There's preservationist power in deconstruction, the process in which you forgo the wrecking ball and handpick a house apart: millwork, doors, windows, and the kitchen sink, all intact. Last fall, we praised its virtues in a delicate New Orleans restoration (October 2006, "Recycling Katrina's Ruins"), which might've left you wondering if the method could also work for you. So here's the scoop: Yes, it's eco-friendly to divert salvageable materials from landfills. Yes, selling or donating these items for tax credits beats paying to cart them to the dump. But the extra time it may take equals money.

Consider your circumstances before going green. Both your schedule and the specific style and age of your house affect the benefits you can expect. For instance, deconstruction can take up to two or three times longer than regular demolition. A family with kids taking down a 2,000-square-foot house to rebuild on the same lot, for example, may not be able to wait very long for a place to stay. "I could demolish it in a day or deconstruct it, which takes about two weeks," explains Damon Kozul, senior manager for Dallas Contracting Company in South Plainfield, New Jersey. "If you have time, great. But sometimes you don't have that luxury." Time is also a factor in reaping savings tied to deconstruction, which always come on the back end of a project in the form of tax credits for donated items or cash back on the sale of salvage. That's when the style and age of your abode matter: If there isn't a strong demand for your salvage, you won't recoup the costs of stripping it so carefully. Desirable elements are period-original windows, doors, and mantelpieces, as well as newer up-to-code basics such as storm windows and electrical fixtures.

Ultimately, "If you can only afford deconstructing 5 to 10 percent, and the rest is smash-and-bash," says K.C. Kuykendall, owner of Second Chance Deconstruction, "at least, by golly, you've saved that 5 to 10 percent." By golly, we think he's right. For a more personal analysis, visit deconstructioninstitute.com.
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