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The Realities of Demolition

Renovating a neglected 1940’s era home into a green showcase within strict budget constraints is a challenge, but I have never been one to shy away from challenges. I recognized early on that I would have to make some compromises, but have eagerly identified cost effective improvements that would increase the performance of this house as much as possible. The mechanical systems are one example of my current compromises. While I would love to install new high-efficiency HVAC and water heating, the existing equipment is less than 10 years old and in reasonably good condition, making it difficult to justify replacing them. I can easily do so later when they reach the end of their useful lives, or in the unlikely event that I acquire and need to dispose of large sums of money. For now, however, it is more important to improve the structure of the house through insulation and air sealing, as those improvements are more difficult and costly to retrofit than upgrades in mechanical equipment. I feel good about these decisions, but others less so. For example, I do not feel so good about the amount of waste I’m generating from demolition, particularly the removal of all of the drywall on the exterior walls and the interior trim throughout the house. Unfortunately, there is simply no way to recycle or reuse old drywall and woodwork after they have been painted, most likely with toxic lead-based finishes.

The lovely bedroom immediately prior to being gutted.

The master bedroom prior to being gutted.

The happy homeowner in his freshly gutted bedroom.

The happy homeowner in his freshly gutted bedroom. Cozy!

On the upside, The Lifecycle Building Center (LBC) will seek new homes for my removed interior and exterior doors, kitchen cabinets, countertop, kitchen and bath sinks and faucets, refrigerator, vanity cabinet, and bathtub. LBC is an Atlanta-based non-profit that makes re-usable building materials available to the public, thus preventing an unnecessary addition to the landfill. The existing range was too old to interest the LBC (or anyone else, for that matter) and will be sent to a salvage yard for scrap metal. Despite my best efforts to reduce construction waste, however, the demolition alone created 30 cubic yards of trash headed to the landfill. This isn’t a compromise, but a reality, since there are few feasible options for recycling old, poor quality, or hazardous materials.

We easily filled the first 20 cubic yard dumpster (16′ long x 8′ wide x 4.5′ tall).

We easily filled the first 20 cubic yard dumpster (16′ long x 8′ wide x 4.5′ tall).

That said, I am committed to reducing construction waste throughout the project. I will have separate containers on site for bottles, cans, cardboard, unpainted drywall, metals, and other recyclable materials, and I look forward to producing much less waste than a typical contractor as the work proceeds.

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