Last edited 22 Jun 2021

Main author

BRE Buzz Researcher Website

Design for deconstruction - unlocking the circular economy


The emerging principles of the circular economy are driving greater resource efficiency. Construction and the built environment is the single biggest user of materials and generator of waste in the UK economy. Effectively dealing with buildings at the end of their life has the potential to unlock significant economic value. However the value that can be extracted is very much dependent on how the buildings have been designed and built. Design for Deconstruction (DfD) looks at how decisions made at the design stage can increase the quality and quantity of materials that can be re-used at the end of a building’s life.

BRE, with support from the BRE Trust, have developed an outline methodology to assess the deconstruction potential of new build residential. Application of this methodology could lead to the reduction of CO2 emissions through the benefits of reusing and recycling materials and components from buildings at the end of their life, by addressing ‘Circular Economy principles’ in the built environment. The methodology involves a combination of using checklists and a scoring approach relating to a number of criteria, making use of information from design drawings and project specifications. Consequently, an overall deconstruction potential score is obtained for a residential building.

The methodology has been applied to a number of residential case studies including two modular constructions and a more traditional brick and block; and an office building and a ski-slope construction. The case studies describe the methodology, the deconstruction potential and recommendations for achieving an improved deconstruction capability.

This collection of case studies aim to raise awareness amongst architects, designers and contractors of the potential of deconstruction to create more sustainable buildings and some of the actions that can lead to better deconstruction outcomes.


[edit] Why is design for deconstruction important?

The built environment currently accounts for around 60% of UK’s material consumption and nearly half of all waste arising. By ‘Designing for Deconstruction’ (DfD) there are long term savings to be made in the amount of material used and related embodied carbon as well as reducedwaste arisings. This is by ensuring that components that are specified are fit for purpose and can preferably be reused rather than recycled at the end of their life, maintain their value. DfD is one of the key parts of the jigsaw to assist the construction industry in achieving higher levels of resource efficiency and embedding circular economy thinking.

There were an estimated 23.2 million dwellings in existence in England in 2013[1]. Houses and other types of buildings that are designed and built now will at some point come to the end of their useful life (the accepted service life norm is 60 years), when they will be demolished or significantly altered. It is therefore important to consider how the building’s components can either be reused and/or recycled. Current recycling rates for demolition waste are very high; however, the majority of these materials are often ‘downcycled’ (producing a lower value product than the original) and the reuse of components and products is minimal. This is in part due to the way the building has been designed and the materials that have been used – it usually costs more and takes longer to deconstruct than demolish. By undertaking deconstruction, products should be able to be removed for reuse as there is minimal damage to them. With demolition, the product is usually destroyed and the materials sent for recycling. Additionally, with the increasing use of composite products to assist in meeting higher thermal requirements, recycling rates are expected to be impacted as it can be difficult to separate these materials to enable their recovery. DfD enables a building’s resources to be preferably reused, then cycled in the most efficient and productive way.

At its simplest level, there are two main considerations:

WRAP has defined Design for Deconstruction and Flexibility (DfDF) as one of the five principles for designing out waste within its Designing out Waste Guide [2]. Consideration of DfD needs to be embedded within the key stages of the design process to ensure it is considered at the earliest stages of a construction project where the opportunity for influence is at its greatest. According to BS8895-2:2015 ‘Designing for material efficiency in building projects’ [3], consideration of DfD should be given where feasible during the Concept and Developed design stages of the RIBA Plan of Work Stages[4].

There is some guidance available to help designers apply DfD thinking and principles such as the SEDA Design and Detailing for Deconstruction publication [5]. However, there is no accepted UK methodology, standard or test which designers can use to assess the ease of deconstruction of a building and the subsequent reuse and recycling potential of the building’s components.

[edit] Methodology

BRE have developed an outline methodology to measure the ‘deconstructability’ of new-build residential buildings. This methodology is intended as a developer/designer tool and should be applied during the design stage of a project, to inform the design process of where there is potential to maximise deconstruction opportunities, thereby contributing to reductions in overall carbon emissions. The methodology includes consideration of:

[edit] The elements and components

A checklist is used to define the types of elements and components that will be used within the proposed building. The elements are grouped into: foundations and ground floor, other floors, roof, external walls, other walls and finishes, floor finishes, building services and sanitary ware. Fixtures and fittings are also considered, if information is available.

The elements are weighted using the relative impact of their embodied CO2e. These figures have been derived from an NHBC Study [6] on operational and embodied carbon in new housing and BRE datasets. The weighting varies for the type of house: whether it is a masonry or timber house and whether it is detached or not.

[edit] The criteria

DfD criteria are applied to each of the building’s weighted elements and a score is obtained for each element. The scored criteria are:

Each of these criteria is scored either a 1, 0.5 or 0, depending on whether it has been fully, partially or not considered within the design process for each element. The score for each criterion is then aggregated across the elements and presented as a percentage.

[edit] Documentation

Appropriate project documentation is very important for DfD. When the building has reached its end of its life, sufficient information should be available for the demolition contractor to be able to deconstruct the building (i.e. take it apart), identify the components and materials that have been used and their potential for reuse and recycling. This is where the current development of Building Information Modelling (BIM), will make gains in the ability to document a project’s assets in a single location, with real time data.

DfD will also be influenced within the framework of BIM, enabling designers to model buildings more efficiently. 3D modelling of project data, design drawings and development of the project specifications enhances the knowledge base upon which a project is founded and therefore enables more resource-efficient future uses. Data related to assessing DfD, such as the reuse and recycling potential of components, how they are connected and their accessibility could all be captured within a BIM model.

[edit] Recommendations

The intention is that this methodology is the first step in being able to measure the deconstruction potential. There are a number of wider recommendations going forward:

The methodology is likely to be further developed to include issues such as the lifetime of elements, BIM objects data, whole life costing and other types of construction projects.

This article was written by Katherine Adams, BRE Trust, and first appeared at BRE Buzz in December 2015.

[edit] References

--BRE Buzz

[edit] Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki

[edit] External sources

[edit] Information on the reclamation and recycling potential.

Designing Buildings Anywhere

Get the Firefox add-on to access 20,000 definitions direct from any website

Find out more Accept cookies and
don't show me this again