Local couple takes on salvage, demolition business

By BUSTER WOLFE,

Mike Essary’s wife, Layla, wanted a farmhouse table for the family’s home. Mike and Layla like to watch several of the television shows on the HGTV network that involve renovating homes, decorating with rustic furniture or living in a tiny house.

“We watch ‘Hometown’ (based in Laurel), ‘Property Brothers,’ ‘Love It or List It’ and ‘Fixer Upper,’ a show based in Waco, Texas, with Chip and Joanna Gaines, Mike said.

“As a matter of fact, that’s where we went for spring break (to Waco),” he said. “We decided to go out there last year on spring break. They were having this grand opening for the Silos Celebration.”

When Mike – an engineer with Neel-Schaffer – started pricing farmhouse tables, he thought he could do better on his own.

“It looked pretty simple to make,” he said. “So my first project was a farmhouse table made out of crossarms on a power pole. It probably weighed about a thousand pounds. It was rustic and she liked it, so we did some others.”

Essary couldn’t depend on power pole crossarms for all of his materials, but he wanted to stay with the rustic look. So he decided he would look for the older wood in older buildings, and abandoned old homes could be found.

Essary said he took his time before making the plunge into the home demolition and salvage business. When he decided he wanted to take an old house apart, he turned to his trusted advisor – Google.

“We’d had been researching it for about a year and half, just going on Google and searching, ‘How do you tear down a house?’” he said. “You can pretty much find anything you’re looking for online.”

When Essary came to trying to locate a possible source of the older wood, he turned to/ a more trusted source, his father, Leon.

“I started talking to my dad about it and told him we were looking for old houses or barns,” he said. “He said, ‘Well, there’s the old Gay place in Brooklyn.’ So I got to looking, checked the property ownership, found out who owned it and talked to the owner about the barn, which was about 1,000 square feet.”

On a cold call to the property owner, Essary was successful.

“She agreed; we don’t pay her and she doesn’t pay us,” he said. “She was going to sell the property, but she would have to pay a contractor what it costs to tear down a structure, such as new equipment and things like that. That isn’t cheap. So she said I could take down the barn.”

Essary started working under the name of his new enterprise, Pine Belt Architectural Salvage, and took the barn apart. He surmised that if the property owner was planning to sell the land, the nearby house might also be ready for demolition.

“She also had a 2,200-square-foot house built in 1899 of all heart pine,” he said. “I asked her if we could take it down as well, with no cost to us or her. So we started working on the house in February and we are just about finished with the demolition, top to bottom.”

Essary has been careful to keep up with expenses and time spent on the demolition projects.

 

“Per square foot, it probably cost about $5-6 to take it down,” he said. “I have to track everything because I don’t want to do this if I’m losing money. It’s too much work.

I’ve got a full-time job that’s 40 hours a week. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that it is a lot of work and a lot of sweat equity, but it’s fun. I think I’ll come out in the black when it’s all said and done, but it’s probably going to take about 600 man-hours to take it down. I keep up with every visit. I’ve got some teenage guys helping us.”

Essary and his work crew, which includes relatives, usually work Tuesday, Thursday and Friday for up to three hours and maybe as long as five hours on Saturday with about four to six people. Working through the summer has caused some long, hot shifts.

“Everybody works hard,” he said, adding that even the devil is in the details with demolition. “Everyone you sell the lumber to doesn’t want it with the nails, so you have to take out the nails. There’s a denailer that you can buy online that’s pneumatic. If you’ve got a nail sticking up through the board, you put this over the nail and it shoots it through the board.”

Because most of the work is done by hand, the popular tools are hammers, pallet-busters and crowbars.

“The toughest parts are the walls,” he said. “One wall is solid 1-by-12s vertical, then it’s got shiplap on this side and beadboard on the other side. There’s a lot of square footing and some heavy stuff. We’re taking down the roof decking, the ceiling, the walls, the floors and then the framing.”

The walls were special, Essary said.

“What took the most times were the walls because if it’s tongue and groove, to get it off without ripping the boards, you have to do it a certain way and start at the bottom or the top and work it off,” he said. “If it’s a 2-by-4, it’s a 2-by-4; it’s not the ‘new’ 2-by-4 (1½-by-3½ inches). The beams are 6-by-8s. There are 2-by-8s that are 16 feet long.”

Overall, Essary said he was able to find good home for salvaging.

“The biggest thing is to find a house that doesn’t have asbestos, has a little lot, just a high-volume structure that has something that you can reclaim,” he said. “If you can’t reclaim it, you have to haul it off. If it has asbestos, you have to abate it. So we were blessed with this home. It’s not in the city, so we don’t have to deal with code officials. The owner actually lives in New Jersey.”

The return will hopefully be worth the trouble, Essary said.

“Honestly, we’ve probably got about less than 5 percent waste, which are basically the shingles and bathroom fixtures,” he said. “The more we do this, the more efficiently we’ll be able to do it. It’s on-the-job training. The biggest investment is a generator. But we also have a lot of hand tools and fans and insect repellent.”

Essary said he has been able to sell wood from the two structures.

“I’ve got two homeowners – one who is going to renovate a house and one who is building a house,” he said. “Butch Benedict, the Forrest County coroner, is renovating a house and his son, Casey, and his wife are building a house. They watch HGTV, just like us. It’s addictive obviously.”

Although Essary spent a lot of time with his first home demolition, he said he is happy with the experience.

“I’ve always wanted to have a business on the side,” he said. “Neel-Schaffer has been great to me. I’ve been there 21 years. But it’s a challenge, it’s new and it’s something that a lot of people don’t have figured out. I’m looking for the next house now.”