The sun was out last Saturday when a small army of volunteers swarmed through Rishi Sharma’s Saanich house, and stripped it to the bone.
Door frames, cabinets, wood trim, cupboards, appliances, doors and lights fixtures – everything including the kitchen sink went into a Habitat for Humanity truck.
It’s the first time the Victoria arm of the charity organized the wholesale deconstruction of a house, and it will be a test case for the future. For Sharma, a 37-year-old provinical government employee who has subdivided his Mount Douglas Cross Road lot, this is the first step in his attempt to reuse and recycle his entire home.
“I knew I’d have to deconstruct this house. I thought I’d do one better and instead of just recycling, I wanted to donate the entire house for reuse,” Sharma said. “It was a vision I had that really no one has done before. It was a vision that became a mission.”
The dozen volunteers, most military members from CFB Esquimalt, spent Saturday crow-baring and unscrewing every removable piece of the house that could be sold at Habitat’s ReStore store in Langford.
In turn, that money will flow into the pool of funds Habitat uses to build affordable homes across Greater Victoria, 18 to date, and another four slated in Saanich for 2014.
Yolanda Meijer, the executive director for Habitat for Humanity in Victoria, said it’s unusual, but not unheard ofm for people to offer entire homes, although this was their largest salvage operation to date.
It was a good exercise for the organization, as volunteers could remove cupboards and appliances and not have to worry about damaging walls and floors. Meijer plans to track the sale of each item to see how much money a single house can generate, and how much material is diverted from the landfill.
“Every house deconstruction has recycling. We are pushing reuse,” Meijer said. “If you take out your kitchen intact, someone will buy it from us.
“Many people think about recycling. I want them to think about reusing. It doesn’t go into the landfill, and you get a tax receipt.”
Sharma plans to have the house recycled down to the foundation. Habitat for Humanity doesn’t have the capacity to strip out drywall, flooring and plywood, but volunteers from OUR Ecovillage, a 25-acre sustainable living demonstration site in Shawnigan Lake, plans to disassemble the remainder of the house to almost nothing.
Ecovillage executive director Brandy Gallagher said her group often takes what Habitat can’t to benefit their own project and as a means to divert waste from the traditional waste stream.
Gallagher said better financial incentives and systems need to be in place to allow homeowners and developers easier ways to recycle old buildings. As it stands now, allowing non-profits to salvage houses isn’t an efficient use of time for builders.
“The deconstruction field is up against time and money. It does take time to pull nails,” Gallagher said. “There is no credit for doing ethical things.”
Meijer agreed: “Homeowners have to realize this is not a cost saving exercise. It’s a shift in mindset about what happens to things we don’t want or need.”
At Sharma’s house, it doesn’t take long for volunteers to pack the Habitat cube truck with all the fixtures that define a home. Most participate out of a sense of duty to engage in community service, and they also support the underlying mission of Habitat.
“It’s a good organization, a good charity and you don’t have to be experienced to help,” leading seaman Malisa Ogunniya, 25, said while yanking nails from wood trim.
Sharma likes the idea that his old cupboards and fixtures will eventually help build affordable housing in the region. To him, it was important enough that he refused to give the appliances to his father, Surinder Sharma, the president Victoria Hindu Temple.
“I wanted (Rishi) to give the stove and fridge for the temple. But he said ‘No, this is a better cause,’” laughed the senior Sharma, who was lending a hand with the deconstruction.
“I think Rishi is doing the right thing. It’s nice to see this all going to use instead of going into the garbage. Somebody will use it.”