Property Damage & Disaster Restoration Blog: Long Island & New York City

Building Deconstruction: Giving Building Materials a Second Life

Posted on Fri, Nov 04, 2011 @ 10:28 AM

As a baby boomer who has spent over 35 years in the architectural and real estate development professions, I'm aware that the current economic downturn has made many of my peers revaluate where they are going in both their personal and professional lives. Some have regretfully waived the defeat flag and headed for retirement. Others have reinvented themselves in second careers, and in so doing given themselves exciting new lives.

In an analogous rebirth, perfectly good building material that once would have been buried in a landfill is now enjoying a second life through creative reuse.

Building-materials reuse was once considered the backwater of do-it-yourself homeowners on a limited budget. Today reuse serves a vital role within the mainstream of state-of-the-art design and construction, in both the residential and commercial sectors of the industry. This trend is driven by building professionals and building owners who have become more conscious of the financial and environmental benefits of materials reuse and the potential tax benefits of choosing deconstruction over demolition.

In California, an entirely new driver is the new CalGreen Building Code, adopted in 2011. Although building industry professionals have mixed opinions of the code, it is now the law. The code mandates requirements that encourage the adaptive reuse of materials and, in some municipalities, actually offer developers and owners incentives for creatively reusing building materials. Although the code only affects construction in California, a similar set of codes and mandates is in the works with the International Code Council, which will affect the majority of states when adopted over the next few years.

The reuse of building materials falls into three basic categories:

1. Conventional reuse of materials
2. Adaptive reuse of materials
3. Recycled content reuse of materials

The conventional reuse of building materials involves building or remodeling with materials salvaged from older structures. One of my favorite examples is the "Big Dig House." The Big Dig was one of the largest infrastructure projects in North America in the late 20th century and involved the creation of a major loop transportation system around the city of Boston. The Big Dig House was constructed with over 60,000 pounds of salvaged material from structures that were demolished or deconstructed in the path of the Big Dig. The final construction cost was approximately half that of a comparable custom home built with conventional new materials.

The Big Dig House, Boston, MAThe Big Dig House, Boston, MA

Adaptive reuse involves salvaging a material that was used for one purpose in its original structure and reusing it for a different purpose within a new or remodeled structure. For example, a glass curtain wall from a commercial building might be used to create a new residential sun room. A more spectacular example is the Malibu "Wing House" in which architect David Hertz used wings from a retired 747 jetliner as the roof of a new custom home.

The Wing House, Malibu, CA

Taking Hertz's vision to the extreme is a custom hotel suite in Costa Rica constructed from the entire fuselage of a recycled 727. If planes could talk, this one would tell you what a great second life it's having at the beach!


 

The third and final category of building material reuse is recycled building material content, which involves taking previously used material and, through some type of manufacturing process, turning it into new building material. This is an exciting niche within the building industry that has inspired both small entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies to come up with new products made from old products.

New counter tops made from recycled wine bottles New counter tops made from recycled wine bottles

 

Blog Post Written by Wally Geer of The ReUse People of America.  And posted on their Velvet Crowbar Blog

 

Tags: material reuse, salvaged building materials, conventional reuse, building deconstruction, sustainable, deconstruction, reuse

My Response to Editorial on Town of Brookhaven's 'Blight into Light'

Posted on Thu, May 20, 2010 @ 05:11 PM

Dear Supervisor Mark Lesko,

I have just finished reading the Cablevision Editorial on your "Blight into Light" project for the Town of Brookhaven.  Let me commend you on a great idea and the amazing job you have done in only a short time in office.  I hope other town leaders follow you down the path of sustainability sooner rather than later.   

My only concern with your plan is what are you going to do with the old homes and buildings?  How are they going to be removed?  The "Blight into Light" project is great for the revitalization of these neighborhoods and the Long Island community but I feel there will be a blight on the "Blight into Light" projects if current demolition practices are used to remove the old structures from these communities. 

Traditional bulldozer style demolition hurts the very Long Island Community that you are trying to revitalize.  Buildings, like everything, have a life-cycle.  When a building is no longer fit for use and has to come down, does this happen just as all of its parts and components wear out?  Most old buildings have some systems and building materials with useful lives.  The trick is efficiently identifying the materials and getting them out of the building.  When redeveloping a Long Island property, it is difficult to see the old buildings as anything but obstacles.  Also, it is important to consider whether their contents and/or components may actually be resources that have net value.

Current demolition practices are not sustainable.  They are also not in the best interest of Long Island and our environment.  They hurt our community by over-burdening our already fragile landfills with valuable building materials that are not at the end of their life cycles just because the homes and buildings they make up are.  Those same building materials can benefit a fellow Long Islander who might not be able to afford brand new building materials. 

Building Deconstruction and Building Material Reuse on Long Island is the systematic dismantlement of building materials and building components, specifically for re-use, recycling, and waste management.  It differs from demolition where a site is cleared of its building materials by the most expedient means and a majority of the demolished materials are hauled to a landfill for disposal.  Building Deconstruction is new by name, but not by practice, as the recovery and reuse of building materials in order to build new structures is as old as buildings themselves.  Reuse of materials might be considered one of the "original" green building techniques, along with the use of local materials.  In the pre-industrial era, building material conservation was driven by the high intensity of the labor effort required to harvest and prepare them.  Reuse of materials provided an economic advantage. In the mid-to-late 20th century, the emergence of machine-made and mass-produced materials, chemically complicated materials, and the relatively low cost of oil allowed this basic idea of "waste not, want not" to fall from usage in the creation of the built environment. 

We live in a different world now.  The cost of oil is out of control and puts a heavy burden on some Long Island families who have to pay the increasing gas prices.  And there is no end in sight to our dependence on foreign oil.  Dumping fees are continually going to rise.  Especially as the number of landfills decrease because of capacity issues and remediation is needed on the sites that are still in use.  The reusable building materials from your "Blight into Light" projects could be worth a significant tax write-off when donated to a not-for-profit organization on Long Island like The ReUse People (TRP) and receive a tax-deductible receipt to help offset the overall cost of the "Blight to Light" projects.  These services are among the first steps in the green building process and provide a faster payback and better return-on-investment than any other product or service offered by the green building industry on Long Island.

The ReUse People and their Long Island TRP-Certified Building Deconstruction contractor, Advanced Restoration Corporation, aim is to recycle or reclaim for reuse up to 80% of the structure rather than dumping the materials into Long Island landfills for the next generation of Long Islanders to deal with.

I truly believe Sarah Lansdale, the Executive Director of Sustainable Long Island, when she said, "With the attention and focused resources provided by elected officials such as Supervisor Lesko, we can revitalize our communities and ensure that Long Island is prosperous and beautiful for generations to come."  Please Supervisor Lesko I implore you, don't leave a blight on the "Blight into Light" projects, choose building deconstruction and building material reuse over current demolition practices and help me turn it into a force for the sustainable development and future of Long Island. 

Tags: the reuse people, long island, building material reuse, blight into light, sustainable development, landfills, dumping fees, community revitalization, advanced restoration corporation, building deconstruction, long island community, trp, brookhaven town supervisor mark lesko, cablevision editorial, sustainable, green building industry, recycle building materials, long island landfills, over-burdened landfills, cost of oil

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