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Rebuilding Detroit 1 Salvaged Doorknob At A Time

A vacant home is shown in Detroit, Wednesday, July 27, 2011. (AP/Paul Sancya)

A vacant home is shown in Detroit, Wednesday, July 27, 2011. (AP/Paul Sancya)

In Detroit, between 40,000 and 50,000 homes are vacant. Less than 10 percent of those homes will ever be occupied again, and that means the majority of those homes will end up being demolished and sent to landfills. In fact, 60 to 80 percent of Detroit’s waste is from demolition.

The Detroit Works Project, a collaboration between Detroit Mayor Dave Bing’s administration and local foundations, says it has a better way. Instead of just demolishing old homes and throwing away the material, the group recommends salvaging the homes and selling that material for use in new construction. It’s a process called deconstruction.

The report says deconstruction can create jobs and clean up the city’s thousands of vacant homes, which are not only an eyesore, but can be the backdrop for violence and drug use.

Salvaging And Reusing Old Home Parts

Bob Chapman, executive director of the Warm Training Center in Detroit, started a deconstruction pilot program last year.

His group found that when houses are torn down and sent to suburban landfills, those suburbs reap money in the forms of tipping fees. But when homes are deconstructed, the materials being sold make money for city businesses.

Safety Concerns

“There’s quite a few, thousands of homes, that are blighted to the extent that not even deconstruction is going to be economically viable,” says Chapman. “When you’ve got houses that have been burnt out and abandoned for so long, what some people have called demolished by neglect, then really you have to take them down for the safety of the children walking through those neighborhoods, and people living in this neighborhoods.”

Deconstruction Before Demolition

Chapman says he hopes buildings can be carefully deconstructed before demolition is necessary, but homes do reach a point where not even the wood is usable again.

“You actually can salvage up to 90 percent of the material in a typical house, it just reaches a point of where you have to draw the line economically,” explains Chapman.

But to really make the deconstruction work, you need a market for the reclaimed materials. The city is now reaching out to achitecture firms and the artist community to get them involved.


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  • creaker

    I forget the PA city , but they have very intentionally been leveling entire street blocks, removing utilities, etc, and it’s been working very well.

    Detroit is never going to grow back to what it was – so it needs to shrink.

  • creaker

    Many of these abandoned homes have already been gutted.

  • Jhartel

    Is there a place we can go to buy currently salvaged materials?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1603621121 Pam Murray

      Detroit Architectural Salvage Warehouse in Detroit

  • Davidcjack

    While I have great sympathy for Mr. Chapman’s objectives, many of these Detroit homes slated for demolition were constructed with lower quality materials for working class inhabitants, and their designs often do not appeal to contemporary tastes. The doors, windows, and architectural hardware was (as is now) mass produced and designed with economy in mind. (Imagine attempting to salvage building components 75 years from now that originally came from Lowes or Home Depot) Also, the structural components of these abandoned homes may have come from the last of the remaining old growth forests, but the financial costs to store, transport and reconfigure the lumber rarely justifies their reuse.

    Incidently, I think the PA town an earlier poster referenced is Centralia, Pa.

  • Indiansummerranch

    How many of these old homes have lead paint and asbestos in them? Are these contaminants being managed so that they do not end up poluting the enviroment?

  • Elizabeth

    I am someone who would gladly buy some of this salvaged old growth wood.  I live in an old house and it it VERY difficult to find wood to match the grain of what I already have.  This material IS NOT home depot or lowes grade wood, i dont care what you say.  I would love to see this material available.  With all the home improvement shows and DYI’s Rehab Addict show, many more people are seeing the benefit of salvaging this amazing material.

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