ERW deconstruction trainees take apart a garage on Dewey Avenue to salvage and and prepare materials for reuse.                           Photo by Ellen Galland

Since late last spring the Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse (ERW) has provided a location at 1818 Dempster St. where contractors, building owners and residents can donate used building materials and receive a tax deduction. Those materials can then be sold at significantly reduced prices to those who are looking for affordable building materials. In addition, it has been the mission of the ERW to train low-income Evanston residents in “deconstruction” techniques.

For eight days last fall, 12 Evanston trainees, complete with new tools and safety equipment, learned those techniques.  The trainees, under the supervision of Dave Bennink, owner of RE-USE Consulting, learned the importance of safety on the job site and how to take apart buildings gently. In this case the buildings were two Evanston houses and a garage.

The two houses are being remodeled under the City of Evanston’s federally funded Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2 (NSP2).  The houses, at 1740 Grey Ave. and 1826 Laurel Ave., needed to be “soft stripped.” Soft stripping is the removal of non-structural parts of a house.  Trainees were taught how to remove wood trim, finish flooring, windows and doors, appliances, kitchen cabinets, and electrical, plumbing and heating equipment.  Almost all of these materials are assumed to be reusable and will be resold through the ERW. The minority general contractors for the houses benefitted, because their labor and disposal costs were significantly reduced.

The trainees also deconstructed a garage at 1115 Dewey Ave. There the tongue-and-groove fir roof sheathing boards of the garage were salvaged, along with roof joists and wall studs.

The garage doors were also salvaged and sold to a trainee from a previous class who needed garage doors for a construction project.

As part of deconstruction training, trainees were outfitted with both safety equipment and tools. Their new possessions include steel-toed work boots with Keplar or stainless steel inserts, hard hats, goggles, gloves, reflective safety vests and basic tools such as a pry bar, trim bar, hammer, six-way screwdriver and
a tape measure. In order to be certified in deconstruction, trainees also completed a classroom component that included focusing on good work practices.

Funds from the federal CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) program were used to pay for the trainer, the building permits, asbestos abatement, disposal costs and ERW expenses for these projects.

All of the trainees are unemployed Evanston residents. The NSP2 program requires that NSP2 contractors hire these certified Section 3 trainees ahead of other applicants.  (Under Section 3 of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968, economic opportunities are given to Section 3 residents in an area where HUD financial assistance is used for housing or development.)

Based on “exit interviews,” the trainees, all 12 of whom completed the program, would have liked even more actual construction experience using their new tools. Trainees Rommele Brown and Isaac Williams both stressed the importance of the camaraderie that developed over the eight days of training. Joe Boyle, a board member at ERW, noted that there was a nice “coming together” of the trainee group members, as well as an appreciation on their part that Dave Bennink and Lou Dickson were giving them a unique opportunity. The trainees are now regularly volunteering to help the ERW.

In a previous RoundTable article on the Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse (Feb 16, 2011), founder Lou Dickson emphasized the importance of tying the ERW’s purpose of recycling building materials to its community building function. The City of Evanston Community Development Department and the Evanston Community Foundation have both supported the efforts of ERW to make job training an integral part of recycling building materials.

Job skills such as punctuality, attendance and willingness to learn all aspects of a job and to work with a team are basic to any job training program. But ERW went beyond the classroom and gave the trainees some real techniques they can use to tackle future deconstruction assignments.

Such job training is an important component of the ERW, and this first go at it certainly hit home.

Having the Right Tools at ERW

Supervision and certification of the trainees is done by Dave Bennink of Re-Use Consulting ( His company works toward a “minimum of 70% landfill diversion for each project.” Mr. Bennink treats the buildings as “deconstruction labs” where new techniques can be tried.

Over the 16 years Mr. Bennink  has been doing deconstruction, he has found that certain techniques and tools serve certain purposes best and speed up the process. 

Among the tools he favors are

• the nail kicker, which shoots nails out of boards instead of shooting them into the boards;

• the nail jack which pulls nails, one of the deconstruction tasks that requires the most labor time;

• the artillery pry bar system, an adjustable pry bar.

The emerging field of deconstruction is spinning off a new set of tools to help increase worker efficiency. Efficiency is important in order to make deconstruction competitive with demolition. The pneumatic de-nailer and the nail jack that pulls out nails both increase the efficiency of nail removal, a crucial deconstruction task.

Ellen Galland

Ellen Galland has had an architectural practice in Evanston since 1983. For more than 20 years, she has written articles for the RoundTable, including the column “Ask An Architect" and "The Green Column"...