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January 19, 2012, 07:03 PM

What to reclaim and reuse from the demolition of tower blocks

By Thornton Kay

Somerset, UK - In early January a reader asked Salvo: 'Just looking at a potential site for demolition and reclamation. But this one is poor quality and relatively new. Do you have any good ideas on anything innovative we might do to reclaim and reuse rather than simply downcycle on a site like this?'

This is Salvo's reply:

Over the years, with many requests to advise and many failures to reuse, Salvo has developed a targeted simple approach to modern buildings rather than one which tries to reclaim everything possible. If one or two reclaimable items are pinpointed for reuse it is simpler to achieve than a blanket approach which is simpler to reject. The UK Waste Regulations 2011 have now created a hierarchy for disposal which requires reuse as the first option, but this is only mandatory where a market exists for the items in question - and quite often modern salvage does not have a recognised market unlike much older salvage.

Salvo has acted as a consultant to undertake what it calls 'reclamation audits' on buildings to be demolished since 1993. The reclamation audit is a list of material arising and the options for disposal ranging from reuse on the same site, reuse on another project elsewhere, sale to a stockholding salvage dealer, recycling - which is usually downcycling into a lower grade product (such as crushing reusable bricks for hardcore), energy from waste and landfill.

The best options involve reuse because this saves embodied resources and embodied energy. The worst options are recycling, energy from waste and landfill. As a general rule, old buildings contain material which is easier to salvage, easier to reuse and easier to sell, while the opposite is true of modern buildings. But there are always exceptions, and even the least promising modern building will usually contain some salvageable components.

When demolishing modern buildings the suggestion to the client is always to look for reuse opportunities within the new building to be erected on the site where the demolition is to take place.

The first Salvo reclamation audit in 1993, at which Steve Tomlin helped, where 'same site salvage and reuse' was suggested, was for the BRE near Watford which at the time was planning to replace several buildings dating from the early 1900s through to the 1960s with a large eco-friendly office building which came to be known as 'Building 16'. The reclamation audit suggested reclaiming bricks and fire doors. The bricks, which had been bedded in lime mortar were easily reclaimed and were reused in the new building. The fire doors, which were also easily reclaimed, were sound and would have been reusable, were rejected for aesthetic and political reasons because the client did not want to commission a brand new building with old doors inside it.

In Wolverhampton in 1995 Salvo undertook another reclamation audit of the demolition of some tower blocks, and their replacement by low rise council housing. A few years prior to the audit the tower block's bathrooms had all been refurbished and new cast iron baths installed. We recommended that the baths were reused in the new build. This was accepted by the designers and client, but rejected by the council for political reasons. It was felt that incoming tenants to the new low rise houses would object to the baths and this might become a political issue at the forthcoming election. In the event nothing was reclaimed from that demolition.

In Liverpool in 1998, Salvo undertook another reclamation audit for a housing association which was replacing modern concrete framed tower blocks with low rise housing. The architects were keen to reuse reclaimed material and the scheme had a grant based on its high environmental credentials. The tower blocks had been recently rewired with new electrical fittings. Salvo suggested that the double sockets could be salvaged and reused. It contacted MK Electrical, the manufacturers to discuss reuse, and a local social enterprise white goods refurber to see if they would create a test-rig to test the sockets. Both MK and the social enterprise agreed, but the in-house architects for the housing association developers could not get the professional indemnity insurers to agree to the reuse.

On the same site, Salvo suggested chopping the concrete frame into beams and using the beams in the foundations which, due to the clay conditions on a flood plain, required deep fill trenches. The structural engineers agreed a method of reuse, but again the insurers refused.

Because Pilkington glass was manufactured nearby, Salvo suggested recycling the window glass into new window glass. This was rejected because of pollutants on the surface of the glass which could not be removed and would spoil the new glass.

The advice to the reader above is to target or pinpoint one or two items from the demolition which can be fairly easily reclaimed and reused in the new project, then set up the method by which that will happen. Track that methodology through the design and build process, making sure that client, builder, developer, architect, demolition contractor, external agencies, insurers, trade agencies, local authorities, councillors and council officers are informed at an early stage and have agreed to your proposal.

This may sound like hard work, but it is probably the only way to have a reasonably high chance of achieving a result. And how often has Salvo been successful with its reclamation audits for modern high rise buildings? Up to now, never! But Salvo stopped doing reclamation audits several years ago and the world is moving towards greater reuse, so don't give up - Reuse before Recycling!

Salvo campaigns for reuse as a planning condition

Did an Edwardian demolition in Sheffield break the law?

Story Type:  Opinion

ID: 64102

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