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Home deconstruction: Can an entire house be recycled?

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Mr. Williams had watched the demolition of a neighborhood house and regretted seeing still-useful material going to the dump.

"I'm driven by conservation because I hate to see stuff wasted," says Williams, a retired electrical engineer.

Working with the local Habitat for Humanity office, they found a certified deconstruction appraiser in Denver who traveled to Kansas to evaluate their home's materials. A local builder undertook the three-month deconstruction.

Williams and Ms. York ultimately donated or reused 82 percent of their home's materials, Williams estimates – everything except the insulation and drywall.

Appliances and other materials were hauled off to Habitat ReStore, a nonprofit reuse store affiliated with Habitat for Humanity. Scrap lumber was chipped into mulch. The foundation, driveway, and chimney were crushed onsite, becoming backfill around the new foundation.

Location, location, location

The economics of deconstruction are highly localized. The housing market, availability of nonprofit resale stores, hauling distance to landfills, tipping fees, ordinances, overall strength of the local economy, and a cultural predisposition to sustainability all affect the deconstruction-versus-demolition calculus. The greater the quality and quantity of a house's reusable materials, the more attractive deconstruction becomes.

David Bennink of Bellingham, Wash., an 18-year veteran of the deconstruction industry, says he sees a lot of activity in the Pacific Northwest, and also sees deconstruction gaining traction in many large Rust Belt cities in the Northeast and Midwest.

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