Banishing the Bulldozer

Monday, April 7, 2014 - 15:35
Arthur Renaud

From the June 2013 USGBC-LA Magazine

Banishing the Bulldozer                     

By: The ReUse People of America                                                                                          

*** Green Building Starts with Responsible Disposal ***

Many families today are interested in building “green.” In industry parlance, that means designing a health-promoting, energy-efficient, environmentally responsible home uniquely suited to its surroundings. Green building may initially cost more than traditional construction, but for a variety of health and safety reasons, and lower overall living costs once the house is finished, growing numbers of people are willing to pay the price.

Since living in the new home is the ultimate goal of homeowners who embark on a green building venture, few pay attention to what happens to the old structure – whether it’s the entire house or a portion to be remodeled. Understandably, families focus on the negative features of the existing structure rather than its value. They notice the poor lighting, leaks, inefficient floor plan, and other qualities that fall short of facilitating their lifestyle. They are eager to create the new and shed the old.

As a homeowner begins what can be a long journey from the planning phase through the completion of the building project, there are numerous moving parts in the process to consider: choosing an architect and a general contractor, reviewing building plans, procuring construction financing and building permits, and selecting an array of fixtures - lighting, plumbing, cabinetry, flooring, etc. And, in addition to all that, they often have to find a suitable place to reside for the year or more it may take to complete the project.

While it isn’t always easy being green, many homeowners overlook a major environmental and economic opportunity that exists at the very outset of most building and remodeling projects: DECONSTRUCTION.

Most projects begin with some form of demolition and disposal of the old materials that are to be replaced – whether the project is a remodel or the complete removal of an existing structure.

Demolishing a building means completely destroying it, which typically means using heavy machinery to knock down and then crush it. Materials are then condensed as much as possible for ease of transport to the landfill. Not only does this method clog our overburdened landfills, it can cost owners thousands of dollars in landfill fees while depriving consumers of a wealth of quality products and materials.

Deconstruction is a rapidly growing trend that involves the careful dismantling of a structure and the salvaging of all usable materials. As a building is being deconstructed, a broad range of materials can be harvested for reuse, including doors, windows, cabinetry, hardwood flooring, fixtures, appliances, rough framing lumber and roof tiles.

The principal distinction between deconstruction and demolition is deconstruction’s goal of diverting as much material as possible from the landfill.

Deconstruction is relatively new in name, but not in practice. The recovery of materials and their reuse in new buildings has been going on for a very long time. In fact, reuse of materials could be considered one of the original green-building techniques.

Here are several compelling reasons to avoid demolition and consider deconstruction:

  • Not only are good materials discarded with demolition, but the energy embodied within them is also lost.
  • Landfills are already overburdened, and fewer are being built.
  • Most used building materials have value.
  • The availability of used building materials increases the standard of living in most communities.
  • Green jobs are created through the deconstruction process.
  • Tax deductions are often available for the donation of useable building materials to qualified nonprofit organizations.

Many people are not aware of that last point: that when used items are donated to an appropriate nonprofit organization, the owner may realize a substantial tax deduction.

The ReUse People of America (TRP) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit environmental organization that has been promoting deconstruction and reuse for nearly 20 years and has truly set the industry standard. By consistently focusing on this mission, TRP has diverted over 320,000 tons of used building materials from landfills, trained dozens of contractors in the “art and science of deconstruction” and provided full-time employment to hundreds of workers.

Through the efforts of TRP and its certified deconstruction contractors, 75 to 80 percent of a building can be kept out of the landfill. In fact, on several projects, TRP’s methodology has diverted over 95 percent. Since its inception, TRP has deconstructed thousands of buildings, including single and multi-family houses, commercial structures, military warehouses and large-scale motion picture sets.

TRP’s home office is located in Oakland, California, and the company maintains additional offices in numerous markets nationally. In California, TRP manages two retail warehouses, in Oakland and Los Angeles, and offers deconstruction opportunities throughout the state.

In the Los Angeles area, the TRP retail warehouse is located in the Los Feliz/Glendale area. The warehouse receives a steady supply of materials from TRP deconstruction projects and is open to the public. Materials available include everything from vintage architectural items, like corbels and columns, to utilitarian materials such as lumber. All materials are sold at cents on the dollar.

Deconstruction is a win-win-win solution. Even people who elect to build in the traditional way can start green, by deconstructing. Everyone benefits: owners by receiving tax deductions, consumers when they purchase quality materials at low prices, and the rest of us through the many advantages of a cleaner environment.

For more information, visit The ReUse People’s website at www.TheReUsePeople.org

                                                                                                           

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