If you have to tear down an old house to build a new one, these days it brings up the question: Should you demolish it and drag it to the landfill or deconstruct it, that is, take it apart carefully and reuse as much as possible of the old building in the name of being good to Mother Earth?
For contractor Dan Jovick, looking at an above-the-boulevard tear-down in Ashland — and a LEED home at that — the answer was easy: "We told them we would only do the job if we could recycle the building materials, and they said that's what they wanted."
So Jovick and his crew are putting in plenty of hours with a crowbar and hammer, pulling out old-fashioned nails (not staples shot from a nail gun) and stacking up lots of 2-by-4s, boards and even 4-by-8 beams that are all vertical, clear-grain Douglas fir — wood taken from the heart of the tree back in the old days (1971 in this case), when mills had plenty of such timber to cut and sell cheaply.
Jovick is shooting for a platinum rating with LEED — Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — which gives points for a spectrum of green and sustainable processes and features, including recycling as you build.
This will be Ashland's second LEED home, he says, and the first one to recycle used materials on-site. Framing wood from the old house will be used for interior trim and wall facades; cedar decking will be used for exterior siding; 4-by-8 sheets of oriented strand board will be used for structural wall sheathing; sheets of plywood will find miscellaneous uses; beams will be ripped for floor and roof framing and walls; and 2-by-6, tongue-in-groove, fir subfloor will be reused for interior ceilings, exterior soffits and a kitchen table.
It sounds like time-consuming labor and it is, says Jovick, but it not only saves on energy and harvesting of natural resources but "instead of hiring one guy (driving a backhoe) to get it to the landfill, this creates jobs — four carpenters for two weeks. In my view, (demolishing) an old house is a thing of the past."
Showing off a pile of straight, smooth timbers, Jovick smiles and says, "Look at that, not a single knot."
Deconstruction does not necessarily improve the bottom line for contractors or homeowners, but it depends on the house, says Jovick. "To me, it's just the right thing to do. It's about the same cost as demolishing it and taking it to the landfill — but the owners come out ahead because they've got all this beautiful old material and it makes their home special and unique."
Using recycled wood gives owners "something with patina — and to find straight old wood like this you have to go to TerraMai, which reclaims (used) wood from all over the world, like teak from India and barn wood and bleachers from Oregon."
If other contractors are "deconstructing" and recycling old homes, Jovick says, he's not aware of them — and, quoting Thomas Edison, he likes to say why: "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is often dressed in overalls and looks like work."
Much of the old material that won't be used in the new house — tin, cast iron, galvanized metal, ducting — can still be recycled by selling it to White City Metals, where it's melted down for new fabrics.
The deconstruction project saw a lot of concrete and cinder blocks piled up, which will be used for fill and new grades on the land. Also unusable, he says, are drywall, roofing, tar paper and insulation.
The new home, scheduled for completion by January, will be a two-story, "right-sized" 1,700-square-footer with an additional studio and accessory unit that will bring it to 3,000 square feet. It will feature solar hot water, ductless heat pumps and photovoltaic-ready roof.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.