Designing and Building for Deconstruction

By Ted Reiff

Here’s my advice to anyone considering designing or building for eventual deconstruction: Don’t! You’ll wind up driving yourself crazy with endless what-ifs, driving your partner crazy with goofy ideas, and driving me crazy with questions.


Since TRP is a major purveyor of used building materials, the majority acquired through deconstruction, and since personal and professional experience have taught me a good deal about the subject, I suppose I should offer more in the way of tips than “don’t.”

Let’s start with logistics. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines logistics as, “the detailed coordination of a complex operation involving many people, facilities, or supplies.” Wikipedia offers this and several other, similar definitions.

It’s the logistics that can quickly break a re-user’s piggy bank, especially on large projects. Down the road, the person on the receiving end of your materials (when your building is deconstructed) will have to begin accumulating materials far in advance of actual construction. The more detailed and specific their project, the longer it will take to acquire the materials. Therefore, no matter how consciencious you are in trying to design and build so that your materials can be reused later on, someone, somewhere will have to know you have them and be willing to buy, ship, sort and store them prior to their reuse. To fully understand this, search “Big Dig House” or go to:

So, from the re-users standpoint, the logistics of reusing on a large scale is a difficult mountain to climb. But enough of the re-users problems; you’ll soon have plenty of your own.

Here’s my second tip: Think in terms of components. If you’ve ever built a model airplane or car, recall the process. You go to the store and pick out the desired model, take it home and from the kit’s components build and probably paint your model—all ready for show and tell. You do not go out to the woods and harvest the tree, cut out a block of wood and then carve the individual parts. If it’s a plastic model, you do not combine organic polymer ingredients, machine a metal mold and compress your mixture into airplane or automobile parts. You buy a kit of components. So, when building and/or designing for deconstruction imagine it coming apart in components, not parts.

Architect and builder Wally Geer got it right when he told me, “The ultimate design for deconstruction would be building without a tape measure or a cutting tool.” I’d put it another way: If you don’t screw it together, then we are screwed taking it apart. Above all, don’t glue it!

TRP sells doors, complete with jamb, hinges and locksets. Maybe, using the component (model kit) approach, we should sell the doors already installed in wall panels—just a thought. I told you one of us would have crazy ideas.

Below are photos of TRP’s deconstruction of the freeway chase sets from The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. The freeway walls, made to look like concrete, were simply Hollywood mockups. Instead of completely deconstructing the walls into parts, we kept them as components and they were reused as roof panels on modest Tijuana homes.

The ReUse People Specials

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The ReUse People Specials

Finally, let’s look at the materials best suited for reuse. I believe the winner is steel. First, 75 percent of all “new” steel is from recycled scrap. Second, and maybe most important, there is only a two percent waste factor in steel construction versus 20 percent in wood. When it comes to assembly, steel should be bolted, not welded, making disassembly quicker and safer.

A few other points are worth considering:

  • Be cautious of academic research papers on this subject. You could end up with an unfinished project and a big bill.
  • Build for adaptive reuse. This involves building to suit your needs, but in a way that maximizes the building’s potential for adaptation to other purposes in the future.
  • Build for relocation. Second best after adaptive reuse is building so that the structure can be moved to a new location should the need arise.
  • Keep in mind that what you build today may become obsolete tomorrow in terms of design, building codes or technology.


Special Events Reminders

February 10-13: The Corps Network National Conference, Washington DC. The Corps Network is a national membership association of service and conservation Corps. TRP President Ted Reiff will be a presenter. For more information, visit the national conference website.
April: Watch for our announcement of the 2013 National Reuse Contest.
April 29–May 1: Decon 2013, Seattle WA. TRP will have a booth at this annual event, sponsored by the Building Materials ReUse Association. For more information and to register, visit
May 11-12: AltBuild Expo, Santa Monica.
November 23: Congratulations to TRP on the 20th anniversary of its founding!

Specials of the Month

At the Oakland warehouse we are featuring appliances. Receive 25% off the price of any appliance in the warehouse through February 28.
The ReUse People Specials
The Los Angeles warehouse is featuring doors. Receive 15% off any door in the new warehouse through February 28.
The ReUse People Specials

New Inventory

The Oakland warehouse recently received a windfall of windows from a 6,500 sq-ft house in Lafeyette.

The Los Angeles warehouse recently received a steel-framed potting table with galvanized top and upper accessory shelf, a 1950s cast iron pedestal sink, and 1990s Uline cabinet-height wine refrigerator..

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Deconstruction & New Materials Update

Visit the TRP website for a complete list of current deconstruction projects and inventories. Just click on “Retail Sales” and scroll to the bottom of the page.

Location and Contact Information

TRP ReUse Warehouse - Oakland
9235 San Leandro Street
Oakland, CA  94603
(510) 383-1983; toll-free 888-588-9490
Hours: Mon-Sat 9:00-6:00 Closed Sunday

TRP ReUse Warehouse - Los Angeles
3015 Dolores Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90065
Hours: Mon-Fri 10:00-5:00; Sat 10:00-4:00

Please visit our partnering warehouses:
Habitat for Humanity ReStores, Orange County (two convenient locations)
12827 Harbor Boulevard, Garden Grove, CA 92840
(714) 590-8729
Hours: Monday-Friday 9:00- 8:00; Saturday 9:00-6:00; Sunday 11:00-5:00
2200 S. Ritchey Street, Santa Ana, CA 92705
(714) 434-6266
Hours: Mon-Sat 9:00-5:00; closed Sunday

Habitat for Humanity ReStore, Kansas City
4701 Deramus, Kansas City MO 64120
(816) 231-6889
Hours: Mon-Fri 10:00-6:00; Sat 9:00-4:00; closed Sunday

The ReBuilding Exchange, Chicago
1740 West Webster, Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 847-3761
Hours: Tues-Wed 10:00-6:00; Thurs 12:00-8:00; Fri-Sat 10:00-6:00

Reuseable Green Works
840 Boston Post Road
West Haven, CT 06516
(203) 745-3695
Hours: Mon-Fri 8:00-5:00; Sat 8:00-noon

The Re-Use Store
6350 27th Street (at 47th Ave.), Sacramento CA 95822
(916) 399-8900
Hours: Wed-Sat, 8:30-4:00

The ReUse Warehouse
800 Taylor Street
Durham, NC 27701
(919) 219-4913
Hours: Mon-Fri, 2:00-6:00; Sat, 9:30-5:00

Second Chance Building Materials Center
1423 West Grove Street
Boise, ID 83702
(208) 331-2707
Hours: Mon-Sat, 9:00-6:00; Sun, 12:00-5:00

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