GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- With computers now standard tools in architecture and building construction, University of Florida researchers are creating software to help with the other end of the process: taking buildings apart.
The software, being developed at the Center for Construction and the Environment in UF's College of Architecture, will allow contractors and developers to calculate the cost of reusing or recycling a specific building's components and the cost and availability of recycled products for new construction.
As environmental awareness continues to grow and landfill space becomes more precious, old-fashioned sledgehammer-and-wrecking-ball demolition is being replaced by "deconstruction" -- careful disassembly of buildings so materials within them can be reused.
"We're trying to change, in one small aspect, the unsustainable economy of the U.S. and society," said Bradley Guy, director of the UF center. "We make a lot of waste, and that economic system is not sustainable. Waste is an environmental and economical drain."
The construction-and-demolition industry produces 136 million tons of waste in the United States each year. Just 8 percent of that is from new construction, Guy said.
Studies show that deconstruction can reduce waste disposal by as much as 75 percent over demolition practices while employing 10 times as many workers, he said.
Building recycling is a two-step process. Workers first carefully disassemble a building, separating waste from materials still of value. The reusable salvaged materials then are made available for new construction.
Reusable building components include wood and wood flooring, doors, windows, fixtures and some antique or unique items.
The UF computer programs will allow a developer to plug in the building type, size and component materials. The software then will provide a database of Internet links to deconstruction contractors and suppliers and to retailers of reusable and recycled products, complete with online product inventory and cost data.
The computer program also will help developers qualify and quantify the type and volume of materials that could be reused from sites.
Such planning tools currently are available in Europe but not in the United States. The software will be available to the public and should encourage community planners and developers to expand and create reuse markets, Guy said.
To help guide deconstruction efforts specifically in the Southeast, the project team will start a mentoring program. Four representatives from businesses, government or nonprofit organizations will participate. The researchers will help those groups by assessing their buildings slated for deconstruction in terms of recycling potential.
An official at the Reuse Development Organization in Indiana, a national nonprofit group that assists reusable materials centers, say the UF project will be important.
"Deconstruction to date has been a very case-by-case process," Executive Director Julie L. Rhodes said. "Having a work force that understands how to do deconstruction and an infrastructure that supports the activity means that more materials are going to be kept out of the landfills."
If extracted materials are treated as commodities rather than waste, Rhodes said, construction consumers will consider them more valuable and increase their use.
The Center for Construction and the Environment also plans to create a Center for Excellence in Deconstruction, which will include the development of a Web site providing deconstruction information. The public will have access next year to a research guide and to the computer-based tools and models through the Web site at http://www.bcn.ufl.edu/sustainable.
The project is funded through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Jobs Through Recycling grant program by way of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The 17-month grant totals $97,725.
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