News & Insights


Sustainability and Defending the Demo Before the Start of the Green Build

Carl Christianson

One of the problems face on this particular build was the justification of how much of the original structure to reuse. It would have been nice to save the complete structure, but even without close examination it was clear to see that it frankly was not feasible. While the existing 1960’s house with its round turrets and half dome roofing looked the part of a sustainable house, the reality was that the house had an amazing amount of damage to the structure from roof leaks and neglect. When first viewing the property with our office staff we immediately became aware of the existing mold issue within the structure. Slow roof leaks over long periods of time in a house closed for extended periods allowed the trapped moisture to collect within the interior of the house and showed signs of evidence through the majority of the structure. The smell of mildew was very strong and we kept emerging for quick breathers before further exploration of the structure. The first law of sustainability being to build it to last, also goes hand in hand with regular maintenance requirements to ensure that small problems do not later become large ones. This houses mixed assortment of low-pitched roofs and dome shaped structures showed signs of the limitations within the selected building materials. Flashings made more complex by odd shapes were not custom fabricated to ensure proper fitment to the structure. Composite roof to membrane transitions did not have good drainage and pooled water lifted shingles in some areas. Evidence of leaks around the passive window glazing likewise was short cut and instead of proper and expensive fabrication drains being installed, channels and drain ways built into the framing and glazing were site built and eventually failed allowing water to do its slow steady work of rendering a once useable house into ruin.

Armed with this in mind many would have simply dozed the entire structure into oblivion and cleaned the slate for a fresh start. Closer examination however and a serious look by engineering revealed that with careful planning and some extra man power, much of the existing curved foundation walls could be retained. Designing in progress lead to blending concepts from the original structure into a fabulous new Phoenix arising from the ashes of the once neglected ruble. As plans emerged a demolition contract came into effect to protect both the owner and the contractor and allow flexibility within the structure removal. Machines can remove vast amounts of material in a hurry but the process of slowly sifting the remainder to sort the recyclable framing members from the damaged ones fell to our labor crews. Metal sifted sorted and set aside for the forges, copper and aluminum likewise pulled and sorted and the floor joist carefully prepped, loaded and hauled off to a re use store in the local Corvallis area.

Time to excavate and see what gives. More machinery brought in this time to cut the concrete and see how this thing was put together. Contractors and engineers can all provide drawing s and speculation about how a place was built but truth be told, it is very difficult for anyone to confirm this at a later date without much risk and much expense. As this was a 1960’s era full custom built house, it came nicely equipped with a true to life bomb shelter. 1’ thick concrete roof covered with many feet of dirt would have made seemed to hold nearly a ton of rebar for structural strength. As it turns out however when the saws hit the walls, many of them were not tied together and the feared rebar was slow to be uncovered. End of the week had us pushing over walls and finishing the dig out to expose the new daylight walk out basement. Elevations of the existing basement walls would be heightened by simply building over the top of the existing framing notches and giving an additional foot of head height. Unknowns being established we could now go back to focusing on what we had to start with confidence and once again focus on the building process.