete during foundation removal), many demolition waste materials are commingled making separation difficult and costly. One method of increasing waste salvage, or reuse, and lowering disposal costs is called deconstruction.

Deconstruction is a process of building disassembly and material salvage. This process is not new but has increased in popularity due to the benefits that it offers a range of audiences. Deconstruction means taking apart portions of a building and removing some or all of the contents for recovery. Materials such as equipment and appliances, metals, electrical fixtures, wood timbers and flooring, architectural features such as moldings, doors and knobs, masonry, and more may be salvaged from a residential building. Depending on the nature and condition of the materials, deconstruction may be a small part of the demolition process or may take the place of demolition activities.

Some Benefits of Deconstruction

  • Avoid replacement costs or create income from salvaged materials
  • Avoid landfill consumption
  • Avoid disposal costs
  • Use of smaller equipment in sites that may have limited access and clearance
  • Job training and economic development for communities
  • Reduce energy required to manufacture and produce new materials and associated pollution
  • Reduce site impacts such as dust, soil compaction and loss of ground cover

The workforce training and economic benefits of deconstruction drive a strong interest by leaders in many communities to explore opportunities and include specifications for deconstruction, especially in public housing programs. These efforts in turn are helping to strengthen market development for salvaged materials. A contractor may also find opportunities to join with these leaders to obtain funding and low-cost laborers.

With careful planning, deconstruction projects can be cost competitive and have shown valuable returns. (See case studies in resources listed below). The work is labor intensive. Many tools are the same as those in a contractor's toolbox and new tools are being developed, such as a pneumatic nail extractor, to reduce the labor involved. Even on a tight construction schedule, deconstruction can work.

A deconstruction project of any scale requires careful consideration. Pre-planning includes:

  • a thorough building assessment by a qualified professional with a solid understanding of residential construction, hazardous material identification, and salvage markets,
  • analysis of existing markets for used building materials, (Visit the Materials Exchange portion of this Guide)
  • assess and prepare for sufficient storage space and adequate protection for materials,
  • obtain permits and clarify requirements of local officials,
  • contract language with clear procedures and intended end-uses, and
  • training of on-site workers.

The safety of workers and other material handlers are a number one priority. Schedule for removal and isolation of hazardous materials prior to full-scale deconstruction activities to reduce potential exposure.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, A Guide To Deconstruction,
U.S. Department of Energy Federal Energy Management Program, Greening Federal Facilities, Chapter 7.4,
California Integrated Waste Management Board, Job Site Source Separation,

Additional Resources:

Tools -

A Guide To Deconstruction - Subtitled as 'An Overview of deconstruction with a focus on Community Development Opportunities complete with deconstruction project profiles and case studies', this guide actually provides something for everyone. Gain details on the benefits and the types of deconstruction, important tips on assessing buildings, a discussion of labor strategies, and tips for managing salvaged materials. National Association of Home Builders Research Center for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2000.
- (slow to load - but worth it)
Building Disassembly and Material Salvage: The Riverdale Case Study - In an effort to address building industry and property owner questions, deconstruction of a 2000 square foot, 4 unit, residential building in urban Baltimore County, Maryland was performed, documented and analyzed in comparison to demolition. The report discusses industry issues, (environmental, regulatory, worker, and logistical), project results (labor studies, quantities of materials managed, and cost analysis), and recommendations for future projects. National Association of Home Builders Research Center for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1997.
'Deconstruction: Back to the Future for Buildings?' - This six page article examines the place of deconstruction by looking at building design, materials management and costs. A checklist is provided "as guidance for maximizing deconstruction's potential". Environmental Building News, Volume 9, Number 5, May 2000, p 1, by Peter Yost.
Strategies for Waste Reduction of Construction and Demolition Debris from Buildings - A factsheet aimed toward local government., building owners, developers, and contractors. It provides an overview of case studies with a summary of what was learned: strategies, cost benefits and Q and A. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2000.
Difficult Logistics Lead to an Environmental Solution - Case study of one residential deconstruction on Mercer Island, Washington. A difficult access, lower deconstruction bid, and pre-sell approach for architecturally significant features turned a potential demolition into a deconstruction project saving approximately $9,000 in final costs. King County Solid Waste Division, 1998.
Deconstruction at Work: Deconstruction Building #28 at Stowe Village - Case study of six public housing units in Hartford, Connecticut. This factsheet provides a brief summary of the project results and quantitative community benefits. Institute for Local Self-Reliance, 1998.

Building a Deconstruction Company: A Training Manual for Facilitators and Entrepreneurs - A report for anyone interested in starting a deconstruction company. It provides details from setup and funding, to planning, deconstruction, and material resale. Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), 2001. Order from: ILSR or phone (202) 232-4108.

Assistance -

The Used Building Materials Association is a non-profit, membership organization based in Nova Scotia. It represents companies and organizations involved in the acquisition and/or redistribution of used building materials. UBMA provides publications and a well-known annual conference to its' members.
-, telephone 1-877-221-UBMA (8262).
The Construction Materials Recycling Association is devoted exclusively to the needs of the rapidly expanding North American construction waste & demolition debris processing and recycling industry, this organization provides information and campaigns to increase the acceptance of used materials. CMRA also publishes a bi-monthly newsletter with news, commodity prices, and in-depth reporting for the C&D industry called the Construction Materials Recycler
-, telephone (630)-548-4510.
The National Association of Demolition Contractors was formed to foster goodwill and the exchange of ideas with the public, governmental agencies, and contractors engaged in the demolition industry. The NADC guides members and sponsors educational programs to increase public understanding of all phases of the demolition industry.
-, telephone (800)-541-2412.
(Fact Sheet 3 of 10)

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