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Demolition versus deconstruction in America

Donnie Elkins
Wednesday, Dec 5, 2012

As long as man has been building things on this planet, he has subsequently been tearing them down. As fun as it may sound to tear something down, it is actually a planned process and in today’s world the process of demolition is know as deconstruction. Here are some interesting deconstruction facts:

• The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that U.S. companies generate 136 million tons of building-related construction and demolition (C&D) waste per year

• 92 percent of building-related C&D waste is from renovation and demolition

• C&D waste is approximately 30 percent of all solid waste produced in this country excluding road and bridge debris

• The EPA has estimated that only 20-30 percent of C&D waste is presently recycled

• Landfills and incinerators are increasingly more expensive and problematic to open, operate and close

• In order to sustain human society into the next century, resource efficiency will have to increase by a factor of 10.

Not too many years ago, it was a pretty simple deal to just knock down a structure and haul it off to the landfill. Some items were salvaged but for the most part you made your money by the square foot of demolition. Nowadays that just isn’t economical. With the skyrocketing cost of building materials, environmental regulations on landfills and more competitive bidding it is imperative that a building be properly deconstructed as opposed to just be demolished.

Deconstruction is a process of building disassembly in order to recover the maximum amount of materials for their highest and best re-use. Re-use is the preferred outcome because it requires less energy, raw materials, and pollution than recycling does in order to continue the life of the material. As a consequence of deconstruction, there are also many opportunities for recycling other materials along the way.

We deconstruct because it combines the recovery of both quality and quantity of reusable and recyclable materials. The re-use of materials can serve a broad set of goals including the provision of low-cost building materials to a community, and the avoidance of demolition debris going to landfills. Also it reduces the overall costs of building removals; provides lower cost building materials to the community; extends the life of landfills; protects the natural environment by reducing the need for the extraction of new resources; and creates jobs and economic development.
When deconstructing, there are three major goals. The first goal is safety. All construction and environmental health and safety regulations and processes are followed and no injuries result during the process. Secondly, the recovery of the maximum amount of reusable materials are gathered in a cost effective manner. The final goal is that the building is completely removed from the site.

It is common to think about hiring a contractor when constructing a building. It should be just as common to hire a contractor to deconstruct a building. Remember tearing down is as important as building up.

Donnie Elkins is the president of Elk Mountain Construction Co., located at 1950 N. Willow Ave., Cookeville. He can be reached at (931) 372-7424 or at

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