A memo on the complexity of salvaging buildings or parts thereof

October 7, 2017

I will try to be brief. Because there is just so much work to be done, and so little time and resources to complete it with. We are just transitioning from a period of little to no work, to a  tsunami of work. A characteristic of which is all the water at first disappears , but then………. individual deconstruction jobs are like that too- there is an entire building to dissemble but we wait for approvals, then the approvals arrive and there are only days to remove the building….we need a train to transport the goods but have a pickup, we need an army of laborers, but only have two or four….

Here’s a deconstruction story, yesterday on my way to look at house in West Haven, Ct. ( that is fortunately getting renovated , not demolished, and coincidentally was previously owned by my late uncle in the past  ), I drove through the area of the proposed mall, where dozens of houses are soon to be demolished. I was also on my way to look at houses in New Canaan and Greenwich, that will be demolished; while just having looked at a barn in Norwalk that is coming down; while next Sunday looking at  a House in Union that is coming down. Meanwhile on my desk are bids for houses in Branford, Ansonia, West Hartford, Baltic, Waterford, Old Saybrook, and Hamden. Oh, and Whethersfield. And this list does not include salvage from buildings getting renovated. That is another list.

Anyway back to the problem at hand, which is: on short notice try to save as much as possible from as many houses as possible. We are going to rally staff and contractors, coordinate with a number of reuse stores to take donations, and sell what we do not have the owners donate. In as short of time as possible. We will be posting the materials on our Instagram, Facebook and website pages. If the materials you see get donated, we will direct you to those organizations. If we are selling them directly, then we will make arrangements so you can buy, preferably directly from the job site. Sooner rather than later.

The barn shown below is an example of the economic problem  that can  arise with saving buildings. We roughly estimated that the materials from the barn would be worth about $ 4,000.00 wholesale. To recover the materials into a sellable product would cost about $ 8,000. That means  at a minimum we would  need to get paid about $ 5,000 to remove the barn and have it be cost effective.  But the owner could remove it by demolition for $ 2500.00. So due to that $ 2500 difference, $ 4,000 does not become  materials that could be furniture  but will instead become about 3-4 dumpsters of waste. One would think that it would be better to spend 8,000 to produce 4,000 in materials ( retail value perhaps $12,000), than to spend 2500 to produce 60 cubic yards of waste, if we look at the result of those two processes.

In deconstruction the 8,000 cost translates largely into employment, and later, manufactured value added goods. While in demolition the result is less employment;  for a machine operator ( who would have to come out anyway to do the excavation even in a deconstruction scenario), some employment for waste haulers, truck drivers, train engineers, machine operators at the land fill end and such. But also tons of waste, fuel used to transport the waste large distances, and no resources for making things -  meaning other new resources have to be used. So if this difference was subsidized, the subsidy would be paid back in jobs and raw materials and environmental sustainability. But we just don’t do it. Or rather Urbanminers sometimes does anyway, leading to conundrums such as owing benefactors and asking for donations even when we are a for profit company.

If one considers the “external “costs of demolition – waste production , materials lost, pollution from transporting and the release of carbon as it decays, the new trees needed to cut and produce the lumber (we already had sitting in the barn structure)- milling cost, growing the trees, transportation etc., those costs are alot more than the difference between the demolition and deconstruction cost.  Demolition is a short term gain at the expense of long term sustainability, just one aspect of our entire economic system based on a a linear non sustainable model. Not to mention historic value of the building itself, unique quality of the materials and other more difficult to quantify benefits.

Until we collectively address this issue say through an ordinance or some funding mechanism ,we will continue to do the best we can, along with all the historic preservationists,  DIY deconstruction individuals, local manufacturers using locally salvaged products and others. So ,as a customer, you can “step right up”.

( Some of the) Projects we are developing now: ” Soft strip” these houses, C. 1938,1946, and 1905 and removing the barn.



Dozens of houses coming down. Wonder if any elements at all will be saved ?

Dozens of houses coming down. Wonder if any elements at all will be saved ?

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Here’s of an example of what we try to manage – and this is not even a deconstruction job. This is just a contractor that wants us to “stop by” and save some doors. Turns out there are 72 ! This happens all the time, only often on a larger scale. So who pays us to move them and store them so they do not end up in the dumpster ? The hypothetical door buyer.