Dan Oswald, instructor in the Deconstruction and Retrofit program at Iowa Central Community College (ICCC), has been training students for the deconstruction industry since ICCC received a grant to begin the program in 2010.
Two years into the program, Dan discusses the progress being made in instruction and in the industry in Iowa.
Q: What is “deconstruction”?
A: Deconstruction is defined as “the process of systematically removing a building or structure by taking it apart in the reverse order of construction (with a goal of maximizing reuse and recycling).”
The last part of that definition is worth taking a second look at: deconstruction’s goal is to “maximize reuse and recycling.” In other words, the goal is to keep as much of the deconstructed materials from going to the landfill. Many components—old-growth lumber, copper, and more—are valuable and can be reused in other ways.
Q: Is it possible to salvage many of the old materials?
A: That is both the opportunity and the challenge of deconstruction. Since I’m training building/construction professionals in this field, the question I get most often is, “I like the idea, but does it pay?” The short answer to that question is, yes it can … but it depends.
Until there is a more robust network of Iowans using the deconstructed materials, it is a little tricky to get rid of materials for a price that can ensure profitability. That doesn’t mean we should give up however; in fact, Iowa might be considered a perfect location for deconstruction projects.
Q: Why is Iowa a perfect location for deconstruction projects?
A: Nearly half of houses in Iowa are considered dilapidated. In addition, think about how many small town main streets have blocks of buildings that are vacant and falling down, or are still occupied but in poor repair? What about all the barns, hog houses, chicken houses, and other agriculture-related buildings on our farms? Many of these buildings were built between the late 1800s to the 1930s and 1940s and are in need of repair or replacement.
Q: Give an example of how deconstruction can pay.
A: Recently, I led a team that deconstructed a commercial building in a small Iowa town; we pulled out several hundred 18-foot 2x12s floor joists and over 1,200 pounds of copper salvaged from the property’s window frames. That was a worthwhile salvage project for us. Of course, materials like that can’t be found in every building, but there are plenty of buildings people want to get rid of that contain valuable, reusable treasures.
Q: How might a company make money through deconstruction?
A: While it may be difficult to do deconstruction solely, an existing construction company can reap the economic deconstruction benefits of low profit margins, as well as the social responsibility benefits of keeping everything reusable or recyclable out of the landfill. It’s a good start. Then they would be left with the material to reuse on a remodeled home, a new home, a pole barn, etc. Coming into a project with used material enables builders to complete the job for a higher profit or underbid a competitor in order to secure the job.
Q: Where is the deconstruction industry going?
A: As more people become interested in using salvaged material to be green, benefit economically, and retain elements that can no longer be bought, I believe a network of businesses using salvaged materials will form. As this network strengthens, it is my hope that we will be able to support a deconstruction industry where a deconstruction company comes to a job, takes down the building, and then is able to sell the salvaged goods to a retailer where they will put them on the shelf to sell to the public.
Q: What training is included in the ICCC deconstruction program?
A: Modules include basics that any construction professional needs in order to work on remodeling or retrofitting of an older home, such as lead and asbestos abatement and OSHA training. In addition, there is experience in deconstructing a project and coursework in bidding a deconstruction project. One other component of the program is designing, building, and selling furniture from salvaged lumber. The students learn the value of the lumber that is salvaged.
Q: Will there be changes in the program in the future?
A: Currently, the program is an 8-week, non-credit program. We plan to add a for-credit program in the fall of 2013. The revised curriculum will include components on deconstruction, extensive energy-remodeling, as well as a systems approach to remodeling, rather than treating remodeling as a series of separate components.