Recently, Jeff Rainey noticed that the price of the 20-yard containers his company uses for construction debris had risen again, this time to about $425 per drop-off and pull. He checked with local colleagues to see if this was normal, and the results were “scary;” they were experiencing the same thing.
Piling Up Rainey, president of Home Equity Builders in Great Falls, Va., said he isn't sure why disposal prices have increased as rapidly as they have, but suspects that dump fees are a part of it. With landfill space at a premium, disposal companies are faced with a higher cost of doing business. They pass that on to remodelers and builders, but the buck stops there. “It's almost impossible to pass [all disposal costs] on to clients,” Rainey says. For one, it's difficult to foresee just how much waste a project will develop. Home Equity Builders has recently adjusted its contract language to allow for flexibility. For example, Rainey might tell a homeowner, “We figured three Dumpster loads for this project. If it ends up being more than three, it will cost this much more per load.”
Rainey is also careful to explain to homeowners that the container is there for construction debris only, not garbage of all kinds. “I tell them it's not there for you to unload your basement, or your neighbor to unload his attic,” he says, noting that waste haulers are very strict about what can be put into Dumpsters and that there are penalties for breaking these rules. Even then, certain things are out of the remodeler's control. With the container sitting out in the open for weeks at a time, it's easy for people in the neighborhood or passersby to deposit their trash.
Home Equity Builders was also recently hit with a fine for an over-capacity Dumpster. When Rainey originally called to have it picked up, the disposal company was too busy, so it was a week before it was taken from the site. During that time, “people [not employees] kept throwing stuff in it,” he says, resulting in an extra $250 charge.
If You Can't Beat 'Em … Randy Brown, president and owner of Clearwater Home Improvement in Mystic, Conn., says that disposal companies in his area charge anywhere from $100 to $150 to drop off the Dumpster, and approximately $100 per ton to pick it up. Brown says that a few years ago, he became “skeptical that they were rounding up” the tonnage and charging more money. Clearwater, a replacement contractor specializing in siding, windows, and roofing (in addition to some full-service remodeling), has a fair amount of construction debris. “It was getting to the point where my overhead was more and more [money] all the time,” Brown says. The solution: A little more that two years ago, Brown bought his own truck. “It's the best thing I ever did,” he says.
In addition to the truck, Brown replaced the heating system in his home with a wood furnace. Feeding the stove with clean construction debris, he heats his house, pool, and water, and says he is “no longer dependent on oil” — a luxury that, in today's world of skyrocketing oil prices, is certainly a boon to his personal bottom line.
On the business side, Brown says he's paying about $1,000 a month to get rid of building materials, whereas before he estimates the monthly disposal price tag at between $4,000 and $5,000.
He's also making money by renting the services to people he knows in the industry, including his plumbing and electrical subs. He charges a reduced rate, in part because of his established relationship with them, and in part because they provide him with enough word-of-mouth advertising that he doesn't incur any additional marketing costs. Brown says he invested about $100,000 to get the business — which is called At Your Service Disposal — up and running.
For his part, Rainey says he knows of remodelers who have bought their own dump trucks, but has no plans to do so himself. “I want to simplify my life, not complicate it,” he says.