Start-up Deconstructs Buildings, Reconstructs History

Syracuse, NY – Where some might see an abandoned property as blight, ripe for demolition, D-Build-dot.org founder Rob Englert sees opportunity.

"We founded D-Build as a vehicle, as a project to solve this problem of vacant houses," says Englert.

D-Build.org is a Craigslist-type website where people in the deconstruction community can find each other. Grant Meacham, also with D-Build, says reclaimed materials might carry a stigma of being used-up or weak, but in actuality, they have a value that no new piece of housing material could ever have.

"When you have a piece of wood that came out of an old house, that's not just a piece of wood, it was a part of a house where a family lived, where multiple families lived," says Meacham. "It was part of a community and you don't want to orphan this material by severing that history."

The company is preserving that history by literally encoding it into each item it sells. Historic information about a piece is attached by barcode. Buyers can scan it with a smart phone, and a website will pop up, displaying the backstory.

"That is really the backbone of what D-build is: we attach the interactive history. It's not just the history of the wood, or materials before, it's like what did it become after?' That's a big part, as it lives on in its second life or third life," says Englert.

Reducing blight

In Syracuse, there are approximately 1,700 vacant properties, so there's a lot of material to play with. From 10 to 15 percent of those are so blighted, according to city neighborhood commissioner Paul Driscoll, that they should be removed.

Driscoll says ideas from the private firms like D-build are key to reducing blight.

"Government is the worst leader at new technology, or new anything. The market develops these new processes and these industries and government can support it."

Driscoll says he hopes the deconstruction movement, spearheaded by D-build, grows.

"I think what they're doing is providing an incentive for deconstruction, that there's a market for almost every nook and cranny of a house that they can tag and provide value to the reuse of whatever that component is," says Driscoll.

The site is about a year old, and the big challenge to making it a success is getting it noticed. After all, Ebay wouldn't work if there were no buyers or sellers.

D-Build's Grant Meacham says there are enough people doing deconstruction to make the site a success, but the problem is that they're isolated from one another.

"Right now," Meacham says, "we're just trying to accumulate that critical mass of people, to make it its own thriving market place by itself."

The site does generate some income through online ads, and transaction fees, but for right now, D-Build is largely supported by Rob Englert's main company, Ram Industrial Design. Englert says he'd like to see policy makers help bolster the deconstruction movement by incorporating it in city planning.

"That's what we'd love to see happen in the Near West Side of Syracuse," says Englert. "It would be ok, we're going to use 15 percent of all locally sourced of reclaimed lumber in any construction in any new construction in this certain four block radius'."

And if demand were to rise enough, the company says it can see large retailers like Home Depot having a reclaimed materials section, just like a grocery store has an organic foods section.