Major deconstruction effort afoot in Baltimore, other cities follow
BALTIMORE - A few U.S. cities have begun a process called "deconstruction", in which contracted local and non-profit groups take apart homes, salvaging old wood and selling it to local wood product manufacturers.
The city of Baltimore's goals are ambitious. First contracting the help of non-profit Details Deconstruction in 2014, and with the U.S. Forest Service as a sponsor, the city plans to tear down 4,000 vacant homes over the next four years.
Many of the homes contain 400-year-old yellow pine, which Details Deconstruction will give to sister-group Brick and Board, who will process and sell the pine and other reclaimed materials.

The deconstruction and salvaging of a vacant home takes about two weeks to complete. Details Deconstruction begins with the interior of the house, salvaging 400-year-old yellow pine, rafters, windows, doors, lighting, kitchens, HVAC, and beyond. Salvaged wood and other materials then head to the non-profit's sister-group Brick and Board's downtown warehouse. Bricks, joists, beams, and floorboards are reconditioned and sold to wood product makers and retailers.

Baltimore city leaders say this addresses several problems at once. Blighted and ruined buildings are removed and valuable wood and materials are reclaimed and sold. Entry-level construction jobs are also created - of which many are filled by ex-convicts.
There are some challenges, however. In Baltimore, the work is dangerous. Caved-in roofs, moldering walls, and asbestos plague many of the vacant buildings. And these are the buildings prioritized by city officials.
It's also expensive. Lots of workers are needed - many more than it takes to operate a wrecking ball. But it could be worth it to a city in which 23 percent of its residents live in poverty.
Portland, Oregon embraced deconstruction because of its booming housing market. Its ordinance requires developers to deconstruct homes or duplexes that are designated historic or were built in 1916 or earlier. The law allows contractors to apply for an exemption if a building is structurally unsafe or extensively damaged. So far, it has been a success.
Milwaukee has faced problems, as contractors are reportedly finding it hard to turn a profit and to find workers.

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Robert Dalheim

Robert Dalheim is an editor at the Woodworking Network. Along with publishing online news articles, he writes feature stories for the FDMC print publication. He can be reached at [email protected].