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posted: 8/17/2013 6:00 AM

Deconstruction experts salvage what they can

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  • Homeowners may opt to "deconstruct" a kitchen or bathroom prior to a remodeling job. Building materials often can reused or resold.

    Homeowners may opt to "deconstruct" a kitchen or bathroom prior to a remodeling job. Building materials often can reused or resold.
    Courtesy of DesignPlus

  • This countertop, made of recycled glass,

    This countertop, made of recycled glass,
    Courtesy of Granite Transformations

  • Formaldehyde-free plywood is better for the environment, experts say.

    Formaldehyde-free plywood is better for the environment, experts say.
    Courtesy of Columbia Forest Products

By Alyssa Karas
CTW Features

When Alissa Walmsley and her husband Mike bought their first house in New Jersey's competitive real estate market, they weren't crazy about its previous owner's rosy aesthetic.

"The carpets were pink, the walls were pink, there was pink wallpaper in the kitchen," says Walmsley, who lives in Morristown, N.J. There was plenty of remodeling to do.

Walmsley wanted a brighter, more cheerful kitchen, but after a professional estimate revealed it would cost upward of $10,000, she and her husband turned to deconstruction, a greener remodeling approach that can save money and resources.

Instead of simply taking a sledgehammer to their old kitchen and heaping the remnants into a landfill, the Walmsleys carefully deconstructed the space in order to reuse the cabinets, the cabinet doors and other features of the kitchen.

"Getting our countertops off was just horrible, but it was definitely worth reusing the cabinets," Walmsley says. "A few coats of paint and some polyurethane, and it's in good shape now."

Rewind the clock

Deconstruction is an antidote to remodeling demolition. Instead of throwing away materials like cabinetry and lumber, they are reused or recycled. "Deconstruction is basically construction in reverse," says Max Rubinstein, deconstruction manager at Build It Green!, New York City. "Basically we're doing everything that was done originally except we're doing it in rewind."

Deconstruction can be a good fit for any size project. The Walmsleys took a DIY approach to salvage their kitchen cabinets. But ReBuild Green, which owner Roderick Cooper operates in Palo Alto, Calif., is often called in to deconstruct entire houses up to 25,000 square feet.

Homeowners have sometimes poured tens of thousands of dollars into the kitchen alone, and marble, radiant-heated floors and skylights can all be saved for reuse when deconstructed. "I would explain deconstruction as a green way of demolishing a kitchen or bathroom, instead of coming in and crushing custom tubs and Jacuzzis and vanities with sledgehammers," Cooper says.

Why deconstruct?

The benefits of deconstruction are twofold: First, it's environmentally friendly, and second, it can be cost-effective.

Remodeling can be wasteful: In New York City, for example, more than 19,000 tons of building materials are thrown away by the construction and demolition industry every day, according to Build It Green! NYC.

Opting for deconstruction, however, will keep your unwanted building materials out of the trash. Flooring, fixtures, windows, cabinets, hardware and appliances can all be saved and reused.

There's very little that deconstruction companies won't accept; as long as it's in decent condition, it can be saved. Any remaining materials -- especially wood and metal -- can be recycled. "We try to send as little as possible to the landfill. That's the big, big goal," says Der Lovett, owner of Lovett Deconstruction in Portland, Ore.

Money matters

While there are big environmental benefits to deconstruction, homeowners typically can count on a timely and cost-effective process, too.

For smaller projects, like a kitchen or bathroom, deconstruction usually doesn't add more than a day to the remodeling process.

So, what happens to your old kitchen sink and your discarded cabinets once they've been removed? "If [homeowners] choose deconstruction over demolition, then all the reusable materials can be donated on the client's behalf, so the homeowner will benefit from the donation and get a tax-deductible receipt," Lovett says. Items will be resold or donated to charity.

It's a big bonus for those who are searching for ways to offset renovation costs, Rubinstein says.

Lovett says his clients are often surprised at how much can be saved and repurposed. "Sometimes when we're taking down some of the original framing, we will have a small piece of furniture made from the framing, like a bench or a stool or a box and present it to the homeowner or client when we're finished," he says. "And they're just shocked that something so beautiful can be made from their house."

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