© 2024 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Choosing Deconstruction Over Demolition

When Siobhan Spain and her family deconstructed an old barn on their family farm a few years ago, she re-used the barn wood instead of sending it to the landfill. 

“My brother works in construction,” Spain explains. “The wood has such a unique look, and you can’t find that sort of lumber anymore. It would have been a shame to just toss it.”

Credit Courtesy of Siobhan Spain
Siobhan Spain's brother installing reused barn wood in her kitchen.

  Tearing down the barn was emotional, but the actual process of taking the physical structure apart was easier than she thought it would be. “It took some time, but old barns are very simple structures. Once you take the roof off, you can basically just push them over.”

Spain’s family deconstructed their barn instead of demolishing it. When you demolish a building, it gets torn down as quickly as possible without regard to what happens to the discarded materials. When you deconstruct a building, you take it apart piece by piece and try to resell or reuse everything you can.

Old barns are very simple structures. Once you take the roof off, you can basically just push them over.

Scott Flagg manages Iowa’s Derelict Building Program through the Department of Natural Resources. He says there is a market for building materials from old barns and out buildings, especially old lumber. “We have people who will come out to properties and do waste audits. If it can be reused, they’ll find a market for it.”

Iowa’s Derelict Building Program provides grants for rural towns to tear down dilapidated public buildings. Since the program started in 2011, there have been more than 10,000 tons of building materials diverted from landfills out of 15,000 tons of construction waste.

When it comes to finding help to deconstruct private buildings, however, Flagg says there's either a need or an opportunity, depending on your perspective. "If you're looking for someone to help deconstruct on private ground, networking is my best advice. People are out there who will help, but finding them is tricky." 

During this Talk of Iowa interview, Charity Nebbe talks with Spain and Flagg about abandoned farm structures, rural buildings and what to do about them. 

Lindsey Moon is IPR's Senior Digital Producer
Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa