Thinking Differently About Demolition

Salvaging windows.
By outsourcing a lot of renovation and demolition work, a person will often miss the opportunity to salvage perfectly good materials that can be saved for other projects, donated, recycled, or even cashed in at redemption centers for money.

In New York City alone, 19,000 tons of demolition and construction materials are discarded daily. That's a huge amount of garbage being added to landfills that doesn't have to be. Organizations like Build it Green! NYC salvage materials such as furniture, wood, and windows from construction sites for resale at a shop in Brooklyn.

Each of us at some point or another will come across a renovation project that provides a wonderful opportunity for salvage if you're willing to take the time to be a little green. My chance came with the recent purchase of a small cottage around the corner from Better Farm that is being totally renovated and rebuilt for year-round use.

Instead of having a crew demolish the structure for rebuild, an unbelievably wonderful group of friends joined me in a salvage project that kept almost all of the original structure from a landfill.
Here's the salvage list from a 24x27 seasonal cottage structure, gleaned from 3 full days of demolition work:
  • 600 square feet of tongue-and-groove pine
  • 200 square feet of facing stones (to be used for raising the chimney)
  • three bed frames
  • three double-hung, insulated windows
  • 1,000 feet of electrical wiring less than 1 year old
  • two antique exterior lanterns
  • four interior lighting fixtures
  • 1,000 pounds of scrap metal for redemption
  • lamps, ceiling fans (2), and kitchen supplies for donation
  • six sound-system speakers
  • six 4x4 posts
  • metal corrugated roofing (80 square feet)
  • wood stove
  • 15 feet of double-wall, insulated metal chimney pipe
  • exterior walls
In addition to salvage materials, there are inevitable treasures to be found in each renovation project. At the cottage, we discovered an American flag painted across the entire ceiling:
New construction for this house starts in mid-April—but demo in winter allows us to get materials off the island while we still have tons of ice. For your own renovation/demolition projects, check with your local thrift shop, Habitat for Humanity, and other organizations to see how the materials from your project can benefit people in your community—and keep some waste out of landfills.

You can check out the full island-renovation album here.

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.