The price of deconstruction
August 19, 2008
CARBONDALE ” The saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” certainly rings true in the deconstruction business throughout the Roaring Fork Valley.
Perhaps the most telling sign is the exponential growth of the ReStore in Carbondale, a retail outlet where used household items and surplus building materials are sold for a fraction of market prices.
Since opening last September, ReStore has surpassed financial expectations, with revenues exceeding expenses every month since February. July has been the store’s biggest month, generating nearly $30,000 in sales.
With the construction industry as strong as it is in the valley, there is no shortage of building materials that need to be recycled and high-end household items that have been discarded as a result of properties being demolished and rebuilt.
Managers of ReStore, whose proceeds go directly to fund the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity, had an idea that the nature of the local market would bode well for their business model but they didn’t expect the success they’ve experienced in the first year.
“Usually it takes a while to make money for any business but we have broken even before the first year,” said Scott Gilbert, president of the Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork Valley. “There is some serious cash coming out of here.”
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The ReStore essentially serves as a transfer station for contractors to drop off materials taken from the job site ” whether it’s a tear down project or a remodel. ReStore customers are the simple homeowner looking for a good deal on a bathroom vanity, or a small contractor looking for an inexpensive set of high-end windows for their client.
Last week, a stack of Sheetrock left over from last winter’s X Games at Buttermilk leaned against a wall, behind several large, thick doors taken from homes in the upper valley.
“That Sheetrock would have ended up in the landfill,” Gilbert said.
A load of mattresses last week were delivered to the ReStore from a home in Snowmass that was being torn down.
Contractors, who are incentivized to recycle and employ environmentally friendly deconstruction practices, are finding it a lot easier and cost effective to dump their discarded materials at the ReStore.
“We’ve always tried to minimize the amount of debris coming off a work site because of the dumping fees alone,” said Chris Hewett, president of Rasmussen Construction Co., adding that his crews use ReStore much more frequently now.
And with a proposed solid-waste impact fee on the horizon that would be levied on developers in Aspen who don’t employ deconstruction practices, recycling materials like roofing material, walls, foundations, steel structures, pipe, brick and other usable items likely will be on the rise.
The fee, the price of which is undetermined, would be assessed per square foot and would be applied at the issuance of a demolition or construction permit. Because there is far more demolition material than waste from new construction, the fee would be higher for demolition material than construction activity. The goal is to keep as much as material out of the Pitkin County Landfill as possible.
Some area contractors say the fee won’t impact their bottom line since deconstruction already is taking place.
“It’s the cost of doing business now,” said John Silich, owner of Silich Construction. “It’s built into the financial model.”
Silich said local governments, such as the city of Aspen, require recycling in the deconstruction process as a condition of approval so most contractors already employ the practice.
“It’s a normal part of doing business,” he said. “[The fee] won’t affect the way we do business.”
Gilbert said the first step in deconstruction is to get all of the loose items out of the building like furniture and televisions. That’s exactly what was brought in droves to the ReStore when the Boomerang Lodge in Aspen was torn down.
“Everybody was getting in there,” Gilbert said. “It was crazy. That was a good example of deconstruction.”
The second phase in the process happens during demolition when everything that’s attached to the walls ” fixtures, vanities, shelves and tubs ” are removed. The third phase is taking what’s on the exterior, like doors and windows.
Everything else ends up in the landfill, Gilbert noted, adding the ReStore has to purge from time to time. Last week, a huge dumpster behind the ReStore was full of debris headed for the dump. But more containers were being loaded with recyclable materials, which the ReStore focuses on as much as possible.
Gilbert said if local governments continue to disincentivize contractors from throwing away building materials, the ReStore will need assistance in finding a new location and more staff to handle the influx of dropped-off items.
“I feel like we are serving the community so we need some help from the county,” Gilbert said as he surveyed the thousands of items in the store. “Look at all of this, it’s crazy.”
He also noted that he supports government’s attempt to recycle as much as possible because some contractors need a push.
“Most people don’t give a shit but it will start costing them money and time,” Gilbert said.