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Tear Down: Preparing for First Active House in the Nation

The existing Webster Groves home will be torn down using recycling and reuse practices.

We keep a lot of material out of landfills simply by the way we handle teardowns. And this is how we are handling the tear down of the home in the 200 block of Gray Ave. in Webster Groves.  

Our customers are also very excited about this value-added process—it allows them to participate with us in being environmentally responsible, and it does not increase the costs of tearing down the older house or constructing a new infill house.

In fact, our teardown practices have allowed us to greatly diminish disposal costs, and it gives us a competitive edge as potential clients like the tax benifit and opportunity to participate in waste reduction. This process also adds to our effort in getting the project to comply with the Active House Specification and the National Green Building Standard.

As the cost for materials and the impact to provide them increases (everything we use in either mined, grown or recycled), it has created a situation where good materials that have historically been considered as consumables now carry a “commodity” status giving them real value.

After performing an environmental analysis on the Webster Groves home and removing any items, such as asbestos floor tiles, we normally give “first crack” at donating some of the viable components to organizations such as Habitat for Humanity. This way, the items can be repurposed and raise much needed funds for that great organization and our customers can claim a tax benefit.

We are also fortunate enough to have a relationship with organizations such as Re-Source St. Louis, an entity that operates similarly to a co–op. Prior to dismantling a house, we can post components such as kitchen cabinets, fixtures, etc. for purchase (or give away) on Re-Source’s website where interested parties can procure and reuse the materials.

After removing some of the items of value, we take the house down using conventional methods. In addition, we enjoy being quite creative when we handle teardown materials onsite. For example, we might crush the old foundation, driveway, walkways and other concrete components to use for fill under the new driveway. We have a local waste diversion company we have teamed with to sort and repurpose materials.

In a recent home we de-constructed, we were able to divert more than 80 percent of the entire home—a total of 233.8 tons diverted from just one house! Another project had a fairly new deck that had to be removed prior to deconstructing the older home. That deck is now serving a Marine seargent as a wheel chair ramp on his North County home.

Disposing of toxic materials is a big challenge in recycling components from older teardowns. The good news is that the construction industry and innovative-thinking health officials are constantly devising ingenious solutions for remediating and recovering such materials.

Our new homes, of course, advocate better durability and indoor air quality by using only non-toxic materials in constructing (or remodeling) houses; a practice that can cause the problem of how to dispose of toxic materials eventually to cease to exist.

Reusing Infrastructure by Building Infill Housing

Infill housing, like the active green home we are buidling in Webster, certainly helps to mitigate urban sprawl. It also makes use of existing urban amenities. It helps cities improve their existing housing stock and maintain a healthy tax base to support the many services they supply to their citizens. In short, infill housing "recycles" developed sites.

The most obvious advantage of infill housing is that the infrastructure already exists: streets, water, sewer, electricity and transportation systems. All of this helps renew neighborhoods and create and maintain convivial communities in which people want to live. There are numerous advantages to infill housing:

  • It maintains and increases property values.
  • It can cut down on commute times, save gas and decrease automotive pollution.
  • It lessens highway congestion and reduces spending on maintenance and need for new roads.
  • It puts residents within easy reach of mass transit and the city’s cultural attractions.

It’s no secret that fuel and infrastructure costs are increasing. However, technological and cost-effective advances in building materials and practices are increasing as well.

In addition, the desire to spend less money on a home's utilities and maintenance and simply adding more time to your life by spending less time sitting in traffic, the appeal of infill housing from many perspectives, besides just cost, is steadily growing in the marketplace.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

John Hoffmann March 02, 2012 at 03:36 AM
I was in that house for a family run and grossly overpriced "Estate Sale" two weeks ago. I don't remember seeing anything worth being recycled unless there is a market for mold and mildew. I'm sure copper wiring and maybe some door fixtures could be removed but I honestly don't remeber anything else. After leaving the house it was a trip striaght home to put my clothes in the washer and take a shower. Everyone leaving the house was commenting on the awful conditions with one person asking how the City of Webster Groves allowed a house in this condition. (Simple...the same person lived in the house for 60 years and the city never got a chance to inspect it...it could never have been issued an occupany permit.) If I was building on this lot I would not want any of the remains of the original house anywhere near the property...yes it was that bad. Donating anything from this house to Habitat for Humanity would be a cruel sadistic thing to do. This maybe a wonderful concept for future infill construction, but I don't know if this house is the best candidate as a poster child for the program.
Roger Herin March 02, 2012 at 08:58 PM
Have you thought about installing a home fire sprinkler system? A home fire sprinkler system, while designed specifically as a life safety system, also is an environmental safety system. Home fire sprinkler systems are known to use only 10% of the water needed for using fire hoses. It also saves in air pollution. Think of the amount of all the poisonous gasses and particulates the smoke contains when a home and its contents burns. All released into our air. Also, a home fire sprinkler system saves in material. It takes much less building material to repair damage done by a fire in a home protected by home fire sprinklers – because very little burns. Therefore you save in not only the material itself, but also in all of the environmental impact caused by the manufacturing, production and delivery of the building components and contents. It should be noted that there are much more environmentally offensive byproducts of combustion in a home’s contents than in the building structure. Furniture with foam padding and synthetic covering – all petroleum-based hydrocarbons. Home cleaning products, pesticides, drain cleaners and such – all poisonous chemicals released when burned or when spilled during a fire. A home fire sprinkler system will, keep these things from burning. Of course, the most important thing a home fire sprinkler will do in case of fire is save the lives of the occupants, but it will also have a significant positive impact on the environment.
Chris Mallie March 03, 2012 at 03:30 AM
Roger, which home sprinkler installation company do you work for?

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