Giving Back: Green Demolition

Thanksgiving is finally here! And this year we have so many reasons to be grateful: we are back at work, all of us are healthy and we continue to be inspired by our projects and homeowners. We want to give back to our communities and beyond this season. If you are searching for ways to help, please consider supporting organizations like My Friend’s Place, TreePeople or Heal the Bay. Another way we give back all year long is deconstruction.

Wait, what?

As architects focused on designing sustainable, comfortable contemporary and traditionally inspired homes, we are often required to remove an aged existing home from the site. Green demolition, or building deconstruction, takes a house apart, piece by piece, down to the foundation. The materials are then donated for reuse or repurposed; and most importantly, kept out of the landfill. 

Deconstruction vs. Demolition

In contrast to demolition – which involves wrecking, razing, or destroying a structure into a heap of debris – building deconstruction, or stick demo/green demo, is the process of systematically dismantling all or part of a building so that most of the resulting materials can be recycled, repurposed or reused. Through this process, the existing structure can find new life.

Green Demo at TBA

Along with other sustainable practices, we always advocate for stick demo when the structure and site allow for it. Our standard practice and general requirement is that deconstructive demolition be performed (as opposed to demolition) so that any existing materials be recycled or reused. We delineate this in our General Specifications: 

DISASSEMBLE ENTIRE PORTION OF EXISTING STRUCTURE TO BE REMOVED AND SALVAGE ALL QUALIFYING MATERIAL FOR DONATION TO “DECONSTRUCTION & REUSE NETWORK” OR “HABITAT FOR HUMANITY” OR AS REQUESTED BY OWNER.

In an industry where budget and timeline are priorities, we are passionate about explaining this method so homeowners can understand the best option for them and our planet.

The Deconstruction Process

Deconstruction begins with two consultants. First, a qualified deconstruction appraiser determines what materials can be salvaged and estimates the value of the donations. They prepare a report including each component/quantity to be donated and its fair market value, which can be submitted to the IRS for tax deduction purposes. Salvaged items include everything from doors, windows and cabinets to lighting and plumbing fixtures, framing lumber, roofing materials, flooring and bricks. Then, a deconstruction company dismantles the house, sorts the materials and transports them to centers for recycling or resale at non-profit organizations like Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores.

The Benefits

  • Divert debris from landfills & conserve natural resources: According to the EPA, 145 million tons of construction and demolition debris were sent to landfills in 2018. Reducing the disposal of these materials can conserve landfill space; lead to fewer disposal facilities, potentially reducing the associated environmental issues; and offset the environmental impact associated with the extraction and consumption of virgin resources and production of new materials.
  • Provide opportunity for the community: Families and communities can acquire recycled materials for an affordable price and keep materials local when shopping at places like Habitat’s ReStores.
  • Tax incentive: All materials removed and donated to a qualified 501(c)3 organization can be claimed by the homeowner on their taxes as a donation at fair market value – a significant tax incentive often worth more than the upfront costs

Though we strongly believe the benefits greatly outweigh the drawbacks, green demolition does require upfront costs and sometimes an extended timeline – since the materials need to be carefully removed, often by hand, and preserved in usable condition. Because of this intricate process, choosing green demo can add anywhere from several days to several weeks to a job; and can cost significantly more at the start than standard demolition. However, the tax deductions can ultimately save you money. And, when the process is complete, the knowledge that we have contributed to the betterment of our community and our environment is priceless.

A Deconstruction Story: LEED Gold Sustainable Home

When one of our clients found the perfect family property in Studio City, they jumped at the chance to build a new home – with a strong emphasis on sustainability from start to finish. To remove the existing house, they opted for green demolition. A crew carefully dismantled the home, starting with the interior and ending with the exterior: the reverse engineering of constructing a house. The incredible removal, de-nailing, bundling, counting and sorting work was all done by hand, resulting in a treasure trove of donated reusable materials. The homeowner was able to receive a tax deduction for their time and efforts; and the completed home achieved LEED Gold certification, demonstrating the importance of sustainability within its design.

For more information on deconstruction, see the resources from Long-Beach based ReUse Network or the EPA’s Guide to Sustainable Management of Construction and Demolition Materials. And learn more about our team’s commitment to sustainability here.