Jonathan Mills, owner of Mills Builders in Sacramento, Calif., says, “We tear down homes that have nothing wrong with them all the time out here.” Mills didn't feel right about dumping the materials. From his company's inception in 1999 he began donating them to the local Habitat for Humanity. “At first, this wasn't done with the client's approval or knowledge,” he says. “We'd get some modest tax credit, which we'd give back to the client.” Most clients were grateful and a bit surprised. Mills also began to see that doing business this way differentiated his company from others and put him on a different level with architects. “They see us as ‘thinking' remodelers,” he says.

In recent years, Mills has been involved in more green building projects and has formalized his salvage efforts by becoming a certified deconstruction contractor through the organization The ReUse People of America ( www.thereusepeople.org).

Headquartered in Alameda, Calif., TRP is a non-profit whose mission, according to the organization's president Ted Reiff, “is to reduce the solid waste stream and change the way the built environment is renewed, by salvaging building materials and distributing them for reuse.”

TRP works with the remodelers it has certified by tagging items that can be salvaged before demolition. The remodeler carefully removes these items and delivers them to TRP, which provides the homeowner with a tax donation. For materials worth more than $5,000, the IRS requires an outside appraiser. “The client's deduction,” Reiff says, “goes a long way toward offsetting the costs of deconstruction. Plus, the return is doing the right thing for the environment.”

The example above is a composite based on actual jobs and used here to make an economic comparison between deconstruction and demolition. This composite is a single story, 2,200-square-foot house plus garage, with 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, raised foundation, composite shingles, single-pane windows, carpeting, hardwood floors, and a 12-by-40-foot wood deck.

The costs do not include removal of concrete slabs, sidewalks, foundations, or asphalt, but do include the site being left in a rake-clean condition.

In the machine demolition scenario, the owner pays $10,100, but in the TRP deconstruction scenario, the homeowner receives $6,462 in after-tax benefits. In other words, the owner would be financially better off to the tune of $16,562 ($6,462 received in tax benefits versus paying $10,100 in demolition costs).
The ReUse People of America The example above is a composite based on actual jobs and used here to make an economic comparison between deconstruction and demolition. This composite is a single story, 2,200-square-foot house plus garage, with 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, raised foundation, composite shingles, single-pane windows, carpeting, hardwood floors, and a 12-by-40-foot wood deck. The costs do not include removal of concrete slabs, sidewalks, foundations, or asphalt, but do include the site being left in a rake-clean condition. In the machine demolition scenario, the owner pays $10,100, but in the TRP deconstruction scenario, the homeowner receives $6,462 in after-tax benefits. In other words, the owner would be financially better off to the tune of $16,562 ($6,462 received in tax benefits versus paying $10,100 in demolition costs).

The West Coast is at the forefront of the reuse and deconstruction movement. In 1990, California created the California Integrated Waste Management Board, which established rules requiring Californians to divert 50% of their waste stream tonnage by the year 2000. “No major city has done it,” Reiff says. “We're coming under extreme pressure. There is just no more room in the landfills.”

Although the lack of space may be less pressing in other states, remodelers like Mills feel that they're preparing for the inevitable. “In five years this will be standard,” he says.

There are organizations such as TRP in other parts of the country. The Building Materials Reuse Association's Web site, www.buildingreuse.org, has a directory of such groups. And, BMRA board member David Bennink, owner of Re-Use Consulting based in Seattle, works with remodelers nationwide to assess a site, identify what might be saved, determine techniques for removal, and to then find buyers for or places to which they can donate the materials. His Web site, www.reuseconsulting.com, is a clearinghouse for everything from old-growth lumber to the kitchen sink.

Salvage does take extra time and, depending on whether the materials are sold or donated, may cost more (see link to chart above) than outright demolition. But the benefits will extend into the future. “For a remodeling company with guys skilled at building,” Mills says, “unbuilding is not that difficult.”