Building Operating Management

Finding A Future For Old Buildings

Every year, 135 to 165 million tons of what were once buildings are demolished. More than half of those buildings are commercial ones, and most of that debris is landfilled.

The cost of landfilling, however, is increasing as landfill space shrinks. The average tipping fee is around $40 per ton today, but fees of $50 to $60 per ton are not uncommon, and some are more than $100. A commercial building can produce 155 pounds of debris per square foot.

Today, some owners are choosing an alternative to demolition. It’s called deconstruction. While it may not be appropriate for every building and construction schedule, it does offer opportunities to save money and reduce the environmental impact of demolition waste.

Deconstruction Defined

Deconstruction is the dismantling or disassembling of a building and the reuse and recycling of some of the building components. It’s a time-consuming and labor-intensive process that can be limited by the complexity of today’s commercial buildings and the small, somewhat geographically limited markets for the materials. Therefore, deconstruction has been largely limited to residential and old, heavily timbered commercial and institutional buildings. But some experts see this changing.

Because there are strong markets now for quality wood, such as beams and flooring, the deconstruction of pre-1950 buildings is a burgeoning business, says Ken Sandler, an environmental protection specialist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. One sign of the change is the fledgling Used Building Materials Association, which opened for business in 1996 and is offering a network of materials and suppliers.

One of the key things that needs to happen for the concept to spread is the development of deconstruction infrastructure, says Tiffany Wilmot, president of Wilmot Inc., a deconstruction firm. Transportation of the material is cost prohibitive, so markets need to be developed locally, she says.

Inviting contractors or potential buyers to the building to bid for materials in place is often advised because this reduces the need to store materials, Wilmot says.

Those supporting deconstruction say some regulatory pressure may be necessary to spur markets. Wilmot says it has to start with the local government because that’s where the material is being generated.

Local government can mandate change by creating codes and regulations. Portland, Ore., for instance, requires most buildings to be deconstructed and the materials recycled or reused. Vancouver, British Columbia, has banned the landfilling of sheet rock. And while it has taken time, markets for recycled sheet rock are beginning to develop there.

Mike Taylor, executive director of the National Association of Demolition Contractors and a skeptic of the process, says one drawback to deconstruction is time. Taylor says owners usually want the building removed quickly, and it takes time to do much of the labor needed to deconstruct a facility. But, he says, there are about 14 materials in a typical structure that can be recycled or reused, so the potential to make it cost effective is there.

Deconstruction usually is a break-even proposition at best, but it can be profitable. In Madison, Wis., a whole city block has been deconstructed to make way for a new arts district. Seven buildings were removed; 74 percent of the debris by weight has been recycled or reused. According to Jenna Kunde, executive director of WasteCap Wisconsin, the process has been quite profitable. Between cost avoidance and outright sale of materials, the project accrued a net savings or profit of $28,000, and that doesn’t include the facade of an old bank that is still for sale.

And the process of deconstructing a building is becoming more efficient.

“There is an emerging industry and some research happening now on how to systematize processes and reduce some of the labor involved,” Sandler says.

Perhaps the most important thing that has to change is the design and construction of buildings, says Brad Guy, associate director for the Center for Construction and the Environment at the University of Florida.

He points out that phone, auto and carpet manufacturers are beginning to make products that can be disassembled and remade into the same product.

“With buildings, we need to look at how we use steel, glass and concrete,” Guy says. “Buildings could be more panelized to make them easier to take apart and reuse. Raised flooring is a good example. Maybe we could engineer precast concrete panels differently to reuse them.”

There will be more difficult issues to tackle, such as entangled building systems that are difficult to separate, and the use of composite materials that are difficult to recycle. Also, used equipment is often not as efficient as new equipment.

The private sector is beginning to react to this new industry. In Raleigh, N.C., a demolition and deconstruction company has built what may be the country’s first material recycling facility (MRF) for building materials.

The MRF takes materials and reduces them to reusable or recyclable products. If built locally or even regionally, such centers could help jump-start the industry, Wilmot says.

There are other things the deconstruction industry would need, such as systems that recognize the strength or grade of used lumber and codes that allow used materials and equipment to be used in buildings.

Right now, deconstruction may not be an outright cost savings, but, on some projects, costs could be a wash. What’s more, deconstruction can mean valuable public relations for a company.

“Practically and realistically, it’s not something you can do on every single building, and yet it probably could be done a lot more often than it’s done now,” Wilmot says.

David Kozlowski, senior editor

Scores of New Schools aim at California’s Green Goals

By itself, the goal is ambitious: 85 new schools and as many as 75 renovated ones. But the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) new and renovated schools will incorporate sustainable design principles also, making LAUSD one of the largest school districts to do so.

Every new and renovated school that gets built must follow the criteria of the CHIPS (California High Performance Schools) program. Based on LEED, CHIPS requires attributes such as energy efficient building and lighting systems, recycled and recyclable building materials, cool roof technology and commissioning of all buildings.

Marv Taff, a design consultant to the district, says sustainable features add about $4 a square foot to the construction, but most features have a significant payback.

Door to Green Resort Hinges on Top Experts

A green dream team is laying the groundwork for what may be the largest green project ever built.

DestiNY USA is a 5-million-square-foot resort district planned for the Syracuse, N.Y., area on a brownfield site. Developers expect to break ground in summer and open in 2004.

Some big names in green design, including Adrian Tuluca with Steven Winter Associates, Bill Browning with Rocky Mountain Institute and Steven Strong with Solar Design Associates, assembled for a three-day charette recently to lay out the project. A smaller “SWAT green team” will see to the actual construction of the project, says Matt Chadderdon with Pyramid Companies and member of the development team.

Developers are aiming for a Platinum LEED rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. The project may include a “living machine” sewage treatment system.

Illinois Environmental Groups Define Green Power

A coalition of leading Illinois environmental and consumer groups released a green power standard to provide consumers and electricity suppliers with a consistent understanding of what constitutes environmentally preferable power.

According to the new standard, the coalition wants power to meet three tests before producers can call it green.

First, it must be from new renewable energy sources. Second, at least two-thirds of the mix should come from wind and solar power, with the remainder from other renewable energy sources such as landfill gas, small hydro and biopower. And third, the power purchase must create clear air quality benefits.

Council Perspective

Council Launches International Green Building Conference

Gathering aims to fill niche, advance growing green building market

The U.S. Green Building Council has embarked on an exciting new venture: The launch of an International Green Building Conference and Exposition on Nov. 13 to 15, 2002.

Deciding to undertake such an event wasn’t difficult. Although the Council hosts members-only summits each year, we lacked an external forum to serve the rapidly expanding green building market. In addition, we started hearing concerns from sponsors, speakers and exhibitors that the proliferation of green building venues was spreading resources too thin. Many individuals and organizations thought the Council, as an umbrella organization representing the green building community, would be the perfect focal point for an annual meeting place.

There were other reasons. No venue today offers the extreme breadth and depth needed to satisfy this diverse market — from beginners to experts. We also wanted an opportunity to feature local leadership. Selecting Austin as the first venue was a natural, given that it started the first green residential program in the country and has played host to several major conferences in the 1990s.

Deciding to launch the first-time event in such a big way was slightly more difficult — but why not? More than 2,000 attendees from across the industry are expected to converge upon Austin. We plan to fill the 200-space exhibit hall at the new wing of the Convention Center. A new awards program and celebration also will be premiered at the event.

Four months after the official announcement, all indicators point to success. More than 450 abstracts had already been submitted for review before the deadline was extended to April 15 to accommodate interest. Nearly 100 exhibits have already been confirmed. And two platinum-level sponsorships have already been committed.

Of course, such undertakings are only possible through the extraordinary contributions from partnering organizations, volunteers, staff and consultants. For example, Ross Spiegel — president of the Construction Specifications Institute — chairs the overall conference committee. Vivian Loftness, chair of Carnegie Mellon’s School of Architecture, and Muscoe Martin, representing the AIA’s Committee on Environment, oversee the program review committee. Jerry Yudelson, Keen Engineering, chairs the marketing committee. More than 25 different governmental agencies and organizations are partners for the event, including the U.S. Department of Energy as a prime sponsor. Most of all, the strong momentum reflects the energy and enthusiasm for this market phenomenon that reaps so many economic, environmental, health and productivity benefits.

Want to get involved? Go to for the latest information. To get on our mailing list, send an e-mail to Contact Lea LeFeber for exhibit information and Sue Smith for marketing opportunities, both at (312) 541-0567.

— Christine Ervin, president, CEO U.S. Green Building Council

Relocation Creates Green Opportunity

PNC Center, Pittsburgh

Financial firm’s efforts result in first-of-a-kind Silver LEED certification

When Pittsburgh’s PNC Financial Services Group was forced to relocate due to a pending convention center expansion, they viewed the move not as a hassle but as an opportunity — an opportunity to address numerous environmental concerns in a city that is gaining a green reputation.

This approach resulted in a Silver LEED certification and numerous local and national awards. At 650,000 square feet, this is the largest LEED-certified building and the first to receive certification under LEED 2.0.

The site selection immediately set the environmentally conscious tone: an underutilized railroad station and yard in the central business district of Pittsburgh. The area was chosen because it was a gateway location to the city, so there was also a strong visual connection. What’s more, it was an easily accessible facility for employees: Most of the employees utilize public transportation, and the site is near a light-rail transit station, a bike trail and a parking garage. To top it off, a building in a suburban location would have required five times as much land — nearly 20 acres more than the 4.6 actually used to accommodate parking and storm water retention.

PNC recognized flexibility as one of the most important features of the facility. They coupled this quality with many attributes of sustainability, consulting with such organizations as the U.S. Green Building Council, the Rocky Mountain Institute and the local adjunct of the Council, the Green Building Alliance.

“The attributes of sustainability are tenets of good design,” says Elmer B. Burger II, vice president and principal in charge of corporate commercial architecture at L.D. Astorino Companies.

Besides making sure that their vision was clear to everyone involved, PNC also ensured that no surprises would arise later. From the beginning, the entire construction team — architects, engineers, construction managers and PNC staff — participated in weekly constructibility meetings.

ROI studies were done on all systems that PNC was not familiar with. The premium or savings with each new system was analyzed, then all systems were considered together.

The design of the facility provides over 90 percent of the 1,200 employees with outdoor views and natural light. Considering that this facility is 125,000 square feet per floor, it was a real challenge to get natural light deep into the building. To do that, the design made prolific use of glass — light wells, atriums and even some in systems furniture — along with 11-foot ceilings. Sun control is achieved through both exterior and interior methods, including interior shades that react to solar sensors.

More than 50 percent of the materials used throughout the building are recycled: linoleum flooring, walk-off mats made of hogs hair, carpeting, systems furniture — even the steel frame of the building. PNC also has leasing arrangements for products such as carpet, which will be recycled at the end of its use. This factor also affected the carpet selection. Durable carpet of the type normally used in hospitals was installed using tiles of random design and color, which also made replacement easy.

For the HVAC system, a hybrid air distribution system features ventilation air distributed beneath the raised floors with local diffusers for occupant control.

Since the building is a 24/7 facility, uninterrupted power is critical. The building has enough generation power to go off the city grid, allowing PNC to negotiate with the utility for savings.

The facility also features a child-care center, a cafeteria on the top floor with an outdoor terrace and a locker and shower facility.

All of these qualities have merged the attributes of flexibility and sustainability that PNC sought. The result? Efficient, environmentally friendly systems and productive, happy employees. The cost of the facility was $167 per square foot.

“PNC is a very enlightened, foresightful owner. Their location choice is indication enough,” says Burger. “They set the tone from the beginning.”

Angela Maas, managing editor

U.S. Green Building Council

Steve Winter, FAIA
Steven Winter Associates

Vice Chairman
Kath Williams, EdD
Montana State University

Lynn Simon
Global Green USA

Keith Winn
Herman Miller, Inc.

David A. Gottfried
WorldBuild Technology Inc.

Michael L. Italiano
Institute for Market
Transformation to Sustainability

Founding Chairman
S. Richard Fedrizzi
Green Think

President, CEO
Christine Ervin
U.S. Green Building Council

1015 18th St. NW, Ste. 805
Washington, DC 20036
Web site

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  posted on 5/1/2002   Article Use Policy