Home Deconstruction Helps Save Money

Matthew Brady
Written by Matthew Brady
Updated June 15, 2021
An unidentified bidder takes home his prize from a salvage auction after uninstalling it himself. (Photo courtesy of Murco Recycling)

The deconstruction movement taking root in Chicago keeps building materials out of landfills.

Get quotes from up to 3 pros!
Enter a zip below and get matched to top-rated pros near you.

Stephanie Arnold liked everything about her new Lakeview, Ill., home except the kitchen and bathrooms, but she didn't feel right about ripping out and discarding otherwise perfectly good, high-end cabinets and Kohler fixtures.

Then her husband's business associate recommended highly rated Murco Recycling in La Grange Park, Ill.,. For about 60 percent of the proceeds, Murco auctioned Arnold's kitchen and bathroom items and supervised their removal. Now, the Angie's List member has a few thousand dollars in her pocket from items she would have paid a remodeling contractor to haul away.

"You're talking pennies on the dollar, but it's still money that's found," Arnold says. "It was pleasantly surprising."

Proponents say projects like Arnold's are part of the "deconstruction" movement that is slowly taking root in Chicago. Whether it involves a few rooms or an entire house, deconstruction aims to keep building materials out of landfills while providing a tax write-off or extra cash to sellers and bargains for shoppers.

Dennis Chookaszian of Wilmette, Ill., deconstructed his 6,000-square-foot house and built a new home on the same spot. Bulldozing it the old-fashioned way would have taken a few days and cost about $50,000, he says. Instead, he hired OBI Deconstruction Inc. in Northbrook, Ill., and the process took several weeks and cost about $100,000.

But Chookaszian says he came out slightly ahead on the tax write-off - and he feels better about keeping materials out of the landfill. "The bricks were reused, good 100-year-old lumber, limestone columns - about the only thing that wasn't reused was the plaster and lathe," he says.

OBI Deconstruction is one of eight Chicago-area contractors certified by the California-based nonprofit, The ReUse People of America. OBI owner Ken Ortiz, who's also a regional manager with TRP, recruits and trains contractors who will eventually compete with him for bids.

However, Ortiz says deconstruction is still so new in Chicago that "the more people who are doing it, the better off it is because that's the way to spread the word."

TRP also is working with the city of Chicago and the Safer Foundation to train ex-convicts in deconstruction techniques as part of a $5 million federal economic stimulus grant.

Many cities, particularly in California and the Pacific Northwest, make deconstruction mandatory. Santa Monica, Calif., for example, requires at least 65 percent of a demolished building be kept out of the landfill through reuse or recycling. Chicago has a similar requirement for buildings with four or more units.

Anne Unger of Glenview , Ill., says she and her husband, David Marchiori, bought property on Normandy Lane because they liked the location, not the house. They were planning a traditional demolition when Anne found out about OBI's deconstruction work. "Our builder and architect had never heard of it," she says.

Check out these deconstruction resources:

ReBuilding Exchange

The Delta Institute

Habitat for Humanity ReStore

The ReUse People of America

Their tax accountant ran the numbers, and even though it's costing about $50,000 - more than double the cost of a wrecking ball approach - they expect to come out ahead. "You need to know your numbers," she says. "It pays for itself and then some based on the type of property you have and the square-footage valuation."

Ortiz says he'll donate nearly everything from the Unger house - even the foundation, which will be used as roadbed material.

"The brick is what they call old Chicago brick, and that will all get reused. The cedar shingles will go to a group called Salvage One that sells them to restaurants," he says. "The only thing we will not get out of the house is the plaster."

Bargain hunter Linda Johnsen of Chicago says she bought an entire kitchen - upscale cabinets, Dacor oven and range, KitchenAid dishwasher, wine refrigerator and granite countertops - for $2,000 at a Murco auction.

"It fit perfectly into my kitchen," she says. "I didn't have to do anything."

Dirk Hoerr, owner of highly rated Budget Right Kitchens in Chicago and a three-time Super Service Award winner, says Johnsen got a good deal since the materials would cost up to $18,000 or more if purchased new. However, he says salvaged materials can cost more to install because they typically need to be adjusted to fit.

OBI uses Murco to auction the cream of its salvage crop: houses with hardwood flooring, high-end appliances and cabinetry. More utilitarian items go to the ReBuilding Exchange, Habitat for Humanity ReStore outlets and other area nonprofits.

David Tracy, executive director of Habitat for Humanity-Chicago South Suburbs in Chicago Heights, Ill.,, says he's considering launching a more extensive deconstruction effort this year as part of its ReStore outlet, which sells new and used building materials at deep discounts.

Right now, his crews will do simple projects at no charge for homeowners wanting to donate materials. "We evaluate the situation," he says. "If the cabinets are of poor quality, we are not going to spend the time ripping them out."

About half his ReStore inventory is used and comes from homeowners and contractors, and the remainder is new castoffs from big-box retailers and building supply houses. New items sell for about half of retail, he says. "We try to price [used items] at half of what you would pay at a garage sale," he says. "We try to make it such a great deal that you won't leave without something in the back of your truck - and all the revenue goes back to our program of building homes."

Similarly, the nonprofit ReBuilding Exchange on West 47th Street in Chicago handles mostly utilitarian items, typically sold at 10 percent of retail, says executive director Elise Zelechowski. "The faster we can sell it, the quicker we can make room for something else that can be saved," she says.

Arnold, Unger and Johnsen agree that the best part of deconstruction is doing right by the environment. "It's like organ donation," Unger says of donating her home's materials. "It's going to live on in another form."

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.