We thought about naming this post, “You won’t believe what they are doing to old houses that should be destroyed?” but it felt too click bait, so we stuck with what you see up there. The impetus for this was a recent article by WIRED titled “Why Cities Want Old Buildings Taken Down Gently.”
The thing is, as it currently stands, whenever an old building needs to be demolished to make way for something new, the building is usually destroyed, and all the materials end up in the landfill. There is no incentive or obvious space for anyone involved in demolition to think about what to do with the discarded materials. According to the EPA, 45 million tons of construction material ends up in US landfills each year. At the same time, the cost of new construction material is at an all-time high, contributing to our country’s affordable housing crisis. But a lot of the material that ends up in landfills is not at the end of its life. This is material that can be reused. Kitchen sinks, toilets, carpets, cabinets, wooden floors. Not to mention a lot of metal that can be recycled and reused.
But there is another option, and it is called deconstruction, in which a crew takes apart the building by hand making sure to save materials that can have a second life. These are oftentimes pieces with cultural or material significance – first growth wood that is no longer available in the US, or metal railings made in the early 1900s. These materials can then be resold for other projects or reincorporated into the new building. Luckily, some people are taking notice, and cities form Palo Alto to Baltimore are adopting deconstruction policies which, as the WIRED article states “is a green alternative to demolition, sending up to 85 percent less material to landfills”. So here we have another option that is environmentally friendly, can help to reduce construction cost, and creates jobs for people who deconstruct homes. It is a win-win-win. However, as it currently stands, not too many people are aware of the opportunities, and there is still a labor shortage which makes it difficult to find crews trained in deconstruction. However, with the continuing rising cost of construction materials, we see a bright future in reuse and in using one-of-a-kind pieces with history in our newer homes.