Market Intelligence

Green & Sustainable Construction

Building Deconstruction

What Exactly Is Deconstruction?

Building deconstruction is the disassembly of building components to recover the maximum amount of reusable and recyclable materials in a safe, environmentally responsible, cost-effective manner. Generally, buildings are deconstructed in the reverse order of how they were constructed—last on, first off (LOFO). All salvageable items are removed and reused on the site for a new project, sold, or donated. Non-salvageable items are recycled to the extent possible, and the remaining debris is taken to the landfill. Deconstruction can be applied to total building removal, and also to remodeling.

Breaking Down Disposal Costs

Materials can be categorized based on “variable disposal fees,” which are becoming the norm in a growing number of communities. These fees are based on individual materials and their condition (e.g., separated from other debris) and are also determined by the materials that local recovery facilities and landfills are able to process. Those that can be handled most efficiently, in terms of disposal and recycling, will have lower charges (or sometimes no charge), as compared to disposal of commingled debris. Some examples:

  • Clean concrete—unpainted and not mixed with other organic materials or contaminants.
  • Clean wood—unpainted, untreated, with or without nails, and not mixed with other materials or contaminants.
  • Clean asphalt—asphalt materials not mixed with organic or other materials.
  • Clean asphalt shingles—not mixed with other materials and not containing asbestos.
  • Organic land-clearing debris—“green” waste not mixed with other C&D debris or household waste.
  • Metals—Non-ferrous metal, such as copper and aluminum, commands a higher price, through ferrous metals, such as steel and iron, also have a positive value.

Generally speaking, there will always be charges for disposing of commingled construction and demolition debris. The threshold at which disposal becomes a better economic option than deconstruction with source separation of materials will be determined by:

  • The value of the recovered materials
  • The cost of disposal
  • Whether the savings produced by deconstruction can offset the added labor and transportation of reclaimed materials that it requires

The most sensitive cost factor in this equation is the amount of added labor needed to achieve sufficient value in recovered materials.


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, 2nd Edition.

Visit Yestermorrow Design/Build School for upcoming Deconstruction courses.


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