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A Levco Builders employee pulls apart interior walls of a home under “deconstruction” in Adams Gulch.

    A 30-year-old, 10,000-square-foot home in Adams Gulch north of Ketchum is being torn down to make way for a new house. But the materials from the old place are not going to waste—a “deconstruction” company from Boise has been hired to take it apart bit by bit. The useable pieces will be donated to the Building Material Thrift Store in Hailey, whose profits support the Wood River Land Trust.

    Store Manager Bruce Tidwell said he expects to get $50,000 to $80,000 worth of materials from the project.

    Tidwell said demolitions of several large homes have contributed materials to the store, and he estimated that 30 to 40 percent of the store’s annual sales volume of about $350,000 comes from entire-house demolitions, with the rest from remodels. However, he said the Adams Gulch project is the first home in the valley to be dismantled by professionals.

    “For a lot of my projects, I’m going in on my dime and pulling the stuff that’s justified by my time,” he said. “We’ve taken it quite a ways, but not this far.”

    This time, he said, “the goal is to dismantle it down to the concrete.”

    The two-month-long project is being undertaken by Levco Builders. The company specializes in remodels, but owner Joe Levitch said he got into the deconstruction business about three years ago when he was contacted by a representative of the Reuse People of America, an Oakland, Calif.-based nonprofit that operates in 12 states across the country to collect and sell used building materials as well as train people in deconstruction techniques. According to the organization’s website, it has salvaged more than 350,000 tons of building materials. Levitch is now its regional manager for the Boise-Twin Falls area.

    Levitch said his building company has done three deconstruction projects in Boise.

    “This is something that’s been done all over the country, but it’s new to Boise and new to the Wood River Valley,” he said. “Sun Valley has always been on our radar as a potential spot.”

    The Adams Gulch home’s owner, who asked to remain anonymous, said she and her husband bought the house as a vacation residence 15 years ago knowing that they would someday make major changes.

    “We had a different vision of where the house should sit on the property,” she said. “We’re reorienting it to take advantage of the view up Adams Gulch.”

    She said they got an inkling of what’s involved in deconstruction when they did a kitchen remodel several years ago, and decided to do what they could to conserve materials when they undertook this major project.

    Levitch said the approximately $10-per-square-foot cost of deconstruction is more expensive than demolition, but deductions on federal and state taxes allow homeowners to recoup the cost over several years up to the value of the donated materials.

    He said deconstruction is also more time-consuming, though workers can start during the winter since much of their job is done indoors.

    “What I’m hoping is that the word will get out so people can plan the extra two or three months that’s required,” he said.

    Levitch said deconstruction involves “taking it all apart in a loving way so those materials are not all beat up.”

    He said most of the work is done by hand, using crowbars, reverse-direction nail guns and Sawzall reciprocating hand saws. He said a tool designed by a Portuguese crew in the San Francisco Bay Area based on a truck’s leaf spring is used to pull up hardwood floors and lift stucco off exterior walls.

    “I’m calling it the Portuguese man of war,” he said.

    He said a forklift is used to lower beams and other heavy materials.

    Levitch said large pieces such as roof trusses need to be cut up, but the lumber can be reused. Drywall, plywood and anything else with glue has to be thrown away. Wood that can’t be directly reused can be ground up and “repurposed” as garden mulch. Most appliances, flooring and cabinets can be sold.

    “We’re trying to keep the dump truck loads as minimal as possible,” he said.

    Levitch said that about three-quarters of the volume of material from the three deconstruction projects he’s done in Boise was kept out of the landfill. However, he said that included crushed concrete, which he won’t be able to do at the Adams Gulch project because of the distance to a crushing machine.

    “What we’re tearing down is very useable stuff,” he said. “This is not old junk by any means. Somebody could build a whole house out of it, easily.”

    Tidwell said that despite the Building Material Thrift Store’s willingness to transport dismantled materials, much is still getting thrown away at other projects in the Wood River Valley.

    “We do a fair amount of dumpster diving,” he said. “It’s amazing how much stuff is getting trashed. If they’d just put it out by the curb, we can pick it up the same day.”

    Levitch said he’s proud of the work he does to keep materials out of landfills and to help the environment by reusing them.

    “I think it’s a trend that will gain more traction as we make it more available to people,” he said.

Email the writer: gmoore@mtexpress.com

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