An incredible 74 million tons (67.1 million metric tons) of debris are created every year from the demolition of commercial and residential buildings, according to U.S. Census Bureau data [source: EPA]. If all of that gets stuffed into landfills, it will create myriad problems, as landfills emit greenhouse gases, harbor disease carriers such as rats and flies, and reduce natural habitat [source: Penn State University]. Far better, then, to salvage as much of this detritus as we can.
Before the wrecking ball begins to swing on your home or business, consider removing valuable materials: everything from doors and windows to woodwork, fixtures and architectural accents. Much of this can be sold for a tidy profit. It may make sense to deconstruct your entire building instead of demolishing it. Deconstruction involves carefully taking apart a structure by hand to preserve reusable materials -- no wrecking ball required -- and can result in up to 90 percent of materials being reused or recycled [source: EPA]. While deconstruction itself generally costs more than demolition, you can end up ahead because you'll earn money from selling the salvageable pieces [source: Bowman].
But the benefits of salvaging construction materials go beyond protecting our environment and personal health, and earning money selling salvaged parts. Yes, it's environmentally responsible to keep debris out of landfills. But did you also realize that if you renovate an old building instead of tearing it down and creating a new one, you're saving the significant amount of energy it takes to produce a new building? There's a lot of energy spent doing everything from milling lumber and mining copper to shipping finished materials all over the map [source: Bowman].
Salvaging materials and reusing them also allows you to create something new and unique, and to preserve history -- maybe even your own. One Ohio woman, heartbroken at having to tear down her family's dilapidated vacation cottage, was able to use bead board from its fireplace surround as wainscoting in the bathroom of the new home she was building, plus use a fine built-in cupboard as a linen closet. She also took a bowling-alley lane from an old business in her area and turned it into a kitchen counter [source: Breckenridge]. Now her new house has a comforting, familiar feel, some interesting features and a great story. What's not to like about that?