Green Demolition Underway

Allan Appel Photo“Normally we demo and dump. Now we ‘deconstruct’ and salvage.”

That was the key lesson builder Tim Washington learned from a literally hands-on and groundbreaking program in green demolition that the city is offering to small contractors.

On Wednesday Washington and a dozen other small builders and rehabbers arrived early in the morning, in the second week of their two weeks of training taking apart a foreclosed 1890s house owned by city at 183 Saltonstall in Fair Haven.

They’re enrolled in New Haven’s and the state’s first contractor deconstruction training program. It was created by the New Haven Regional Contractors Alliance and paid for through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the “stimulus”).

When Washington (at right in top photo, with James Charbonneaux) and others finish, and if they pass their tests, their certificate in “green deconstruction” should position them to get more clients, public and private, who value not only building green but also reusing and recycling materials from building take-downs.

All the contractors are investing their time, without pay, because they see value in the training, said Walter Esdaile of the alliance, who is the manager of the project.

Washington’s firm, Tim’s Enterprises,has been at work for 20 years. Washington said he is from the era when you took down a house, the wrecking ball came, and everything was destroyed and dumped.

No longer.

“I just learned today, that the longer it [a board] is, the more valuable it is” for reuse,” he said.

The wood from 183 Saltonstall will likely go to Reclamation Lumber in New Haven. That company works with ReUse People, a California based non-profit with regional office in Hamden, which is providing the deconstruction training.

The nails are gong to be recycled, and the wood used in other houses, said Reuse’s Ted Reiff.

Vincent Mastriano of MGM Carting (at left, with Gregory Henderson) provided the Dumpsters. He also is a student in the course.“Every day I handle Dumpsters. It’s really great to see what goes into an old house. Instead of burying it, to reuse and recycle and reduce waste,” he said.

In a city press release, Economic Development Administrator Kelly Murphy is quoted saying that in addition to teaching green contractor skills, “another goal is to make at least 50 percent of the materials from the building available for reuse” and advance the city’s sustainability agenda.

An estimated 15 to 20 percent of municipal solid waste comes from construction and demolition projects.

Allison Diehl (pictured), the only women on the learning crew, established Quality Lead Abatement with her husband a year ago. Asked a lesson she’d learned, Diehl raised a century-old dowel to demonstrate how boards used to be linked together at the key supports of the house.

“Each one is hand whittled,” she said, with excitement

James Charbonneaux (pictured with Tim Washington at the top of the story), whose company ProIron has been in business for ten years, said he’d never had the experience to see how a house is put together. His company puts up the steel and then leaves. “Deconstruction is the reverse of construction,” he said. “You take it apart from the top down. This [experience] is realizing the value of our buildings.”

Luis Zaragoza established his landscaping business five years ago. He too was thrilled with the new one-on-one training he was getting. In taking down a roof, for example, he learned to think all the time of safety. Esdaile said a significant amount of the training in demolition covers safety.

For example, as each shift of workers came on, they did calisthenics. The stretching had a dual purpose, said Esdaile: To avoid injury, but also to see who might have had a long and loggy night. That person should perhaps not be allowed on the roof.

The house at Saltonstall came down, as in all demolition that’s green, roof first, the opposite of how it was built.

Zaragoza (pictured on ladder, with Keith Providence), who’s from Peru, called it all a “big experience.”

Other small contractors came over to a reporter eager for the public to know that they now know about green deconstruction. These included William Bethea of William’s Handyman Service;  Jorge Pallo of J&J Pallo Home Improvement and Painting; and Gregory Henderson, whose White Owl Construction last year rehabbed the historic Hannah Gray House on Dixwell.

The crew’s trainer, Ted Reiff of Reuse People, quickly got the builders back to their chores; there was a lot to learn

The crew graduates on Monday with certificates, but only if they pass their tests, two of which have already been administered. Lil Snyder put together the innovative effort through the city’s small construction business development initiative at the Economic Development Department.

“When they [the contractors] get their certificates, people will see value in it,” she said.


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posted by: robn on June 24, 2010  1:27pm

The wood in 1880s, 1890s houses is awesome. Dry, long, straight and stable. And actual vs nominal dimensions. I always scope out dumpsters for salvage wood.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on June 25, 2010  12:49am

This is an immensely important skill for construction workers and general contractors to have and I hope it quickly spreads as standard training practice.
I hope to see these skills come in handy as exurbs and unmarketable suburban subdivisions are dismantled and re-purposed for urban infill in coming decades. There is very little capital available for new housing and the prospects of having the home builders of America resume a housing boom like we’ve experienced before in our nations history is unlikely. Housing is not merely a commodity to be bought and sold willy nilly, it is an important foundation for our society and the rapid development of pod communities has done nothing but delude that importance.
There are ghost town subdivisions popping up all over the country (although mostly in the midwest and western US) and there is an enormous shortage of affordable housing as well. The logical solution to both problems is to de-construct these ghost town subdivisions and foreclosed suburban houses and use the materials to build urban scale infill in vacant lots in cities. The 2-family house is a great model to use because it can be subdivided into 3-4 apartments or it can be owner occupied for wealthier people and rented out as 1 or 2 apartments for moderate income people. Not only does this address the affordable housing shortage, it also would free up land on the periphery of cities for regional and local scale agriculture.
This project, at any large scale, would most likely take a large federal effort to subsidize the de-construction process and the urban rebuilding process to make it cost-effective for private developers to do. Fortunately foreclosed upon houses and vacant urban lots are cheap so the subsidies would be minimal-leading to a much faster and higher return on investment.
The model of large scale one-shot developed subdivision neighborhoods is a thing of the past because there is not enough financing available to develop the housing AND develop a massive ad campaign to convince people to buy into it. Much more incremental growth that depends on market demand and not how many bill boards and real estate agents a developer can get will emerge as the 21st century model.