December 2, 2021

Local organization deconstructs a house for materials

Kevin Smith/staff reporter

Will Semo, right, and Patrick Denmark remove nails from wood on Fairview Drive in Cortlandville on Friday. The Cortland Reuse volunteers preserve the materials for future use.

The volunteers tapped the nails out of the old red oak floorboards Friday, and wrapped them in plastic to preserve them. Hammers, saws and other tools dotted the house.

They pulled the paneling from the walls, stacking it to the side. Few of the panels had nails, so they didn’t need much work, and they’d be in better condition for the next user. The house was down to the drywall and concrete when the volunteers finished the last of a three-day effort to deconstruct a house on Fairview Drive in Cortlandville.

The effort by Cortland ReUse was its first time deconstructing a house, an alternative to demolition that allows the materials to be reused, said volunteer John Zelson.

Cortland ReUse, a fledgling nonprofit working to start a facility to sell reusable materials and used goods, was gathering materials to be sold at a similar facility, Finger Lakes ReUse. Cortland ReUse will see the profit.

“Basically, deconstructing is construction in reverse,” said Diane Cohen, executive director for the Finger Lakes ReUse Center in Ithaca, which helped the Cortland volunteers. “We’re disassembling a whole building by hand. It’s labor-intensive, but it’s a very rewarding practice.”

Kat McCarthy, head committee member for Cortland ReUse and a Cortland alderwoman, said Cohen’s teaching about deconstruction has been “a learning experience, especially for volunteers.”

Having Cohen on-site, said Zelson, gives them a chance to “train volunteers in safety, proper tool use, and careful removal of building materials.”

Cortland Reuse practices waste diversion, Zelson said. Instead of putting construction and demolition materials into a landfill, the reclaimed materials will be processed, sorted and packaged on-site.

“Keeping materials out of the landfill is a big one from an environmental perspective,” McCarthy said. “It extends the life of the landfill, keeping materials out of it and reusing it, and giving materials a second life.”

The volunteers 1,000 square feet of select red oak flooring at the house, Cohen said. “It’s 60-year-old lumber that’s never been finished, but has an opportunity to look beautiful again.”

“We take everything off the walls, take care of the fixtures and pull the trim off the flooring. We then take all of the nails out of the floorboards and the wood from the walls,” Zelson said. “The more we do this, the better we’ll get at it.”

McCarthy said materials are available for resale at 50% to 90% below retail costs. The center, once it opens in Cortland, would create jobs, too.

“We can keep the money in the local community rather than paying a corporation that’s outside of our community,” she said.

Details for a center in Cortland are still being worked out and still in the preliminary stages of a lease agreement, said McCarthy.

“Our organization is still in the process of getting up and running,” she said. “We have a business plan in place and developing infrastructure. We’re in the process of identifying start-up funding.”