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Elevation DC: Partnership with Community Forklift


Deconstruction keeps value and dollars in DC's neighborhoods 

Tear down a house and you'll end up with tons-literally-of garbage.

If a 1,500-square-foot home is demolished, it generates 37 tons of waste--drywall, insulation, flooring, brick, and more.

Much of that garbage goes straight to the landfill. But a movement is slowly growing--helped by industry as well as the nonprofit sector--to save parts of an old home from the landfill. Builders who support this movement say that the extra hassle of "deconstructing" rather than demolishing a home is more than offset by the goodwill it builds among clients. Nonprofits say that deconstruction represents an unprecedented economic opportunity.

Jim Schulman, president of the nonprofit Sustainable Community Initiatives, says that Community Forklift, the 34,000-square-foot reuse warehouse and store it owns, is on track to do $1.7 million is sales this year. Multiply that by the other hundreds of reuse centers nationwide, and he says the deconstruction industry could be a $500 million-per-year economic engine.

Truly, salvaged stuff doesn't have to mean "junk." Among SCI's projects have been job-training programs where at-risk youth or chronically unemployed adults can learn deconstruction skills. In one instance years ago, Schulman says, when trainees were deconstructing abandoned public housing in Ward 8 (now renovated and known as Henson Ridge), they discovered the floors of the old buildings were high-quality beechwood. "We pre-sold it, sight unseen." The sale of the flooring paid for the costs of running the entire job training program.

Yet SCI has shifted its focus toward training contractors to add deconstruction to their skill sets, Schulman says.

"It makes us sick to think something that beautiful would be just thrown in the Dumpster."Ruthie Mundell, director of outreach for Community Forklift, says that the training may have given underemployed people a new skill set, but not necessarily a new job. "When they're done with the program they turn around and say, 'Ok, are there any deconstruction companies that will hire me?' The answer is no. There aren't many private sector jobs in this region yet." (Schulman adds that deconstruction training by nature involves construction training--"if you're taking a building apart you kind of know how it goes together"--so some trainees may stay in the industry, if not the particular profession.)

Tear down this wall
In a normal deconstruction job, "we remove everything by hand," says Frank Sis, lead project manager at Carnemark, a design-build contractor based in Bethesda, Md. "Tile flooring, parquet flooring, hardwood, all that stuff that would normally be going to a landfill is staying in the community." Many times the material being removed from a house is perfectly good, just dated or not to the owner's taste.

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Article by Rachel Kaufman

Elevation DC