Like other housing activity, the removal of existing homes to make way for newer, bigger houses continues in the weak economy but at a slower pace.
Adding the cost of demolition to the price of building a house might seem prohibitive when people are more careful about spending, but area companies have found a way to save on so-called teardowns: recycling.
Steven Hauck, 49, of Somers Point, said his first goal on a home demolition is to recycle the whole house at once by moving it to a new location.
“If a house is scheduled to be torn down, we try to salvage it,” said Hauck, owner of S. Hauck House Movers, of Egg Harbor Township. “If we can put a house at a new location, we can save the cost of demolition.”
Two factors can make relocating whole houses difficult.
The first is that property buyers often want a house removed as soon as possible, and it takes time to arrange for one to be moved.
“We generally sell the houses to people who have lots, but the problem is you’re not allowed to move a house to the property until you have a building permit,” Hauck said.
Getting a building permit can take as long as two months, while customers often call and say they want the house demolished in two weeks, he said.
Another factor is that some houses are unable to be moved because of size, construction or location. Obstacles such as trees, utility lines and bridges can make transporting something as large as a house impossible.
That was the case last month when S. Hauck House Movers was called in to get rid of a ranch house on Seaview Avenue in Linwood. The heavily wooded yard and neighborhood combined with the size of the house to make it too difficult.
When that happens, Hauck and his workers recycle it piece by piece, salvaging as much of the wood and fixtures as possible.
“We had eight guys working for a week taking that house apart,” he said. “It’s a lot of labor when a house is taken apart for salvage.”
The wood was taken back to the company’s yard on Mount Airy Avenue in Egg Harbor Township. Last week, Hauck and his son, Steven Hauck II, 24, of Pleasantville, processed it and prepared it for reuse.
“We got a lot of nice used lumber out of that house,” Hauck said.
The cost of lumber and other building materials is high enough to make such recycling feasible and keep more people working, he said.
Fixtures from kitchens and baths are often used to upgrade houses that have already been relocated, he said.
Ken Portnoy, 47, of Egg Harbor Township, has found that recycling is essential in the down economy for his Affordable Removal & Site Cleanup, based nearby in the township.
“We recycle almost everything,” he said. “Yesterday I tore out a ceramic kitchen floor. That would cost me $90 a ton to dispose of at the landfill, but if I take it to the recycling center, it costs just $10 a ton.”
Other recycled materials such as metals are worth more and earn Portnoy money.
“All the metal is separated — all the wire and copper, the cast iron. That gets all different prices when you scrap it,” he said. “Copper’s through the roof right now, an unheard-of more than $2 a pound. Five years ago, it was barely a dollar.”
Portnoy said business during the severe recession has been so slow that house moving and demolition companies have to pursue every bit of income they can.
“Last summer I had eight guys working for me, and it’s just me now and I’m hardly working myself,” he said. “I went from about 300 phone calls a month to about 30.”
As a result, last week he took a boiler to a recycler to get a mere $37 for it, and “normally I’d just give that to somebody, but things are so slow now.”
Some efforts to recycle home building materials haven’t worked out.
Portnoy said that a few years ago a system was set up to recycle asphalt roof shingles, grinding them up to use as road-surfacing material.
But the magnets in the grinders weren’t able to extract all of the roofing nails, which were a problem for tires and drivers.
“There was a road in Mullica Township that was nicknamed Nail Road because it caused so many flat tires,” he said.
Portnoy too finds it challenging to arrange for the recycling of whole houses.
He said he was recently contracted to demolish a modular home that suffered mainly smoke damage from a dryer fire.
He advertised the house and got permits for a location, and soon had a buyer. When that deal fell through, he found another person who wanted it.
But when he couldn’t arrange his end of the purchase in time, Portnoy wound up demolishing it anyway.
Hauck said he continues to pursue methods to make whole-house recycling more feasible.
One time while brainstorming the problem, he thought of taking houses from the barrier islands — the main source of teardowns in the region — by barge around to Salem County where lots are less expensive.
“There are thousands of demolition permits issued along the shore, just from Atlantic City to Cape May, every year,” he said. “All these houses are getting wrecked and there are some really nice houses getting wrecked.”
That bothers Stuart Meck, director of the Center for Government Services at Rutgers University’s Bloustein School of Public Planning and Public Policy.
In a 2007 presentation to the state League of Municipalities, he discussed what causes teardowns and what can be done about them.
The causes are straightforward: Property values in some areas grow, making older housing stock less attractive than the larger, updated homes that could be built on the properties.
On the barrier islands, for example, old bungalows have almost all been replaced by maximum-size multifamily dwellings that become lucrative rentals during the summer season.
In Linwood, many ranch and other smaller homes built in the 1950s and ’60s still exist, but many have been replaced by larger homes more suitable to the affluent town it has become.
Concerns about the loss of good existing housing or the character of a neighborhood are often overwhelmed by the desire of residents to see property values rise.
Meck said that to the extent teardowns are a problem, local governments are positioned to deal with them.
“New Jersey municipalities have the authority to control this, provided they define what the problem is first, and follow through with controls that actually deal with the problem,” he said.
The downturn, anyway, seems to have reduced the number of teardowns the past few years, he said.
Hauck was able to save the at least garage intact from the Linwood demolition, moving it to a property in Galloway Township.
He said that if he can find partners, he would like to get an assortment of lots ready in advance for doomed houses to be profitably moved to them. That might be difficult now but more lucrative when the housing market turns around.
“Moving houses is the oldest method of recycling,” Hauck said. “We save a lot of debris from going to the landfill between moving and salvaging houses.”
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