Deconstruction, not demolition, is the way to go
December 9, 2014
Since 1993, The ReUse People, a California-based nonprofit that branched into Utah two years ago, claims to have salvaged over 700 million pounds of reusable materials that would otherwise end up in landfills.
Sustainability is an increasingly important global issue and building demolitions and renovations appear to be an overlooked area of focus. When The ReUse People get a demolition project, they don’t rip everything out, load it into dumpsters and take it to a landfill — they take the building apart a little more carefully and save all the materials that can be salvaged — about 90 percent of a typical home.
"Let’s say there’s 100 tons that make up a typical house, and that’s including the foundation and everything on up," explains Daniel Salmon, The ReUse People’s regional manager in Utah. "Roughly 45 percent of that, so 45 tons, is found in the foundation — the basement, the concrete, all that sort of stuff. All of that can be recycled — and that’s pretty common now. They pick it out, they take it to a recycler who grinds it up and turns it into road paste and stuff.
"Another 45 percent is basically the rest of the building. So that’s all of the lumber, the fixtures, the cabinetry, flooring, windows, doors, plumbing fixtures, you name it. All the stuff that kind of goes into making a house," he said.
The ReUse People have partnered with Recycle Utah and the Habitat ReStore for deconstructions in and around Park City. All of that lumber, the various fixtures, plumbing and flooring from a deconstructed house is donated to those local nonprofits, which then re-sell the salvage which would otherwise end up at the landfill in Henefer.
"They get a lot of good materials," Salmon said of the local resellers, "especially up in Park City where you have houses that are outfitted with really nice equipment."
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Insa Riepen, executive director at Recycle Utah, agrees.
"We had people standing in line waiting for the next pallet to be taken off the truck," she said about the Lucky John Drive deconstruction. "We haven’t seen good stuff like this in a very long time — and that was an old house."
The donations are what make deconstructions financially sensible. The value of the salvaged materials can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and when those materials are donated, the homeowner can then claim a significant charitable-donation tax deduction.
The organization has done two entire-house deconstructions in Park City — one a couple months ago on Lucky John Drive and another last year on Old Ranch Road. Salmon said both projects were a boon to the owners.
"There was so much value in the materials we reclaimed that, because of each owner’s tax situation, their deduction exceeded the cost to do the deconstruction. So they basically got a free demolition and then got even more back."
Sounds great, right? But "less than one percent of all demolitions" go the salvage route, according to Salmon.
"The main reason people don’t do it is: first, they’re not aware that the option exists. We’re obviously entrenched in kind of the traditional bulldozing mentality. So it’s just a lack of awareness," he said.
"The difficulty with deconstruction, there are two things. One, it does take more time and people typically want things done quickly, especially when it comes to building. A caveat to that, however, and what I try to tell people is: every project faces delays. Whether it’s weather, supplies, permitting, you name it. And so the additional time to deconstruct a building in proportion to the other delays a project will face is really not that significant.
The Old Ranch Road deconstruction took about five and a half weeks, Salmon said, but that was a big house — about 6,000 square feet. The more-recent Park City job took about a month. "A typical 2,000-square-foot house, you’re talking probably two, two and a half weeks," he said.
"Our building season is very short, so I can understand that our builders, especially now that everything has jumped to full production again, want to do everything quickly," Riepen said.
"The other issue is the cost. It costs far more up front to deconstruct that it does to demolish. It’s anywhere from two to three times as expensive to deconstruct. However, depending on the value of the materials that are donated and the property owners’ tax situation, that can come back to them entirely in the form of a tax deduction, because it’s all donated. So, when it’s all said and done financially, deconstruction — I would say nine times out of 10 — is the same cost, if not substantially less than the cost of traditional demolition."
"Although we can do entire houses, and those are sort of the most dramatic projects, remodels are actually kind of like the slam-dunk, no-brainer situation," Salmon said.
"The reason being is that, let’s say you’re remodeling your entire kitchen and you’re hiring a contractor to come in and do that. Well, they’re already going to charge you for the cost of removing all of those items and just simply throwing them away. When you’re talking about deconstructing, the cost to do the same thing, except just a little more responsibly, only adds maybe 15-20 percent on top of what a normal contractor would charge. However, the benefit with the donation, I mean, far and away exceeds that additional 15-20 percent."
Any contractor can do it
Salmon started his own Salt Lake City-based business, called Material Resourcers, that does industrial and manufacturing material reclamation and repurposing. It’s what led him to The ReUse People and got the organization active in Utah. "We’re the only nonprofit in Utah that specifically focuses on doing building deconstruction," he said.
Material Resourcers is one of two contractors currently doing the actual deconstructing in Utah, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only ones that can do the projects.
"The ReUse People provides training for deconstruction to any contractor who wants to learn how to do it," Salmon said.
"The one thing I have been trying to find a solution to for years is how to ‘harvest’ more building material from buildings which are being taken down," Riepen said. When The ReUse People reached out to her, she said "this is the answer to all of my questions and problems here!"
"It is an amazing process, an amazing organization and we finally have somebody doing it locally," Riepen said.
"The benefits really outweigh the negatives, if you will. We don’t see them as negatives — we just see them as challenges, but they’re not insurmountable by any means. And when you consider kind of that triple-bottom-line benefit, where you have financial, social and environmental benefits — it far outweighs the traditional, just munch it up and turn it into trash, method."
For more information on building deconstruction, including financial breakdowns, visit The ReUse People’s website (thereusepeople.org) or call Regional Manager Daniel Salmon at 801-200-6092. The organization’s local re-selling partners are Recycle Utah (435-649-9698) and the Habitat for Humanity ReStore (435-487-9015).
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