A few years ago, some friends of ours purchased an older home from a widow who no longer could maintain the house and the more than two dozen fruit trees that rested on its sunny, western-facing lot.
While the couple’s residence was far nicer and newer than the widow’s 1960s rambler, they loved the garden and orchard. They also dreamed of building a home from scratch, exactly how they wanted it, with the latest in energy-efficient building materials and appliances.
In September 2008, when the economy took its infamous nosedive, the couple began to wonder if they ever would be able to afford a significant remodel, let alone design and build a new home on the site.
The assets they had set aside for the project had dwindled considerably, as had the value of the older home they had recently purchased. Given the costs to sell the property, they wondered if they could ever recover the original purchase price.
"What I underestimated was how willing the subcontractors had become to adjust their bids," one of the owners said. "They wanted to keep their crews working and were willing to reduce their price to make that happen. We also saw some of the costs of our materials come down. When we added them together, the savings were close to the amount that we had lost in the stock market."
Since the decision to proceed, two other pleasant surprises occurred. Some of their remaining assets rebounded in value, thereby restoring a portion of the next egg, and the couple found an alternative to conventional demolition that saved both money and materials.
They hired a regional demolition company that removed and reused their metal roof, heat pump, doors, sinks, windows and other salvageable material in return for a credit against labor costs. The company put the used items on shelves in its Seattle and Bellingham, Wash., retail stores and recycled much of the typical waste products, saving the couple additional disposal fees.
"By the time the deconstruction was over, I estimated we saved more than one-third the cost of a typical demolition," the owner said. "What was also important to us is that all that wood and metal did not end up in a landfill."
Like many regional companies specializing in recycling home products, the demolition company was founded by a nonprofit organization to address the growing problem of wasteful disposal of usable building materials, most of which were buried in the local landfill.
The company, and other organizations and companies like it, provide an alternative to dumping the materials that come from an estimated 200,000 building demolitions each year in the U.S.
Noel Stout, RE Store deconstruction manager, said the amount that homeowners can save is dictated by the quality of materials in the home.
"When it comes to costs, we are very competitive with the other demolition companies. A 2,000-square-foot house is probably going to cost the owner between $8,000 and $15,000. In addition, they will be keeping about 85 percent of the house from going in a landfill."
The company also strives to create jobs and opportunities for reuse, education and innovation at every step of the process. It reviews its recently collected inventory and stocks quality building and home improvement materials at prices that are up to 50 percent less than the cost of new items.
Some of the stocking work is done by interns from the Working to Achieve Growth in Employment Skills (WAGES) program, administered by the Young Adult Services department of the YMCA.
"It’s a win-win situation for the interns and the RE Store," said Pat Finn Coven, the company’s operations manager. "They get training and experience while helping us to increase the materials we can divert from landfills."
The retail stores have been a boon for contractors and remodelers seeking older fixtures and for owners on a budget. For example, Gabriel Gonzalez, a former RE Store employee with a passion for green design and reuse, completely remodeled a heavily outdated and partially unfinished building that he owns.
He gutted the bathroom and kitchen, and transformed the structure into a warm, two-bedroom cottage. More than 80 percent of the materials used had been recycled.
"It was well worth all the effort," Gonzales said. "Nobody I know has a kitchen cabinet set like mine or a tiled bathroom with even half the style."
It also saved him money and kept material from taking up space in a landfill.