Deconstruction & Building Material Reuse: A Tool for Local Governments
New Delta Institute report guides local communities through a smarter deconstruction processes to divert waste from landfills, reduce consumption of virgin materials and promote a more sustainble, circular economy.
Delta Institute is a capable and creative nonprofit organization and one of EPA's trusted TAB providers. Delta Institute collaborates every day with communities to solve some of society's most complex environmental problems and also organizes great events and produces useful resources, including the recent reports Free Green Infrastructure Toolkit for Communities Dealing with Flooding from Delta Institute and Coal Plant Redevelopment Roadmap: A Free Guide for Coal Communities in Transition.
Now Delta Institute has released another timely and highly useful resource published in a report titled: Deconstruction and Building Material Reuse: A Tool for Local Governments and Economic Development Practitioners. The new report examines the spectrum of benefits to local communities and the environment gained by salvaging and reusing construction materials during the residential teardowns and other deconstructions and demolitions, including specific takeaways and tips for local implementation.
Deconstruction is the process of dismantling structures in a way that enables materials to be salvaged. For communities struggling with vacancy and unemployment, deconstruction can serve as a useful tool as they strive towards resilience. In a typical home deconstruction, up to 25% of materials can be reused and up to 70% of materials can be recycled (Figure 1). The harvesting of building materials affords the opportunity for communities to reclaim economic, social, and environmental benefits from their vacant structures. Across the United States municipalities, counties, workforce development practitioners, entrepreneurs and artisans have teamed up to build the market for reclaimed materials. This document provides actionable guidance and tools for municipal managers, economic development officials and civic leaders to advance building material reuse in their community.
Determining the deconstruction strategy
Sometimes referred to as “soft demolition,” the deconstruction process is the manual method used to recover materials, as opposed to traditional demolition, which uses heavy machinery to raze structures and landfills the debris. However, there is a spectrum of approaches that can be used, from full demolition, to “soft-stripping,” to full deconstruction, as shown in Figure 2.
Structures can either be fully deconstructed or “soft stripped,” a process that keeps labor costs lower while salvaging the easiest-to-capture and highest-value components. Deconstruction can take either form, or a hybridized approach that optimizes benefits and costs. Typically, easilyrecoverable, high-value materials may include appliances, cabinetry and architectural salvage. Harder to recover materials include flooring and lumber that maybe old growth. Municipal managers may take a number of factors into consideration when deciding which approach is right for their deconstruction program, but it often comes down to a general cost-benefit analysis.
Municipal managers can use procurement systems to assess costs for demolition and deconstruction. The procurement system may reflect a number of community goals in addition to cost, including keeping valuable materials out of landfills and use of local contractors and workers or workforce development organizations. When the entity determines the performance measure, the bidding contractors than select the strategy that accomplishes those goals with competitive pricing.
Building the market
Deconstruction is about giving building materials a second life. To do this materials must be salvaged from structures, collected, organized, and then reintroduced to the marketplace, as demonstrated in Figure 3. In some markets, reuse warehouses act as a hub, accepting and selling materials, and in other markets, deconstruction contractors sell materials from the site they are dismantling. For marketplace market to be successful, suppliers, sellers, and buyers must be present.
On the supply side, demolition contractors are often the most reliable source of reclaimed building materials, but materials can also be garnered through renovation and construction work as well as from construction contractors and builders. Additionally, building materials can be supplied by homeowners, designers, building supply stores, and waste haulers.
There are several types of organizations that sell building materials back into the marketplace. Those can include contractors, reuse warehouses, non-facility brokers, value added processors, construction and demolition recycling center processors, and architectural salvage sellers. For precise definitions of these market actors, see the glossary.
A robust solution for communities
Deconstruction can offer several environmental, economic and community benefits for communities with high vacancy rates and unemployment.
Those benefits include:
- Environmental benefits
- Reduced toxic dust from job site
- Reduced heavy metal leaching into soil
- Reduced waste to landfills
- Reduced consumption of virgin material Economic benefits
- Jobs from removing structures
- Jobs for hard-to-employ
- Resale of building materials
- Sale of value-added products Social benefits
- Removal of blight
- Potential workforce development partnerships
- Potential for workforce training and contractor training
- Potential for local reclaimed materials to be used in restoration and preservation of historic structures.
Achieving the full array of co-benefits associated with deconstruction often involves the establishment of a local reclaimed building materials warehouse, which should be preceded by an assessment of market potential. Reuse warehouses can be community hubs providing a positive activity space where community members and those from outside the community come to shop for salvaged items, donate materials, learn about home repair and crafts, and socialize. These warehouses are a critical vehicle to develop the building material reuse industry, because they develop both supply and demand in tandem.
Community development practitioners also want to attract building material reuse warehouses, not only because of their positive impact on host communities, but because they support deconstruction – a job-rich alternative to demolition. Not only does deconstruction provide more jobs in the structure removal process, but it also supports transportation, warehousing, reuse, and production jobs.
From an environmental perspective, deconstruction reduces construction and demolition (C&D) waste, reduces air pollution created by demolition, reduces carbon dioxide emissions, abates the need for new landfills and incinerators, preserves resources and saves energy by decreasing the extraction and processing of raw materials, and supports sustainable building processes (ILSR, 2008). With so many direct and co-benefits from deconstruction, municipal leaders and economic development practitioners often want to support the growth of deconstruction in their communities but don’t know where to start. The modules and case studies that follow provide municipal leaders, including government agencies and economic development organizations, with guidance on how to jumpstart a deconstruction initiative and remove local barriers that might hinder progress.
Source: Delta Institute