In the News!
Nonprofit ASWD encourages 'deconstruction'
April 14, 2005
BY ALEX SUCZEK
GROSSE POINTE NEWS
Grosse Pointe has the commendable distinction of being the location of the first building in the Detroit area, to be taken down in an environmentally friendly way. That is no small achievement.
In terms of landfill alone, it means that 14 or more 30-yard containers of rubble from the demolition of a four bedroom house that would normally be dumped in a landfill can be reduced to only two. The rest of the materials are salvaged for reuse through a process called deconstruction taking the house apart piece by piece.
If the building is a historic structure, it could be reassembled on another site, but smart builders are already eager to acquire quality materials from older buildings for new construction. It is a remarkable process and in view of its increasingly widespread practice, it is the wave of the future in the building industry. The system has already been actively used for as long as a decade in major metropolitan areas across the country.
The new, local company doing this is the nonprofit Architectural Salvage Warehouse of Detroit (ASWD). It is deconstructing a house at 8$ Lewiston (as reported in last week's Grosse Pointe News, "`Deconstruction' saves, reuses architectural parts") for its very first deconstruction project.
Manager of the job is Jim Primdahl, nationally recognized expert in the field. While supervising the work, he is also training workers in skills and techniques that are new to the building industry. The techniques have been developed expressly for taking a complete building apart instead of just knocking it down.
Since the process is innovative and this is ASWD's first job, Primdahl's task began with finding and training suitable workers. To do that, ASWD board members distributed job descriptions to appropriate organizations such as environmental groups and the urban planning departments of local colleges.
Past experience has taught Primdahl that the most motivated deconstruction workers come with an interest in environmental protection, as well as in the building trades and architecture. Many students are eager for the jobs and the opportunity to learn these new skills. The recruitment was so successful that Primdahl quickly assembled a crew of students and young environmentalists who, he said, became one of the best crews he ever had.
Young people who get into deconstruction often decide they want to stay in the field. They are generally driven by the environmental mission, but this is also an area of growing opportunity.
Training begins with a day of orientation. First, there is a photo tour of retail yards in cities where the salvaged materials are sold. This serves to establish full market-loop thinking. This emphasizes that materials have to be pulled, processed and managed with professional care to optimize their marketability. Photos show how this is done at some of the nation's leading yards in places like Burlington, Vt.; Washington, D.C. and Spokane, Wash.
Then there is a Power Point tour of sites, types of buildings and methodology. There are unfamiliar pieces of equipment like massive "saw elephants," giant versions of sawhorses built to carry a ton of weight.
Apprentices learn to visualize the system for taking a house apart based on the principle that the last materials installed in the house are the first to be removed. That usually means deconstruction begins with the carpet. Even that may have value.
Doors, windows, crown moldings, and other trim follow, with switch covers, bathroom towel bars, shower heads and similar items next.
In the Lewiston house, workers pulled up 2,000 square feet of premium quality oak flooring on the second floor. Starting on the tongue side of the boards where the nails are driven, they raised a two-foot section by hand, using a flat crowbar. Then, with wooden wedges cut from two-by fours and driven under the flooring every two feet, they raised the rest of the floor boards.
This lifted out long panels intact with boards as much as 20 feet long. These are difficult to find today. In the case of old, dry pine or fir flooring, a trick of the trade is to soak the wood first so it won't splinter.
Sections of flooring slide through a big tube down to ground level where workers set them on sawhorses and blow out the nails with a special gun. Even the nails are saved. As much as 250 pounds may come out of a house.
When drywall and plaster walls and ceilings are removed, attic insulation is saved in clear plastic bags so it is easy to sell right off the truck. Builders are reluctant to buy used insulation in black bags because they can't easily inspect it.
At present, the plaster and drywall gets destroyed, but a process for recycling gypsum is already in use in Canada and may be available here in another eight or 10 years. Some companies already remanufacture drywall from clean scraps.
At about this point, builders and contractors were invited to an open house at 88 Lewiston. It was their opportunity to get the first opportunity to buy materials they might need for a building project
With them came Will Wittig, assistant professor in the University of Detroit Mercy School of Architecture. He is a member of the ASWD advisory board and teaches a course on sustainability - the principle of working with renewable resources like materials salvaged from old buildings.
Wittig is enthusiastic about the process now being available in the Detroit area. "I read about it happening in other parts of the country," he said. "It is wonderful that it is economically feasible to save the materials and offers a new hope for declining urban areas.”
"It; also creates an interesting potential for a special design challenge. I call it 'building a quilt house.' The idea is based on letting the Jld materials influence how you design a new building. It is like making a patchwork quilt where you put together scraps of cloth and create a new product. It has its own character but lets you know it is made from recycled materials."
As a step in the development of the idea, he is buying materials from the Lewiston house to work into sample designs. He plans to have those on exhibit at Cranbrook Institute this summer.
"Having the program now in Detroit really makes it come alive for my students;" Wittig said. "It captures their imagination and helps them conceive of making it a part of their future practice as architects."
That was one of the reasons he invited his students to visit the deconstruction site and is having Primdahl give a guest lecture to his class.
There are even more surprising innovations as the rest of the house comes down. When the roof is dismantled, sheathing usually has to be discarded, but there can still be high-quality lumber up there. Old time carpenters usually pulled out the best materials for rafters; wall frames using old dimension lumber can be prizes.
In the Lewiston house 20 percent of the studs were found to be clear lumber. That has a special market among artists and furniture makers. In the Seattle area clear Douglas fir sells at a premium price of $20 a board foot. In some areas, there is also a market for sections of wall framing that are not disassembled. It is part of the concept of saving embodied energy - the work that was done to build the wall frame in the first place.
Meanwhile, copper wiring, pipes and all nails are pulled as the house generates thousands of dollars worth of scrap metals make that effort worthwhile, too. Accessories like tubs and sinks and bathroom tiles can be saved and bricks of fired clay have value. Mortar is easily removed with small, inexpensive air hammers.
With the building gone, excavators can be called in to remove the foundation. Uncontaminated by rubble, the cinder block and concrete can be crushed and sold as aggregate. Little is wasted.
For ASWD founder and president, Carolyn Mosher, it is a gratifying example of the way builders in New Zealand describe their commitment to deconstruction. We never throw away, they said. There is no longer any away.
Mosher now reports that any of ASWD's salvaged materials not sold directly from the deconstruction site will be on display for sale at ASWD's new warehouse location at West Warren and Grand River.
That, plus tax advantages, are what make the process economically competitive as compared to just having a building demolished and dumped in a landfill.
For more information about the Architectural Salvage Warehouse of Detroit, call 313-885-1136 or e-mail Mosher at email@example.com. The warehouse, at 4884 15th Street, is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays. Contact SUZETTE HACKNEY at 313-222-6614 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2005 Grosse Pointe News
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