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Saving resources through deconstruction

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The need to recycle, re-use and reduce is catching on in the construction industry, especially when old buildings need to be removed to make way for new ones, says Berry Everitt.

It is becoming increasingly common in South Africa to see large suburban homes on big stands being demolished and replaced with several smaller homes or a sectional title complex or old commercial buildings being gutted and turned into trendy inner-city apartments, to make more efficient use of land and existing resources, says Everitt, who is the chief executive of the Chas Everitt International property group.

“And for the sake of the environment, it is also becoming more common to see professional developers and builders extending ‘green building’ principles to include demolition and renovation as well as new builds.”

Everitt says the rubble and waste generated by such activities has traditionally consumed a huge amount of scarce landfill space and added to the depletion of natural resources and the emission of greenhouse gases, but when demolition is replaced by “deconstruction”, where the building is systematically taken apart rather than being destroyed, much of the material that might have been dumped can be recovered and recycled.

“Of course, when homeowners, developers and contractors are planning to deconstruct rather than demolish, they will still need to follow the correct procedures for making major changes to existing buildings.

“These include obtaining the necessary permits and approvals from the local authority; organising the suspension and/ or provision of electricity and water services to the site as required; the removal of gas equipment and the disconnection of any gas supply and ensuring that the site is properly secured and safe for work to proceed.”

However, he notes, it has been estimated that careful deconstruction can divert 80% of the waste that would have been generated by traditional demolition from the landfill – and result in huge savings of resources and money – so it is worth going through the process.

Building materials that can be recovered during deconstruction include roof timbers, tiles and iron sheeting; bricks and concrete blocks; steel reinforcing; window and door frames and lintels; wooden doors and floor timbers; garage doors and security gates; metal and plastic piping; ceiling boards and tiles; ceramic or stone wall and floor tiles; carpet or carpet tiles; lighting fixtures and even glass.

“And with good planning, most of these can be re-used in the new building project to cut construction costs, sold off to other contractors and scrap merchants or donated to community housing or school-building projects.

“Deconstruction also saves on costly disposal fees at council dumps, as well as the cost of site-clearing and the transportation of building rubble. In many cases, it will also enable the contractor to save architectural features and established trees and landscaping that will further lower the cost of the new build,” Everitt.

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