Deconstruction versus Demolition

In Metro Vancouver, more than 3,000 residential and commercial buildings are demolished each year. A typical home demolition sends about 50 tonnes of waste to landfills. Some recyclable materials with strong markets or high disposal costs, like metals, heavy timber, gypsum drywall and concrete, are salvaged during demolition, but many usable materials get thrown out.

To increase recycling, municipalities are developing policies to encourage reuse and recycling of building materials, including adapting a Metro Vancouver sample bylaw that requires demolition waste to go to licensed solid waste facilities.

Demolition versus deconstruction

Deconstruction is a more labour-intensive process than demolition. After the removal of hazardous materials and the salvage of certain materials, the typical demolition process uses heavy machinery to knock down a building, completely destroying it during the process. What remains is collected and hauled to landfill.

With deconstruction, on the other hand, buildings are systematically taken apart allowing building materials to be kept intact and separated, making it easier to reuse and recycle materials.

Deconstructing buildings reduces waste when a structure comes down. Experience in Metro Vancouver and other regions is that at least 80 per cent of materials can be kept out of the landfill. As demand for deconstruction grows, local companies are becoming more efficient, for example, machines assist dismantling by hand.

A quick turnaround time and revenue generated from selling salvaged materials, makes the cost of deconstructing a building comparable to the cost of demolishing it. Deconstruction will become a more cost-effective option as disposal tipping fees increase.

Before a demolition project

If your site has an existing structure that is slated for demolition, you can:

  1. Sell or donate the building for use on another location.
  2. Salvage materials including doors, wood trim, siding, cabinets and bathroom fixtures.
    • Ask a salvage contractor to estimate the amount of materials and potential revenue.
    • Host a pre-demolition/salvage sale.
    • Donate or sell materials to not-for-profit companies.
  3. Deconstruct the building to maximize the amount of materials diverted.

Complete a survey of hazardous materials before you begin a deconstruction project. Hazardous materials typically found in and around buildings include asbestos, lead paint, PCBs and underground storage tanks.