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  • Writer's pictureLuna Oiwa

Interview with Brad Guy: Part 2 of 3

Luna: Looking at the bigger picture, do you think that DfD will ever take off and become mainstream in the US?

Brad: Well, one thing I was thinking about when you asked me about talking was that there has been a pretty reasonable adoption of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) [1]. There are 23 states in the US that have at least one EPR law. I heard a while ago that the state of Washington has an EPR law now for photovoltaics (PV). They recognize that it’s going to be a really bad waste product in the next 20 to 30 years. Although the metals are precious and can be recycled, the way these things are made make them very difficult to separate and recycle.

The acknowledgement that we have to have responsibility for certain materials will probably spread; I just don’t know to what extent. It’s hard to apply this to the whole building industry because the building industry is very fragmented. To make a building involves hundreds of products, an engineer, architect, owner, investor, building code officials, and so on. That’s a lot of people to organize around an idea. How would we get them all tracking sufficiently?

I could see DfD being a niche. I could see it being a selling point. I know a company that did an open build system. They put a trademark on it, they use that as a selling point— it's really important to the company personally and ethically. So my long answer to everything is yes, I could see it being adopted, but not say [mainstream].

Luna: Do you think we can draw any lessons from Europe, or do you think their culture, the fact that they have fewer building companies, and other factors are too different for us to apply those lessons here?

Brad: The most impressive thing to me there is how much money they put into building research. That's pretty easy to duplicate. The Department of Energy has billions of dollars. The USDA, if you look at wood products, trying to reuse wood and recycle to avoid carbon, they have [plenty of money] to fund that kind of research.

The folks at Carnegie Mellon did a study once of how much money goes into R&D in the building industry and it's like 0.001% or so of R&D dollars in the US. And they compared it to Europe, and even if it was only like 5% in Europe, it would be a hundred times more than we are.

I don’t know... what else could we learn from them other than their culture? They've been around longer, they run out of land sooner, they get polluted more than us in more centralized ways so there are pressures to deal with it... The Netherlands is a leader in all of this stuff; they're unbelievable. [Their approach on] C&D waste, green building products, design for deconstruction, renewable energy— it's like everything you want to think about for the future.

[In Europe, and then in the US,] I think the disaster paradigm is going to drive a lot of things in the next 20 years or so. People are going to have to relocate— and the sensitive way to do this would be to deconstruct stuff, not just to bulldoze it.

But there's a lot you can learn from information transfer generally. That’s why I like the CIB group— it was really great because I met a ton of people from other countries and I still have a bunch of those relationships even now [2].

Can you think of any stuff or have you thought about that?

Luna: Specific to DfD, I was thinking that since physics works the same way in Europe as it does here, the structural and more technical lessons would directly translate to the US.

Brad: Oh yeah, that's true. The actual systems, like demountable concrete systems. I've seen that in Australia and in Europe because they build more out of concrete. They’re looking at concrete more than us in those terms, and that’s helpful to us since we also use plenty of concrete.


Yeah that's a good point. There's a lot of good research on steel demountability in Europe. And then wood— actually some of the best I saw was in Japan, because Japan is historically wood-based. I visited a couple of times, and this one guy invented some kind of brick construction system. It was like mortarless brick. You could pull out the reinforcing, and the bricks would fall off so you could take them apart by hand. They also got very detailed in using two-headed nails, believe it or not. You use them for temporary stuff because you know you’re going to pull them out. They built a house using double-headed nails.

Luna: What kind of projects are you working on right now?

Brad: Well, the main one is I'm doing a house for myself.

Luna: Oh wow.

Brad: And it's a hybrid of all these things. I couldn’t do some perfect, experimental, totally 100% of anything, which was a great lesson. But it’s a 1950s slab-on-grade and concrete masonry unit (CMU) construction. The first goal was to keep as much as I could [from the original building on the site], and it was kind of a pain. So literally I deconstructed the entire house, except for the four exterior walls and the slab.

I was limited then because I was starting with the four walls and the dimensions. I had to upgrade the insulation. And then I saved every stick of wood, so all the wood rafters are now the wall framing inside the house. I got some more salvage wood, so I’d say that about 90% of the house is framed in salvaged wood.

For DfD I wanted to do a lot of things that were just so cost-prohibitive. I'm not like a rich person, so I couldn’t just do everything I know. I wanted to run all the conduit on the inside the walls. But where I am in Florida, they're like nah, we can't do that. It's too complicated, we're not used to it, too unfamiliar, and it's going to cost you a fortune. But that would have separated all that wiring from the envelope.

What I did accomplish is that there's no attic, and I exposed the duct work. So I did separate out all the HVAC. None of it is embedded anywhere in a wall or attic. The entire house is basically glue-laminated timbers spanning the full width. There's no internal structure, so that was a conscious effort to free up and simplify.

The roof itself is structural insulated panels (SIP). It’s a composite, so it's not the greatest thing as far as the separability of the actual panels, but it is a pre-fabrication; it only takes a day to put up. And it’s insulation and sheeting together.

That takes up a lot of my time because I'm not in a progressive place. It's hard to mediate between what might be easier to do on the West Coast and what I'm trying to achieve, and I don't have a million dollars.

I also just finished a project for the Building Research Establishment (BRE), and that was interesting. They had like 20 countries and they wanted to compile all the policies for what they call “building circularity.” I was with the US, so I was doing a whole thing to find every policy I could possibly find that would be relatively supportive of circularity and the built environment. I found about 20 or 25 policies that I thought were pretty good examples. I think in a few months, like May or June, the project will be completed and it’ll hopefully be public. When I read some of them, it was like holy cow there are some that are so progressive.

I'm also upgrading the Design for Disassembly Guide I made from 2006. So odds and ends. Little projects like that.


[1] Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is the concept of assigning producers the responsibility of managing post-consumer products.

[3] A “demountable concrete system” is a concrete structure in which the concrete components are designed for disassembly and reuse. These systems are currently under research, mostly outside of the US.

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