Demolition vs. Deconstruction

Posted by on Jul 7, 2011 in Environmental Sensitivity, Featured | 38 comments

Demolition is used as a generic term to describe the breaking down of a house into its individual parts.  Most of us think of demolition as the indiscriminate destruction of the house and its components, with the landfill as the final resting place for the rubble.  This is an accurate portrayal of how most demolition projects work, and showcases nicely the attitude of a disposable society.

When the scope of our remodel began to engulf the entire house, my mind kept rebelling against the sheer scale of destruction to our home.  I mean, we want to upgrade the house, but blowing it up like that?  That seems terrible for a variety of reasons, but mostly because it would produce so much waste.  So, we ended up trying to figure out what we could save, and what would be lost during the renovation.  The difference between land-filling anything we don’t want and preserving everything of value is the difference between demolition and deconstruction.

It turns out there’s a whole manual dedicated to this subject, by the aptly named Deconstruction Institute.  The manual acts as a primer to demolition safety, as well as a step-by-step set of instructions on how to ‘unbuild’ a house.  The goal is to remove the components of a home in the reverse order in which they were added, allowing the unbuilder to preserve materials of value.  So, the trim gets pulled first, then electrical outlet covers and lights, then walls, etc.  In the end, the salvaged materials will go to another home to be reused, or will be recycled into something new.

Luckily, there are a great many resources available to unburden oneself of unwanted building materials.   Craigslist, Twin Cities Free Market and the ReUse store network are all great ways to give pieces of your house a second life.  A beginning list of what we’ll be able to give up for reuse:

  • Bricks from our facade
  • Lumber (all lumber will be denailed; we’ll reincorporate what we can into the new structures)
  • Trim/molding
  • Ceiling lights and fans
  • Windows
  • Counters
  • Laminate flooring
  • Some hardwood flooring (we’re keeping 90% of it)
  • Sinks & faucets
  • Exterior doors
  • Concrete (which can be recycled)

Unfortunately, some parts of the house will have to be discarded.  A short list of what will go into the dumpster:

  • Plaster (I’ll be honest, this hurts) and lathe
  • Vinyl flooring
  • Bathroom tile
  • Obsolete wiring and switches
  • Stucco (confusingly, this cannot be recycled, though it’s very similar to concrete)

If anyone else has ideas on how to approach deconstruction and preserve some of what will come out of our house, please feel free to add to the discussion.  I’m purposely leaving out the topic of embodied energy, so save any commentary on that until later. :)

Leave a Comment