Deconstruction of a House

Deconstruction focuses on giving the materials within a building a “new life” once the building as a whole can no longer be used as a safe viable structure.  Components within old buildings may still be valuable, sometimes more valuable than at the time the building was constructed.  Deconstruction is a method that harvests what is commonly considered “waste” and reclaims it into useful building material.  Recovering building materials through reuse and recycling will help Connecticut meet its 60% diversion/recycling goal by the year 2024.

Deconstruction vs. Demolition

When buildings reach the end of their useful life, they are typically removed through conventional demolition and hauled to landfills. In Connecticut most construction and demolition materials are not sorted for reuse or recycling, but instead are brought to volume reduction facilities and then transferred to out-of-state landfills.  Building implosions or ‘wrecking-ball’ style demolitions are relatively inexpensive and offer a quick method of clearing sites for new structures. However, these methods can create substantial amounts of waste.

The Environmental Building News (EBN) reports “the term deconstruction took hold at the first Used Building Materials Association meeting in Canada in 1996.”  EBN states the term was invented to place an emphasis on disassembly and salvage for reuse—in contrast to demolition which traditionally places emphasis simply on building removal. The term is not limited to manual disassembly of buildings, for deconstruction contractors use both manual and mechanical approaches to maximize the recovery of materials for reuse.

Removing Floor BoardsRecovering materials for reuse reduces climate gas emissions, and abates the need for new landfills and incinerators. Deconstruction can contribute to the environmental and economic health of the community while retaining historic building character within a community.  Additionally, the salvage and reuse of building materials reduces the “carbon footprint” of a project by avoiding the manufacture and transport of new materials. Reducing consumption of virgin materials helps preserve natural resources and protect the environment from the air, ground, and water pollution related to extraction, processing, and disposal of raw materials.

While some in the industry view deconstruction as a separate process from ‘standard’, ‘traditional’ or ‘conventional’ demolition, in Connecticut deconstruction is a type of demolition. From a regulatory standpoint, the Department of Public Safety defines demolition in the State Building Code as follows:

“Demolition” means any wrecking activity directed to the disassembling, dismantling, dismembering and/or razing of any structure or part thereof not exempt under the provisions of Section 29-402 of the Connecticut General Statutes”.

Demolition and deconstruction contractors may have different methodologies for getting the job done.  Deconstruction contractors generally want to maximize the reuse of materials – bringing the doors, windows, flooring, trim and beams, etc. to a local reuse center or resell directly to ensure reuse.  Most demolition contractors recycle some materials, usually asphalt, concrete and scrap metal.  More and more demolition contractors are using hand-demolition/deconstruction practices due to customer requests.  Contractors in general will recover materials for reuse and recycling if requested in the bid specifications of a project. 

What Is Deconstruction?

EPA defines “deconstruction” as the disassembly of buildings to safely and efficiently maximize the reuse and recycling of their materials. The process of dismantling structures is an ancient activity that has been revived by the growing field of sustainable, green building.

Embodied Energy

Reusing building materials conserves the "embodied energy" of those materials.  Embodied energy is the total expenditure of energy involved in the creation of a building and its constituent materials.  By not reusing materials from a razed building, we’re losing or ‘throwing away’ embodied energy incorporated into that building.
Embodied Energy Calculator  

Deconstruction contractors follow the same health and safety laws as demolition contractors.  Their methodology, however, is quite different.  In deconstruction materials are “source separated” from each other during the dismantling on a deconstruction project site, as opposed to co-mingling the different building materials that may end up in a landfill.

Structural and Non-Structural

Deconstruction is commonly separated into two categories; "non-structural" and "structural". 

  • Non-structural deconstruction, also known as “soft-stripping”, “hand demo” or “cherry picking”, consists of reclaiming non-structural components including appliances, doors, windows, and finish or trim materials.

  • Structural deconstruction involves dismantling the structural components of a building; removing the entire building down to or including the foundation.

Some in the industry hold the view that deconstruction encompasses a thorough and comprehensive approach to whole building disassembly (versus cherry picking only specialty items), allowing the majority of the materials to be salvaged for reuse.

Recently, the rise of environmental awareness and sustainable building has made a much wider range of materials worthy of structural deconstruction. Low-end, commonplace materials such as dimensional lumber have become part of this newly emerging market.  It is referred to as a “grave-to-cradle” program, because it takes the old and decrepit part of our building stock (the buildings that have reached the end of their useful lives) and through building materials reuse centers, gives new life to the wood, appliances, components and other materials mined from the buildings.

Deconstruction Licensing & Local Ordinances

How can I become a licensed deconstruction contractor?

Man Deconstructing Door Framing

CT DEEP supports activities that increase recovery of building materials for reuse and recycling, however, deconstruction and demolition activities are regulated by the CT Department of Administrative Services (DAS).  As stated above, current regulations define deconstruction as a type of demolition activity.  To practice full deconstruction in Connecticut, you will need to have a demolition license, which is issued by the Office of the State Fire Marshall at the Department of Administrative Services.

Do deconstruction activities override historic preservation laws?

No. Deconstruction contractors must comply with any local ordinance or state regulation in place to protect historic buildings. Local ordinances or state regulations that impact a building or property could include historic districts or historic properties, demolition delay, state regulatory reviews or if the building is on the National Register of Historic Places.  Most require public notification of your intent to remove the building, giving the community time to determine its historical significance, if any.

  • Roseland Cottage, Woodstock, CTLocal Historic Districts / Local Historic Properties. Many municipalities have adopted Local Historic District or Local Historic Property designations under the relevant state statute. Under municipal regulations, a demolition permit for a designated property cannot be issued until the applicant has applied for and received a Certificate of Appropriateness from the local Historic District Commission or the Historic Property Commission.  Local Historic Districts and Local Historic Properties also entail an automatic 90-day delay for demolition permits.

  • Demolition Delay. Many communities have adopted a demolition delay of 90 days or 180 days for properties that may have local historical or architectural significance outside of the established historic districts and historic properties.  The purpose of the delay is to solicit comments from the community about the relative significance of the property and to give fair consideration to any alternatives to demolition.  The CT Trust for Historic Preservation has good resources on demolition delay ordinances.
  • State Regulatory Reviews. Licensing or permitting are subject to a regulatory review to consider the potential effect on historic properties for any projects that involve state or federal funding. A standard component of the review is the evaluation of alternatives to demolition.
  • National Register of Historic Places. Properties that are listed individually on the National Register of Historic Places or that are included in a National Register Historic District can be protected from "unreasonable demolition" under the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act, Title 22a, Chapter 439, Section 22a-15 through 22a-19b CGS.

Is there a deconstruction hierarchy?

Deconstructing BarnWhile there isn’t an official hierarchy for deconstruction, it is true that the ‘greenest’ building is the preserved building.  Deconstruction recovers materials for reuse – but a repaired building is much more energy efficient!

The CT Materials Reuse Network encourages deconstruction and demolition contractors to follow this “green building” hierarchy:

The "New" 5 R’s
• Retain (preserve)
• Rehabilitate (restore)
• Repurpose/Reuse (adapt the building)
• Reuse materials (deconstruction)
• Recycle materials
• Rubbish/refuse

Does your town have a construction and demolition (C & D) recycling or green building ordinance that requires reuse and recycling of C & D debris?

There are many states and cities across the country that are passing laws or ordinances that require the recovery of waste generated from construction, renovation and demolition projects through reuse or recycling.  These programs often have a minimum requirement of recovery – 50%, 75% or more of waste generated from a project and may include enforcement fees or other financial incentives.

This trend is coming to Connecticut!  You can learn more about using construction and demolition waste management plans to maximize the recovery of materials (which include deconstruction) or how to develop a local waste recovery ordinance in your community.

Markets for Used Building Materials

More and more people want natural or environmental products in their homes that create earth-friendly interiors. Materials recovered from deconstruction can include “antique” wood flooring, architectural accents, unique “one-of-a-kind” items and regular every day needs including trim, doors, light fixtures, water-saving toilets and the kitchen sink.  In some cases wood or flooring bought from reuse centers or reclaimed lumber yards may be a type of wood that is no longer harvested (the forests just don’t exist).Habitat for Humanity ReStore

While recovering reusable materials through deconstruction is important, like other recycling programs, you’re not recycling until you buy-recycled.  In this case, buying used building materials completes the cycle and creates market demand for these products.

A Market Analysis of Construction and Demolition Material Reuse in the Chicago Region found that “single-family homes and smaller structures generate more potentially reusable materials than commercial properties or large multi-family buildings.” Materials were found to be sold primarily by non-profit organizations. Managers of reuse centers in Chicago reported their customer base is comprised primarily of those individuals who:

  • want to upgrade their owner-occupied or investment properties

  • own older properties

  • want to avoid paying market rates for the materials (either because they are income-constrained or because they are opposed to the notion of paying full price)

  • have the time, energy, and skills to work with less standardized materials

  • are between 25 and 60 years old

  • are recent immigrants

In Connecticut, you can find building material reuse centers or reclaimed lumber yards in A Guide to Local Building Material Reuse Centers. Also look in architectural salvage stores (sometimes also antique dealers) or used furniture stores for fixtures.

Read “A Better Way to Demo” to learn more about how Portland, Oregon’s demolition efforts have become successful models for other programs.

Looking to use deconstruction for your next project? Review this article for helpful tips: How to Identify a Competent Deconstruction Contractor 

Click here to read “Recovering and reusing building materials said to be key elements of climate solution” for further Deconstruction inspiration.  

The city of San Antonio, Texas is a leader in deconstruction efforts, they produced “Treasure in the Walls” a study of deconstruction in the city. 

Architectural Salvage and Historic Preservation Resources

Related Topics

Do you offer deconstruction or historic salvage services in CT and would like to be included in our resources?  Please contact Sherill Baldwin at or 860-424-3440.

Disclaimer: The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) maintains the content on this web site to enhance public access to information and facilitate understanding of waste reduction, reuse and recycling. The DEEP is not recommending these resources over any others and recognizes these represent only a partial listing of resources on this subject.

Content last updated May 19, 2021