Special to The Washington Post
When I bought my Arlington house, I considered just adding a small second floor. But the house needs so much work that everyone with any common sense advised me to tear it down and start over again. With some misgivings, I agreed.
There’s nothing like a swinging wrecking ball, the sound of shattering glass, and the sight of a collapsing edifice to stir the soul. But the notion of recycling usable materials in a house is even more soul stirring.
On Friday, February 17, Paul Hughes from DeConstruction Services LLC came by to see what could be salvaged. My architect, Peter VanderPoel, had arranged for the meeting knowing that I would like the concept. Ed Gill, my contractor, came to give advice.
DeConstruction Services takes apart houses piece by piece. They start with the roof and work their way down to the floors. Eventually you have a clean lot, or, in my case, a foundation. The labor is provided by people who have had hard times getting jobs and they are trained in demolition work. .
The business model involves selling the materials in the market place, often on Craigslist or out of a warehouse. Then the value of these materials is tax deductible.
It’s a lot like the principle behind Goodwill Industries. The donor of the merchandise gets a tax deduction, people in need of jobs provide the labor, and the proceeds from the stores pays for the labor and the overhead.
The first thing Paul Hughes noticed in the house was the lead-based paint on the cabinets and baseboards. Although the EPA has rules about the disposal of lead painted wood, these things can nevertheless be sold to other consumers. I had a lot of questions about the logic of this and visions of the family buying the old shelving or painted doors with a hands-in mouth toddler crawling around.
The house has been heated with an oil-burning furnace. The furnace is practically new (although the oil tank, pictured, is not new). Paul assured me that lots of people would be interested in this since not everyone is served by gas utilities. But the oil tank is still two-thirds full. Paul said that a truck comes with a hose and pump and can empty the tank for resale elsewhere. I hope the tank isn’t corroded or the oil contaminated somehow.
And Ed says there is a market for empty (and steam cleaned) oil tanks. Who knew? He said people keep them as cisterns and some people accumulate multiple tanks (each of which must hold about 100 gallons) for a vast network of cisterns.
A lot of the building lumber can be recycled, although he said it can’t be used in new construction, I gather. I need to find out why, since I could conceivably use some of it for my new house.
All the oak flooring can be resold. In fact, this may be the most reliably recyclable product in the house. The trouble is that I might want to keep the floors myself also.
Even the asphalt roofing tiles can be recycled as road patching.
There are fences, playground equipment, vinyl windows, charming doors, light fixtures, kitchen cabinets, kitchen appliances, and the two brand new air conditioning units.
Paul will give me an estimate for the job early next week. The cost of the project is a big factor determining whether I go with DeConstruction Services or go with the old-fashioned wrecking company. I was disappointed that the materials don’t go directly to needy home builders. Instead, they are sold on the open market.
Over the weekend I thought about the business model and the charitable side of the operation. I didn’t understand where the charity lies other than hiring needy job seekers. How do they make the distinction between “at risk” chronically unemployed and all the other unemployed? That’s the same question I might ask about Goodwill Industries, too, for that matter.
My contractor, Ed and I talked over the weekend a bit and both of us remained a little skeptical. Could we simply do the same thing ourselves? Could Ed and his crew take apart the house and carry the salvageable stuff over to Community Forklift or to Habitat for Humanity? So let’s see what the estimate is and we’ll take it from there.
Mary McCutcheon is a retired anthropology professor at George Mason University.