The Ultimate Salvage and Preventing Waste

The Living Building Challenge ethos has spread in our community. Through a series of synchronous events involving several of our extended family and friends we landed in the midst of an incredible salvage opportunity, but also in an opportunity for advocacy…In short, we became aware of a proposed land use poster being placed on a property near town. The property contains a single building destined for demolished at the end of June to make way for a new high-density development. This type of development aligns with the City of Bainbridge’s recent priority to increase high-density building close to the city center and spare forested/undeveloped land away from town. Of course, there is always concern about the impacts of high density developments, especially in areas where development in recent years has resulted in a loss of remaining critical habitat and green space for animals and people alike. But that topic deserves its own separate discussion.

In this post, I wanted to speak to another concern about this particular soon-to-be demolition site: the building being demolished was gutted and extensively remodeled only 2 years ago. Conventional building and remodeling practices–as in this example–often do a poor job taking into account the life cycle of a building and its constituent materials. Ideally, buildings would be created with materials that maximize longevity, performance, and–most importantly–allow their pieces and parts to perform for the duration of their usable lifespan. If these materials are also selected to prioritize non-toxicity, local sourcing, and biodegradability (or the ability to recycle at the end of usable life) then we have a situation where waste is minimized and sustainability is maximized. But, in an industry that generally values inexpensive options over those that minimize waste and promote sustainability/human health, most new or renovated buildings fall far short of attaining high marks in sustainability and non-toxicity! Additionally, most building design and construction projects do a poor job avoiding the use of virgin building materials and an equally poor job minimizing waste/choosing materials for their longevity.

Back to our situation…It is not entirely clear, or relevant, what happened after the building was remodeled 2 years ago, but it has since sat empty…it is essentially new and unused, with many years of usable life remaining in much of its components. Having been inoculated with LBC wherewithal, we hoped these materials were not heading straight to the landfill at the end of the month. Our sense of unease and curiosity about the building led us to put out a message-in-a-bottle of sorts. We told a friend (who knows a friend, who knows someone else, etc.) we hoped the current owners would consider letting individuals or builders salvage and use the almost-new-ready-to-be-demonlished parts as an alternative to sending them to landfill, if in fact that was the plan…We expected nothing would come of our measly plea for the buildings quasi-salvation. After a week with no further developments on the matter, we accepted the sad state of reality and moved on…

But then, an email came! Unfortunately, it confirmed that the building was destined for the landfill, along with its 36 panel solar power system, its brand new doors, clear wood siding, iron railings, new appliances, high tech wiring, enough LED light bulbs to last an eternity, lamp posts, two heat pumps, a back-up power generator, the list goes on…all to the landfill, unless, someone could muster the time, energy, and some cash, in which case the owners would allow access to the building for its disassembly and salvage. This news set in motion an extensive effort to salvage usable materials for our own project, but also made us think more broadly about the community and finding other interested parties who could reuse materials that were not appropriate for our Living Building project.

After a week of exhaustive efforts we have salvaged many items for our project that will be worth what we paid for them (and then some if you factor in the story of how they came to be part of our home!). But, beyond our needs and thanks to several families and some enthusiastic friends and neighbors, we have found a home for many of the items that could be salvaged: a heat pump for our friend and neighbor, a back up power generator system for another neighbor, clear wood siding for our handyman/woodworker friend, lamp posts and railings for the local iron smith, bathroom vanities for another friend, toilets too, someone to use the hot water heater, light bulbs, light fixtures, etc…Many of the items that were easy to uninstall but were not easy to re-home immediately are being taken to the building supply/salvage section at the upcoming Rotary Auction and Community Rummage Sale, one of our islands infamous annual events.

Finally, I will mention that our suggestion to salvage the established vegetation, fruit trees, and rockery at the site motivated the current owner to create a salvage plan for the trees, shrubs, and landscaping for use in their upcoming project. It is nice to know that our enthusiasm for minimizing waste and preserving vegetation was not only heard, but changed the fate of these materials and plants, resulting in just a bit less waste ending up in a landfill…Synchronously, Seattle Magazine just published an article this week that spoke to our experience: click for article. There is hope for the future…


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