Blog posted On December 19, 2018
In 2012, the United States had 7.4 million abandoned homes, a historical high. When homeowners vacate their homes, commercial abandonment follows, leading to blighted neighborhoods and eventually cities. To prevent the level of regional blight that followed the Financial Crisis, urban planners and construction researchers are thinking ahead. Through the study of “domicology,” the lifecycle of the built environment, builders are building structures that once deconstructed can be repurposed or recycled.
Abandoned buildings hurt property values and are often a sign of a community struggling with higher crime and rampant unemployment. Building abandonment also tends to happen in a continuum. First, deindustrialization leads to job loss, then job loss leads to foreclosure, then abandoned homes lead to abandoned businesses and commercial centers. When developers are planning a community, they typically do not account for what will happen to the community at the end of its lifecycle.
In most situations today, demolition if financed by public or private entities and the abandoned structures are dismantled, removed, and placed in landfills, generating significant material waste. Over 300,000 homes are demolished each year, generating 169.1 million tons of waste, approximately 22% of the total amount of solid waste nationwide. Domicology researchers are pioneering how to reuse building materials in a way that does not add to existing construction waste. Rather than demolishing abandoned or unused building, deconstruction can result in up to 95% material reuse and recycling.
At a time when the cost of construction materials is rising, deconstruction is more important than ever. Using salvaged wood in place of new timber reduces the reliance on Canadian lumber, which has experienced shortages and price fluctuations throughout the year. Salvaged concrete can also be aggregated into new construction materials. The movement requires a paradigm shift from the “build it, use it, demolish it,” mentality to “plan it, design it, build it, use it, deconstruct it, and reuse it.”
Domicology research is already emerging in classrooms at Michigan State University. Through continued investment in studying sustainable building practices plus policy changes involving demolition, future builders have the opportunity to prevent future abandonment and facilitate removal.