March 13 2013 12:00 AM

Land bank, local company want to recycle more houses slated for demolition

A piece of weathered lumber is run through a planer to look like brand new. It will be sold and reused as part of the Ingham County Land Bank\'s deconstruction efforts.

Thursday, Jan. 31 — Rather than simply leveling demolition-bound houses it owns, the Ingham County Land Bank wants to see more of them “deconstructed” to recycle and reuse the materials.

Ingham County treasurer and land bank chairman Eric Schertzing wants to have more houses deconstructed so reusable materials like lumber, metals, doors and windows can be saved — and not sent to landfills, as they are when homes are demolished.

The number of demolitions far outnumbers those that are deconstructed. Last year, close to 100 land bank houses were demolished, Schertzing said. He expects 50 to 100 demolitions a year for the next five years. Demolished houses are considered blight on neighborhoods and are not fit for remodeling.

Over the past three years, four Land Bank houses were deconstructed, Schertzing said. Deconstruction costs more money — roughly $13,000 versus $8,500 for a demolition. But Schertzing said deconstruction is better for the environment and can create more jobs because it’s a growing field.

“Deconstruction is something we’ve been talking about doing more of for a number of years,” Schertzing said. “It’s a win-win: You wind up having to spend a few thousand more dollars for deconstruction, but it saves landfill space and can create jobs.”

Lansing-based S.C. Environmental is contracted to do the deconstruction work for the land bank. The company removes the salvageable material and stores it for resale.

S.C. Environmental owner John Sears said deconstruction is a growing industry that is taking off in major cities like Chicago and New York. As for Lansing, Sears said, “The market is not quite here yet.” But he expects it to grow.

Sears operates his business from a 90,000-square-foot storage facility on South Street in REO Town. He wants to start making products in his warehouse with deconstructed materials. He envisions artists and woodworkers renting warehouse space and using the deconstructed materials to make products.

Schertzing said some may be skeptical of deconstruction because of the additional cost.

“If folks begin to start to accept and understand deconstruction, if there’s community buy-in to the concept, then they’ll understand the additional costs,” Schertzing said. “I’m looking for feedback on this.”

On Friday, Chicago-based Rebuilding Exchange picked up a truckload of reclaimed wood from Sears’ warehouse. Meegan Czop, who grew up in East Lansing, is the director of business development for the company and made the trek to Lansing to pick up the materials.

The Rebuilding Exchange is a nonprofit that diverts useable materials from the landfill and sells it at low cost to the community, Czop said.

“We’re doing really well with (deconstruction) in Chicago. We have seen probably 80 deconstructed (buildings) come through in our four years of business,” she said. “We’ve diverted 8,000 useable tons of materials from the landfill.”

Czop echoed Sears’ belief that the deconstruction sector is growing.

“It’s a win-win. The community loves us and they feel good about helping,” she said. “People really want to know where their materials come from these days. I kind of compare it to shopping for food at a farmers market — it’s local, you know how the materials got there, you know their story and I think people are really looking for that nowadays.”

Sears said he wants to use the Rebuilding Exchange’s practices as a model on how to expand his business. He said as he refines his process, deconstruction would become cheaper.

As an example of how deconstructed materials are worth the time and money, Sears ran one side of a wooden plank through a planer. One side of the board was dark, aged wood, dotted with imperfections. On the opposite side, it looked like a brand new piece of lumber.

“This would cost you a lot more to buy at Menard’s than to buy from us,” he said, holding up the board.