New age at hand for Aspen tear-downs?
ASPEN – A multimillion-dollar tear-down house east of Aspen is escaping the fate of most of the McMansions that get demolished in Pitkin County.
Instead of hiring a bulldozer to level the structure, the owners of the house near the Wildwood school hired a “deconstruction” firm that aims to salvage between 50 and 80 percent of the structure. Appliances such as a top-notch kitchen range and materials such as mahogany flooring were donated by the deconstruction company to Habitat for Humanity’s Roaring Fork chapter. The salvaged materials are being sold at Habitat’s ReStore or directly from the house, said Habitat chapter President Scott Gilbert.
The house owners, who didn’t want to be identified, hired The ReUse People, a California-based nonprofit organization co-founded by Ted Reiff in fall 1993. His company has worked extensively on the West Coast, the Chicago area and recently branched into Colorado. The ReUse People have deconstructed two houses in the Eagle Valley and one in Boulder. This is their first job in Pitkin County.
Gilbert sees big potential in the Aspen and Vail areas because homes with lots of usable materials are regularly scrapped when the property changes hands.
The ReUse People mine building materials and appliances from homeowners who reap tax benefits for their donations. ReUse then sells the materials at discounted prices to people who are pinching their pennies. It either sells the materials itself or works with an organization like Habitat for Humanity.
“That is true economic development,” Reiff said of the model of getting materials reused in other construction and remodeling projects. “I kind of relate us to Robin Hood, except we don’t steal.”
Builders who separate out wood receive credit in the Aspen and Pitkin County land-use processes, plus they pay less in tip fees at the dump. However, deconstruction takes the process a step farther because the materials are carefully handled to enhance the salvage potential.
Final figures for salvage potential aren’t available yet for the Wildwood job outside of Aspen. In Boulder, the owners of a 5,800-square-foot house hired The ReUse People to deconstruct the structure and donated the materials. Their appraised donation value was $232,000, according to materials provided by The ReUse People.
Reiff said the concept works because it makes economic sense. The fee that a property owner pays his firm is more than offset by the tax benefit granted by the federal government for donating the materials.
The salvage of tear-down structures isn’t more widespread because owners aren’t aware of it and contractors often fear it will take too much time and throw them off schedule. Reiff said his company, or the certified contractors The ReUse People often hire, can typically finish a job in less than six weeks.
He believes the idea will catch on as the desire increases to be environmentally friendly and because the finances make sense.
“No contractor in their right mind, or even in their wrong mind, wants to throw stuff away. It’s just stupid,” Reiff said.
Gilbert said Aspen-area contractors make a half-hearted effort to salvage materials. But they are usually in a rush to remove materials and end up damaging them.
“There’s myths – people don’t feel it’s worthwhile to pay someone to get this out,” he said. But Gilbert said a rule of thumb is that whatever a homeowner spends on deconstruction, they will get twice that amount back in tax benefits.
“It’s a no-brainer – you get paid more than you’re paying to get the materials out,” Gilbert said.
The Aspen job involves a 4,200-square-foot house and a 500-square-foot garage. Mike Brookhouser and Mark McDaniel, partners in Colorado Deconstruction Inc., of Lakewood, are heading a total crew of five, carefully removing any materials that can be salvaged and sold.
“There’s a bunch of good stuff,” Brookhouser said. “The beam work is the prize.”
He got into deconstruction out of necessity. Work for his home-building company, MB Framing Inc., dried up in 2008 because of the recession. He heard about the deconstruction business and got intrigued. There is an incentive to the homeowners to salvage materials. They get a tax benefit and probably sleep better knowing their old house isn’t headed to a landfill, he said.
Brookhouser and McDaniel deconstructed a house in Vail and got certified for the work by The ReUse People. They got the call again when The ReUse People landed the Aspen job.
Brookhouser acknowledged that shifting gears so drastically in his line of work has taken some getting used to.
“It’s an amazing thing to me that I used to get paid to build these things and now I get paid to tear them down,” he said.
They are starting the fourth week on the project. The interior is gutted. All appliances and fixtures were taken out. The cabinets, refrigerator and stove will be sold by Habitat for Humanity. The mahogany flooring was a score for a local carpenter building his own house and who worked through Habitat to remove it directly from the site. The lumber framing will be sorted and resold.
The drywall cannot be salvaged from the tear-down project. The metal roof can be recycled but not reused. Colorado Deconstruction will try to salvage all the windows, including big picture windows now providing views of the Roaring Fork River.
Gilbert estimated Habitat’s local chapter will reap $30,000 from the resale of appliances and materials from the Aspen project.
Reiff has the satisfaction of seeing materials used rather than dumped. He said his company or certified contractors have deconstructed roughly 1,000 buildings in California.
“We’ve kept 300,000 tons of material out of the landfill,” he said.
Reiff is known as “the man with the velvet crowbar” for salvaging so much material. He hopes The ReUse People get to enhance that reputation in western Colorado as the economy improves.
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