Since it launched following Hurricane Katrina and the federal floods, Rebuilding Together New Orleans has rebuilt more than 260 homes with the help of 14,672 volunteers putting in 316,555 hours of work. Since 2009, its Deconstruction and Salvage Program has completed 140 selective salvage projects and two full and one partial deconstruction projects, salvaging more than 1,700 yards of materials from homes that otherwise would have been demolished. It has kept about 4,000 tons and roughly two football fields of usable materials from going into landfills, at the same time providing affordable reused materials to people embarking on a range of projects .
Deconstruction — not demolition — is the program's operative word. The Preservation Resource Center's (PRC) Lynn Long says the homes are "more like organ donors" than demolition sites. The materials from deconstruction are sent to the Preservation Salvage Store, a warehouse space open since 2007 that provides construction materials — from ironwork, fireplace mantels and fences to wood, doorknobs and windows — as a more affordable and environmentally friendly option than big box retailers. The store has generated more than $180,000 in local and state tax revenue from reclaimed material sales.
The Deconstruction and Salvage Program is an all-in-one blight reducer, job creator and waste manager, providing deconstruction and demolition for private and federal contracts, and reusing or selling the reclaimed materials to the public.
Deconstruction and demolition can be expensive and often are not environmentally friendly, deconstruction manager Sean Vissar explains.
"When you demolish, everything goes to the landfill," he says.
Instead, the program works with property owners to assess what can be salvaged from a home, then gets bids from demolition contractors to see what is most affordable for the property owner.
Vissar says the program determines if a home is fit for "selective salvage" — finding architectural elements and other relevant items that can be saved or restored — or a full deconstruction, which strips everything from the property. (For every 20 selective salvages, the program does one deconstruction.) As an incentive, property owners also receive a donation receipt from the nonprofit program so they can apply for potential tax deductions.
With demolition, Vissar says, "All the resources and materials (that have) gone into the house are all wasted." By salvaging, the materials can be reused in other properties rather than requiring someone to buy brand new materials that "would have to be used for decades" to justify their carbon footprint.
After salvage or deconstruction, building materials are sent to the salvage store. "If we don't have a home for (the materials), we try to find another organization that does," Vissar says.
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