The art of deconstruction

The art of deconstruction

By Paul Reeves on 03/16/2009

The demolition numbers
In the United States, it is estimated that 10 to 25 percent of all solid waste entering the waste stream comes from construction and demolition. Experts estimate that 80 to 90 percent of demolition waste could be reused or recycled. The increase in costs associated with sending materials to the landfill, coupled with an ever-increasing number of landfill regulations, has driven the search for new and creative ways to keep these materials out of the waste stream.

What is deconstruction?
The relatively new deconstruction industry is being looked at as a tool for reducing the flow of demolition debris to our landfills. Deconstruction is generally defined as the process of disassembly or “unbuilding.” Work is typically done by hand in a controlled process that lends itself to the careful separation of reusable and recyclable materials from materials that will ultimately go to the landfill. Deconstruction projects range in scope, and may include the removal of materials in preparation for remodeling jobs, “cherry picking” of usable building materials prior to demolition, and complete hand disassembly of structures—all with an eye towards keeping the maximum amount of material out of the landfill.

Who does it?
While a relatively small number of for-profit deconstruction companies have sprung up across the country to address the need for this activity, a larger number of nonprofit organizations are getting involved in the deconstruction industry. In North Carolina, Habitat for Humanity affiliates have played a leading role in providing deconstruction services. For a number of years, Habitat for Humanity resale stores across the state have raised money for their building programs by selling donated and reclaimed building materials. Habitat affiliates in Wake County, Charlotte and Asheville, among others, have launched successful deconstruction programs that provide a full range of benefits—not just for the affiliate, but also to the communities that they serve.

What are the benefits?
The benefits of deconstruction versus demolition are far reaching and include:

  • The diversion of reusable and recyclable building materials from the landfill
  • Providing a source of good quality, affordable building materials for reuse in the community
  • The creation of new living-wage jobs in the community
  • Providing funding for nonprofit missions in the community
  • Salvaged materials can represent a tax-deductible contribution to charity and/or be used toward points for various green-building certifications

How do I get involved?
If you are an individual or a business, a contractor or a developer, an architect or a designer, and you are embarking on a remodeling or demolition project, please contact your local Habitat for Humanity to see if they offer any deconstruction services. If they don’t, perhaps they’ll be able to refer you to an organization that does. Everyone benefits when deconstruction is included as a part of the project plan. Deconstruction efforts can have a real impact on a community. Let’s all work toward making the incorporation of deconstruction into project plans the rule rather than the exception!

Paul Reeves is the Home Store Development Manager for Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity and is responsible for Habitat’s deconstruction efforts in Buncombe County. He can be reached or at (828) 777-0743.