Natural resources are decreasing, and the rate of resource consumption is unsustainable. Deconstruction is a green building practice alongside material reuse and sale and distribution of salvaged materials. The process involves salvaging material waste from demolitions and circumnavigating traditional demolition waste practices. Traditional waste management would have building and structural waste disposed in landfills. Deconstruction could help communities and by extensions nations reach emission reduction targets.
‘Whole House Reuse’ Project was a reuse project in Christchurch, New Zealand. An entire house was dismantled for material recovery and then the retrieved material was used to make secondary materials. A case study conducted by Zaman et al. estimated the savings from deconstruction to be 502,158 MJ of embodied energy and percent carbon emission of around 27,029 kg (CO2e) (Zaman et al., 2018). The case study of this project concluded that the future of deconstruction looked bright. There were “huge prospects regarding resource recovery, emission reduction, employment, and small business opportunities using deconstruction of the old house” (Zaman, 2018). However, costs associated with labor compared to resale value of harvested and remade items will greatly impact the success of deconstruction initiatives (Zaman, 2018). Zaman concluded that given what is known of human impacted climate change and human caused degradation of the environment, it is crucial to acknowledge and support deconstruction initiatives as valid alternatives.
Projects conducted in Portland, Oregon like the NE 6th Ave, NE 28th, and Van Houten Ave all had unique features that motivated participants but also point to the benefits of such initiatives. NE 6th was Earth conscious vs. financially focused, ultimately choosing to minimize their environmental impact. Utilizing modern equipment and handheld tools, constructors were focused on efficiency, saving time and energy, for a post project salvation of 80% (Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, 2017). Older materials, “water heaters and heating and cooling sources from the 1990s were replaced with tank-less water heaters and energy-saving heating and cooling systems in the new building” (Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, 2017). NE 28th used hybrid deconstruction methods and Van Houten Ave underwent on-the-job management training, respectively. These deconstruction projects are evidence of important benefits of deconstruction.
Unfortunately, there are some downsides. There is not an established market in the city of Portland despite being the first city to require that certain demolition projects be deconstructed. Also, Portland has imposed hiring requirements of hiring unemployed and underemployed city residents, but contractors do not want to comply with such ordinances cite costly training and the need for subsidies (Kilmer, 2018). Bob Bauman, who proposed the ordinance, states they hear all the time that, “hiring and training low-income, ex-offenders can be costly” (Kilmer, 2018).
Additionally, not everything can be used. Aluminum frame windows form the 70s and high flow toilets no longer comply with modern energy codes and some items contain hazardous or toxic materials like asbestos (Koffman, 2017). Additionally, the onus of work falls upon the reclaimer. If attempting to rebuild a recycled or green structure it can be incredibly time consuming to find the “perfect” material or object. Stock of the salvaged material changes frequently and quantities can be limited therefore buyers and builder will need to shop early and often. It can also be tough to find a contractor who is willing to work with you on your project. The projects are time consuming. Learn more about some of the setbacks here.
Ultimately and like with all things of this nature, deconstruction efforts can help save the planet by utilizing cyclical economies to the best of our capacity. It can provide jobs for the underemployed and unemployed. Deconstruction has environmental and social impact; we just have to be willing to invest in it.
Deconstruction Program: https://www.portland.gov/bps/decon
Deconstruction Case Studies: https://www.portland.gov/bps/decon/news/2017/11/29/deconstruction-case-studies
Something old, something new. (Re)using salvaged building materials:
Resource Harvesting through a Systematic Deconstruction of the Residential House: A Case Study of the ‘Whole House Reuse’ Project in Christchurch, New Zealand
The Problems with Deconstruction: https://urbanmilwaukee.com/2018/07/05/the-problems-with-deconstruction/