Vancouver company leads the way in innovative home deconstruction
VANCOUVER -- An innovative Vancouver company is trying to change the way houses are torn down by salvaging every last scrap of reusable material — and it turns out to be good for not only the environment, but also the bottom line.
This week, Unbuilders got to work taking apart a West Side Vancouver home built in the 1930s with old growth Douglas Fir.
“For us, that’s a really precious material. It’s part of Canadian history, really, what that material is,” said Adam Corneil, company founder and CEO.
“And we want to make sure that material goes back in the supply chain as opposed to into the landfill.”
In a traditional demolition, the house would be knocked down in a single day using an excavator, and the materials would be sent to the landfill or ground up and incinerated.
Unbuilders normally takes homes apart by hand to reclaim and recycle every usable piece of material.
The process normally takes about three weeks — but on the Elm Street house the company is working on this week, they are using a crane for the first time and anticipate being done in a third of the usual time.
The crane allows employees to dismantle the house in large sections and then ship those pieces off the lot to be further broken down and salvaged.
Speeding up the process allows them to clear a lot faster so that builders can get onto the site to begin reconstruction.
The City of Vancouver actually has a bylaw requiring small and medium sized homes built before 1910 to be deconstructed instead of demolished but it only applies to about 10 or 12 houses per year in the city.
That bylaw could soon be upgraded to include all homes built up until the 1950s, and if that happens, Corneil estimates it would apply to about 700 teardowns in Vancouver every year.
He says other municipalities in B.C. and across Canada are considering similar bylaws.
“What you’re going to see over the next five years is a rollout of deconstruction policy across the board,” said Corniel.
“So, we’re the first of our kind in Canada, doing what we do, but this will be the typical way that houses are taken down and taken apart in the future.”
Along with the windows, doors, and appliances, most of the salvaged wood will wind up at Habitat for Humanity’s Restore, where it will be sold and the profits invested into building more homes.
The much sought after larger pieces of old growth wood are often snapped up by furniture makers who incorporate them into their designs.
“There’s a need for the material. There’s a need for us to save it from the landfill,” said habitat for Humanity’s VP of Construction Stephani Baker.
“And just the sheer volume of product that comes out of just one home — it’s immeasurable really, both in terms of the environment and our ability to re-sell.”
In addition to doing their part for the environment, homeowners who donate salvaged materials can be eligible for charitable tax receipts that can be worth tens of thousands of dollars.