For Bethesda Bungalows, which builds on small infill lots in suburban Washington, D.C., the first step to a high-performance house is tearing down—and salvaging—an old, inefficient one.

The ultra-green KellyGreen Home will soon be built on the 0.14-acre site of the original 1954 rambler. The one-story house was functional, says Bethesda Bungalows project manager Brad Beeson, but inefficient.

"It had no insulation in the walls, old single-pane windows, old appliances, and an old HVAC system, and water heater," he says.

As the owners prepared to say goodbye to their outdated dwelling, Beeson drew up a plan to carefully deconstruct it, with an eye toward salvaging any usable materials. The new house is being built to LEED and NGBS standards, and both programs provide points for diverting demolition waste from the landfill.

Workers from Baltimore-based architectural salvage company Second Chance descended on the house in early June and over two days stripped out flooring, toilets, appliances, light fixtures, and framing. On other projects with longer deconstruction times, Beeson says the salvage company has reclaimed framing and roofing materials and even electrical wires. “It’s not an easy process,” says Beeson. “It’s time-consuming and exacting.”

All the salvaged products and materials end up at the nonprofit’s warehouses near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor where they are sold to architects, builders, and the general public. Homeowners can receive a hefty tax writeoff for donating their old materials after making a one-time donation to Second Chance for their salvaging services.

"We try to get all of our customers to sign up with Second Chance, and we’ve been pretty successful due to the significant tax benefits," Beeson says.

In addition to what Second Chance salvaged, Bethesda Bungalows’ crew removed the oak flooring, to be used later on another project (see video below). By the time Rockville, Md.-based contractor GM Williams & Sons arrived for demolition in early July, the 1,200-square-foot house was not much more than the framing and foundation, and about 25% of demolition waste had been diverted from the landfill, Beeson estimates.



  Orchestrating a major teardown on a tight lot in an upscale neighborhood with potentially finicky neighbors is not for the faint of heart, but Beeson and his subs made it look easy. He said his motto during demolition is to finish the job as quickly, but as carefully, as possible. Click here for video footage of the demolition.

“During teardown, we always have a hose running on site to keep the dust down and away from the neighbors, and we make sure the dump trucks don’t ding any cars,” he says. “We try our best to make friends with everyone in the neighborhood, and they’re usually very interested in watching what we’re doing.”

Unlike some jurisdictions, Montgomery County, Md., promotes infill development and gives more legal weight to the owners of the teardown project than to neighbors who might have issue with it, Beeson says.

“The permit application process makes it so that it’s almost impossible for a neighbor to stop the process, unlike in other areas where neighbors can create a lot of problems for a remodel job,” he says.

Jennifer Goodman is Senior Editor Online for EcoHome.