The Eco-Benefits of Deconstruction

Here’s a new word for your “green construction” vocabulary. Deconstruction, a noun, means the sorting of materials from a demolition site into four categories. Any particular item might be reused, recycled, salvaged, or discarded. The result of this sorting process is a much smaller waste stream, a second life for several types of materials and products, and a reduced impact of construction on the environment.

Deconstruction has special application to a remodeling project where there is significant demolition, as in the removal of walls and a roof for the addition of a second story. The concept is still in its infancy, but forward-looking remodeling firms are considering how the practice may be incorporated into their routine practices as a way to be more environmentally responsible, especially on larger projects. Here’s how — and why — deconstruction works.

  • When removing materials and products in preparation for a new or expanded section of an existing house, the remodeler or his deconstruction subcontractor engages in “reverse engineering.” This means that the contractor removes materials in the reverse order in which they were initially installed. For example, items such as door handles are removed before the door is taken down, plumbing fixtures are removed before the sink or tub, and lighting fixtures are carefully removed before anything else.
  • Products and materials that are removed in reverse engineering are usually in much better condition than they would be after conventional demolition practices. The remodeler or subcontractor can easily identify and organize the materials for reuse, resale, or recycling.
  • After a product or material is removed from a house, the first consideration is whether it can be reused ‘as is’ or in a slightly refurbished condition in the same project. Resurfacing a bathtub, putting new door and drawer fronts on cabinet boxes, or reusing structural beams are all possible options for some materials.
  • Items that cannot be reused on the same project can often be salvaged for resale or reuse elsewhere. However, deconstruction requires a supply chain, just like new construction materials. Salvaged materials need a local distribution outlet. Fortunately, groups such as Habitat for Humanity and other charitable and for-profit organizations have established outlets across the country. These organizations accept, organize, and sell salvaged materials and products as a revenue source for their core activity, such as building workforce housing. A big step above the “junk yards” of the past, these outlets have higher standards for the quality and condition of the materials they will accept. They are grateful for items in acceptable condition and good working order and can usually enable tax deductions for all accepted donations.
  • In addition, an increasing number and variety of construction materials can be recycled, if not reused, salvaged or resold. Asphalt roofing, concrete, wood, glass, and most plastics, for instance, can be put back into the resource stream and remanufactured into other products.

What remains after the deconstruction process is a much smaller pile of construction waste. As a result, less of the project’s budget is spent on renting dumpsters and hauling debris to the local landfill. The community realizes benefits because the reduction in the waste stream means less need to purchase costly land for more landfills.

As a professional remodeler, we are always on the lookout for how best to balance the needs of our clients, the project, our business, and the community. We are all stewards of the environment, and deconstruction is one option we consider with all of our remodeling projects.

Make it a great day!

David Baud CGR, CGB, CGP

Baud Builders, Inc. PO Box 5708 Wakefield, RI 02880

(401) 789-1176 – Phone (401) 789-2258 – Fax

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