Vancouver’s red-hot housing market means development is inevitable. But the construction of shiny, brand-spanking-new buildings comes with a lot of waste: wood, drywall, steel and other demolition debris that’s sent to the incinerator or landfills. “It was really bothering me as a builder, a woodworker and an environmentalist,” says local contractor Adam Corneil.

adam corneil unbuildersPhoto by Andrew Querner

The solution? Unbuilders, a team of “salvage experts” founded by Corneil that works not to demolish decades-old homes in Vancouver but, like its name suggests, unbuild them. Unlike the traditional, machine-aided demo process, the team takes spaces apart by hand, recovering everything from roofing and siding to cabinetry, appliances and moulding. The materials are then donated to and sold at charitable outlets like Habitat for Humanity, for which the building owner receives a tax receipt.

Perhaps most significantly, Unbuilders rescues an extensive amount of old-growth wood, which comes from ancient trees that were clear-cut from B.C. forests in the past century. Some of this prized lumber, which is stronger and more stable than that used in construction projects today, will be repurposed at two design-forward installations at this year’s IDS Vancouver. “We don’t only feel like we’re salvaging used building materials,” notes Corneil, “we feel like we’re salvaging our local history.”