Deconstruction is like Lego bricks — you build, and then you dismantle the bricks to build something else. Building deconstruction means selectively dismantling building components so you can reuse the parts in future construction projects.
Traditionally old houses have been demolished or to clear a building site, and the new house is built from new materials. With the green movement, there is more deconstruction or harvesting old materials commonly considered waste and reclaiming it for new construction projects to add character, save money and reduce the amount of debris sent to landfills.
Like children's Lego blocks, buildings can now be broken down into reusable materials and you'd be surprised what they are recycling.
Maybe you've already done some deconstruction when remodeling your home. It's common to take displaced kitchen cabinets and put them in the garage for more storage. When we put an addition on our Victorian home to create an open kitchen/family room, the kitchen cabinets moved to the apartment on the third floor. It was fun watching my builder figure out where the corner cabinets would go, and finally he found the perfect corner inside my new walk-in closet. The lesson I learned – trust your builder/remodeler who has lots more experience than you.
This article is the first in a series on deconstruction and green building:
- DEconstruction: Legos for Building, introduces deconstruction and how it saves money.
- Green Home Design and Deconstruction, explains deconstruction an an integral part of the building life cycle.
- Buy Versus Reuse Building Materials, provides an overview on reusing building materials.
How Deconstruction Works
Assuming you're building a new house or remodeling, the first thing you need to do is identify all the components of the existing house you can reuse and you'll be surprised at how many there are. One deconstruction project started with 660 sq ft house. The owners decided to make their new house an experiment to see if they could recycle everything without spending more money than traditional, new construction.
The REX Project, for Reuse Everything Experiment (visit owner Shannon Quimby's blog), was widely successful as the homeowners saved $40,000 over the cost of building a 2800 sq ft home. Rather than try to explain how they did it, watch the video and see for yourself. Common items that get reused include kitchen and bathroom cabinets, sinks and related hardware, doors and windows, flooring, wood trim that adds character to a house and even siding, especially wood shingles that add a finishing touch to the front of a house.
So the first step in deconstruction is to develop a list of local contacts who are able to take and reuse materials that you're not going to use yourself. If you can't identify a way to salvage certain materials, they'll have to go to a landfill but don't despair as there are more and more ways to recycle materials. Here's a list to get you started:
- Architectural salvage businesses have been around a long time. Living in the northeast with lots of older homes, we're used to going here to find parts to repair broken windows.
- Reclamation yards and dismantling contractors that are involved in deconstruction projects all the time, have a much better idea of what they can use.
- Not-for-profit groups like Habitat for Humanity's ReStores that offer both new and used items for home construction.
- Community networks like the Freecycle Network offer another option although you won't know which items people want until you advertise them.
Ready, Set … Wait!
There are some materials that you won't be able to recycle, or at least not without substantial costs. Lead paint and asbestos are the most common hazardous materials that must be handled carefully and disposed of properly.
One Greenworx project with many layers of lead paint and asbestos required abatement (involves certified contractors trained to follow government prescribed rules for removing hazardous materials) first. They started deconstruction with the roof and worked their way down to the dirt, sorting and separating materials for recycling and reuse at every step of the project. According to Recycling News: Deconstruction vs Traditional Demolition, “…
The project generated a total of 162.7 tons of material, of which 130.16 tons were recycled and salvaged, achieving a diversion rate of 81.29% on the project.”
Deconstruction Steps to Follow
It's common to remove larger, easy to handle components first like appliances, windows and doors, cabinets and trim. Deconstructing or “soft-stripping” these non-structural items which may also include boilers (or furnaces), hot water heaters, toilets, bathtubs/showers and sinks, allowed the Peoria Housing Authority to $2,500/house before demolition of 400 single family homes.
As building components are dismantled, they need to be stored in a secure location to prevent theft. It's also important this be a dry location to avoid water damage. Once items are separated from the structure, they will be cleaned and refinished in preparation for reuse so another important feature is keeping an accurate inventory of materials on hand for your new home.