A Look at the Origins, Current Trends, and Benefits of Commercial Deconstruction

How does society deal with unusable buildings? Most people don’t give this question much thought, except, maybe, when they pass an abandoned factory or see a boarded-up house. And then, most people just think, “that old, unusable building should be torn down.”

There are better ways to deal with non-useful buildings, however, than just blowing them up or knocking them down. 

Deconstruction is taking a building and its components apart to recover reusable and recyclable materials. It is done in a safe, cost-effective, and resource-saving way. It’s a great way to remove an existing structure and to get some new building parts while you’re at it. 

Deconstruction happens all over the world, and in different ways. Villagers in rural places might take an old house apart to get parts for a new one, while ultra-modern building are often built specifically so they can be deconstructed.

This article from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation gives a great in-detail look at modern deconstruction.


Where did deconstruction begin?

Deconstruction began in ancient times. For thousands of years, people would take stones and bricks from collapsed structures to build their houses. Today, in Europe you can see cottages built of stone from destroyed castles. In fact, in many European towns, often only a few of the buildings are “originals,” while the rest have gone through some level of deconstruction or renovation. And in China, there are small, rural villages where the houses are built from stones that once made the Great Wall. 

Modern deconstruction, on the other hand, is a far different process. Buildings are far more complicated now. Ancient buildings didn’t have phone lines, cable lines, fiber optic lines, electricity, or indoor plumbing, for instance.

Modern deconstruction, thus, takes more skill and knowledge. 


Modern Deconstruction

The industrial era saw the rise of machine-made parts for everything, including building materials. These parts were made on economies of scale. This means that as more were made, the cost per item went down. Thanks to the cheapness and ease of this industry, deconstruction started to fall by the wayside. It was simply easier and cheaper to make new buildings.

This trend has recently and staggeringly been reversed for several reasons, including:

  • Price increases in steel and concrete
  • Increased costs of using landfills
  • Finding spaces for new landfills
  • Increased transportation prices

Read more on why deconstruction became a trend again here.

Modern deconstruction became a trend in the late 20th century. As people looked at the amount of waste coming out of construction and demolition projects, they started to search for better alternatives. Not only does deconstruction create less waste, but it is also an economical alternative to demolishing. 


Environmental Benefits

There are, of course, many benefits to the environment of deconstruction versus demolition as well. Putting less waste in landfills is the principle environmental bonus. When a building is demolished, 100% of it goes to waste. When it is deconstructed, on the other hand, a much smaller amount goes to landfills.

Although demolition usually includes some removal of high-value items before destruction, it is tiny compared to deconstructing the whole building.

Frequently, deconstructed building parts stay in the communities they were originally used in. This means that greenhouse gas emissions for the projects are smaller, too. Less waste material has to be shipped out, and less new material needs to be shipped in.


Economic Benefits

The economic benefits of deconstruction are many. New industries pop up in order to support deconstruction. Skilled workers are needed for deconstruction projects, for instance. Storehouses of salvaged material can be bought and sold as well.

Along with new industries, deconstruction creates new economic cycles. The Circular Economy is discussed throughout countless papers on deconstruction. It used to be that a building would be made by taking materials from the land. When it was demolished, everything would go to waste. The Circular Economy sees these materials being used and reused for years. The building materials—from wood to glass to steel—is not only reused, but improved, and thus have value added. 

Besides the increasing costs of large-scale waste and using landfills, it is often cheaper to deconstruct, particularly today. After workers take a building apart, the materials can be sold or used in another project. Money is saved not only in transporting demolished waste to a landfill, but also in bringing in new materials. And finally, time and money can be saved on new projects, since things like raw lumber and steel won’t need to be cleaned and prepared for use in the new construction site. 

Future Trends in Deconstruction

The future holds a lot of promise for deconstruction projects. Businesses are turning greener, not just for the PR, but for the economic gains as well. Many buildings are now built to be LOFO (“last on first off,” a deconstruction method). 

The biggest hurdle towards deconstruction remains that it takes much more time and skill than demolition. However, when buildings are built to be deconstructed, the process will be easier and far faster. Buildings built for future deconstruction can help spur future deconstruction. Projects won’t have to wait for long periods of time to get materials for new construction, either—they will be right there in the same community where another building was deconstructed.

Companies that build buildings in this way can continue to use their deconstructed materials, or sell them to other companies to recoup the costs of deconstruction and rebuilding.

Many communities require at least 50% of demolished buildings to be recycled. 

Communities are also passing laws to encourage deconstruction. The benefit to cities is obvious. Commercial deconstruction companies can become a fixture of their economies.


Deconstruction Contractors

Reliable Commercial is the clear choice for construction, and deconstruction contractors. We have served general contractors across Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma for over 35 years. Reliable Commercial is composed of a highly-professional team, and has competitive pricing to boot. If you have a deconstruction project, contact us today for the best service money can buy for your construction—and deconstruction—needs. Consider deconstructing rather than hiring demo contractors. It could be cheaper, and will definitely be better for the world.