The cabinetry and wood details in Adam Corneil’s renovations have a decidedly rustic feel, because the wood he uses can be 50 or even 100 years old.
His renovation firm, Naturally Crafted, builds homes and furniture using wood reclaimed from demolitions.
Depending on the client and the work site, the wood that Naturally Crafted takes out of a site during demolition goes straight back in when they build.
In some renovations, 100 per cent of the wood they use is salvaged from the deconstruction.
“We’ve been doing renovations in an environmentally conscious way for about six years, and as part of that process we started deconstructing houses,” he said.
He launched a separate company — UnBuilders — in January to take over the deconstruction arm of the business, but not the kind of demolitions you do with a backhoe.
That sort of profligate waste is going to look about as cool as chain-smoking in the not-distant future. An UnBuilders piece-by-piece deconstruction, done by hand, salvages between 80 and 90 per cent of the lumber in the home.
Most of the wood is donated to Habitat for Humanity, which issues a tax receipt for the entire value of the wood package to the owner of the home, often worth thousands of dollars.
“At the end of the day, this has to be cost-competitive with conventional demolition,” said Corneil.
Green demolition is a lot like sorting your home recyclables, except the products are reckoned by the tonne.
A typical home weighs about 50 tonnes, and for some houses more than 90 per cent of that material can be recycled, if deconstruction is done properly.
Corneil’s UnBuilders boasts the City of Vancouver’s highest recorded recovery rate at 96.76 per cent.
That’s a big deal, because about 40 per cent of the city’s waste comes from demolitions of homes and other buildings. Or it did, before the 2014 Green Demolition bylaw was passed.
The Vancouver bylaw currently in force covers about 20,000 homes built before 1940 and captures about 40 per cent of home demolitions, about 275 each year.
The pre-1940 rule requires 75 per cent of the materials be recycled and currently diverts about 10,000 tonnes of waste away from the landfill each year.
A bylaw that comes into force January 1 will include homes built pre-1950 and will cover about 70 per cent of home demolitions. That is expected to increase the amount of diverted material to 18,000 tonnes a year, a little under 15 per cent of the city’s total.
Vancouver sent 126,500 tonnes of demolition waste to landfill in 2017, a slight increase from the year before.
Surrey requires that 70 per cent of demolition materials are recycled or reused and takes a $5,000 deposit, which is returned on a sliding scale depending on how successfully the material is diverted
Richmond, New Westminster and Port Moody have adopted similar rules.
Vancouver’s new bylaw also sets new deconstruction standards for homes built before 1910 and heritage-listed homes, which would see about half the wood from each home recovered and reused.
“Deconstruction is quantified as salvaging a minimum of three metric tonnes of wood per home for the purpose of reuse,” according to a staff report. “This requirement applies to approximately 10-12 homes a year that contain the highest value materials for reuse.”
Companies like UnBuilders mine older homes for character pieces such as windows, doors and fancy trim, and the rarest prize of all: old growth wood.
The framing and shiplap in pre-1910 homes is full of rock hard old-growth fir, which is in high demand for high-end remodelling and, of course, furniture building.
Old-growth fir was used in construction in B.C. until at least the early 1970s.
Corneil classifies pre-1950 fir as “antique,” while joists and beams from homes built between 1950 and 1970 is “vintage.”
“We specialize in residential deconstruction so the materials are quite consistent,” he said. “Antique wood is darker in colour, always has a very tight grain and normally it’s rough-sawn on two sides.”
Vintage wood is often smooth on four sides.
“A lot of that old growth wood is dry and nearly petrified, it’s so hard, so it takes a bit of a different skill set to work with it,” he said.
Effort to reuse rather than just recycle
About 86 per cent of the material from a deconstructed home is diverted to other uses, compared to 40-50 per cent for traditional demolitions, according to the City of Vancouver.
But saving space at the dump is only one measure of success. In fact, much of the material that is recovered is simply burned.
“The vast majority of the demolition materials are being recycled, not reused,” according to a report to council. “Most wood, in particular, is being recycled as biomass fuel or as landscape mulch.”
“Only a very small amount” of the wood recovered goes to decorative purposes, and the city has no data on the amount used for construction and remodelling.
The city also has no data on the actual amount of wood that becomes fuel or mulch.
In practice, very little demolition waste harvested above the foundation finds a higher use, said Tom Land, CEO of Eco-Waste Industries, that operates a demolition waste landfill.
To incentivize careful demolition, Eco-Waste charges lower tipping fees for waste that is clean and separated.
Concrete and brick, along with pavement, can be used for road-building. Those materials usually arrive separately from the metal, wood and mixed materials from a home demolition.
About half of asphalt shingles can be recycled for paving, but due to metal and plastic contamination the rest goes to landfill.
Most bins arrive as a messy mix of low-value and unusable material that goes into the landfill.
Most of the wood from conventional demolitions is ground up to be burned as fuel in waste-to-energy systems and in cement kilns.
“Most demolitions assign no value to the materials and so the next best thing is to create energy from it,” said Land.
Eco-Waste is buying a plant to better separate wood from mixed materials and increase the amount that can be recycled. The company will also build a facility that will be able to extract wood, metal, shingles, plastics and cardboard from the waste stream.
“Once we have a facility like that we should have 95 per cent recovery of things like shingles instead of 50,” he said.
The City of Vancouver is keen to establish a market for the wood and other valuable materials harvested under the green demolition program and is taking steps to establish a Deconstruction Hub to store and market salvaged materials.
Staff envision a kind of open air market where designers, architects and the public could shop for old-growth wood and character items.
Council has allotted $250,000 toward the creation of an organization to operate such a hub, independent of the city. The group would have to raise another $250,00 themselves to get the funds.
In November, the city held two workshops with contractors and people working in the demolition and recycling space to identify potential collaborations.
“Portland, Seattle, and Oakland have established salvage and reuse markets, including stores run by not-for-profit organizations as well as for-profit businesses,” a staff report reads.
Concrete harvested from green demolitions is used for sustainable road-building or in place of gravel in construction, while old wallboard can and is processed to make new drywall sheets.
The city is also funding three pilot projects to deconstruct single-family homes and carefully document what materials can be recovered and demonstrate the feasibility and potential benefits of green demolition.
The aftermarket for copper and other metals is well-established and lucrative enough that people have been known to steal it from construction sites to make a few bucks.
“It’s a really time-intensive process but you get a lot of value from an old house,” said Green Coast Rubbish CEO Eamonn Duignan. “An older building might have some really old timber.”
Duignan simply donates all the materials harvested from demolitions.
“Our philosophy is to give back,” he said. “The timber we donate to Habitat for Humanity to use in their projects. We do a lot of work with them.”
An appetite for lumber
The amount of useful building material — especially standard-dimension lumber such as 2X4s and 2X12s — available to Habitat for Humanity is just starting to increase, said ReStore director Suzanne Fruson. ReStore is Habitat’s building supply retail business.
“It’s heated up in the past year,” she said.
A non-profit society, Habitat takes windows, doors, kitchen hardware and appliances for resale and applies the proceeds to build affordable housing.
Having a paid deconstruction manager charged with increasing the volume of material for five ReStores never generated enough profit to be sustainable.
Now, they work strictly by donation, most often with UnBuilders, who have donated about $250,000 worth of materials from 26 demolitions.
“In 2019, I expect to get between 25 and 30 complete lumber packages from houses that he takes down, because he does it by hand,” she said.
Lumber from newer demolitions and renovations gets snapped up very quickly, because it’s cheap to buy. Old growth fir sells at a substantial premium if it is suitable for “artistic uses.”
“I have a package from a house that was over 100 years old and built with Douglas fir, so we have that priced very high,” she said. “There is a big demand for it.”
Fruson is nervous that a lucrative market for used building materials could see Habitat’s supply of donations dwindle as demolition firms opt for the extra revenue, or profit-driven players enter the business of marketing that material.
But that kind of marketplace is probably years away and probably depends on the successful creation of the deconstruction hub, according to Corneil.
Naturally Crafted sells exceptional wood to artisans, but not for much longer. While Habitat has stores with staff to sell salvaged wood, he does not, so that material will go to ReStore.
“Usually, they only want a few boards and it takes all kinds of time for them to pick the ones they want,” he noted.
Note from WSOE.Org : This content has been auto-generated from a syndicated feed.