ONE MAN'S TEARDOWN IS another man's treasure. At least that's how Mark Foster is rephrasing the saying. Four years ago, the Baltimore native left the restaurant development business to create Second Chance, a nonprofit that rescues reusable building materials from soon-to-be-demolished homes and resells the goods in warehouses around the city.

Saving vintage transoms, beams, and crown molding from the landfill is just one aspect of the organization's good work. Second Chance also trains displaced workers (mostly individuals who have lost their jobs to corporate downsizing or overseas outsourcing) to become “deconstruction” experts on the crews that mine said houses for treasure. Sales of salvaged materials provide funding for workforce development.

It's a winning proposition. Teardown builders and homeowners reduce their demolition and waste removal expenses, get a tax write-off for charitable giving, and do their part to save the planet. Reclaimed building materials are given a second lease on life. Unemployed workers learn a new trade and get a chance at a new career.

With sustainability concerns top of mind among builders, Second Chance now gets three or four calls per month to harvest properties slated for the wrecking ball. Teardown homes serve as classrooms for new trainees, who, upon becoming skilled in the art of deconstruction, go on to dismantle more historically significant buildings.

“Roughly 60 percent to 70 percent of the average house can be salvaged, and we may take up to 30 percent of that material [for resale],” Foster says. Remaining materials such as concrete, wood, and metal debris can be segregated on site for recycling—a practice that is gaining traction among demolition subcontractors, he says.

The nonprofit's five Baltimore warehouses have become gold mines for unique finds. Jim Smith, a Second Chance sales associate, recalls one homeowner who discovered that her 19th-century row home had once been graced by an ornate stoop railing. “She found a similar railing in our warehouse and had it installed on her steps to re-create the home's original historic look.”

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Baltimore, MD.