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Tool Hero – Kurt Buss, Deconstruction Contractor

Did you know that 1/3 of all garbage in our landfills is from construction waste – much of which can be reused/recycled? Kurt Buss does and he has decided to do something to reduce that number. Kurt Buss is a Deconstruction Contractor. He likens himself to Robin Hood, “I get the stuff from the wealthy because they are the folks who can benefit from the tax deduction and I sell it inexpensively or donate it to the people who can’t afford to buy new goods to improve their homes.”

Kurt began his deconstruction career working for Eco-Cycle, Resource 2000. He managed the recycling/sales yard for 6 years and helped Resource 2000 to grow into the company that it now is. The ReUse People of America reflects where Resource used to be 7 or 8 years ago. When asked if TRP is now a competitor for Resource 2000, Kurt explained “We are both non-profits, can mutually benefit each other and share resources. We compete for customers, yes, but even more so, we both try to work in conjunction with the City of Boulder to get more deconstruction work accomplished. Resource 2000 is geared towards providing a drop-off site for homeowners.

TRP works specifically with contractors for whole house deconstruction with the goal¬† deck builder San Francisco¬†of keeping the house parts, door sets, etc., together. This process helps to maintain a more profitable inventory. We also donate material to Habitat for Humanity and places like that.” The largest competitor for both non-profits is the bulldozer and the landfill. Until you take into consideration the tax deduction involved, it is cheaper to demolish and landfill the waste, than it is to deconstruct and recycle. The tax deduction is what helps to equalize the costs for the homeowner.

This of course requires additional planning on the part of the homeowner. TRP uses a third-party independent appraiser to first assess the value of the materials that will be donated to the recycling center. Everything is accurately inventoried from the demo sites which utilize the tax deduction. TRP recommends a certified contractor to perform the deconstruction. A large part of the cost is the contracted labor hired to take apart the house. The labor hours themselves are not tax-deductible but are largely offset by the tax deduction savings. Kurt personnally goes to the demo site the first few days to make sure that the most valuable materials are salvaged correctly for reuse.

This of course requires additional planning on the part of the homeowner. TRP uses a third-party independent appraiser to first assess the value of the materials that will be donated to the recycling center. Everything is accurately inventoried from the demo sites which utilize the tax deduction. TRP recommends a certified contractor to perform the deconstruction. A large part of the cost is the contracted labor hired to take apart the house. The labor hours themselves are not tax-deductible but are largely offset by the tax deduction savings. Kurt personally goes to the demo site the first few days to make sure that the most valuable materials are salvaged correctly for reuse.

From TheReusePeople.org:

The example is a composite based on actual jobs and is used here to make an economic comparison between deconstruction and demolition. This composite is a single story, 2200 Square foot house plus garage, with 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, raised foundation, composite shingles, single-paned windows, carpeting, hardwood floors, and a 12 x 40 wood deck. The costs do not include removal of concrete slabs, sidewalks, foundations or asphalt, but do include the site being left in a rake clean condition (no debris).

In the machine demolition scenario, the owner pays $10,100, but in the TRP deconstruction scenario, the homeowner receives $4,702 in after tax benefits. In other words, the owner would be financially better off to the tune of $14,802 ($4,702 received in tax benefits vs. paying $10,100 in demolition costs). Now for the disclaimers. Figures vary depending on location, age and condition of the home and materials, topography, type of siding and interior walls, distance from TRP, landfill rates, etc. Still, the economics almost always favor TRP deconstruction over demolition.

**Total materials (lumber, plywood, cabinets, plumbing and electrical fixtures, doors, windows, etc.) would generally appraise for $77,000 to $112,000 in good usable condition. Assuming a tax bracket of 33%(federal only – this will be larger in states with an additional income tax), the after-tax cash value, based on a typical appraisal value of $88,000, is $29,040.

The Reuse People of America began in April, 1993 with a drive for building materials to help the flood victims in Tijuana, Mexico. The drive, Project Valle Verde, was planned and coordinated with the mayors of Tijuana and San Diego, the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, the County Board of Supervisors, San Diego Gas and Electric Company, Waste Management, and the Building Industry Association. The success of Project Valle Verde demonstrated the need for used building materials and the impact of this need on our already overused and over committed landfills.

Today, The Reuse People of America has offices and facilities in San Diego, Orange/Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Washington and Boulder, Colorado. Kurt Buss manages the Boulder operations with a phone, fax, credit card machine, no Internet, no running water and his own personal laptop. “It’s like Home Depot in the rough,” says Kurt, “but you have to start somewhere.” They are currently looking for new space to lease in the Denver-metro area. Their reason for moving is just to be nearer to a larger population that will come and purchase their materials. There is plenty of deconstruction work around but most people go with the ‘fast and easy’ demolition/disposal process instead of deconstruction, which takes more effort.

Kurt and his staff work hard to keep the products organized so that people can view all available merchandise. The Lafayette warehouse is open from Thurs-Sat. with some days being busier than others, depending upon the weather and the day of the week. Most customers are do-it-yourselfers and bring in their hand drawn pictures of what they need. The staff’s job is to help the customer find what they need. I have found that this very organized, upscale junk yard is the perfect place to find something like a retro-50’s table, for only 30 bucks!

On the days that the warehouse isn’t open, Kurt is busy bidding on Deconstruction jobs. To keep the company running, they need to have 30 deconstructions/year. Once a job is contracted, Kurt is on the job for the first day or two to show the crew what is salvageable and how it needs to be saved. Kurt likes to deconstruct the most delicate materials himself, to be sure it is preserved for resale. The crews are hired by a certified Deconstruction Contractor and trained in the process in order to best salvage the goods for reuse.

“The most frustrating thing about the Industry, says Kurt, is getting people to do something new – an alternative to how they’ve been doing things. Younger people are more interested in recycling and reusing than the older business people. But every year there are more and more people that become interested.” They key is educating the public – the more people who know that there are options, the more the industry will grow. Because of the non-profit budget they are operating on, they have found that word of mouth has been their best form of advertising. Kurt’s regional office is a member of BGBG, The Boulder Green Builders Guild, a group of architects, builders, manufacturers, Realtors and other green-minded professionals. This group has been a good source of referrals for TRP as well as an aid in the education process.

The bottom line is that deconstruction creates jobs, saves money and will contribute to the health of our planet. It provides cheap materials to people who need them. The most important part of the process is planning. If you are interested in Deconstruction, contact someone like Kurt in your area who is a Deconstruction Contractor.

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