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Recycling Your House

This is an article that recently appeared in the Kansas City Star and after being picked up by the AP was then ran in the LA Times and Seattle Times.

“Homeowners decide to deconstruct, not demolish”
More than three-fourths of the house can be reused and recycled instead of all of it ending in the dump. — By Stacy Downs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — If you’re remodeling your kitchen or want to build your dream home on property with a not-so-idyllic house, there’s a way to tear down that doesn’t involve the wrecking ball.
Deconstruction — the careful removal of salvageable hardwood flooring, light fixtures, cabinetry, doors and nearly everything that makes a house a house — is gaining momentum. As a result, more than three-fourths of the house can be reused and recycled instead of all of it ending up in the dump.
More than 30 percent of waste that goes into landfills consists of building and construction materials, much that can still be used.
Jack Williams and Jane York recently opted for deconstructing their Leawood, Kan., ranch home, where they had lived for 28 years, to build their post-retirement dream home. Their mantra: How can we do things smarter than what we’ve done in the past?
“It does take some effort,” says Williams, smiling inside their new 2,300-square-foot space, still under construction.
“We feel like pioneers,” York says.
Besides being easier on the Earth, deconstruction — if you donate your home’s salvageable materials to a nonprofit like Habitat for Humanity ReStore — can be lighter on the pocketbook than demolition. However, initial costs don’t reflect that. The average one-week demolition is $10,000 to $20,000. Deconstruction, which can take a month or two, is typically $20,000 to $35,000.
“Deconstruction means taking it apart by hand instead of by machine,” says Lance Houston, owner of Houston Excavating and Demolition in Liberty, Mo. “Habitat ReStore takes out what can be salvaged — sinks, cabinets, so forth. … We’ll de-nail it, cut off bad ends, band it and wrap it to go to Habitat ReStore. All metals, like copper piping, can be salvaged at the scrap yard.”
Financially, deconstruction can be a leap of faith. It takes someone who isn’t afraid of waiting until taxes are filed to get the money back.
“So far, since we started doing this in 2001, no one has gotten (financially) hurt by the process that we know about,” says Mark Bullock, deconstruction manager for Habitat ReStore in Kansas City, Mo., who helps contractors and homeowners navigate the process.
To recoup costs, you have to hire an appraiser who specializes in deconstruction. A challenge to Kansas Citians is that there are no local professionals with that expertise — and not that many nationwide.
York and Williams worked with Doug Miller of Rocky Mountain Deconstruction Appraisal in Lyons, Colo. With travel expenses and professional fees, the appraisal cost $2,200. John and Emily Cowden of Prairie Village, Kan., who also recently went through deconstruction, hired Floyd and Marianna Sparks of Property Pros in Encinitas, Calif.
In deconstruction appraisals, the value is of the salvageable structure — not the land, the bulk of the value. York and Williams found out their structure was worth about $46,000, so after taxes, they will get money back instead of being out money, as they would have been if the structure had been demolished. The Cowdens’ structure was valued at $99,000, meaning with their tax bracket, they’ll get money back from their deconstruction, too.
“It’s been really easy,” says John Cowden, a pediatrician. “And it’s had huge upsides.”
Both households have been renting homes near the deconstruction sites.
Williams and York’s original foundation, garage floor, basement, patio, half the driveway and the brick chimney were crushed and used for the new house’s foundation backfill. The couple kept a few faucets and light fixtures for the new house, too.
Williams says 82 percent of their home was reused through Habitat ReStore or recycled, including scrap wood that was chipped into mulch.
On average, more than 75 percent of a home can be reused and recycled. Items that typically can’t be repurposed, Bullock says, are insulation, PVC pipes, roofing, old carpet, brittle sheathing and fragile tile.

YORK-WILLIAMS PROJECT
Jane York, a retired speech pathologist from the Kansas City, Kan., school district, and Jack Williams, a retired electrical engineer, initially considered remodeling their Leawood ranch house, built in 1957. Now they’re building an energy-efficient dream house. “We’re going for LEED Platinum,” Williams says. The style is modern minimalist. Deconstruction included donation of their 20-year-old laminate cabinets, still in good shape.
The old house: Among other things, he wanted more natural light in the house, and she wanted a sewing room that wasn’t a dreary basement. They also never used the formal living room at the front of their house. Remodeling would have cost too much, and, it turned out, the foundation was unstable.
The new house: The couple hired Davison Architecture + Urban Design to design a new house, an open floor plan of 2,300 square feet with energy-efficient features and accommodations for the occupants as they age. The new home has a sun room for him and a sewing room that overlooks the rest of the house for her. Instead of a fireplace, a flat-panel television will display flames. The garage, tucked away from the street, looks small but with a front-to-back tandem side, can hold three vehicles.

COWDEN PROJECT
John Cowden, a pediatrician at Children’s Mercy, and Emily Cowden, a pediatric nurse practitioner also at Children’s Mercy, wanted their Prairie Village house to accommodate their growing boys, ages 8, 5 and 2. They also wanted it to be energy-efficient, designed to receive a National Association of Home Builders’ gold-level certification from the group’s National Green Building Program.
“We thought about future possibilities, like solar panels and putting an all-electric car in the garage,” John says.
Deconstruction included hardwood flooring grouped into neat bunches for Habitat ReStore. Neighbors were given plantings from their yard.
The old house: The 1950s ranch had foundation issues and formal rooms that were not used. John Cowden grew up in Prairie Village, so he loved the neighborhood with its mature trees and proximity to the urban core.
The new house: The boys will each get their own bedrooms but will share a bathroom in the 2,800-square-foot home. “We were influenced by (architect and author Sarah Susanka’s) ‘Not So Big House,”‘ Emily says. “We wanted efficient spaces that we would use every day.” A guest room, with two sliding panels, becomes part of the main-floor living space when company’s not there. The exterior is Craftsman style with a modern interior designed by Davison Architecture.

BY THE NUMBERS:

KITCHEN REMODELING: DECONSTRUCTION vs. DEMOLITION

DECONSTRUCTION
$400 to $800

Depending on the size of the kitchen, what it costs for a deconstruction crew to remove cabinets, flooring and appliances and deliver them to Habitat ReStore.
The result: The kitchen equipment can be reused. And you can claim a tax deduction for the donation, at least $400 to $4,999.99. (If you want to claim more than $5,000, you’ll need an appraisal.) This can further offset the costs.

DEMOLITION
$475 and more

What it would cost to rent a full-size Dumpster ($275) and hire a crew of two to tear out your kitchen.
The result: The materials go into the landfill. The costs can’t be recouped.

AN $11,700 SAVINGS

Numbers vary depending upon location, age, style and condition of the house as well as landfill rates and other factors. The figures below assume a 2,400-square-foot house with a two-car attached garage, composition roofing, wood siding, drywall, raised foundation, single-pane wood windows and tongue-and-groove hardwood floors.
ACTIVITY:                                                               DECONSTRUCTION            DEMOLITION
Taking house to the ground                                             $28,800                           $8,000
and debris disposal:

Removal of concrete                                                            $5,000                            $5,000
and hardscape:

Appraisal of
salvaged materials (see note):                                           $2,500                                     $0

Total costs:                                                                           $36,300                          $13,000

Appraised donation value (see note):                          $100,000                                     $0

Tax savings
(after-tax value of donated materials) (see note):       $35,000                                     $0
TOTAL COSTS:                                                                   $36,300                           $13,000
Less tax savings                                                                 ($35,000)                                  ($0)
TOTAL AFTER-TAX COST:                                                $1,300                           $13,000

Note: Appraisal costs may be deductible on Schedule A of IRS Form 1040.
Note: Total materials to be salvaged (lumber, cabinets, plumbing, electrical fixtures, doors, windows, etc.) would generally appraise at $87,500 to $120,000 in good condition.
Note: Assuming a combined federal and state tax bracket of 35 percent and an approximate appraisal-estimate average of $100,000, the after-tax cash value is $35,000

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