Deconstruction or Demolition? The Construction sector’s chance to power environmental change
Awareness about the importance of environmentally sustainable building practices and business practices generally has never been higher.
Every day, climate action seems to become more pronounced and companies’ willingness to up their game correspondingly so.
This awareness is beginning to change the way we think about the question of demolition in the construction sector. What was once a sector dominated by heavy machines and piles of rubble is now a space where we think more strategically about the re-use of materials and our impact on the environment.
Investors, builders and developers now have a choice when faced with removing an old building from a project site. And the question thus should be asked: demolition or deconstruction?
Defining the difference
Demolition is the process of razing a structure such that its components are reduced effectively to piles of waste.
This approach is often preferred when working with a tight budget or a strict project deadline and where time is of the essence.
Knocking a building down is quicker than dismantling and it requires less manual labour. It allows a project site to be cleared quickly and can contribute to a more efficient construction process.
The demolition process usually means recycling and sustainable construction practices are impossible to follow. Some rubble can be collected and processed into construction products like aggregate, road base or crusher dust, but the process is on the whole quite not amenable to materials that are not mixed with untreatable or hazardous waste.
What is “deconstruction”?
Deconstruction can be thought of something like ‘unbuilding’. It uses manual labour and sometimes mechanical techniques to dis-assemble structures.
This means that building materials are salvaged, firstly for reuse and then for recycling.
Some key materials types that can be salvaged and recycled include:
- Tiling materials
- Wood products (framework and floorboards)
- Quality fixtures and fittings.
The construction industry and its demolition practices annually contribute some 27 million tonnes of waste or 44 per cent of the total core waste generated in the same period nationally in Australia.
Deconstruction as an approach significantly reduces the amount of construction waste that goes to landfill. This is important because construction and demolition are major landfill contributors.
Unsurprisingly though, deconstruction requires a greater time investment than demolition. According to the NSW Environment Protection Authority, deconstruction takes 55-60% longer than demolition.
This is because materials need to be carefully removed and separated. Further, materials that can be sold for reuse need be handled with extreme caution to ensure their quality for later use is adequate. This often requires more labour time and specialised machinery.
Why deconstruction is gaining momentum
There are three key reasons why deconstruction is beginning to gain ground on demolition as an approach of choice:
- Companies saving on significant disposal and transport costs associated with sending waste to landfill;
- Salvaging recyclable building materials reduces demand for raw materials;
- Companies that deconstruct and recycle materials are doing the right thing by the environment at a time when awareness is as high as ever.
The environmental and social case for deconstruction
Salvaging materials for re-use and recycling offers several benefits to the construction sector (and different players in the value chain), the community and the environment.
As mentioned above, reclaiming a whole range of materials prevents those materials from clogging up landfills, and they can then be repurposed for use in another project or sent to industrial recyclers to go back into the project lifecycle.
Further, deconstruction reduces carbon dioxide production from the manufacture of new materials.
Materials can be donated to NFPs that resell them or use them for community projects. Such donations can even be eligible for tax deductions, which can be claimed by either the homeowner or the contractor.
Salvaged materials also can be incorporated back into the project instead of being donated.
In our own experience, we’ve seen interest in deconstruction and salvage begin to grow in the industry. While it isn’t without its drawbacks, the benefits are likely to start to build as economic, social and environmental pressures create the incentives for organisations to take this practice up.
At a time of heightened alert and awareness around what it means for companies to be sound corporate citizens, this is one approach that can be both economically and environmentally beneficial for all involved, so long as we approach it with the right mindset.