Joe DeRisi hates to throw anything away, and he has made a career out of putting old things to good use.
Instead of demolishing abandoned houses and dumping the debris, DeRisi "deconstructs" the buildings and reuses the parts to build new houses.
He started his business Urbanminers three years ago at 30 Manilla Ave. in Hamden, pursuing an idea he first had almost two decades ago while working as a contractor and volunteering for the New Haven Preservation Trust.
The city was demolishing a block of old houses to build a school. DeRisi saw the old buildings as a treasure trove of construction elements.
As a contractor, "I was the guy at the end of the day who would pull the doors out of the dumpster," he said. He would then sell the reclaimed doors at tag sales. "I was trying to save this stuff from historic houses."
Sensing an opportunity, he contacted the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Washington DC, and he and their representative approached the city to discuss deconstructing the buildings instead of demolishing them.
DeRisi, 54, who lives in Hamden with his family, originally graduated from Southern Connecticut State University in 1985 with a degree in geography. "Geography is a networking discipline for other disciplines," he said. "My orientation was as a regional planner."
But after awhile, he said he grew tired of municipal politics and in 2000 he received a master’s degree in resource management from Antioch University in Keane, NH. After working as an environmental analyst for the Southwest Connecticut Conservation District, he decided to open his business, Urbanminers LLC, in 2008.
That, of course, was just when the economy soured, but DeRisi said a bigger challenge has been to create a market for deconstruction-reuse materials.
Urbanminers sells a wide variety of materials reclaimed from deconstructed homes. Those include flooring, framing, paneling, molding, doors, windows, shutters, stairways, office furniture, radiators, plumbing and lighting fixtures, church pews, mantles, cabinets, shelves, crates and scrap wood to use as kindling.
DeRisi said it is a thriving industry in parts of California, the Midwest and the South, but demolition is the accepted protocol for contractors and architects in New England. The state’s waste management plan promotes recycling demolition waste, but DeRisi said deconstruction and reuse is more efficient and creates more jobs.
He said he is working with state officials to pass new laws, new regulations and new local ordinances to promote deconstruction and reuse, and he is trying to get Labor Department funding for job training to provide the workers he needs.
Most important, he hopes more construction contractors and architects will see the value of reclaimed building materials.
"Because the market doesn’t exist in people’s minds, we have to create it," DeRisi said. "We’re talking about starting a new industry."