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When preparing a house for a project, the remodeling industry standard is to rip out old fixtures, fittings, and materials, toss them in a Dumpster, and haul the containers to the nearest landfill. A better environmental alternative is deconstruction — removing items from the building that can be salvaged or donated. However, the process takes longer and costs more than demolition, so remodelers who are considering using it need to weigh demolition costs against deconstruction costs, including any offsets from tax credits.

Contractor or In-House Crews

Remodelers can use a specialty deconstruction subcontractor for a full-scale process or use a home-grown approach of removing and selling materials themselves. Subcontractors are more viable for larger jobs because they have employees trained in deconstruction techniques and have sources for almost all materials.

Michael Shuster of Wildwood Joinery & Design, in Longmont, Colo., prefers using a subcontractor on large projects. “If we’re doing a pop-top and tearing out the roof structure or tearing down a wing or two of house for a whole-house remodel, then we bring in a demo sub. It’s like hiring a drywall sub — if we are hanging three sheets, we do it. But if we have 500 sheets to hang, I would not even consider having our crew do it,” he says. “The [demo subs] have trucks with dump beds and trained crews. I hate to pay $20 to $30 per hour for a carpenter to do days of work that a $12-per-hour laborer could be doing.”

Credit: Talmadge Construction

Jeff Talmadge of Talmadge Construction, in Aptos, Calif., likes having a fixed cost for this portion of the budget. “For contractors, labor is often the item we have the most trouble estimating,” he says.

Shuster discusses deconstruction with clients during the sales or bidding process. “Clients are impressed by our care and thoughtfulness,” he says. “People who have lived in their homes for a long time have an attachment. Even if they now want to upgrade it, they do not want to see it destroyed. It seems more professional to take things out surgically versus smashing them with a sledgehammer.”

Brian McVay, general manager of the handyman and home-performance divisions at Neil Kelly Co., in Portland, Ore., says that deconstruction requires a change of mindset. “At our company, there is a growing awareness of where materials are going and where they are being recycled. We are able to answer questions from our more environmentally aware clients. It’s important to think of how we can maximize our profits and minimize our energy use,” he says.

Paul Hughes, president of DeConstruction Services, in Fairfax, Va., suggests that remodelers survey landfill prices in their areas to get an idea of the escalating costs. “That is why many remodelers call us,” he says.

Appraising Materials

DeConstruction Services has 14 people on two crews that remove materials and deliver a broom-swept foundation to the remodeler. Hughes says that he tries to get involved at the beginning of the remodeling process, ideally at the bidding stage, along with the other subs. Either he or his staff visit the house to estimate the cost of deconstruction. He says that there is no rule of thumb or average square footage cost because he has to evaluate the logistics of the site and estimate the number and placement of containers. “To save workers energy and time, you want to move products to the front of the house where they will be picked up,” he says. Most houses have five to six different streams of materials, including wood, masonry, metal, and asphalt shingles.