Residential deconstruction, also known as sustainable or green demolition, is the unbuilding of a house piece by piece in order to save reusable materials. With green demolition, you can put the old materials right back into your remodeled home, or they can be donated and reused for other projects.

“The main difference between deconstruction and demolition is how building materials are regarded. Demolition regards unwanted material as junk or trash. Deconstruction recognizes the inherent value in this material.”
Samantha Hale | The RE Store

According to a 2017 study by the EPA, 569 million tons of construction and demolition (C&D) debris was generated in the United States in a single year, which is more than twice the amount of municipal solid waste generated in that same time. Working to reduce the amount of C&D debris that is disposed in landfills or incinerators can not only help lessen environmental impact, but it can also create economic stimulation in the recycling industry.

What Are the Benefits of Home Deconstruction?

By deconstructing a house, you are not only benefitting the environment and your community, but also your own financial bottom line. Some of the biggest benefits from residential deconstruction include:

  • Generating more jobs and creating careers in the recycling industry.
  • Allowing families and communities to acquire recycled materials for an affordable price.
  • Helping to reduce climate-altering gas emissions from landfills and incinerators.
  • Keeping materials local.
  • Conserving forest resources – a typical 2,000 square foot home can produce up to 6,000 feet of reusable lumber when deconstructed.
  • Taking the fiscal burden off local governments and taxpayers due to the reduced usage of landfills and incinerators.
  • Lowering or eliminating dumping and demolition fees for donors and contractors.
  • Receiving a tax break. All materials removed and donated to a qualified 501(c)3 charity can be claimed by the homeowner on their taxes as a donation at fair market value.

The Process of Green Demolition

The goal of deconstructing a house instead of demolishing it is to save at least 85-90% of the materials from going to the landfill. You will need to find an IRS qualified appraiser and a reputable deconstruction company to be involved in your project. The appraiser will determine what materials can be salvaged and give you an estimated value of the donation.

“The percentage of a home that can be salvaged depends on the house and what materials were used in its construction and their condition. A major reason for the disparity about how much of a house can be deconstructed is whether the foundation is recycled along with the rest of the structure. On some jobs, that element is left to a demolition company.”
Pete Theodore | Second Chance

Check for local non-profits that offer home deconstruction services, such as The ReUse People of America or Re-Use Consulting. Upfront, sustainable demolition will cost you more than conventional demolition and the timeline will be slightly longer, but the long-term benefits outweigh the initial costs for most. Depending on the size of your home, it can take anywhere from a few days to two weeks to deconstruct the structure.

How Much Does It Cost to Deconstruct a House?

The total upfront cost of deconstruction can range between $20,000-$25,000, versus around $10,000-$15,000 for traditional demolition. But the after-tax benefit of deconstruction can put money back in your pocket after all is said and done, while demolition is a dead cost.

When Can A Home Not Be Deconstructed?

In some instances, a home may not be the perfect candidate for home deconstruction. If it’s had a major fire, substantial water damage or has faced serious blight, you may not get the best return on your investment. The homeowner will always receive a tax donation for all the materials that were able to be salvaged, but these conditions would decrease the amount of materials that can be reused.

Be aware that in some cities, you may need to apply for a residential deconstruction permit before starting work. For instance, in Seattle, you must be able to reuse and a recycle a certain amount of the building materials to be eligible.

“There is almost no circumstance in which a home does not have something to offer for deconstruction. At the low end of desirability, it would be at least a day’s worth of work and increasing from there, depending on the size and aggregate value of the home’s materials.”
Pete Theodore | Second Chance

Home Deconstruction Pile of Bricks and Debris

Deconstructing a House for Building Materials

Caution and expertise must go into deciding what can be saved. Depending on which organization you choose to work with and donate your materials to, almost all of what your house consists of can either be salvaged or recycled.

Materials That Can Be Salvaged Before Demolition

Windows and Doors

You can absolutely salvage windows that are left in good condition. Keep in mind that if they are reused, they may not be energy-efficient and some organizations only accept double-paned windows. Metal window frames, screens and untreated or unpainted wood can be recycled.

Doors that show no signs of peeling paint, broken glass or rot can also be salvaged, along with complete sets of doorknobs.

Vanities and Cabinets

You can salvage kitchen cabinets that are complete with doors and drawers. You can also salvage bathroom vanity cabinets, as long as they show no signs of water damage.

Appliances and Plumbing Products

In some cases, you can salvage appliances such as stoves, microwaves, washing machines, refrigerators, dryers and dishwashers if they are less than 5-10 years old and still in good working condition.

Plumbing features such as sinks, bathtubs, toilets and light fixtures may also be salvageable if they are rust-free and show no other signs of significant damage.

Flooring

Other salvageable house materials can include various types of flooring. Wood flooring that is in good condition can be donated and reused. Non-wood flooring such as newer, clean carpet can be reused. Ceramic tile can be recycled. Any type of vinyl, broken tile or stained carpet would need to be properly disposed of.

Concrete and Asphalt

C&D materials such as concrete and asphalt can be recycled during home deconstruction. Concrete from your foundation can be broken up and hauled to a recycling site or reused for landscaping materials. Asphalt can also be broken up and recycled easily. It is almost effortless to turn broken asphalt back into the aggregate needed to create new asphalt.

Brick and Block

Both brick and block can be reused or recycled. Salvaged bricks should be tested for durability and then recycled or reused if they are still in good condition.

Wood

Salvaged lumber may need to be de-nailed and re-milled in order to bring it up to code with today’s sizing standards. Lumber longer than 6 feet can be reused. Unpainted and untreated wood that is unfit for reuse can still be recycled. Painted (which may contain lead), pressure-treated or rotting wood must be properly disposed of and cannot be salvaged.

Roofing Materials

Many roofing materials cannot be reused or reclaimed because of their short lifespan, but terra cotta and slate tiles can be reused. Metal shingles and flashing, asphalt shingles and untreated cedar shingles can be recycled. Treated cedar shingles must be properly disposed of.

Disposing of Hazardous Debris Materials

When deconstructing a house, you are bound to run into some hazardous debris that cannot be reused or recycled. This includes any materials that might contain lead paint or asbestos. These materials must be properly disposed of and cannot be recycled or reused in any instance.

Getting Rid of Difficult Items

We know that only up to 90% of materials in home deconstruction can be reused or recycled. So, what do you do with your non-hazardous, bulky items that need to be taken to the landfill? Our bulk waste disposal guide can help you learn how to get rid of some of these trickier items you come across during your residential deconstruction project.