Market Intelligence

Green & Sustainable Construction

Deconstruction for Green and Economic Benefit

Building deconstruction is an alternative to traditional demolition for the renovation of buildings or the removal of buildings at end-of life. Relocation of a structure, its renovation or adaptive reuse, are environmentally preferable to building demolition and deconstruction as a means to preserve materials resources in all of these processes.

In the pre-industrial era, materials conservation was driven by the energy and labor intensity to harvest, prepare, and transport them. Reuse of materials provided an economic advantage. In the mid-to late 20th century, the emergence of machine-made and mass-produced materials, chemically complicated materials, and the relatively low cost of oil allowed this basic idea of “waste not, want not” to fall from usage in the creation of built environment. This trend has begun to reverse as:

  • The price of key materials such as metals increases.
  • Disposal costs increase and landfill capacity decreases.
  • The price of transportation increases.
  • Some building materials become scarce or degraded in quality (e.g. old-growth lumber).
  • Demand for green buildings increases.
  • Legislation requiring construction and demolition materials recycling increases.
  • Technologies to make productive use of “waste” increases.
  • There is recognition of the contribution that building materials production and waste make to greenhouse gas emissions.

A recent study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicated that approximately 170 million tons of building waste is generated annually from construction, renovation and demolition activities, as of 2003. Approximately 50% of the total is generated by demolition and 41% is generated from renovation activities, with only 9% generated from new construction activities (U.S. EPA, 2007). Approximately 30% of the materials resulting from buildings (excluding roads and bridges) are recycled, with less than 1% being reused.

Furthermore, state and local legislation requiring C&D waste diversion has increased dramatically over the past 5 years. In 2006, the State of Massachusetts enacted the first landfill ban on selected construction materials of asphalt, brick, concrete, clean wood, and metals. As the construction industry and markets become more mature at handling this stream of diversion, more states and municipalities will likely increase restrictions on the disposal of CRD debris materials.

Another factor supporting deconstruction is the increasing number of used building materials stores. There are over 1,600 building material reuse stores in the U.S. and Canada. Of this number, approximately 700 are Habitat for Humanity (HfH) ReStores, according to HfH International. The average ReStore is over 10,000 square feet and, in aggregate, they produce about $40 million in net revenues per year for their affiliates.

Exerpted from Green Building: Project Planning & Cost Estimating, 3rd Edition, available through RSMeans.


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