Residential Deconstruction is an alternative to home demolition before starting a new project of house remodeling or new construction. It means carefully dismantling the constructed components of a house so the materials can be salvaged and reused within the new plan, or in other projects. Materials are typically removed in the opposite order in which they were installed, to maximize reuse. Materials that can’t be reused can be recycled instead. This systematic approach to using and reusing materials more productively over their entire life cycle is a part of EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management (SMM). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s SMM Strategic Plan for 2017 – 2022 identifies a key priority to advance deconstruction as part of the SMM in the Built Environment including roads, buildings, bridges, and other infrastructure.
Benefits of Home Deconstruction
The EPA advises that deconstruction is economically and environmentally beneficial as it can conserve resources, reduce waste, enhance resilience to natural and man-made disasters, and minimize the environmental impacts of the materials used.
- Waste Reduction: In the deconstruction process we recognize the value of materials and their ability to have a second life. Salvaging reusable building materials reduces the amount of construction waste sent to landfills. According to the EPA, construction and demolition (C&D) waste accounts for more than two-thirds of all waste in the U.S. Home renovations and remodels account for ninety percent of C&D debris. For example, the weight of demolition debris from a typical residential kitchen remodel is equivalent to the weight of four years of curbside recycling.
- Reusing building materials reduces the demand for natural resources. According to Budget Dumpster, a typical 2,000-square-foot home can produce up to 6,000 feet of reusable lumber when deconstructed. Reusing building materials saves about 95% of the energy that would be required to make the same materials by mining and processing raw natural resources.
- Deconstruction reduces the amount of noise and air pollution that is often caused by tearing down a structure. It also reduces the water alternatively used in regular demolition to lessen the amount of dust and pollution.
- Deconstruction generates jobs and creates careers in the recycling industry. The EPA’s Recycling Economic Information (REI) Report found that in 2012, recycling C&D materials produced just under $10 billion in wages and over 175,000 jobs.
- Quality Materials: According to Home Resource, lumber from earlier decades is many times denser, drier, and stronger than modern lumber, and many reclaimed materials are prized for their quality.
- Donated reclaimed building materials, which are more affordable than new materials, help people at all income levels improve the livability of their homes and neighborhoods.
The main challenges are time and money, but both can be overcome.
Deconstruction may be more expensive than demolition but you can consolidate the cost with tax deductions.
Budget Dumpster shares that the total upfront house deconstruction cost can range between $20,000-$25,000, compared with $10,000-$15,000 for traditional demolition. Yet, the tax benefits of deconstruction can close the gap in cost at the end of the project. Materials from a deconstruction project are tax-deductible when donated to a qualified nonprofit building reuse center such as Home ReSource. These tax benefits usually result in significant savings over conventional demolition for a home or building owner.
The deconstruction process generally takes longer than demolition. Dumpsters estimate the deconstruction process takes between one and ten days, depending on the portion of the structure that is deconstructed and the parts that are planned to be demolished. Habitat for humanity claims that its deconstruction services can take as little as one day of work.
The best solution to overcome deconstruction challenges is to design for deconstruction. Ideally, planning for waste reduction begins as early as the initial building design. Just as buildings can be designed for flexibility to accommodate change, and for ease of alteration, buildings can also be designed to eventually be deconstructed.
Planning for deconstruction involves using durable materials and designing building assemblies so that materials can be easily separated when removed.
The concept of designing a building thinking of its end of life is called circular construction and is being researched and piloted.
Unfortunately, demolition is still more prevalent in most cities in the U.S but some local municipalities are making an effort to change that.
Here is a list of the states that banned the disposal of construction and demolition materials or hold other recycling ordinances to increase recycling rates and divert materials from landfills.
The city of Palo Alto, CA, banned demolition altogether and is promoting deconstruction.
Portland, OR banns demolition for specific projects and provides a list of certified deconstruction contractors.
Cities such as San Jose, CA incentivize deconstruction in various ways. In Seattle, instead of holding demolition while waiting for the construction permit to be issued, you may receive a deconstruction permit before the construction permit is issued.
Mitigating climate change is a substantial component of climate resilience. Adaptation efforts will only get more challenging if we don’t protect the environment. As mentioned, there are multiple environmental and social benefits to house deconstruction vs. demolition.
Another crucial aspect of climate resilience is our community resilience. Creating jobs and protecting our immediate surroundings enhances our resilience as a community.
Note that within the process of deconstructing and salvaging building materials, we need to make sure the reused materials are of high quality and not damaged to be able to perform for years ahead and can protect our homes from extreme weather events.
How to Deconstruct a House?
Despite the challenges, house deconstruction is the right decision. So where do you start?
The first step should be checking with your city/county for relevant deconstruction building codes and for incentives you can benefit from.
While some house components can be dismantled fairly easily, it is recommended to hire a professional to disassemble the building materials.
When searching for local deconstruction services, note that contractors sometimes use deconstruction and demolition interchangeably. Make sure that the services include carefully taking apart items and salvaging them. House deconstruction is sometimes called “Sustainable Demolition” or “Green Demolition.”
Habitat for Humanity provides deconstruction services and pick up of salvaged items. They also run the ReStore program with stores selling salvaged building materials throughout the country. See additional deconstruction services below.
To utilize the tax benefits, you should find an IRS-qualified appraiser and a licensed deconstruction company for your project. The appraiser will determine the materials that can be salvaged and estimate the donation's value. Many materials in your home can be usable, even after years of wear and tear.
Reusable materials may include dimensional lumber, concrete, bricks, windows, doors, siding, cabinets, appliances, plumbing products, flooring, and more. Find second-life ideas for building materials from the EPA.
Rebuying Construction and Demolition Materials
Buying used C&D materials and recycled content products for your construction project can help the local economy and lower the construction cost. In addition to known used markets such as Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, there are more recent initiatives such as Freecycle and Reusewood.
EPA provides more information on purchasing recovered materials and the type of products available.
Here are inspiring non-profit organizations across the U.S that sell salvaged building materials, provide education on deconstruction, and many also offer deconstruction or C&D recycling services:
- Second Chance Inc, Baltimore, MD provides deconstruction services for buildings and homes, salvages usable materials, and makes donated items available to the public for reuse. They use the revenue generated to provide job training and workforce development.
- Rebuilding Exchange in Chicago and Evanston, IL, provide training in the building trades, skills development, and access to careers. They also recruit, train, and operate a professional and inclusive deconstruction workforce.
- Community Forklift in Edmonston, MD is a nonprofit reuse center for home improvement supplies. They collect donations of unwanted and salvaged building materials and make them available to the public at a low cost.
- The ReUse People of America, Oakland CA, offer building materials donation and deconstruction options, building materials collection and distribution, reclaimed building materials and lumber, training, and consulting services.
- Rethos, Saint Paul, and Winona, MN offer education programs, hands-on workshops, and classes on reusing and rehabbing old buildings.
- HomeResource collects and sells reusable materials, channels materials to those in need, and provides work opportunities and education.
- Build Reuse, also known as the Building Materials Reuse Association (BMRA) encourages the recovery, reuse, and recycling of building materials in the U.S. They are committed to developing social investment and workforce development programs in the deconstruction industry.
Deconstruction is not necessarily the easy choice before starting a remodeling project or building a new home. It can take longer and be more costly than demolition. Therefore, demolition is still more popular.
And yet, home deconstruction is the preferred choice for the environment and your community. By planning ahead and researching incentives and relevant building codes at local municipalities, deconstruction can also save time and money.
There is still a way to go to make deconstruction more mainstream.
We need more local and national policies to mandate deconstruction as well as more incentives to help decision-makers choose deconstruction over demolition.
We need to continue raising awareness among homeowners about deconstruction. Homeowners should be provided with information about the benefits of carefully taking apart a structure versus ripping it off. Easy access to government incentives, codes, methods and organizations that facilitate the process are key to driving change.
Lastly, we need more organizations and home deconstruction companies like those mentioned above to make deconstruction a common practice and to provide education and training for contractors and construction professionals.
Help us spread the word. Share your deconstruction experience with us.