Pro Tips: Saving on Remodeling Costs With Deconstruction and Salvage

If you're planning some renovations, you may be able to save money—and help the environment—if you opt to start your project with deconstruction rather than traditional demolition. Let a pro walk you through the pros and cons.

Photo: Sunsetgreenhome.com

Renovations, regardless of whether they are large or small, can be costly endeavors. You may, however, be able to recoup some money by considering the benefits of “deconstruction”—donating your used building materials—or by stretching your remodeling dollars by shopping “salvage”—buying someone else’s donated materials. The benefits of either choice extend well beyond just the homeowner, because these practices reduce the amount of demolition debris that ends up in landfills and provide jobs for laborers involved in the dismantling process.

“Many homeowners can profit by donating used building materials,” explains Kim Erle, a LEED Green Associate accredited by the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), the credentialing arm of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Erle isn’t just an expert on advising homeowners on green building and renovation, she is the living embodiment of the deconstruction movement. “We lost our home in Long Island during Hurricane Sandy and were faced with demolishing and rebuilding on an extremely limited budget,” she explains. “I founded the Sunset Green Home project, a LEED-registered project that will seek Platinum certification at completion.”

Although deconstruction cost Erle about twice what a traditional demolition would have cost, the charitable donation ended up fully offsetting the cost of the demolition. “The whole process is what I like to think of as doing well by doing good,” says Erle. First, it keeps a high proportion of the used materials out of the landfill, which is better for the environment. Second, it makes used materials available to homeowners who have a need for replacement items but may not be able to afford new materials. And third, it potentially provides green job training and experience for entry-level workers. “It’s a triple-bottom-line home run,” she adds.

Sunset Green Home Deconstruction

Photo: Sunsetgreenhome.com

Erle notes that deconstruction is financially beneficial on small-scale renovations too. “Jeff Carroll of Details, the company that deconstructed our home, tells me that the cost differential between using a deconstruction firm, which salvages the usable materials, and a demolition company, which tears out the materials without regard to salvaging them, is even lower for small jobs like kitchen and bath remodels,” she adds. His crew can remove a kitchen or bath in just about the same time that it would take a demolition company to do the job.

As project leader and homeowner on the Sunset Green Home project, Erle has firsthand experience of the benefits and cost savings of deconstruction and salvage. Is it right for you?  Here are her top tips to keep in mind should you wish to follow her lead:

Get started early! You may do better financially by deconstructing and donating your unneeded building materials. But deconstruction takes planning, so make sure to give yourself enough time.

Shop often and befriend someone at the resale store. If you’re hoping to purchase and install salvaged kitchen cabinets, for example, it may take some time and several trips to the salvage store to find exactly what you need. Make sure to give yourself a longer lead time to increase the likelihood that you find your dream kitchen. You’d be surprised at the treasures that are available.

Try to use a nonprofit deconstruction firm. Details, the company we used to deconstruct the Sunset Green Home project, is a nonprofit firm with the mission of workforce development. Therefore, the company can receive as a donation and “consume” all the materials of a deconstruction project in fulfilling its mission. Using a for-profit deconstruction company will still result in a donation of reusable materials, but  any materials that can’t be salvaged—for example, insulation that is removed when a wall is taken down—would not be considered part of the donation.

Habitat Restore

Photo: habitatmwgw.org

Don’t forget about energy efficiency and environmental impact. Life-cycle costs and ecological impact matter. It may cost more over the long term to install an inexpensive, salvaged—but inefficient—appliance than to purchase a new one with a higher initial cost, but that over time has significantly lower operating costs and resource use. For example, a new washing machine uses considerably less energy and water than an older model. Depending on its age, a salvaged washing machine may not prove to be cost-effective over the long term.

A DIYer who has materials to donate can contact Habitat for Humanity, which operates ReStores nationally (and in Canada) through its affiliates. Niche players can be identified through Internet searches—in the New York City area, for instance, Build It Green NYC has warehouses in two of the city’s boroughs.

For a time-lapse video of the Sunset Green House deconstruction project, click here.