Friday, June 05, 2009

Bringing down the house

Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Tue, 05/12/2009 2:02 PM | Environment

Bought and sold: Building materials businesses, such as this one under Slipi flyover, are inadvertently helping the environment. JP/Ricky YudhistiraBought and sold: Building materials businesses, such as this one under Slipi flyover, are inadvertently helping the environment. JP/Ricky Yudhistira

It might seem much easier to destroy than to build, but when it comes to a house, that's not always the case, especially for house owners in Jakarta.

After all, it's easy enough to find someone to help when you want to build a house, but unless you are very rich, you will find it much too expensive to pay a big company just to knock your house down.

Abdul Jalal, 40, has been working in the business of house demolitions for half his life. When he came to the capital from Jepara 20 years ago, his brother had already started the business from a hut in Slipi, Central Jakarta.

After his brother's death three years ago, Abdul took over the business, running it from a plot of rented land in Palmerah, South Jakarta.

Abdul is one of the thousands of people from Jepara in Central Java who are flocking to Jakarta, offering their services for anybody wanting to tear down their house.

Most of these workers have never even owned a house in Jakarta - they are only renting a plot of land or setting up on the pavement - but their presence in the city has turned out to be a boon for many.

Not only do these workers offer their services for demolishing buildings, they also buy buildings if they think the materials could have a good resale value.

"We mostly take the scrap metal, ceramics, wooden elements such as doors or window frames and roof frame elements," said Abdul, who said he bought old buildings at prices ranging from Rp 3 million to Rp 40 million.

"Sometimes we chip in to pay for a building if we have estimated the value of the building's materials."

As destroying a house has been a lifetime job for many people from the Jepara community, never doubt their ability to estimate the value of the materials of a house they want to buy.

"Give us about one to three hours and we will come up with a price," said Haryanto, a house demolisher in Slipi, Central Jakarta.

Although the industry did not begin out of any intention to recycle materials in the sense of modern "green" concepts, the way they process the materials from demolished houses does indeed match the concept of recycling.

Abdul Jalal and Haryanto said that what they took accounted for up to 75 percent of the building materials.

"We'll even take a 50-centimeter piece of wood because it would be useful for a window's furrow, for example," said Abdul.

Some scrap material is sold as is, while other parts need to be modified to fetch a better price in the market.

Roof tiles and ceramics are usually sold to customers as they are, or offered to regular customers at prices that vary according to quality, maker or even color.

"Red ceramics made by a brand such as Toto or Kia usually sell for around Rp 250,000 to Rp 300,000 higher than other brands or the same brand with a different color," said Abdul.

Wooden parts usually require some modification or even a total overhaul.

A secondhand door leaf sells for about Rp 100,000, and a new door leaf sells for between Rp 850,000 and Rp 900,000. A modified secondhand door is priced at around Rp 300,000 to Rp 400,000.

"Those who want a good quality window leaf but can't afford to buy a new one usually go for a modified one," said Abdul. "From our experience, the quality of used wood is usually better, perhaps because it has a lower moisture level so it isn't as affected by the weather."

As with wooden materials, metal also tends to be redesigned to fetch a better price. Material such as cast iron will usually be reworked into iron fences or window bars, while aluminum roofs are usually sold to construction projects as temporary fences.

Materials from walls are mostly used to build up the ground, while ceiling elements such as asbestos cement board, gypsum or plywood ceiling are always thrown away.

However, owners must pay more if they want the debris to be discarded.

"We usually settle the price before the demolition and if they want to throw away the debris we will charge them more, because we will have to pay trucks to take it to the garbage dump," said the worker, who recently bought a 300-meter-square house in Tomang, West Jakarta, for Rp 15 million.

According to architect Eko Prawoto, houses built from recycled materials will not only be cheaper than those built new, but will always have a more distinctive design.

"If we need four window-frames but we only have three, then we deal with how to make them look good even though they are an odd number," said Eko, who has developed a reputation for designing houses made from used materials, including for artists Djadug Ferianto and Butet Kertaradjasa, in Bantul, Yogyakarta.

Eko, who graduated in architecture from the Berlage Institute in Amsterdam in 1993, said he generally used secondhand floor or wall tiles, window and door frames and leafs, as well as pillars.

"Mainly it is easy to reuse materials for wood constructions, but metal constructions are harder."

Eko's experience has been the same as that of the house demolishers, finding that used wood tends to be better quality than new wood.

"In the old days people only cut wood with a diameter of more than 40 centimeters, meaning the wood used was of good quality. This kind of wood is weather-resistant," he said.

The 51-year-old lecturer at the Yogyakarta's Duta Wacana Christian University said houses made from recycled materials tended to be connected with the environmental movement because they used recycled materials, but that the initial concern was generally related to economics and/or a love of antique materials. One client, he said, "collected his materials for six years".

Yet even though the business of collecting and building with used materials was never intended as a "green" campaign, sprouting rather from people's need to make a living from what they knew, it could provide an opportunity for the government or environmental activists to raise awareness about the benefits of using recycled materials.

As Abdul Jalal said, "We really started for profit-based reasons, but we will be very happy if someone wants to train us in how to help protect the environment

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