Market Intelligence

Green & Sustainable Construction

Building Deconstruction Process

Feasibility & Planning Requirements

Several factors must be considered when investigating the feasibility of building reuse for a particular project, and then planning for it. Among the most important are the condition of the building and materials, the types and quantities of potential reusable and recyclable materials, and the closest markets for the resulting “harvest”. The markets for reclaimed materials can be broken down first into two main categories: the raw commodity materials of timbers, dimensional lumber, stone, brick for reuse and metals for recycling; and the more refined products of windows, doors, cabinetry, interior finishes, mechanical, electrical and plumbing components, etc. Unlike new construction, which consumes disparate materials of choice to make a completed building, deconstruction, or “un-building,” does the reverse, producing a stock of materials that are pre-determined by the structure to be removed, with all the historical, environmental, and physical characteristics that come with them.

Two early feasibility and planning requirements:

1. Site assessment

2. Identifying the local market for salvaged materials

Site assessment involves analyzing the building and site, including salvageable materials, space for equipment and storage/processing of removed materials, presence of hazardous materials, and site and safety constraints for deconstruction. Assessment includes evaluating potentially reusable materials based on type, quality level and condition, quantity, and the installation methods that were used (which will affect their value and the labor to uninstall them).

Because the materials are “as-is”, it is important to ascertain from the potential internal project reuse or external markets, the conditions, quantities, and logistical requirements for the materials that might be produced. Minimum lengths for salvaged dimensional lumber, retaining all the hardware for doors, full versus partial sheets of plywood, and palletizing full lots of brick or stone might be some of the considerations of maximizing value in the markets for these reused materials.

Buildings and the components in the buildings must also be assessed for potential hazards such as asbestos, lead-based paint, PCBs, mercury in lamps and thermostats, refrigerants, etc. A common problem in older buildings and from post-disaster situations is the presence of mold. Older wood structures can also suffer from damage due to rot and various wood-boring organisms. An Environmental Site Assessment may be conducted by a professional inspector, following established standards.

Identifying the local market for reclaimed materials involves weighing costs versus benefits for those that can be recovered from the site and sold or donated to local organizations or individuals. The current price for new materials will affect the value of salvaged ones, as will the season (as it affects construction activity) and the strength of the local construction market as a whole.

Other factors that affect salvaged materials’ value include their condition, grade (e.g., code-approved framing lumber versus lumber with outdated grading stamps or none at all), and whether the items are restricted to a specific use (e.g., a window) versus a number of potential uses (e.g., lumber).

Materials can be sold to salvage retailers or brokers and advertised in various ways, including in newspapers and on the Internet. Generating advance interest is important so that they can be sold promptly for efficiency. If sold directly from the site, transportation costs are avoided. A plan should also be in place for materials that are not sold, but can be donated to nonprofit organizations. The third option, after resale and donation, is recycling, and the last, disposal at a landfill.

G. Bradley Guy, AIA LEED AP, the author of this article, is a building deconstruction and materials reuse consultant and co-founder of Florida Green Building Coalition. This article was adapted from Green Building: Project Planning & Cost Estimating, 3rd Edition


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