Green Notes By Jeff Remtema, AIA, LEED AP BD+C
Design for Disassembly: Begin with the End in Mind
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN in a situation
where, shortly after completing a project,
a significant change needed to be made?
It could be a change to the finishes or fixtures, or the entire store could suddenly
need to be moved.
Seldom are these types of late changes
quick and simple. More likely they are disruptive and complicated to accommodate—
and may have environmental impacts as
well. What happened to materials that
were changed out? Could they be recycled?
Or did they have to be disposed of wholesale because there was no way to separate the recyclable from the non-recyclable
Focus on fasteners
Design for disassembly attempts to address
these issues by making materials easier to
separate, repair, change, and ultimately dispose of. There may even be tax depreciation
Facilities and fixtures are, of course, constructed of a variety of materials all held
together by different means to create a finished product. There are essentially three
ways to attach materials together: mechanical fasteners including nails, screws, or
bolts; chemical welding including adhesives
and glues; and electro welding and plating, which are primarily used to join metals
The design of this JOY of PUMA store allows not only for ease of disassembly, but also for ease
of reconfiguration. And the entire store can be packed up and moved to another location.
• See the JOY of PUMA store’s flexibility in
action, along with other achievements
together. While each method offers advantages and disadvantages, design for disassembly focuses primarily on mechanical
fasteners that, once installed, can also be
As an example, consider your office chair.
The chair you sit in is most likely a complex
combination of metals, plastics, fabrics, and
other materials joined together in a variety
of ways, from glues and screws to mechanical welds. As the chair ages, typically the
seating area and fabrics will fail first. A properly designed chair will allow for a relatively
quick and painless replacement of the fabric.
A more complicated chair may require the
entire seat to be replaced. A poorly designed
chair will be easier to discard and replace
than to try to repair.
Now imagine that your chair is at the end
of its useful life. How easy will it be to recy-
cle? Are the metal pieces coated in plastic?
Are special fasteners or glues used? Most
chairs today are so complicated to recycle
that, rather than attempting to take them
apart, it is easier to smash the whole thing
to pieces using giant hammers and shred-
ding equipment in order to reduce them to
small pieces. The small pieces can then be
separated using methods such as blowers,
magnets, and float separation. The energy
required for such an operation is rarely justi-
fiable—so, too often, the landfill will be your
poor chair’s final resting place.