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DC deconstruction helps demolition go green

Welch saved original features, including bricks and the front door, when renovating his 1860 Victorian brownstone. He donated other materials to a reuse warehouse for resale.
Photo courtesy of Michael Welch

Welch saved original features, including bricks and the front door, when renovating his 1860 Victorian brownstone. He donated other materials to a reuse warehouse for resale. Photo courtesy of Michael Welch

As the deconstruction movement gains popularity, more people choose to recycle materials such as 100-year-old wood beams, asphalt roof shingles, kitchen cabinets and bathroom tiles as an eco-friendly way to defray demolition costs, says Paul Hughes, owner of highly rated DeConstruction Services in Fairfax, Va. The savings come in the form of a tax-deductible donation.

"We've seen more than one person where the tax savings exceeded our cost of taking it down, which means the demolition phase cost the owner nothing," says Hughes, who also serves as a board member for The ReBuild Warehouse, a nonprofit in Springfield, Va., that sells recycled materials at discounted prices.

When Michael Welch purchased his 1860 Victorian brownstone in D.C.'s trendy, historic Dupont Circle neighborhood, he intended to modernize the inside and leave the historic facade. However, he didn't plan to save all of the original features to reuse and recycle, until his contractor suggested it.

"Walking through it the first time, I kept seeing things that were very interesting, but I knew they may not fit what ultimately was going to be in the house," Welch says. "A claw-foot tub would never fit in my house today. It's very interesting, but it's too ornate. I certainly didn't want to throw it away. So we were very careful with everything that had some value to it."

Items that sell quickly at The ReBuild Warehouse include reclaimed lumber, granite slabs and entire kitchens. DeConstruction's most common job involves tearing down entire houses when owners purchase the lot to build a new home, but it also deconstructs single bathrooms and kitchens.

The tax benefit helped defray some of the $16,000 that Welch says he paid highly rated Go Green in Falls Church, Va., to oversee the deconstruction. Go Green owner Christian Schmidt tore down the back of the row house brick by brick to prepare for an addition to the home. Today, some of those original bricks pave Welch's back patio and his neighbor's walkway.

Inside, Schmidt removed plaster and exposed the original brick, which Welch says allowed him to tie the charm of the old home into his contemporary style. He also rescued and donated more than two dozen interior doors, transom windows, bathtubs and more. Welch also turned his home's original front door into art for his wall.

The process to demolish a room or home looks different through a deconstruction lens than a demolition one, Schmidt says. He says it costs about 10 to 15 percent more than demolishing everything and dumping it in a landfill. It also takes a few weeks to deconstruct a full house by hand, compared to a couple of days with machines.

Despite the premium, Schmidt sees a slow and steady growth in the industry as consumer awareness and consciousness increases.

"Right now, traditional mechanical demolition is very efficient from a project standpoint, but it's not efficient from a resource standpoint," he says. "I think there has to be a balance struck in the long-run between efficiency for the sake of a project and efficiency from a resource standpoint."


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