During a phone conversation I had last week with Lorenz Schilling, founder and president of the California-based nonprofitDeconstruction & ReUse Network, he evoked an all-too familiar television scenario: home improvement programs that show builders gleefully destroying the interior of a home to pave way for new construction. It’s a common scene and there’s always one detail left out before the “move that bus” moment … where did all that demolition waste go?

The quick and not-so-pretty answer: it’s dumped into roll-off bins and later landfilled. 

DRN provides potential homewreckers an eco-friendly alternative to full-on teardowns in the form of deconstruction. Essentially, deconstruction differs from demolition in that with the former a structure is carefully dismantled with the goal of reclaiming timber and other materials. Not everything involved with a home deconstruction can be salvaged and reused but the goal is to divert as much as possible from landfills. Think of it as whole-house recycling


Deconstruction is an eco-sound alternative to the wrecking ball-dumpster method and with DRN there’s also a humanitarian edge: salvaged materials are donated to Habitat for Humanity home improvement stores and to Corazon, a charitable organization that builds affordable homes in Mexico. According to DRN, deconstructing a 2,500 square foot home can yield up to 10 tons of salvageable lumber that can be used for humanitarian building efforts.

And as Schilling points out, in addition to diverting from landfills and helping low-income families, deconstruction can also save homeowners cash but he warns, “with deconstruction, planning is key to saving. Homeowners can save money but don’t expect to by choosing deconstruction over demolition in the 11th hour.”


DRN operates across California but one recent project has garnered quite a bit of attention: the complete deconstruction of a home in Beverly Hills. You wouldn’t typically expect to see a deconstruction project on the storied, palm-lined streets of Beverly Hills (a mansion erecting, more likely) but homeowners Steve Dubin and Brenda Ellerin are paving the way for a new kind of thinking in this wealthy enclave.

Around 85 percent, about 200 tons, of Dubin and Ellerin's 1948 home is being recycled and donated to Corazon and Habitat for Humanity. Additionally, it's the first residential project to meet the standards of the newly instated Beverly Hills Green Building Ordinance. They plan on building a new, green home on the site of their previous home. 

Whether you're in Beverly Hills, Birmingham or Boca Raton it's possible for homeowners to avoid a "oh jeesh, I wish I had done that" moment. Check out the Building Materials Reuse Association (BRMA) website for resources in your neck of the woods. 

Photos: Deconstruction and ReUse Network

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Deconstruction Hills 90210
A Beverly Hills home is deconstructed instead of demolished, and the bulk of it is salvaged for humanitarian reuse.