Little Goes to Waste

Remember how American Indians used almost every bit of a buffalo for clothing, food, shelter, weapons and such? Well, that’s a good comparison for a deconstructed home, as just about everything — from cabinets, sinks and toilets to flooring, appliances, ­windows and even wood (especially ­tight-grain, ­old-growth lumber) — can be reused or ­recycled. The only general exceptions are drywall, some roofing materials and stucco.

“People don’t believe it until they see it,” Cooper says, noting his crews typically can unbuild a home in eight to 10 days. The process is systematic and surgical, starting from the top and working down. Workers use de-nailing guns to remove nails from lumber; concrete foundation blocks get crushed and used for road base; asphalt shingles are melted­ and used for road slurry; and unusable lumber is ground up for mulch.

With a 20-man crew, Rebuild Green dismantled the Luo-Olavson home in three days. The final tally: 85 tons of debris, 73 tons of which were diverted from a landfill.

Cooper and Reiff say that sometimes the donated items, which go to places like Habitat for Humanity ReStores, are almost Kardashian-esque in their excess. Some examples: like-new Sub-Zero refrigerators, a $25,000 grandfather clock and lavish in-home theater systems.

“We deconstructed three homes in San Diego that were never even lived in,” Reiff says. “It’s pretty crazy.”

In other cases, deconstructors reuse salvaged items in their new homes, creating positive karma that can’t be measured in dollars and cents. Luo, for instance, reclaimed gorgeous redwood siding. Naturally rot- and insect-resistant, the wood was in great shape; a contractor used it to fashion intricately patterned porch ceilings and other architectural embellishments in her new home.

“Deconstruction is a small thing that makes a big difference,” Luo concludes. “Even if it costs a bit more, it’s a no-brainer.” 

KEN WYSOCKY is a freelance writer and editor in ­Milwaukee who recently deconstructed his son’s 1,254-piece LEGO set in less than one week.