The demolition of abandoned homes can improve a neighborhood, but the disposal of the materials has an impact on the environment. At Michigan State University this week, proponents of a small but growing movement assembled to discuss ways to re-purpose most of that stuff.
The dictionary defines domicile as “a person’s residence or home.” Thus, the practice of reusing materials from a demolished house has been dubbed as domicology by those who hope to keep more of that stuff out of landfills.
Rex LaMore, director of the MSU Center for Community and Economic Development, is a leader in the domicology movement. At a conference this week at MSU, LaMore agreed that economic feasibility is key to convincing more people to make the effort to salvage and reuse materials that used to be hauled to the dump. He says the cost of raw materials is going up, making the reuse of salvageable building materials more desirable. "Consumers want to be more environmentally sensitive in their consumer purchases," LaMore says, "so they're willing to pay a slight markup on a reused or salvaged product if they know that they're reducing their environmental footprint and supporting a more robust, environmentally sensitive construction economy."
Ted Reiff is founder and president of The Reuse People of America, an Oakland, California environmental organization that salvages and distributes used building materials. Reiff says deconstruction removes neighborhood blight and reduces police and fire calls to abandoned homes. The challenges include higher costs and the extra time it takes to extract reusable materials. Reiff concludes that there would be more of this deconstruction if fees were cut. "Even though we're doing it for the city," Reiff explains, "they still have a demolition fee, there are still utility cutoff fees. The cities really should be just cutting those to zero and paving the way to deconstruction."
Here’s another challenge: retraining workers used to knocking buildings down and landfilling everything in the careful and more labor-intensive methods needed. Daryl Gallant is with the Michigan Laborers Training and Apprenticeship Institute. He explains that "it takes a unique thought process to take this building down one 2X4 at a time. It takes a ton of pre-planning and training for us to sell the idea."
Another way to make deconstruction less expensive would be to incorporate automation into the process. MSU assistant professor of construction management George Berghorn acknowledges that the impact of automation on the workforce would be a concern. "Automation in this context would take the place of physical people doing the work," states Berghorn, "but now what's happening is we're talking about moving those jobs that would exist into a much higher skill, higher wage outlook."
Until the issues of higher deconstruction costs and workforce concerns are addressed, domicology faces an uphill battle in a bottom-line economy. The people at this conference are hoping their efforts will cut costs, send less waste to landfills, and create desirable jobs in Michigan.