This tough economic climate has builders thinking creatively and moving laterally when it comes to their businesses. They are becoming remodelers, renovators, even repairmen to keep work lined up for themselves and their crews.

As green building practices evolve and change the market, other opportunities arise in the name of environmental sustainability. One such opportunity is deconstruction. It's bigger in some areas than others, but I can see this practice growing into waste management statutes across the country.

About 20% of the solid waste processed into U.S. landfills is construction waste and demolition debris. Much of it can be recycled or reused. Like household recycling before it, municipalities that aim to reduce this pointless burying of our country's material resources will someday be common.

Image

Michael Springer

Besides the obvious reuse of intact cabinets, doors, lighting fixtures, and hardware, framing lumber can be reused for some purposes too. Any metal on the jobsite, from copper to cast iron, has salvage value. Concrete, brick, block, plywood, OSB, asphalt shingles, drywall scraps, and old carpeting can be reconstituted into other products. Even the smallest or trashiest pieces of wood can become mulch, compost, or refuse-derived fuel.

There are long-term holistic benefits of downsizing the country's waste stream, but there are cash perks as well. Deconstruction benefits contractors with savings on tipping fees at the landfill and provides them with a valuable green specialty. There are tax deductions available to the homeowner based on the value of reclaimed building materials that they donate to non-profit sales yards-a nice incentive to make them decide to pay the extra for deconstruction over demolition.

That is, until the practice is required in their area.

Jay Williams, a Denver area contractor, goes deconstruction one better by using reclaimed materials in his building and remodeling work. He named his company after the process: RE-construction.

"For the last five years, RE-construction has specialized in building and remodeling new homes with reclaimed materials," Williams says. Having worked in construction several years before starting his company, Williams was privy to what he calls "the wasteful habits of our industry," seeing all kinds of high-quality materials land in the dumpster. "We felt a change was long overdue and, as luck would have it, so did many homeowners," Williams says.

As concern for the environment grew, municipalities began to take notice, and fingers began to point in the construction industry's direction, says Williams. "Building departments in our area began to mandate many policies geared toward greening up our industry," he says. "Now, in certain cities and counties in our area, 65% or more of an existing home slated for demolition must be diverted from the landfill."

Williams notes that not all materials in old homes are reusable or meet today's code requirements, "but thankfully, much has been done in the way of new recycling programs to help keep more construction and demolition waste out of the landfills."

Williams says that the deconstruction mandates opened an alternate avenue for RE-construction and other like-minded builders. "We now systematically take apart old homes, salvage the high-quality materials for reuse in our new construction projects, and recycle much of the nonreusable materials," he says. "In fact, there has been so much demand for deconstruction, we put together two additional crews. In just over a year, we have fully deconstructed nine homes with landfill diversion rates well above 80%, as well as built two new homes with a high percentage of beautifully reclaimed components."

Williams says that deconstructing a home to reclaim the reusable materials takes what he calls a "velvet hammer" approach. "Gone are the days of the sledgehammer-wielding, Sawzall-armed, bash-and-dash. We now need to balance speed, safety, and precision on all our jobs," he says. "Solid cherry cabinetry is no good to anyone if it's all chewed up."

For more information on deconstruction and recycling house components, take a look at www.thereusepeople.org. The Reuse People of America Inc. is a non-profit organization that specializes in training and certifying deconstruction contractors. It has resale yards in some areas where tax-deductible contributions of used or surplus building materials can be made. Another relevant Web site is www.buildingreuse.org.

In upcoming issues of Tools of the Trade magazine, we will feature some tools particularly valuable for deconstruction work in our First Test section, so keep reading our print publication for updates as well.

Michael Springer