DECON 2011 Report: Prybars, Not Bulldozers

Reader Contribution by Tim Snyder

Last week I attended DECON 2011, the annual convention of the Building Materials Reuse Association (BMRA;, which took place on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, CT. Yale’s historic buildings provided a fitting backdrop for an organization devoted to salvaging material from older structures. In hallways, classrooms and entryways, we encountered beautiful solid wood wainscots, sculptural details and ornate moldings.

 The process of carefully removing materials from existing buildings so that they can be reused is called “deconstruction,” (DECON for short) and by any measure it’s one of the greenest activities that can and should take place wherever old structures are being taken down. Approaching an old building with a prybar rather than with a bulldozer has huge environmental consequences. Just consider the embodied energy involved in manufacturing a new door as opposed to reusing a salvaged door. For greater ecological shock value, think about old steel I-beams from a building in Cleveland that are cut into small sections, shipped to Taiwan, melted down, formed into new I-beams, and then shipped back to the U.S. for use in new buildings. Wouldn’t we all feel better if those I-beams could simply be stockpiled at a building salvage yard, and then reused for local construction projects?

 Of course the benefits of using salvaged building materials go beyond helping to save the environment. Buying wood flooring from a recycling center is likely to cost hundreds of dollars less than the price of new flooring from a lumber yard or big box store. And let’s not forget the good karma that results from giving new life to a piece of history salvaged from a local building.

 The BMRA supports nearly 100 deconstruction companies and a total of about 2000 members who include building material recycling centers, state and municipal agencies, architects, designers and builders in the U.S. and Canada. If you want to locate a deconstruction company or a building material recycling center near you, it’s easy to do so on the BMRA website.