Market Intelligence

Green & Sustainable Construction

Cost Considerations in Building Deconstruction

According to a growing collection of case studies, deconstruction is producing cost savings in projects throughout the U.S., often averaging 30% to 50% less overall than demolition costs.

For example, University of Florida’s Center for Construction and the Environment found deconstruction costs 37% less than demolition in a 2000 study involving deconstruction of six wood frame residences built between 1900–1950.


The materials economics are relatively simple. There is the revenue (for sale—or tax benefit of donation to a nonprofit) from reused or recycled materials. There is then the “value” of avoiding the cost of disposal. For every ton of material diverted from a landfill, there is one less ton of disposal costs. To the extent deconstructed materials can be incorporated into a new building or space on the same site, the savings are two-fold—reduced disposal costs and new material costs.

The most salvageable materials tend to be finish and structural wood, windows and doors, cabinets and casework, masonry, metals (structural steel, doors, grates, grilles, railings, gutters and downspouts, etc.), lighting and plumbing fixtures, and even ceiling tiles and carpet. Among the more difficult items to profitably salvage include any that incorporate hazardous materials and inefficient fixtures (such as toilets, lighting, and mechanical) and appliances. Ductwork from an old building may be contaminated with mold and and/or other harmful substances, so would have to be thoroughly cleaned so that there is no possibility of indoor air quality problems.


Labor costs are higher for deconstruction than for demolition because of the manual work required to un-install materials and then process them, plus the time required to plan and organize and market/sell the salvaged materials.

Effect on the Project Schedule

Because it takes longer to salvage and process materials for deconstruction, versus demolition, additional time needs to be scheduled for it. This can be challenging in a tight time-frame project. It’s important to identify the likely savings up-front in order to make the case for deconstruction. Building owners need to understand the economic and environmental benefi ts in order to buy into the schedule impact.

New methods and equipment, such as de-nailing guns, are being brought into deconstruction to save time. With Bobcats, forklifts, and conveyor belts, quantities of salvaged materials can be handled more effi ciently. Planning ahead and finding buyers or nonprofit recipients for materials also saves time.


Permits for deconstruction are generally similar to those for demolition. Some cities, such as San Jose, California, are promoting deconstruction with innovative permitting practices. Any building, renovation, or demolition permit in the City of San Jose is required to include a construction and demolition debris deposit (CDDD) made against the expected waste to be generated from the project if reuse or recycling do not take place. To reclaim the deposit, the owner or contractor must document the diversion of 50% of the expected waste to certified reuse and recycling companies in the region. (The certification is made by the city to validate that these businesses are legitimate and will process the materials that might be claimed as having been delivered.) If the full 50% diversion is not achieved, the owner or contractor will still receive a portion of their deposit back, relative to the percentage they did, in fact, divert.

Related Articles

This article is an excerpt from the book Green Building: Project Planning & Estimating which can be purchased through the RSMeans Bookstore.

This new 2nd edition has been completely updated with the latest in green building technologies, design concepts, standards, and costs. Includes Means’ Green Building CostWorks CD at no additional cost.

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