This Old Recyclable House –

My sincere thanks to Brad Guy for inviting me to speak at the Reclaim + Remake Symposium in Washington DC last week.

Here is an excerpt from a New York Times article that came out in 2008 featuring Brad. It is clearly still relevant today.

Still, there is a compelling ethic behind deconstruction, one challenging our very standards of profitability and prodding us to rethink how we use all the different kinds of capital we have — from the resources built into a given house to the people who have built a community around it. Guy is not oblivious to how crazy his work looks. (Over dinner one night in Cleveland, he told me, “You’re asking me these questions, and I’m like, Wow, I don’t have any good answers for you that don’t make this sound just nutty.”) But it looks that way within a certain framework of circumstances and values, some of which may gradually be changing. Builders now scramble to earn the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification points by landfilling less and using reclaimed materials in new constructions. The Environmental Protection Agency has steadily financed Guy’s research, and he recently received a call from Cooking Light magazine asking about minimizing waste during kitchen remodeling. “It’s still crazy,” Guy said, “but it’s on the edge of not crazy now.”


A quarter of a million homes are demolished annually, according to the E.P.A., liberating some 1.2 billion board feet of reusable lumber alone. For the most part, this wood has been trucked out to a landfill and buried. Remodeling actually ends up generating more than one and a half times the amount of debris every year that demolishing homes does. (America generates a total of 160 million tons of construction and demolition debris every year, 60 percent of which is landfilled.) The Stanford archaeologist William Rathje, who spent decades excavating landfills, has estimated that construction and demolition debris, together with paper, account for “well over half” of what America throws out. He called it one of a few “big-ticket items” in the waste stream actually worthy of the debates we have over merely “symbolic targets” like disposable diapers.

At the same time, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, new construction consumes 60 percent of all materials used in the nation’s economy every year, excluding food and fuel. Few of those resources are renewable. Older homes are among the last repositories of old-growth timber, like heart pine or cypress, and keeping even the most mundane building materials in circulation at the end of a house’s life preserves their “embodied energy” (the energy expended producing and shipping natural resources in the first place) instead of drawing new resources to replace them.

“This is a manufacturing process,” Guy told me. “That’s the way you should look at this. We are making building materials.” In fact, the aim of deconstruction has always been more socioeconomic than environmental: employing local people to harvest a stock of low-cost materials so that lower-income homeowners and rental landlords in the same area can afford to maintain their properties.

I encourage you to read the rest via This Old Recyclable House –