The intimacy of building a home board-by-board is rarely matched at the other end of a house’s life, when it’s hastily reduced to rubble bound for the landfill.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, say Becky Douglas and Gary Delp, who began dismantling their newly purchased Northside house by hand in early February. The home, built in 1915 and long since ravaged by renters and cat piss, would have cost more to remodel than starting afresh, they say. But rather than bulldoze it into an unusable heap, they’re pulling it apart piece by piece and sorting it into piles. Working on it when they can, the couple expects to pour a couple more weeks into the project.

There’s a mound of scrap metal—including plumbing pipes, wiring and broken barbecues the previous owner left behind—for recycling at Pacific Steel. There are stacks of scrap wood filled with nails that Johnson Brothers Recycle will chip up into furnace material. There’s a pile of lumber, cabinets, light fixtures and sinks waiting for Home Resource, the local nonprofit clearinghouse for used building materials. And, of course, there’s a trailer bound for Allied Waste Services’ landfill north of I-90 being filled with materials that can’t be salvaged.

But only about 20 percent of the house will end up as trash, compared to the usual 100 percent. Besides making environmental sense, Delp says, he expects to save a heck of a lot in dump fees, although he admits those savings are voided by the extra time expended.

“Anything we can keep out of the landfill is worth taking the time for me,” says Delp, who’s particularly suited to his task, since he owns Heritage Timber, a local business that deconstructs buildings and sells salvaged lumber.

Still, Douglas says, it’s something anyone could do, particularly on smaller remodeling projects.

“We’re just excited that we can extend the life of these materials,” she says. “There are a lot of options for doing that in Missoula, and we want people to know about them.”

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