Recycling is expanding from newspapers and bottles to entire houses as foreclosures, tax credits and landfill costs prompt businesses and non-profit organizations to salvage materials from old homes.
Stores are springing up to sell used lumber, appliances, cabinetry and flooring. Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit that builds and rehabs affordable homes, has 550 such retail outlets, called “ReStores.” Mark Andrews, Habitat’s director of U.S. operations, says the number is growing “almost daily.” He expects an additional 100 stores in the next year.
“It’s exploded all over the country” in the past five to seven years, says green building expert David Johnston about the trend toward deconstructing, rather than demolishing, homes.
Owners get a double benefit — a tax credit for donating goods and peace of mind for not dumping into landfills — says Johnston, founder of What’s Working, a Colorado-based firm that consults on sustainable building.
People who do the work say there are no national figures but business is booming:
The ReUse People, a non-profit in Oakland, deconstructs more than 200 homes each year in several states, up from about 100 in 2005, and has more than quadrupled its warehouse capacity in five years, says its president, Ted Reiff.
Dave Bennick, who runs RE-USE Consulting in Bellingham, Wash., has clients in 38 states and says he’s taught deconstruction to 10% more groups each year since 2007, many aiming to put unemployed people back to work. He says most of his recent work deals with abandoned foreclosures, primarily in Rust Belt cities hit hard by the recession.
Non-profit Second Chance in Baltimore deconstructs 75 whole houses annually, plus parts of 200 to 300 other buildings, up from five homes in 2003, says founder Mark Foster. He says his warehouse space has increased from 15,000 square feet to 150,000 square feet.
“People are looking for products that are gently used but one-third the price,” Foster says, explaining why his annual sales have increased from less than $500,000 in 2003 to more than $2 million.
“They also want quality,” he says, adding that lumber and hardwood floors in old homes are often superior to those in newer ones.
“Deconstruction is a hot-button issue because of stimulus funding,” Reiff says. The Recovery Act has paid groups such as his to train the jobless.
Reiff says the idea has caught on because people don’t want to pay rising landfill fees. He estimates that 75% to 80% of most homes can be reused.