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Salvage work that satisfies

  • DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Harrison Flores is a team leader for Re-use Hawaii, a nonprofit that salvages building materials that are usually thrown away after a demolition. He recently helped take apart a home on Black Point Road in Kahala.
  • DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Harrison Flores' crew works together to reclaim the wood, windows and other materials at a beachfront home in Kahala.
  • DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Harrison Flores' crew works together to reclaim the wood, windows and other materials at a beachfront home in Kahala.
  • DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM
    A beachfront home that is under construction in Kahala.
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Harrison Flores is a hefty guy. A wrestler in high school, he is used to an active routine. But even for Flores, at 250 pounds and 6 feet 1 inch tall, working on a deconstruction team for Re-use Hawaii is physically demanding work.

"Over here you’re constantly prying, working out your forearms, lifting heavy stuff," he said recently at a job site on Black Point Road in Kahala. "It’s all day, same repetitive work."

But he enjoys it because it is mechanical — and helps reduce waste that otherwise would have gone into Oahu’s landfills.

"We’re a small company, but at least we’re doing something about it (the environment)," he said.

Flores, 25, works full time as a deconstruction team leader at Re-use Hawaii, a nonprofit organization that salvages building materials normally thrown away in a demolition.

According to Re-use Hawaii, more than one-third of Oahu’s waste comes from construction and demolition debris. To reduce the waste stream, Re-use carefully and quickly takes apart buildings or homes by hand and sells the recovered material at its Kakaako warehouse at bargain prices.

"We’re a small company, but at least we’re doing something about (the environ-ment)."

Harrison Flores
A team leader for Re-use Hawaii, a nonprofit that salvages building materials

Materials include koa and mahogany floorboards that Flores and his crew plucked out "piece by piece" from a 3,000-square-foot oceanfront home at Black Point.

Close to 400 tons of building materials are diverted from Oahu’s landfills every year, said Quinn Vittum, co-founder of Re-use Hawaii. He said the nonprofit averages about 50 deconstruction projects a year on Oahu.

A typical project, which lasts about a week longer than a demolition, can salvage 70 percent to 80 percent of a home’s materials, Vittum said.

Vittum, who launched Re-use Hawaii in 2007, said deconstruction is becoming more attractive because people may care about the environment and they can receive a tax deduction.

"Before we were around," he said, "no one had the option. You had to dump your whole house."

Flores, who grew up in a taro-farming family on Kauai that still chooses to live without electricity, said he enjoys knowing that his work helps Oahu’s environment.

"I’m not just at a job," he said.

Two years ago, Flores started at the nonprofit as a deconstruction crew member. About six months into the job, he was offered a chance to lead his own team.

"I just got good at what I did, and they saw the potential in me," he said, adding that it helps to have knowledge of hand tools and construction, and be mechanically inclined.

As a team leader, Flores also is responsible for his crew and their safety.

He begins his day at about 6:30 a.m. by setting up the tools, planning the day’s schedule, and filling out safety forms that highlight the day’s hazards.

About 7 a.m., he gives his crew of two to eight members a daily report and safety briefing.

Flores, who has been trained in CPR, fall protection and other safety measures, ensures everyone is following safety precautions before he jumps in to help with deconstruction.

"It’s just a hammer and a flat bar," he said. "Prying stuff apart all day."

To keep his crew motivated, he sets realistic goals that divide the job into sections and give his crew a sense of accomplishment before they move on to the next task, he said.

He said he enjoys being the captain of the team and watching the building go down in phases.

Evan Fujimoto, president of Graham Builders, the general contractor of the Black Point project, said Flores is "a real enthusiastic, hardworking kind of guy."

He said deconstructing the Black Point home made sense for the homeowner because the property was hard to access, raising the cost estimates for demolition. The home also had attractive amenities that could be recovered, and deconstruction by hand reduced the dust and noise in the dense neighborhood.

Flores said meeting the expectations of contractors is probably the biggest challenge as a team leader.

He said deconstruction can seem like a long process for a contractor accustomed to having a house demolished in a few days.

"Sometimes it’s a lot of stress just to meet deadlines," he said. "We’re still growing, but a lot of people still don’t understand the concept of deconstruction and how it helps out the environment."

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