The recently completed widening of Colonial Drive through downtown Orlando, Fla., may very well have used road base material crushed from the concrete that was Jimmy Johnson’s driveway. Meanwhile, in another part of town, the flat concrete tiles from Johnson’s roof are now on someone else’s house.

In the 16 months since two modest homes on South Lake Davis Drive, including Johnson’s, were sustainably deconstructed to make room for The New American Home 2011, a wide variety of materials pulled from the rubble has been either recycled or salvaged and reused across Central Florida.

Step 1) Prep Work Deconstruction begins with the removal of products and materials that can be salvaged and reused, including light and plumbing fixtures, cabinets, doors, and major appliances.
SmartPic Step 1) Prep Work Deconstruction begins with the removal of products and materials that can be salvaged and reused, including light and plumbing fixtures, cabinets, doors, and major appliances.

This process, called deconstruction, is being employed by builders, developers, municipalities, and homeowners to reduce the amount of waste that goes to the landfill from a typical residential teardown. “It’s a great way to capture, reuse, and recycle the materials from a house,” says Steve Smith, director of the EPA’s Region 4 Solid Waste Program in Atlanta. “It extends the value of the embodied energy of [building] products and materials.”

A Clear Case

To clear the lot for The New American Home 2011, Johnson contracted with Site Solutions of Central Florida, a local firm, to deconstruct the mid-1960s era, 4,800-square-foot home he’d lived in since 1989 and the adjacent, 1,500-square-foot brick house his parents had occupied since the mid-1980s.

The two homes actually occupied three parcels (with Johnson’s house bridging two lots), creating a .6-acre space for the annual show home built in conjunction with the International Builders’ Show in Orlando earlier this year (see “A Classic Case,” January 2011, page 122).

First salvaging electrical and plumbing fixtures, cabinets, major appliances, wood flooring and paneling, doors, and concrete roofing tiles to donate or be sold for reuse, the Site Solutions team then wielded a broader sword—specifically, an excavator with a jawed bucket—to capture material for recycling.

Step 2) Roof Reuse The flat concrete roof tiles from Johnson's home were carefully removed and stacked for transport. They now sit atop another Orlando, Fla., area home.
SmartPic Step 2) Roof Reuse The flat concrete roof tiles from Johnson's home were carefully removed and stacked for transport. They now sit atop another Orlando, Fla., area home.

That process started at the roof and moved down, in part to better contain the material, but also to speed a job that can take several hours (even days) longer than a straight demolition. “You definitely spend more time and money doing it this way,” says Lou Reimer, senior project manager for Site Solutions, though there are cost efficiencies, tax benefits, and profit opportunities for taking a more measured approach—not to mention a lighter environmental impact. The work at this stage was mostly aggressive, crushing the roof frame of each house into its respective footprint or, like some prehistoric predator, attacking and pulling away from a wall section with a bucketful of lumber and drywall.

On occasion, though, the work was more careful, with the excavator’s operator deftly using the jawed bucket to shear off the brick veneer of the smaller home’s exterior walls so that it could be more easily source-separated.

Step 3) Caving In An excavator with a jawed bucket knocks in the home's roof before collapsing the walls into its footprint. Crews then sift through the rubble to separate material for recycling.
SmartPic Step 3) Caving In An excavator with a jawed bucket knocks in the home's roof before collapsing the walls into its footprint. Crews then sift through the rubble to separate material for recycling.

Meanwhile, another operator with a Bobcat fitted with forklift tines unearthed and dumped large sections of concrete flatwork into a roll-off dumpster dedicated to that material, which was trucked to a local crusher and a future as road base. “When we deconstruct a building, we try to capture as much as we can,” says Reimer.

Maturing Markets

When the dust settled, Reimer estimated that 70 percent of the two homes, or about 400 tons of material, had been diverted from the local landfill.

Extend those results to the 53 million or so tons of construction and demolition (C&D) debris generated annually by building renovation and an EPA-estimated 270,000 residential teardowns, and the potential environmental impact is clear, waiting only for a new economy of salvage and recycling outlets to make it viable.

Step 4) Site Unseen Once the dust settles, the lot is completely cleared and excavated for the construction of a new house, with little or no evidence of what stood there before.
SmartPic Step 4) Site Unseen Once the dust settles, the lot is completely cleared and excavated for the construction of a new house, with little or no evidence of what stood there before.

“The market for materials has improved and matured during the last four or five years,” Reimer says, echoing others doing the same work in large, dense cities where building removal is more prevalent. “It helps get these jobs when you know where and what the markets are for various materials.” In deconstruction lingo, “markets” are the places in town (or sometimes out of town) that can reuse or recycle materials derived from a teardown, ranging from Habitat for Humanity ReStores and other for-profit and nonprofit salvage outlets to metal scrap yards, wood chippers, and reprocessing facilities for drywall, glass, vinyl, and insulation.

Keeping current on these markets, say experts, is the key to keeping the cost of deconstruction in check and building critical mass of salvaged products that can integrate into, if not rival, the traditional supply channels for construction materials.

“That’s the biggest hurdle,” says Bob Falk, president of the Building Materials Reuse Association in Beaverton, Ore. “This is still an alternative niche market.”

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Orlando, FL.