Maximillian Kornell

To get with the program — the deconstruction and recycling program — remodelers must think ahead.

Well ahead of construction, for instance, identify which cabinets, appliances, fixtures, and floorboards might be of value and to whom. Schedule accordingly: Deconstruction takes longer than demolition, and donation groups are often booked weeks out.

Think ahead also in terms of operations and marketing. Years before your competitors embrace “diversion” as a routine best practice, embrace it as yours.

“This is the way the industry is going,” says Lorenz Schilling, president of the Deconstruction & ReUse Network, a California nonprofit. By collaborating with material-reuse groups now, he says, you’ll be “dialed-in” to a practice that homeowners will find increasingly attractive as environmental awareness grows.

“Good contractors look out for the interests of the client in terms of saving resources,” natural and financial alike, Schilling says. Depending on the salvaged items’ appraised value, homeowners may reduce their tax liability enough to more than offset the typical cost differential between simple demolition (labor, Dumpster costs, tipping fees) and piece-by-piece disassembly.

Brick by Brick

Depending on the scope of the project and the condition of the materials, deconstruction can recover 50% to 90% of the materials from an existing structure, according to the Building Materials Reuse Association.

The challenges are overstated, advocates say. “Once you get in the habit of sorting debris and have established consistent channels to direct recyclable products, it isn’t very difficult,” says green building consultant Carl Seville. He once found new uses for almost all of a house that he had deconstructed, including 15,000 bricks that were reinstalled on a home nearby. “Total amount of waste to landfill was about six small dump-truck loads, versus 20 to 25 large Dumpsters,” he says.

Variables to Consider

  • What’s of value? Cabinets and doors (especially solid-core) are almost always in demand, Schilling says, typically followed by windows, lighting and plumbing fixtures, appliances, and materials such as old-growth lumber.
  • Worth the expense? Schilling’s website has a cost breakdown showing how deconstruction/donations can yield a net financial gain. Labor will likely be more, but dumping costs (higher in densely built areas) will go down. Some areas also charge lower fees for sorted debris than for mixed debris.
  • Who can do it? Your field crews can learn basic deconstruction from various organizations; for a national training directory, as well as companies that specialize in decon, visit
  • Who can take it? Some remodelers sell materials through sites like Craigslist or salvage yards. Schilling’s group likes to work with nonprofit organizations that develop affordable housing. Most metro areas have operations similar to Habitat for Humanity ReStore outlets, which typically provide pickup services — given advance notice, that is.

—Leah Thayer, senior editor, REMODELING.