Why Do We Demolish Buildings Instead of Deconstructing Them For Re-Use?

October 9, 2018
Dismantling buildings piece by piece to preserve the reusable parts within keeps materials out of landfills and creates more jobs than demolition.

Just a few years after starting a non-profit reselling used building materials in the early 1990s, Ted Reiff’s organization, The ReUse People, hit a wall. “We couldn’t get enough materials to supply the demand,” he says. Despite tons of donated and salvaged doors, windows and structural beams coming in to his San Diego-based operation, the amount of people seeking cheap materials for homebuilding and renovation projects was overwhelming. “We were constantly getting cleared out every day.”

So Reiff got a demolition license. But unlike traditional demolition crews that simply knock buildings down with a backhoe, Reiff’s approach was to gradually disassemble the structures, carefully extracting saleable materials like a miner plucking gold nuggets from the ground. Reiff’s company became specialists in a relatively new concept known as deconstruction, dismantling homes piece by piece to preserve the abundant reusable components within.

Reiff was just trying to augment his supplies, but it didn’t take long to realize the broader benefits of what he was doing. Deconstructing a house meant not only that people could get affordable access to building materials, but also that those materials didn’t end up in a landfill — the end point for an estimated 500 million tons (454 million metric tons) of demolition waste in the U.S. annually. Every piece of material saved meant one fewer part that needed to be manufactured, cutting down the use of raw resources and the energy required to process them. And every home deconstructed created about twice as many jobs as a demolition.

Today, more than 20 years after Reiff first started reselling used building materials, deconstruction is slowly being recognized as the environmentally and economically sound solution to the wasteful problem of demolition waste. ...