If you want to get rid of a house, you can drive a bulldozer into it, push it into a messy pile and burn it. If there are laws against burning it (which usually there are) you can pay to have it taken to a landfill and buried. This happens to more buildings than you think.
As virgin materials become more expensive and transportation costs increase, salvaging materials from C&D waste is becoming an attractive alternative. A new industry called deconstruction is being born.
I wanted to get the low-down on the deconstruction industry, so I tagged along with Christian Pikaart for a day. Christian runs Habitat for Humanity of Durham County‘s deconstruction program. He was working at a house in Chapel Hill, removing hard wood flooring, doors, and a few other items that he thought would sell well at Habitat’s ReStore.
He gave me a crowbar and hammer and showed me how to use the tools to pop the floor boards up without breaking them. It takes a little finesse since flooring is tongue-and-groove, and people don’t usually build things to be un-built.
Along with five or six volunteers, I spent the day prying up the flooring and tossing it into a pile. Christian told me he would have the next crew take out the nails and bundle the flooring for sale at the ReStore.
Deconstruction isn’t the default option, yet. Earning tax deductions, reducing expenses on tipping fees, and saving perfectly useful materials isn’t something people think of when they remodel or demolish a house. The construction industry is still dominated by the idea that old building materials can only be trash.
When he isn’t salvaging materials, Christian is trying to drum up more business: he calls contractors, speaks at industry association meetings, and tries to spread the word on deconstruction. Since salvage is an idea that’s always been around, you would think more people would be on board, already.
So far, Pikaart is able to the make the deconstruction program work on the strength of volunteers and Habitat’s good name. Deconstruction is labor intensive, but volunteers can be trained to perform most of the tasks. Habitat for Humanity has a well-established network of ReStores where salvaged items can be sold. The organization’s non-profit status also helps to encourage potential donors to consider deconstruction. Not only do donors receive a tax deduction for items that can be salvaged, they also contribute to building affordable housing.